Author Archives: Angela Snider

US WNT Learns Magic, Wins 4-0 Over Costa Rica

The US WNT got off to what some would call a rough start in their third match in the first round of qualifying. Costa Rica came out ready to play against the United States, proving their skill early on in the match. Several minutes into the game, Carli Lloyd gave away a ball at the midfield. The Tica’s midfielder aptly threaded a pass, splitting the US midfield, to a teammate. That teammate pressed the ball forward, splitting the United States back line to an on-running forward. The Costa Rican forward was left all alone, running at Nicole Barnhart. The forwards shot, likely a result of Barnhart’s super intimidating awesomeness, went far wide of the goal out of harm’s way. The speed in which the play had developed and rendered the mighty US defenseless was a huge boost for the Ticas and very frightening for the US.

In the opening 15 minutes of play the Costa Rican WNT had many more dangerous chances at the USA back line than their opponent did. The bright spot in the USA’s attack in the first half was the impressive effort put forth by defender Ali Krieger, whose absence in this tournament has been notable. Krieger was effective in the back line by shutting down any attack in her area and quickly transitioning to push the ball forward. The most notable of which was a pass that Krieger made on the ground from the midfield, splitting the entire Costa Rican line-up towards a surprised WNT forward. Krieger’s efforts were almost rewarded when Krieger’s cross, intended for the back post, went wayward towards the upper 90 of the back post. The ball sailed just left of the goal, but Krieger’s faux-attempt was the US WNT’s most dangerous opportunity up until that point in the match.

Overwhelmingly, the US WNT forwards seemed utterly lost in the opening minutes of the match. It seems that forwards Abby Wambach and Lauren Cheney were occupied by their alternate personas Amy Wamebach and Lauren Sheeney. Wamebach and Sheeney had obviously never seen a soccer ball before in the life, or so you would think by the way they would helplessly chase after and stare at any pass their teammates sent their way.

But as is typical WNT fashion, when struggling offensively against a side they have absolutely no business struggling against, follow the philosophy: dive and dive again. In the 32nd minute of play, Lauren Cheney received a pass at the top of the Costa Rican box with her back to goal. As she was receiving the ball, the Costa Rican captain stepped in and toe poked the ball away before Cheney could receive it. The defender made contact with Cheney’s leg after clearing the ball away and Cheney went down in a heap. The ref fell for it and awarded a penalty to the United States, which Amy Wamebach Abby Wambach neatly tucked inside the lower left corner of the net.

The WNT continued to struggle offensively, but allowed fewer opportunities to their foe. Finally understanding what the rest of us have been saying for quite some time, Pia yanked Lloyd from the match in favor of Lori Lindsey. Lori Lindsey seemed to have held back to hold the midfield while Boxx roamed around, looking to get involved in the attack. Also at this time, Kristine Lilly, who had been at left winger, and Yael Averbuch, who had been at right winger, switched sides. The move was ineffective. Ali Krieger’s runs became more infrequent, which is not all that surprising. Her constant runs into the box were continually unrewarded by Yael Averbuch who favored a lazy cross into the penalty area over a give and go with an unmarked Krieger.

The score remained 1-0 going into the half, even though Lauren Cheney had a chance to make it 2-0 in the 41′ minute. After a cross had made its way to the back post, Cheney, unmarked, miss-hit the ball from 5 yards out, struggling to put the ball into the back of the net. The ball had no momentum and was easily scooped up by the Costa Rican goalkeeper. The Costa Ricans were deprived of a sure opportunity to tie the score up in extra time when the ref denied them a penalty kick. At the edge of the box, just on the goal line, an Ali Krieger tackle recklessly missed the ball and instead took out the Costa Rican forward. In my opinion, the play wasn’t deserving of a penalty. However, I prefer consistency out of my referees, and if the US was deserving of a penalty earlier in the match, then this play was equally deserving, if not more so.

