Opinion: Why on earth is USWNT playing friendlies during NWSL playoffs?

Copyright by Caitlin Murray / @wosocait

By SoccerWire.com editorial staff‏

Has something trickled into the water supply at Soccer House?

Forgive us for being so forward, but some of the decisions — at least when it comes to the women’s game — coming out of the stately Chicago mansion that houses the offices of the U.S. Soccer Federation have us wondering if a few of the inhabitants have lost their minds.

 + READ: U.S. U-20 Women eliminated from World Cup on penalties by North Korea

Set aside for a moment the debacle that was our Under-17 women’s national team not even qualifying for its World Cup, and the U-20s’ stinging exit from this summer’s FIFA tournament in Canada. (But here’s a hint: Those humilations have well and truly exposed a lack of investment in player scouting, training camps and any coherent system of play or vision with federation coaching staff hires from top to bottom).

No, this time we’re talking about the USSF’s curious decision, just days before the kickoff of the National Women’s Soccer League postseason, to call many of those playoff-bound players into a U.S. Women’s National Team training camp, and to play a “friendly” against Switzerland on Wednesday in Cary, North Carolina.


Would the English Football Association schedule a friendly 3,000 miles away the week of the FA Cup final or final weekend of the Premier League? Never. But even assuming someone in charge of the FA did such a thing, would they then call in Wayne Rooney or Theo Walcott to the game if Manchester United were in that final?

Closer to home… Would this same USSF ever schedule a men’s friendly the week of the MLS Cup semifinals? Would USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann call in players on any of those final four teams?


There are only nine players on the Cary roster who don’t play for an NWSL playoff team, so it is pretty likely that several members of the Seattle Reign, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns and Washington Spirit will have to play significant minutes.

And they ALL have missed time with their NWSL teams in what is the most important training week of their season. During no other week will teams be studying their opponents and working out set plays and game plans on the training field as much as this week.

It’s just wrong. Hope Solo, Crystal Dunn, Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lauren Holiday, Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan and Amy Rodriguez should all be with their NWSL teams right now, period.

At least Jodie Taylor and Jess Fishlock can be excused for having a bona fide World Cup qualifier drawing them back to the England and Wales national teams, respectively.

So what happened?

USWNT coach Jill Ellis noted to reporters in Cary on Tuesday that this game was scheduled before she was hired as a full-time head coach – inferring she never would have agreed to the dates.

If so, then why not call in a bigger original roster as part of a plan to excuse the NWSL playoff-bound players once it became clear who they would be? And there’s zero excuse for calling in any Seattle or FCKC players given that those teams clinched playoff spots weeks ago.

It’s not like Ms. Ellis was a relocated hire for the role. She’s been basically in charge of developing the women’s game here for the past three years. She of all people should have been involved in scheduling of these games. And if not, she certainly should have enough depth of knowledge in the player pool to have put together a contingency plan. It has now been three months since her official hire.

Jill Ellis

And that’s where the real issue probably comes in. The roster apparently must not have really been up to Ellis much at all – at least not politically.

Any C-Licensed coach could tell you this game isn’t necessary to prepare for World Cup qualifying, and it’s clear the game has nothing to do with building a bigger player pool. Rather, the women’s team often seems not to be much more to U.S. Soccer than an ATM.

The federation scheduled this game because they could, and they completely ignored the fact that this would be the final month of NWSL play. The temptation of a bumper USWNT crowd managed to obscure the far greater priority of showcasing the NWSL at its best and maintaining the most competitive environment for those national teamers.

 + READ: Portland Thorns face FC Kansas City, Washington Spirit face Seattle Reign in NWSL playoffs

We’ve been impressed by Ellis and women’s technical director April Heinrichs, and have a lot of respect for their soccer intelligence and vision. Sunil Gulati and Dan Flynn are brilliant men who have ushered in a new era of soccer here, one that has the game firmly on the map when for decades there was always this great fear that the game was t0o fragile to speak out loud about any success.

gulatiAnd the men’s game indeed looks more on the right track than it ever has been.

