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U.S. Women need better competition as women's soccer rises globally

It is clear the rest of the world of women’s soccer is catching up with the United States Women’s National Team.  Maybe that is a few years away from being evident at the senior national team level (although the 2011 Women’s World Cup might show signs of it), but it is already clear at the youth level.

Tom Dunmore points out in this Big Soccer column Sunday: click here, women’s soccer is on the rise globally and the argument that it has less to do with the decrease of U.S. talent and more to do with the increase of global development is spot on.  “The established powers don’t have the field to themselves anymore,” Dunmore writes.  Clearly, as Brazil did not advance out of the group stage of the 2010 U-20 Women’s World Cup and Sweden and the United States were upset in the quarterfinals.

Shockingly, either Columbia or Nigeria will find itself in the final Sunday.  If South Korea can upset Germany in the other semifinal, it could make for the most unlikely World Cup final ever.  Yes, ever.  It would have been like Uraguay’s run in South Africa going all the way to the final, where they would meet, say, Ghana – clearly a talented team but far from one that would be expected to win the World Cup.  Those two teams actually did meet in the quarterfinals, but you get the point.

The emergence of some women’s teams globally does have something to do with the United States, though.  “But the days when the U.S. simply crushed its opposition are long gone,” writes Dunmore.  At the World Cup, yes.  But the problem is still present in CONCACAF, where the United States has little to no competition.

Just like the U.S. Men’s National Team, the women struggle to find competition within one of the weakest regions in the world.  Both the men’s and women’s games have progressed in Central American and Caribbean countries, but not enough to provide the United States with competition that will better the team for showdowns with the world’s best.

September’s U-17 Women’s World Cup will take place in Trinidad & Tobago and the CONCACAF representatives will be Canada and Mexico.  That’s right, no United States.

That may actually show an increase in CONCACAF talent in the women’s game, but it also has a lot to do with poor preparation for the United States.

In CONCACAF U-17 Women’s World Cup Qualifying, the United States rolled through the group stage with three wins, 32 goals for and zero against.  Don’t check your eyes.  The Americans averaged over 10 goals per game while beating Haiti 9-0, the Cayman Islands 13-0 and Costa Rica 10-0.

From there, the U.S. went to the semifinals and played Canada in a ‘win and in’ game since the top two teams from CONCACAF go to the U-17 Women’s World Cup.  The two teams played to a 0-0 draw and Canada won 5-3 on penalty kicks to send the U.S. home with a +32 goal differential over four games but without a spot in September’s U-17 Women’s World Cup.  After 32 goals in three games, the U.S. simply could not break down Canada, a much more respectable opponent.

That, I believe, is due to the fact that with Canada and Mexico being the only main legitimate competition for the U.S. women within the region, the laughable games against the rest of the regional competition does a disservice to the development of the squad.

How do you learn anything from winning 13-0?  After going up four goals or so in a half hour, as a player you know the result of the match will only go one way.

And the problem is not just in that one specific case either.  The United States is 18-0-0 all-time in Women’s World Cup Qualifying at the senior level.  In those 18 all-time qualifiers, the U.S. has outscored its opponents 113-4.  Exactly how does that prepare anyone for better competition like Germany, Sweden or Brazil?

With the rest of the women’s soccer world lagging, the United States got away with not having any other CONCACAF competition in the 90’s.  And that is not say that the Americans should not have won anyhow with world-class stars like Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and even more forgotten heroes like Carla Overbeck and Shannon MacMillan.  No disrespect to them or those teams by any means.

But it is clear that such easy competition is no longer good enough for the United States.  Mexico and Canada now propose more legitimate threats to the U.S., which is certainly a good thing, and the lesser-known countries around the world are beginning to make a name for themselves (surely justification for expanding the Women’s World Cup to 24 teams in 2015).

Women’s Professional Soccer also provides a channel for players to better themselves year-round, but the key is to see the region’s lesser countries better their games and that requires an investment from each national federation.  Until that happens, the U.S. will continue to have to seek out friendly matches against the tough competition of Germany and Sweden, although the games lack meaning and a trophy to play for.

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