For the U.S. women’s national soccer team, 2013 is light on games but heavy on storylines. Maura Gladys walks through three of the most important ones, making a few bold predictions along the way.
January 02, 2013
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In the four-year World Cup cycle, the year immediately following the Olympic Games is always the quietest. There’s no World Cup, Olympic tournament, or World Cup qualifiers. The only major international tournament on the horizon is the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March. The result: less action, but more plot. Think one of those slow-burn, dialogue-heavy episodes of The Wire. New coach Tom Sermanni will bring changes to the squad, the U.S will launch a professional league for the third time, and several players will look to make 2013 their year.
Here are three predictions for 2013.
1. Tom Sermanni Will Go Undefeated in His First Year on the Job
Despite some tough fixtures, including a match against Germany in Germany and a reported face-off with former USWNT coach Pia Sundhage, the squad will surge under new head coach Tom Sermanni and go undefeated in 2013.
Unlike his counterpart on the men’s side, Jurgen Klinnsman, who is entering a crucial calendar year, Tom Sermanni’s date book is a bit lighter. The only confirmed matches on the United States calendar are two games against Scotland in Jacksonville, Fla., and Nashville in February, and the Germany game in April. In fact, during these slow years, the national team usually only plays between eight and 10 games.
So, an undefeated year isn’t that bold of a prediction and has been accomplished before—as recently as 2009—but it’s the way that Sermanni will do it that will be impressive. The new coach's deep knowledge and creativity, combined with the lack of pressure, will spark an inspired stretch for the team. Everyone will relax and play good soccer, and the team will win.
The injection of new players into the squad will also add more dimension. Expect a lot of different personnel, tactics, and lineups. I won’t go so far as to predict that Sermanni will go undefeated never using the same lineup twice, but he may come very close.
2. Kelley O’Hara Will Take Over
In 2011, a young striker named Alex Morgan made a name for herself as a speedy super sub. At the 2012 Olympic Games, Lauren Cheney and Tobin Heath proved they would lead the U.S. midfield into the future. Expect 2013 to be the year Kelley O’Hara emerges as the Americans' best defender. The 24-year-old former forward started almost every game on defense for the U.S. in 2012, after starter Ali Krieger was sidelined in January with an ACL and MCL tear. Her service in the back was commendable, but it was a band-aid fix to deal with Krieger’s absence.
Now, it’s O'Hara's time to own it. She has had a year to adjust to the back line. With Krieger now back in the mix, O’Hara’s speed and ability to push upfield mirror Krieger’s on the right, creating a more balanced defense and putting less pressure on O’Hara to be the sole offensive push from the back. Plus, Sermanni is known for his creativity, and he will be able to cook up something crafty for her versatility.
Bonus prediction: First younger player to consistently crack the starting lineup is UNC defensive midfielder Amber Brooks. Brooks captained the Tar Heels to a College Cup championship in December and the U-23 USWNT to a Three Nations Tournament victory in June. Superb in the air, and just as dangerous going to the turf, Brooks marshals her midfield with aggressiveness and grit, and is capable of dropping balls over defenses that would make Alex Morgn and Sydney Leroux salivate. She’s the perfect replacement for the aging Shannon Boxx.
3. The National Women’s Soccer League Will Not Be a Success
The newly formed NWSL is expected to make a resounding splash in the United States professional soccer pond, but don’t be surprised if it’s more of a splat. With several unanswered questions and seemingly overlooked gaps that have yet to be addressed, it’s hard to imagine the league kicking off flawlessly in just four months.
The main positive focus of the league has been the financial backing from U.S. Soccer, the Mexican Soccer Federation, and the Canadian Soccer Federation. In an effort to create the strongest product possible, federation funding will pay the contracts for about 50 players across the eight teams in the league, or six to seven internationals per team. But that still leaves four or five starting spots and an entire bench to fill with recent college graduates and semi-pro players, who will probably earn between $10,000 and $15,000
This could create a huge gap in quality between U.S., Canadian and Mexican internationals and semi-pro players, which could bring the overall quality of the league down. That, in turn, could send the league spiraling downward. A huge sign in either direction will come on January 18 at the NWSL draft. If top college prospects like Brooks and Christine Nairn jump ship for Europe, that could signal the beginning of the end for the league.
At this point, it’s not even 100% known which U.S. internationals will be participating in the league. A few, including Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, and Sydney Leroux have stated their intentions to play. But others may still jump to Europe, including star Megan Rapinoe who will reportedly play with Lyon
before joining the NWSL mid-season.
Without players, and with team brands and identities just coming into focus now, the NWSL’s success may not be as assured as many are expecting.
Maura Gladys, a featured ASN columnist, works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.