But the management of the women’s game in this country is in danger of becoming a joke. As the world’s traditional soccer powers have embraced the game, and raised a global generation of young women inspired by that same 1999 Women’s World Cup audience so many here in the U.S. point to as their awakening, our inferior technical and tactical ability shines through more every year.

Since the hiring of Ellis and Heinrichs as the first full-time staffers focused on the women, our teams have regressed at worst, and “been caught” at best. From the outside looking in, the debacles afflicting the U-17s and U-20s rests firmly on their shoulders. Yet given what we know about them, we can only assume that these failures are because they don’t really have any control at the top of the pyramid where everything really matters, and where the most influence can be exerted.

They need more resources, more commitment to regulate player development, and more control over coaching hires. It only takes five minutes in a room with either one of them to know they “get it” and know where we’re lacking. But something is missing from the equation.

 + READ: Money, Merritt, Morgan and the NWSL playoffs

The major business decisions that are funding all of this are absolutely being made by Flynn and Gulati. And despite all the talk and investment of time and money; everything about this game on Wednesday should make it very clear where the real priorities are in Chicago.

Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux sign autographs at RFK on Monday. Photo property of SoccerWire.com

They are chasing 1999 glory and victory tour paydays. Why else would so many friendlies be played against the same country two times in a row over a week’s time in two well-separated cities? And why else would a federation which essentially operates its nation’s domestic professional league arrange a meaningless game right in the middle of that fragile league’s biggest moment of the year in the spotlight?

Say it with me… M-O-N-E-Y. Sure some of it goes back to these amazingly deserving women, but at times like this that seems more like a payoff instead of an investment. At time like this, if this game must be played, we should be capping five-to-10 players for the first time, investing in the next generation while the current generation shines in our fledgling domestic league.

It’s funny: All four coaches involved in the NWSL playoffs are foreign-born, having grown up around a different mentality to the sport when it comes to professional teams working with their federations. All four must be feeling like they’re in a bad dream.

Where Paul Caligiuri’s goal against Trinidad & Tobago in 1989 was “The Goal Heard Around the World” that set the U.S. Men’s program on its current positive path, this week’s combination of the U-20s crashing out of the World Cup AND the complete negligence surrounding tomorrow’s friendly in Cary may just prove to be “The Last Nail in the Coffin Heard Around the World” as it relates to the end of our world dominance on the women’s side.

By | August 19, 2014 | 12 Comments | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Western MD Soccer Coach says:

    This individual event is a tempest in a teacup, however it is one of several overall worrying signs related to US Soccer on the women’s side. The USWNT should not have called up anyone playing on the 4 playoff teams, in Europe the clubs have the right to deny a player from participation unless the match falls into a FIFA date. Yes, something needs to be done about the training our young women and girls are receiving or we will slip from the level we are accustom to playing at. We need to increase our individual skill, our technical skills and our tactical acumen, WHILE continuing to work with our superior athleticism. The Women’s side needs to embrace the concept of a top down philosophy and the club system needs to buy into that philosophy or it will do no good. Finally, the NWSL and US Soccer should seriously look into a true youth academy system, and no I don’t mean the DA system that is in place on the men’s side. I don’t know if Ellis will be a good coach, only time will tell, in my opinion Sermani was moving the team in the right direction, so we should have left him to his task, however I don’t run US Soccer.

    • Just a Parent says:

      Why do you say Not like DA system on boys side? What would be wrong with Spirit being the place to play in DMV?

      • Western MD Soccer Coach says:

        There is nothing wrong with the Spirit being the place to play in DMV, I was more speaking about the fragmented nature of the DA system on the boys side. The idea of the academies is good but the execution has been lacking. If we really want to build up the women’s side the development program needs to more closely mirror the European development model, but there are issues with trying to do that here in the US; we are pay to play, child labor laws prevent signing youth develop contracts, lack of money for the pro teams to invest in development, competing sports, etc. It can be done but it would take some long term investment and commitment.

