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WPS Extra Time: One chance to make a good impression

Giovanni Albanese Extra Time

And the coverage begins.

On Monday, the United States Women’s National Team roster was set for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. ESPN was on top of the broadcast, bringing America up to speed with the 21-person roster, which included 12 first timers, as selected by coach Pia Sundhage. World Cup veterans Abby Wambach (playing in her third World Cup this year) and Heather O’Reilly (entering her second World Cup) were on the self-proclaimed “Worldwide leader in sports” set to discuss the roster with Sage Steele.

It was a welcoming sight to see a couple of the faces of women’s soccer in America being interviewed by a major market. But now, at this point, it’s time to step up their game – both ESPN and the USWNT.

First thing first is the obvious. This year’s World Cup may not be the life or death of Women’s Professional Soccer, but it will certainly pay some dividends if things go to plan for one of the favorites in this year’s tournament. But it’s not only the production from vets like Wambach, O’Reilly, Shannon Boxx and Hope Solo that will draw some fans to the women’s game. All the pressure is on the unknowns – at least to people who will be getting their first exposure to women’s soccer in late June – such as Amy Rodriguez, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan (among others) to perform at the highest of levels and develop fans that can watch them play for years to come in WPS.

Not only do the players have to show off their skills and perform well, but they have to finish. Anything short of an appearance in the World Cup final will hurt the game on American soil. Who will want to continue watching what they may deem a second-rate soccer player (if U.S. finishes with another third-place finish)? However, should the blasé fan watch as Rodriguez and Morgan team up for the winning goal to oust Germany in the World Cup final, what do you suppose the chances are of them following said players in WPS when they return? Pretty high, I’d say.

That’s the type of impression these young American women footballers have to make on the uninformed fan. And those ignorant fans will watch. Why? Because it’s on ESPN. In turn, the broadcast has also got to be first-rate. If the brass at ESPN doesn’t do their homework and know what they are talking about, it’s not going to convince fans they should care.

That said, when I’m watching at home as Wambach and O’Reilly sit on the set in Bristol, Conn., to go over the roster, and Steele talks about how Wambach is still performing at a high level even though she’s 35, only to hear Wambach snap back – as only Abby Wambach can do (save Hope Solo and her venting) – with a demonstrative, “I’m 30!” I couldn’t help but be embarrassed for everyone involved with women’s soccer, U.S. Soccer and WPS. Do your homework Steele! (By the way, Wambach will be 31 on June 2. I did my homework.)

Unfortunately for ESPN, they have a staff of thousands and probably only a handful of people know about the women’s game. On my short list of people I trust making comments about women’s soccer on ESPN: Julie Foudy and Jacqueline Purdy. Foudy, of course, will be alongside Ian Darke in calling the USWNT games; Purdy (@JaquelinePurdy on Twitter) is the women’s soccer aficionado on ESPN.com.

Featuring 16 countries, the World Cup will run from June 26 (kicking off with host Germany facing Canada at 11:30 a.m. ET) through July 17; ESPN will broadcast all 32 matches. USA kicks off its attempt to win the World Cup for the first time since 1999 on June 28 in Dresden against Korea DPR at 11:45 a.m. ET.

With the wall-to-wall coverage on ESPN’s family of networks – airing 23 matches on ESPN; nine on ESPN2; and several simulcasts on ESPN3.com – the network better get its collective head in the game and provide fans the ultimate coverage.

Things to look for this week

Can Western New York score more than one goal for a fifth straight game – including three goals in its last two games – to start the season? They’ll be up against the Breakers at home on Friday. Also, the Beat look to bounce back from consecutive shutout losses in the WPS Game of the Week on Sunday at KSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga.

Power Rankings

  1. Western New York Flash
  2. magicJack

T-3.   Philadelphia Independence

T-3.   Boston Breakers

5.   Atlanta Beat

6.   Sky Blue FC

Player of the Week

It won’t be of much surprise if you see a Flash player taking the POW honor most weeks. Last week it was Christine Sinclair. This week, with Sinclair out (getting her Green Card), there was no let down. Marta, in midseason form, and particularly as a facilitator, with a goal and two assists in a 3-1 win over Sky Blue FC on the road, is this week’s top player.

Quote of the Week

“She is the best captain I’ve ever worked with or played with or been around.” That from United States Women’s National Team coach Pia Sundhage about Christie Rampone, who will captain her side at the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.

You can follow Giovanni Albanese Jr. on Twitter @GAlbaneseJr.

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