U.S. Women’s Soccer: Elvis Presley in a Beatles World

Greg Ryan has been fired as coach of the U.S. national women’s soccer team. No surprise there. Seems that two happenings in September, a controversial goalkeeper change and a Women’s World Cup semifinal loss to Brazil that followed, sealed Ryan’s fate. We can only hope that U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati moves more quickly and decisively in replacing Ryan than he did in replacing former U.S. men’s coach Bruce Arena last year.
But this is about neither Ryan nor Gulati. Rather, it’s American women’s soccer itself that finds itself on trial.
The United States did not give birth to soccer the way it did to rock-and-roll music. But American women, along with their sisters from such “nontraditional” soccer countries as Norway and China, helped perfect their sport at the international level for more than 15 years. Today, other countries such as two-time Women’s World Cup champion Germany and current runner-up Brazil have made huge strides in women’s soccer. As the semifinal with Brazil showed, time has marched on for the Americans, who find themselves as soccer’s answer to Elvis Presley trying to survive in the era of the Beatles.
The challenges for American women’s soccer begin at the youth and high school levels. Save for the Shannon Boxxs and Briana Scurrys of the world, girls/women’s soccer largely is a product of white suburbia in our fair land. Among high school boys, we see greater diversity and multiple soccer influences (sadly, these are not reflected at the international level). The same cultural dynamics, however, that drive and fuel boys soccer often tend to shackle the girls.
These realities are long-standing and deeply-rooted. Partly as a result, girls who do take up soccer often are exposed solely to coaches who preach the kick-and-run approach to the game.
As the Women’s World Cup showed, however, old habits must give way to modern thinking. Unfortunately, neither national team coaches nor federation presidents can bring about these changes by themselves. A lack of a women’s major professional league doesn’t help, though the United States is far from alone in that regard. Rather, the changes must begin at the grass-roots levels, both on and off the field.
On the plus side, more and more parents are recognizing the benefits for their daughters who wish to play soccer. And as players move up the ladder, it’s now plainly clear that the technical part of the game is every bit as important as the physical.
American women’s soccer screams for modernization. On both coasts and every point in between.