The second half proved to be far more fruitful for the US WNT. The Costa Rican offense has proven itself to be incredibly skillful and tactically impressive; however, they were overwhelmingly outmatched by the United States defense physically. Costa Rica had plenty of opportunities in the second half, earning several corners and free kicks in dangerous range. However, whenever a forward would break free of the back line, a US defender was no more than three steps away to neutralize the effort.

The US WNT struggled coming out of the gates in the second half, with Amy Wamebach completely incapable of shooting the ball in front of a wide open net. In the 52′ minute, Abby had the ball 8 yards out, but instead of shooting she held on to the ball. It wasn’t long before she was forced to fend off several defenders. She ultimately shoveled the ball to Kristine Lilly, who somehow managed to earn a cross or a corner or something off of the play. Ultimately the effort ended with a Shannon Boxx header going over the goal.

Cheney had two chances in the 56′ and 57′ minutes that could have broken the game wide open. In the 56′ Cheney found herself running directly at the goalkeeper, completely unmarked. Her shot went right into the keeper’s arms. In the 57′ minute a beautiful Ali Krieger cross found Cheney running onto the back post. Cheney volleyed the ball one-time, but again, right into the keeper’s arms. In a never ending onslaught, Cheney received a ball from the left side in the 58′. Keeping her eyes on the ball, Cheney ran into the box, preparing to redirect the ball on frame. Simultaneously, the Ticas goalkeeper came rushing out. Cheney redirected the ball over the goal keepers head, but the shot went left of the goal. Cheney and the keeper collided, and Cheney earned an undeserved yellow card on the play. The Ticas goalkeeper was on the ground for several minutes being tended to before resuming play.

Ten minutes later, Cheney finally netted a goal, putting the ball in the roof of the net from 6 yards out. On a US corner, the Costa Rican defender stopped a shot with her chest, but the deflection went straight to Cheney. Getting hit pretty hard on the play, the goalkeeper was down again, this time to be replaced by Costa Rica’s backup. During this time Alex Morgan was substituted into the match for Wambach.

In the 74′ minute, the United States was awarded a free kick from around 30 yards out, just slightly left of the center of the goal. Yael Averbuch’s shot skillfully rocketed under the crossbar and into the goal. A minute later Heather O’Reilly was subbed into the match for a quiet Shannon Boxx. O’Reilly was moved to the right side while Averbuch was to resume Boxx’s role as an attacking midfielder. For the next five minutes or so, Costa Rica stepped up the pressure. During this period, Rachel Buehler tried really hard to give Costa Rica an opportunity, when she half-Buehldozered a Costa Rican forward who was chasing a loose ball that Nicole Barnhart was coming out to grab. Showing a proclivity for protecting the goalkeepers, the ref declined to call the penalty.

In the 82nd minute of play, Alex Morgan collected the ball on the 6 yard box, and despite being covered by two defenders, kept her composure and was able to slide in a shot past the Costa Rican goalkeeper. The remainder of the match saw the US on their heels as the Ticas were pushing hard for a goal. In the 88th minute of play, a United States corner resulted in a goal for Lori Lindsey. However, the referee cited Kristine Lilly for interfering with the goalkeeper and what would have been Lori Lindsey’s first international goal was disallowed.

Costa Rican put the pressure on hard in extra time. Krieger stepped up big in the 90th minute, shutting down one of Costa Rica’s forwards at the top of the box, clearing the ball for a corner. Shortly after, Costa Rica was awarded a free kick about 20 yards out, to the left of the goal. The shot was almost identical to Averbuch’s rocket in the 74′, but Barnhart cleanly read the play, calmly tipping the ball over the crossbar. The US scrambled to clear the ball out of their defensive third in the waning moments of the match. They were finally able to get possession of the ball, putting together an attack that featured Alex Morgan on the left side of the field. Morgan calmly cut the ball in towards the goal and pushed it to the end line, leaving the defender behind her. Morgan then crossed the ball across the box towards an on-running and undefended Lauren Cheney. Cheney’s shot went sailing over the crossbar and I held my head in disgust. I scored one goal on my varsity high school team on a play identical to that one, so I have the full freedom to judge you, Ms. Sheeney.

