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WPS Extra Time: Not so fast, America

Giovanni Albanese Extra Time

It has been approximately four years since the previous FIFA Women’s World Cup in China ended with Germany hoisting the Cup. But since the United States of America announced its roster earlier this month, it feels like the approach to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany has been years, as well. With the No. 1 world ranking, along with a 4-0 defeat in a friendly over two-time defending world champion Germany recently, a lot of spectators have a good feeling that 2011 will be the year USA retains its World Cup champion stature it last had in 1999.

Not so fast, America.

It is just not going to be that easy. It can’t be. For obvious reasons, Germany, as mentioned previously, is the two-time defending champion, and they have home-field advantage. The U.S. has traditionally struggled on European soil. Not to mention that the caliber of women’s soccer throughout the world is growing with each passing year.

But that’s too obvious. And I’m not about to get all philosophical and analytical as to why it’s going to be tough for the United States to go into Germany and leave a month later with a World Cup on board the plane, heading westward to the States. I’ve already done my due diligence and told you in a previous “Extra Time” column that the fate of the club lies in the midfield — specifically the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Heather O’Reilly — playing with less flash and more grit. That coming from someone who played soccer growing up, not at an elite level, nor in college, and views games from afar.

What do I know, right? Why listen to me? I mean, after all, I’m a non-soccer playing male. How in the world would I know the women’s game? OK, so don’t take my word for it. But I was able to track down a couple former USA Women’s National Team players — both on the 1999 World Cup winning roster — that shed some light on the team’s chances this summer.

“I think [the USWNT] is a product of the way American soccer has been [lately],” said World Cup champion and veteran soccer star Tiffeny Milbrett. “I think, in a way, [that style of play] is not good enough.

“We need creative players, dangerous players, players that are absolutely competent with the ball but also can read the game,” Milbrett said.

And as the United States heads into the World Cup, as the No. 1 ranked country in the world, they surely will enter their first match — June 28 vs. Korea DPR — with a boatload of confidence. But that confidence doesn’t mean they enter the tournament flawless. While they have won most their tune-up games, the US has showed a lack of focus at times, turning the ball over as well as not finishing quality chances. In other words: It’s not something you expect from a world-class ball club.

There’s a lot riding on this World Cup for the United States. It could be, that with a less-than-stellar outing in Germany, many jobs here in the states (I’m talking about Women’s Professional Soccer), could be lost, albeit indirectly. Plus, America is thirsting for a reason to root for soccer but are continually let down. (Certainly another flop against Panama for the United States men in the CONCACAF Gold Cup would all but terminate interest in US Men’s Soccer until the next World Cup.) And, outside of the worry for WPS, players like Abby Wambach, who are vying for their first World Cup title, this may be their last true chance.

Players like Milbrett, as well as Brandi Chastain, another member of that ‘99 winner, see this club as one that will be seriously challenged.

“This group,” Milbrett said, “they could definitely be challenged in a way they haven’t been challenged, I think in every single game [throughout the World Cup].”

Chastain was in total agreement with what Milbrett had to say.

“Tiffeny is right,” Chastain said. “The World Cup has better players on all teams and not just a concentrated few.”

But that doesn’t mean they won’t be rooting for their home country to pull out a victory in Germany.

“They really have to pull it together if they want to come out of this World Cup on top,” said Milbrett. “I’m rooting for them, and I hope they can pull it together.”

Things to look for this week

Usually, this is the place of the column to tell you, the reader, what types of match-ups to expect in Women’s Professional Soccer over the weekend. For the next couple weeks, WPS takes a backseat to the FIFA World Cup. Host country Germany opens up its quest for a Cup title on Sunday against Canada. Prior to the Germany-Canada match, the World Cup kicks off with France and Nigeria. On Monday, June 27, Mexico and England square off in Group B action, that coming right after the conclusion of the Japan-New Zealand tilt. And, what all Americans have been waiting for, the opening of Group C play, which pits USA and Korea DPR on Tuesday, June 28. Colombia and Sweden round out Group C action, also on Tuesday.

WPS does have a pair of games this week, if you were wondering. Prior to its two-week hiatus, Atlanta Beat heads to New Jersey to take on Sky Blue FC on Wednesday night. Later in the week, on June 25, the Philadelphia Independence — a team with quite possibly the deepest team in WPS (see a 6-0 trouncing of magicJack last weekend) — looks to keep the good times rolling into the break with a home match against that same magicJack side it annihilated last weekend.

Power Rankings

1. Western New York Flash

2. Philadelphia Independence

3. magicJack

4. Sky Blue FC

5. Boston Breakers

6. Atlanta Beat

Player of the Week

Tough to pinpoint a player that dominated last week. For fun, let’s call this week’s top player Danesha Adams of the Philadelphia Independence. The almighty cheesesteaks prevailed 6-0, but Adams’ two goals — the first and third for the Independence — came with the game still in doubt. Another Independence player worthy of consideration was Veronica Boquete.

Quote of the Week

After the scoreless draw where neither team could get anything going on offense, Boston Breakers coach Tony DiCicco had this to say about the lack of finishing on the road against the Atlanta Beat on Sunday night: “…the finishing was below par and that’s how you get a 0-0 result.”

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