With our first opportunity to watch the US U-20s in action this cycle just one day away, there is still some history that we can look at to inform our understanding of the team’s potential. So far as CONCACAF qualifiers go, the 2008 U-20s and 2010 U-17s provide us with two more pieces for the framework.
2008 is complicated in that this is the only cycle that we have any real perspective on what went on behind the scenes with the U-20s. (See also: DiCicco’s lengthy report on that.) Setting aside from DiCicco’s own role in the team dynamic, let’s take note of a few/couple things:
- Kelley O’Hara and Casey Nogueira who were veterans from the 2006 campaign and ultimately cut from the squad after qualifiers.
- Captain Keelin: Keelin Winters, a solid presence in the midfield, captained the US team.
- Key losses: The US didn’t come out on top at qualifiers; the Americans took second place behind the Canadians. The US also lost a game in World Cup group play, dropping their final group match 0-2 to China (who didn’t advance).
- Key wins: 3-0 win over England in the WC quarterfinals, 1-0 over Germany in the semis, and 2-1 over North Korea for the title.
- Match coverage: 2008 was the first cycle in which we could watch all of the CONCACAF qualifiers and all of the World Cup matches.
Perhaps the best way to learn lessons from 2008 is to set it alongside 2010. There isn’t much need for rehashing the whole roster. This isn’t a group that had a U-17 World Cup, and the lack of PR/media coverage back home meant these players weren’t getting (as) much ego-stroking. Eliminating the 2006 holdovers trimmed the excess attitude from the forward line and ensured that that wasn’t going to infect the leadership roles as well.
The 2008s won when it counted–they also suffered losses when they would have plenty of opportunity to learn from the mistakes. In fact, they even experimented with the lineup when they could afford to. The loss to China in group play saw a US rotation that was fairly different from its norm. Negative results created added emphasis and flaws were fixed. Positive results, like 2010 U-20s had, just don’t drive home the need for change.
Losses can be key in building a successful team. Look at Notre Dame’s championship season in 2010. That was a team that stumbled a lot in the regular season and turned things around when it counted. That was a team that also had a somewhat different makeup from preceding years (perhaps less singular star power) and some solid core leadership that had been to plenty of Final Fours and lost. They didn’t coast through the 2010 season, and they had the added boost of something bigger than “just” a title to work for. Reportedly, the whole team bought into this mentality–as a team.
Lest we forget, the 2010 calendar year also included a U-17 Women’s World Cup. I won’t bother breaking it down for the US fans. The Practice Field does a great job of that already. (As an added bonus, ussoccer.com suddenly wants you to think they were along for the heartbreaking ride.) So for my purposes, once you’re familiar with the results, all you need here is the roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Bryane Heaberlin (North Carolina), Abby Smith (Texas), Caroline Stanley (Missouri, USC)
DEFENDERS (5): Olivia Brannon (Virginia), Abby Dahlkemper (UCLA), Jaelene Hinkle (Texas Tech), Laura Liedle (Stanford), Cari Roccaro (Notre Dame)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Morgan Brian (Virginia), Kaysie Clark (Missouri), Alexandra Doll (Stanford), Isabel Farrell (Washington), Cassandra Pecht (Duke), Kaili Torres (Virginia), Clarissa Wedemeyer (Texas)
FORWARDS (5): Jennifer Gonzalez (Long Beach State), Lindsey Horan (North Carolina), Havana Solaun (Florida), Taylor Smith (Florida State), Ashley Spivey (Maryland)
[A/N: Schools listed are the players' current commitments, so far as I know.]
In the past year, there were all sorts of changes in the US women’s program that affect the youth progression. Ellis and Heinrichs are (supposedly) not coaching but merely overseeing player development. Randy Waldrum (Notre Dame) is in charge of the U-23s, Steve Swanson (Virginia) is coaching the U-20s, and Albertin Montoya is coaching the U-17s. Highlight Steve Swanson, whose time at UVA bears no resemblance to Ellis’ time with UCLA. Here is the group he is working with in Panama:
GOALKEEPERS: Bryane Heaberlin (North Carolina), Abby Smith (Texas)
DEFENDERS: Stephanie Amack (Mustang Blast), Olivia Brannon (Virginia) Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Kassey Kallman (Florida State), Mollie Pathman (Duke), Cari Roccaro (Notre Dame)
MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Brian (Virginia), Vanessa DiBernardo (Illinois), Julie Johnston (Santa Clara), Sarah Killion (UCLA), Mandy Laddish (Notre Dame), Sam Mewis (UCLA)
FORWARDS: Micaela Capelle (Portland), Maya Hayes (Penn State), Lindsey Horan (North Carolina), Kealia Ohai (North Carolina), Katie Stengel (Wake Forest), Chi Ubogagu (Stanford)
- UVA players on the roster for the UVA coach: 2; Morgan Brian and Olivia Brannon, leaving off the third from 2010 (Kaili Torres)
- Carryover from 2010 U-20s: 4.5; Crystal Dunn, Mollie Pathman, Sam Mewis, Maya Hayes, and Bryane Heaberlin.
- Carryover from 2010 U-17s: 6; Bryane Heaberlin, Abby Smith, Olivia Brannon, Cari Roccaro, Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan.
- Carryover from 2008 U-17s: You think I’m joking? 4; Crystal Dunn, Morgan Brian, Mandy Laddish, Sam Mewis.
- 2008 U-17s that didn’t miss a beat: 2; Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis both played in 2008 with the U-17s, 2010 with the U-20s, and now for the third time in 2012.
Even though we’ve seen this trend with issues of too much carryover/experience as a problem with the YNTs, this is a team that could break the pattern. This is a team that is built on the backs of kids that know what loss feels like. The carryover from U-17s ran into PKs and bad luck, and the carryover from U-20s ran into complacency and poor decision-making.
So far, the armband has been on Duke’s Mollie Pathman, who was a last-minute addition to the 2010 U-20s and a key part of Duke’s successful 2011 season. This means leadership is back in the midfield with a solid player who isn’t tied to the coach. (Morgan Brian, a captain with the 2010 U-17s and attention-getting player at UVA, would have been a very problematic choice.)
With US teams, there is never a lack of winning mentality, but there is often a lack of understanding loss–a.k.a. what’s at stake. Even if you question whether the carryover from the troublesome 2010 U-20s could taint the team, I think that the loss suffered by the 2010 U-17s is more than enough to offset the weight of individual expectations. The 2012 U-20s could benefit from letting 2010 shape their team culture into something strong enough to rival even the 2008 campaign.
This is not to say that I am totally satisfied with the current roster, or to say that I think this team is going all the way. But they do have great potential if they draw on their unique ingredients as an American team.
So, some questions for the US at qualifiers:
- Can they uncover enough of their flaws in qualifiers to improve as individuals and a team as a whole?
- Related: can Swanson correct course?
- Related to that: who is really at the reigns, at the staff level? (Do I not want to know?)
- What is the character of this team?
- Related: will everyone buy into that?
- What will PR do now that Sam and Kristie Mewis aren’t on the same team?
- Morgan Brian – are we going to see USA Morgan Brian or UVA Morgan Brian?
- Ashlyn Harris Bryane Heaberlin?