The whistle signaled the end of the match shortly thereafter. It was rather unfortunate that Costa Rica wasn’t able to find the back of the net as they played a tremendous match and the score line didn’t seem to reflect that in the slightest. The US WNT is scheduled to come up against much more impressive competition this Friday, playing the runner-up of group A, either Canada or Mexico. In order to qualify for the Women’s World Cup, the United States must win Friday’s match. If they continue to play matches in the lackluster manner that has become standard operating procedure, they might be in for a rude awakening.

WPS Expansion Draft Protection Lists Released

Each WPS team has chosen to protect 10 players from the Expansion Draft that will take place on November 4th.

There are three lists featured in the article. Each team has only left three players unprotected, with the exception of Boston who have left the rights to Ji So-Yun up for grabs. Here’s a list of the players left unprotected, alphabetical by team:

 

Kaley Fountain (Atlanta Beat)
Angie Kerr (Atlanta Beat)
Johanna Rasmussen (Atlanta Beat)
Liz Bogus (Boston Breakers)
Cynthia Morote-Ariza (Boston Breakers)
Ashley Phillips (Boston Breakers)
Ji So-Yun (Boston Breakers – hold WPS rights)
Kelsey Davis (Chicago Red Stars)
Jessica McDonald (Chicago Red Stars)
Julianne Sitch (Chicago Red Stars)
Brittany Cameron (FC Gold Pride)
Rosie Tantillo (FC Gold Pride)
Kim Yokers (FC Gold Pride)
Heather Mitts (Philadelphia Independence)
Lyndsey Patterson (Philadelphia Independence)
Sarah Senty (Philadelphia Independence)
Shannon Myers (Sky Blue FC)
Angela Salem (Sky Blue FC)
India Trotter (Sky Blue FC)
Jill Gilbeau (Washington Freedom)
Beverly Goebel (Washington Freedom)
Christie Welsh (Washington Freedom)

 

There are two additional lists included in this link.  The first list is lengthier, detailing all of the players who have been protected by their team. This list is also alphabetical by team name. The second list is most fun of all, consisting of all the players who are currently Free Agents.

A Proper Tribute to Kate Markgraf

Growing up as a complete soccer fanatic and a US WNT maniac, it should come as no surprise that when I came home after my first game in May of 1999, I promptly took down my Hanson, Backstreet Boys, and N*SYNC posters and photos off my walls and replaced them with a news clipping chronicling the match I had just attended and a shiny new Mia Hamm poster. I amassed a good assortment of clippings, as you can imagine, in the media firestorm of the Women’s World Cup. The juggernaut of magazine covers, articles, and special features helped me eliminate any need to see the walls that my parents had just painstakingly converted from Sesame Street wallpaper to a gentle shade of lavender. One magazine, Goal Magazine, I believe, had a special feature on the US WNT’s young stalwart defender who had managed to crack the starting lineup. Entitled “Weird Science”, the spread was fronted by a shot of Kate Sobrero surrounded by beakers and test tubes, wearing a lab coat and goggles squeezing a bottle of ketchup into an Erlenmeyer flask.

Ketchup? Yes, ketchup. The article was a wonderfully written piece, describing Kate’s fearlessness as a defender, a charismatic individual, and someone who was delightfully and just plain-out weird. Kate had a stellar career at the University of Notre Dame. In her freshman year she helped the Irish to a National Championship in 1995, shutting down that year’s MAC Hermann award winner Shannon MacMillan and her fellow Portland Pilots in the NCAA Semi-Final. She was so impressive that despite being a freshman she earned player of the game and tournament honors for her play. Kate earned her first call-up to the national team in 1995 as a result of her stellar play. Things didn’t go so well for Notre Dame’s rookie, and Kate turned down invitations to training camp for the next three years. Forced with the realization that college was over, Kate agreed to attend training camp in January 1998.