  2. MC says:

    Charles et al. This has got to be one of the most idiotic articles I have ever read. While it seems your heart is in the right place, you are wrong on many accounts. Let’s start with your all important conclusion. “World dominance” would mean that we dominate all teams in the world all the time. While we dominate over most teams in the world, there are generally a handful of competitive teams every year, particularly in the World Cup years, over the past 28 years. The U20’s did not “crash out” of their WC, but lost in a competitive match that went to PKs (they could have won perhaps had they added another forward or shot PKs better). The “friendly” in Cary was neither negligent nor does it have anything to do with with your false narrative related to USWNT world dominance. Anyone who has paid close attention would argue that more and more teams in the world are catching up to the USWNT. More players are coming to the US and playing on college teams as well as increased interest and investments in the women’s game on an International level. The theory of overall regression, compared to the rest of the world, and statements like “our inferior technical and tactical ability shines through more every year,” is just plain alarmist and ignorant. Also, if you just spend a little time and research, you can find instances where Sir Alex was cranky with friendlies interfering with the PL, FA Cup and Euro/Champions League matches. You make it seem like there aren’t any conflicts like this in Europe, but there most certainly is, and sometimes the PL or other leagues do something radical, like adjusting the schedule. As you also know, but don’t point out, International play, including a friendly, is generally scheduled within specific windows well in advance. Did the NWSL take this into account when they created the schedule, and did you even bother to ask? Regardless, at the end of the day, your attempt to turn mole hills into a mountain and declare the death of the USWNT is just plain DUMB.

    • soccermom#6 says:

      Oh come on please…the technical quality of some teams like Japan is superb compared to USWNT. We rely on pace more and you can’t argue about it. And yes we will no longer dominate as the rest of the teams are catching up slowly but steadily. The fact that we are still calling up Rampone is a testament. In the last 10 years have we not developed a center back who can replace her? Where is the development then? What exactly is the reason why Seremani was fired? Jill Ellis is no Pia nor Seremani. And I am concerned for our team at the WC next year.

  3. frank says:

    good insightful comments by the author. yes one of the keys is money. but how can you ignore the fact that since heinrichs and ellis took over on the developmental level, the u-17’s have bombed out and the u-20’s got beat on pk’s by north korea; a very good technical side. and there’s the key; technique. its time for wambach to step aside; and for the attack to focus more on morgan and loreaux(?) agreed that its time for rampone to step aside. I think the federation made a big mistake by ousting sermani. I guess he was moving too quickly for the old guard. and yes, the game in cary should have featured non nwsl playoff players. no question. and yes heinrich and ellis had a say in its planning.

  4. Slicey says:

    Brilliant article. I can’t help but think that 25 years from now – after the US women have failed to win anything of note for decades – there will be a TV documentary trying to figure out how the train rolled off the tracks and it’ll point back to moments like these. “The Nail in the Coffin Heard Round the World” indeed.

    There would have been no better time to call up young players and explore different player combinations than this game. When else would you have 10 starters and/or super-subs unavailable to the national team than during the league championship?

    I completely agree with kernel_thai. The money for this game was firmly in USSF pockets long before this game roster was announced. They didn’t need the “star power” of Alex Morgan or the likes of Lauren Holiday and Becky Sauerbrunn controlling the midfield and backline, respectively. Those aren’t players whose future with the USWNT is in jeopardy. It would have been the perfect time to see what someone else could do with very little worry about either of them being replaced. Instead they played (almost) a full 90 then have to book it back to KC to play in extreme heat. The high temp for gameday is 98F – 10 degrees cooler than that at gametime, but the temp on the field will still hover near 100, surely. Playing in those conditions with little rest and no opportunity to train with their club team.

    And if KC ever needed a time to game plan for a specific opponent it would be for this game versus their league nemesis – essentially a copy of the game that knocked them out of title contention last year. If I were the coach for any of these four teams, I would be completely livid that my best players were called away at this time.

