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Commentary Aug 19, 2014

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

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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.

Asinine.

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?

Jurgen-Klinsmann-upsetNever.

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.

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