The first camp back was rough for Kate, breaking her jaw during a training session, which had to be wired shut for six weeks. Despite the setback, Kate was called-up again after her recovery, where she earned herself a spot in a line-up amongst Carla Overbeck and Joy Fawcett.  Her ability to defend one on one, combined with her ability to read plays before they happen and react accordingly made her simply one of the best. Kate was most distinguishable to fans for her edgy tongue-ring and hilarious hair, which she had dyed red losing a bet to Joy Fawcett, whom Kate believed wouldn’t score in the tournament.

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Exposed At The Back: The US WNT Outside Back Problem — Part 2

This post is the second part of an article originally posted on October 14, 2010. If you missed Part 1, you can view it here.

There were several bubble players during this period who received call-ups to the national team but weren’t of good enough quality to truly cement themselves a spot. The most puzzling of which was Heather Mitts. Heather Mitts was a solid defender for the Philadelphia Charge, who were one of the most talented teams in WUSA in its first two seasons. The performance of Philly’s best defenders, Jenny Benson and Heather Mitts, earned them call-ups in national team camp. Jenny Benson, however, was a central defender and had no hope of cracking the central pairing of Kate Markgraf and Joy Fawcett. Mitts, as we all know, was mediocre at the international level , yet kept mysteriously getting called back into camp. She, understandably, did not make the cut for the 2003 Women’s World Cup, getting displaced by Danielle Slaton. Which brings me to my next bubble player. Danielle Slaton was an outside defender, sometimes midfielder, who was the number 1 pick in the 2002 WUSA draft. She lead the Carolina Courage from a last place finish in 2001 to a championship in 2002, although I suspect Birgit Prinz had more to do with this than she did. Danielle was successful on the WNT and likely to earn herself a place in the next generation, but developed knee problems late in 2003 and fizzled out of the WNT player pool somewhere in 2004. The most interesting of all the bubble players who never stuck under April’s tenure was Amy LePeilbet. The WPS two-time defender of the year earned a few caps but never found herself a consistent spot on the team.

It can be seen from this point here that the US was riding a train of defender development established by Tony DiCicco, who brought in and established 3 of the 4 starting defenders in the starting line-up in the 2003 World Cup. The fourth of which played alongside coach Heinrichs and had remained on the national team since then. Even after the injury of Brandi Chastain, Heinrichs only had one viable replacement in Cat Whitehill, who was the single defensive player developed in the first three years of her tenure.

The year in which everything began to unravel was 2004. After a disappointing 3rd place finish in the WWC the year before, the overall play of the WNT actually got seemingly worse. The team had been coasting on the backbone of players that were selected and developed under Heinrich’s predecessors. Of the players on the 2004 Olympic roster that Heinrichs brought in herself, Cat Whitehill and Heather Mitts were the only defenders. Shannon Boxx, a defensive midfielder, played in the WUSA for three full seasons before Heinrichs literally handed her a roster spot despite Boxx having absolutely no international experience. Other players included Abby Wambach, whom I’ll discuss on another day, Angela Hucles, and Kristin Luckenbill. (Yes. Luckenbill over Solo. Think about that for a minute.) Some time just before the 2004 Olympics, Brandi snuck off with a journalist and gave an extremely candid interview in which she, on behalf of the team, blasted Heinrichs. The interview detailed a lot of discerning details behind the scenes, such as how Heinrichs was uncommunicative, stubborn, and unreasonable. Brandi’s interview was of course picked up by the mainstream media. So, when Brandi was “suddenly” benched in favor of Heather Mitts and the US team struggled in group play, the media went after April. (Gosh, Brandi, you are a smart cookie.) Despite winning the gold medal, the retirement of Hamm, Foudy and Fawcett in combination with a firestorm of criticism and bad press, Heinrichs was pressured to resign in early 2005.