    I thought the NWSL was supposed to be the future of women’s soccer. The Americas’ opportunity to grow the game like never before. To finally become respected, both as a league and as fans of soccer culture.

    Thank you for not pulling any punches with this article. These decisions are completely asinine and I’ve lost some respect for Jill Ellis after this. I don’t really care what the pressure at the top is like or who is calling the shots. We need some Jurgen Klinsmann attitude for the women’s game. He flat out told the-powers-that-be that the men weren’t going to win yet and that he was going overseas to scout players instead of just being a “rah rah USA” man and signing all MLS talent. At Ellis’ position she should be the one TELLING U.S. Soccer what will happen with this team. NOT the other way around.

    • soccermom#6 says:

      This was expected to happen after they got rid of forward thinking Sermani and appointed Ellis. Seriously what is Rampone doing here at close to 40 yrs old? Please bow out and let the young ones get a chance. We are in for a slide here with a lack of leadership at the helm.

  5. Liz says:

    Flynn sells US Soccer sport brand, as previously, he sold Budweiser beer brand. He sells brands and he is a highly paid exec for doing so.
    Now, unnamed staff writers, have any of you spent 5 min in a room with Ellis to know if she “gets” it. Her strength purports to be scouting. Not sure about tactical coaching or training or selecting. I think she wants to keep her job and not lose to Switzerland.

  6. Liz says:

    This article is spot on with the idea that USSF is turning the USWNT into a joke. They show little regard for the NWSL and youth WNTs, which are the keys to developing the necessary talent to win a WWC.
    Most of the top European teams have excellent youth development and have top leagues which abide by the FIFA calendar.
    I understand the NWSL can’t necessarily follow the FIFA calendar but then the USSF needs to schedule with respect to the league.
    Yes we’ve got the biggest and fastest athletes but that means nothing if we can’t touch the ball because the other teams dribble and pass around us. We need to focus on technical development and ensure this implemented in youth clubs not just the youth NTs.
    Also I believe the hiring of Jill Ellis just proves how little the USSF cares about the WNT. Ellis is the easy hiring because she knows the program and most of the players. However there were better options available. I would’ve kept with Sermanni but Tony Gustavsson (now assistant coach) or Tony Dicicco would’ve been better choices then Ellis in my mind. Ellis has been in charge of the failure of the youth teams,partly because she’s stuck on the old idea of “american soccer” and not focused enough on technical skill. The USWNT has been hugely unconvincing under her management both now and when she was in charge in 2012.
    Honestly I’m very nervous about how the team will do in WWC ’15 and now with the failing of the youth nts, WWC ’19 as well.
    If this is all about money for Gulati and USSF then they should see that in order for the USWNT to stay relevant and profitable, they need to be winning not just friendlies but the biggest tournaments. And the way to do this is investment in developing technical skill.

  7. kernel_thai says:

    Excellent article.

    U20s – u cant use terms like “more technical” and “possession” with youth programs and then talk about “cultural fitness” and “American soccer style” with the senior team. The entire program needs to be on the same page and moving in one direction.

    Cary, NC – The game was sold out long before any roster was posted and is being web streamed on the USSoccer site. There r no financial implications to choosing this roster even tho it is clear that was a driving force. If Ellis feels she doesnt need to be playing this match then the roster should reflect it. While player popularity is a factor, the ACC frenzied crowd would probably been just as happy with a roster featuring quality players who played their college ball locally.

    Ellis often seems totally obvious to the fact that she has and continues to share an office with Cheryl Bailey, April Heinrichs and Dan Flynn. When uve had ur fingers in the pie as long as she has it’s too late to hide ur hands in ur pockets.

    The same minds who came up with the often brutal NWSL schedule wouldnt get the inconvenience of playing a playoff match less than 63 hours from the kickoff of the friendly. While participants in the Sunday match get an extra 35 hours they also have to travel completely across the country to do it.

    As to WC qualifying, the value of that tournament can be expressed in the fact the US and Mexico would hold two friendlies the month before. If I were FOX I might want to know just what the thinking behind that move was.

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