Greg Ryan was named the interim successor of the team and apparently because he can win the Algarve Cup (like it’s that hard when you win it every year) the USSF deemed him fit to build a team to win the World Cup in 2007. (I’ll give you all a chance to stop and giggle here.) Among the first things on his to do list? Ostracize and force out the remaining 1999ers on which the team’s success of the last 5 years was based upon. Nowhere during that time were defenders, midfielders, or forwards sufficiently developed to replace the players he cast off. I am of course talking about the magical disappearance of Brandi Chastain, whom he blatantly told he would not invite to another training camp as soon as his butt hit his sparkly new office chair. (Which, if you want my two cents, Brandi’s caliber as a player had sufficiently begun to wane. This wasn’t a traumatic loss to the team.) This also included the forcing out of Shannon MacMillan (at the expense of blatant favoritism and overall trickery) and Tiffeny Milbrett, who had combined for almost 100 international goals in the previous five years. This is where things get dicey.

With the retirement of Fawcett and the baby-making of Rampone and Markgraf, Ryan had no choice but to move Whitehill to center back where she would remain. Since Rampone and Markgraf alternated their maternity leaves, either one or the other filled in at the central defender spot. Suddenly, Ryan was left with no experienced outside defenders. Instead of pulling from the youth programs and throwing them out there to develop, he relied upon the efforts of Heather Mitts. For the fourth spot, we saw the conversion of Lori Chalupny and Tina Ellertson to outside back. Ellertson, much like Chastain, was a successful forward in college. However, Chastain is probably the most tactically gifted player in the history of the WNT, using her intelligence and skill set to make the transition. Ellertson was fast, which was the cause of her being converted to defender. Similar to Brandi Chastain, Lori Chalupny was the best left footed player around not named Kristine Lilly, which is what landed her at outside back.

The inherent problem with Ryan’s defender choices lies in his style of play. By this point in time the three strikers with the most goals in the past five years had either retired (Hamm, MacMillan) or been plain out ignored (Milbrett). To compensate for this problem, Ryan had discovered that Abby is tall, big, and heads really well. He had also discovered that Cat Whitehill has a special gift in bouncing the ball off of Abby’s head into the goal. Thus forming the entire offensive strategy of the US WNT: bounce the ball off of Abby’s head. There was no need for skilled, tactical experts on the defensive line to build an efficient attack. Ellertson could run really fast and take the ball away. Mitts was sufficient and therefore not replaced.

All of Ryan’s decision making exploded in his face, as we’re all aware, in the 2007 World Cup. Looking at Ryan’s roster for the 2007, specifically his defenders, this shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to anyone. Defenders included Cat Whitehill, Christie Rampone, Kate Markgraf, Tina Ellertson, Marian Dalmy who was and still is internationally inexperienced, and Stephanie Cox who is solid in WPS but is not the best, either now or then. Dalmy earned her first cap in 2007. Cox rose through the ranks of the US youth program and earned her first cap under Ryan in 2005. Seemingly, she is the one defender that he brought in and developed during his tenure. Ryan’s laziness in developing or even looking at better options for central defenders to fill the gap left in 2005 caught up with him. For example, Amy LePeilbet would have been a much better choice for central defender than Cat Whitehill, who should have remained outside. But the reign of Ryan is littered with poor decisions and a severe lack of forward thinking. This stunted the growth and development of the defense of the United States.

Fast forward through the past two years in which Pia won a gold medal with a squad that was missing the two key elements of Ryan’s offense: Whitehill’s leg and Abby’s head. The team was forced to play intelligent attacking soccer and came up with the win, although they had their struggles. The team continued to develop this way and players that formerly coasted, such as Angela Hucles and even Abby Wambach stepped up their game and have become more complete players under Pia. It seems that Pia also recognizes this crack in the WNT line-up. What else would explain her decision to call in 11 defenders to training camp this past May?** She’s actively searching for someone to fill that outside back spot.

For the reasons explicitly outlined above, Pia doesn’t really have much to choose from. Let’s look at the American outside backs from this past WPS season, shall we? Cox, Mitts, Markgraf, Rampone, Dalmy, Schnur, Spilger, Wilson, Whitehill. I’m also including Bock because of her success at outside back in LA last year even though she can really be utilized anywhere. WPS aside, we also have Ali Krieger. Cox is inconsistent, Mitts is not good, Markgraf is now retired, Rampone is a central back now, Dalmy isn’t good enough, Schnur isn’t good enough, Wilson is untested, and Whitehill has been disappointing since her ACL tear. To clafiy: when I say not good enough I mean sufficient for your WPS team but not sufficient to break down the crafty German offense. Who might be good enough? Krieger, definitely, for her time spent playing in Germany; and Spilger, whose courage and gritty defending would be a breath of fresh air in the back line for the US. I’m also not opposed to looking at and developing players at the college level. Getting players like this on rosters for the next year is an important step in looking ahead to 2014.

**Written before the recent friendlies versus China and the release of the WWCQ roster, it’s still apparent that Pia is looking for defenders. Sauerbrunn’s inclusion, while expected here at AWK, came as a bit of a stunner to a few people. Pia’s tendency to go against her instinct and play it safe with her line-ups explains the forced incorporation of Rampone in the previous friendlies prior to qualifying, as well as the inclusion of Heather Mitts. I would expect to see Rampone in the starting line-up in group play, trying to get her as many minutes as possible before the US meets a true challenge.

Exposed At The Back: The US WNT Outside Back Problem — Part 1

As the 2011 Women’s World Cup nears ever closer, the growing concern over the chances of the U.S. Women’s National Team winning the cup increases proportionally. This concern is not at all eased with the continuing success of a seemingly unstoppable German side, who is undoubtedly determined to hoist the trophy once again and reclaim their number one ranking from a country who is coasting on the coattails of what used to be.

It should seem that after the summer of 1999 with a heightened interest of women’s soccer and inspiration for little girls that the next ten years to follow would produce a tremendous number of skilled, creative players to fill the void left by the inevitable retirement of that summer’s heroes. One of the biggest problems with the squad right now, arguably, is that these younger girls have had little to no opportunity to shine. The coaching of the WNT in the last ten years has undoubtedly been horrendous. The reign of April Heinrichs from January 18, 2000 to February 15, 2005 did irreparable damage to the development of the dynasty. This was not at all helped by her successor and former stooge, Greg Ryan. Greg Ryan literally made no innovative or intelligent decision of his own, choosing instead, to follow the game plan set out by Heinrichs and, rumors say, obey the instruction of then WNT ring-leaders, Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach. Solo-gate and the 2007 Women’s World Cup imploded in Ryan’s face, resulting in his removal in less than a month after the conclusion of the USA’s second consecutive 3rd-place finish.

The era of Pia, one of rebuilding amongst the broken rubble of the eight years past, began in early 2008. Her efforts have been valiant and successful, but not good enough. However, the root of the WNT’s problems lie in those crucial eight years after the controversial hiring of April Heinrichs to the controversy surrounding the firing of Greg Ryan. The poor coaching decisions, which were heavily biased and nonsensical, severely affected the development of players for the future of the squad leaving us where we are now.

As the WNT continues to win Algarve Cups and an endless string of meaningless friendlies like there’s no tomorrow, any criticism one makes seems nitpicky and fruitless. But, quite simply, it’s not enough to win watered down tournaments and meaningless friendlies against watered down opponents. There are small cracks in the infrastructure of the squad which need to be patched. The first of these cracks, which I intend to expose, is the subsequent underdevelopment of the outside back because, quite frankly, we don’t have any nor have we had any for quite some time. This is unacceptable. To understand the problem we have to go back to the root of all that is evil. Yes, the beginning of the Reign of Ape.

In the early 2000’s the depth of the back line was fairly sufficient. The US WNT was rich in players who could not only play this position, but who could play this position well. Players such as Joy Fawcett, Christie Rampone, Cat Whitehill, Jena Kluegel, and Brandi Chastain all saw significant playing time at the outside back position in the years spanning from 1999 to 2002. Joy Fawcett, despite her age and experience, was more useful to the USA as an outside back than as a central defender. Her work rate, clean tackling, and offensive prowess made her a perfect candidate for an outside defender for the WNT for about a decade. After the retirement of Carla Overbeck, however, her speed, clean tackles, and expertise were needed centrally to organize the USA’s defense. The constant shifting, however, of the USA defense meant that Joy Fawcett had no permanent home in the back line. Regardless, she was such an asset to the team that her presence was far more significant than her placement.

Christie Rampone flittered in and out of USA’s starting line-up in the 90’s, ultimately earning her place a sub in the 1999 World Cup. However the retirement of Carla Overbeck left a big gap in USA’s back line, and Pearcie never looked back. Rampone was essential the US backline as she was able to make penetrating runs along the outside to get forward into the US WNT’s infamous multi-layered attack in which defenses would be penetrated in waves by the onslaught of forwards, midfielders, and defenders.  Rampone’s spot on crosses and speed to get up and back made her crucial for this position for years.

Brandi Chastain first made her appearance on the US WNT as a bench player in the 1991 World Cup. She was a highly celebrated striker in college who had been called it to play second fiddle to the infamous “Triple-Edged Sword” that was the US front line. (The sword was made up of April Heinrichs, Michelle Akers, and Carin Jennings-Gabarra. Yes, wife of Jim.) Despite the retirement of Heinrichs in the early 90’s and Akers brief hiatus in which she was stricken with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, Brandi was never called upon to fill the gap left by these players. This gap was instead filled by Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett, both of whom graduated from college tied with 103 career goals, which was then the NCAA Record. (This was later broken by future WNT forward, Danielle Fotopoulos with 118 goals, who still holds the record.) Brandi’s relationship with Anson Dorrance was legendary as she hated the man, which was likely why she never became USA’s number 1 striker. This is all relevant because after missing the 1995 Women’s World Cup, Tony DiCicco abandoned Dorrance’s game plan and formulated one of his own. He chose to revamp the entire line-up and called upon Brandi to fill the left center back position. The availability of left footed players not named Kristine Lilly was not great, cementing Brandi’s position as the USA’s left center back for the remainder of her career. She spent some time at center back, but her willingness to attack and patience to make simple yet smart passes cemented her starting position on the roster until the 2003 World Cup.

Cue the founding of the WUSA and we have the emergence of our last two defenders. Jena Kluegel and Cat Whitehill were both standouts at UNC who benefitted the most from the development of the WUSA. When the league started in 2001 all of the founding players remained with their clubs teams in lieu of participating in the Algarve Cup so that they could focus on building the league. The roster for this tournament is littered with names I’m sure you are familiar with. No one on the roster was over the age of 21, Kluegel was considered one of the “veterans” of the team along with a young Hope Solo, who each had 5 and 4 caps each, respectively.** Kluegel was a center back in this tournament, where Whitehill was an outside back. By the end of the year with the national team at full strength, Kluegel came off the bench to spend time at outside defense, where the remainder of her time on the field with the WNT was spent. However, thanks to friends of mine who take public transportation and scoop USA Today journalists, it was unveiled that Heinrichs, despite Kluegel’s solid performances on the field for the grand U-S of A, decided she “didn’t like her” and Kluegel stopped getting invitations to training camp. Cat Whitehill then made her move, filling in for Kluegel as the go-to young player on the outside for the US. Christie Rampone tore her ACL in late 2001, which allowed more playing time for both Kluegel and Whitehill. When Rampone returned to full strength and Jena discarded, Cat, who played almost 1,200 minutes in 2002, became Heinrichs’s best option off the bench.  This development was crucial as Cat earned her spot as a full starter on the team when Brandi went down with a foot injury in the first game of the 2003 Women’s World Cup.

Originally written as one piece, this commentary has been split into two parts. The second part will be posted tomorrow.

**Side note: Saved on my hard drive are Jena’s journal entries from this tournament  in which she chronicles a hilarious run in between her and former SBFC striker/Riptide Public Enemy #2 Patrizia Panico. Let me know if you’d like to see them.