A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about the apparent Russian roulette mission US Women’s National Team Head Coach Jill Ellis and her team were embarking upon – riding the disturbingly out-of-form Abby Wambach until either a) she found that form, or b) the team was bounced from the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Fortunately for American soccer fans, and more-so for the USWNT players who have put in countless hours of time honing their skill (largely underpaid for such endeavors, I might add), Jill Ellis moved on.
The story quickly became a retasked Carli Lloyd, handed the danger-woman role on set pieces and in the run of play as the focal point of most attacking maneuvers. It worked brilliantly — largely because Lloyd took that chance and pounced like we’ve never seen before.
Ellis has gotten a lot of the credit for the tactical switch. Whether it was serendipity or the most shrewdly devised maneuver to free Lloyd, it was the player who provided the true genius.
Recall that Lloyd was panned in the press by her former coach, Pia Sundhage. Perhaps the comments had a little validity; it wasn’t until given the chance to bury the penalty kick against Colombia that Lloyd’s confidence set into full tilt.
Most likely Sundhage’s comments were far from Lloyd’s mind as she was preparing for the Final. But when it was all over, she made it clear that, however challenging it may be to coach her, it is well worth it to experience the joy of a title.
You never know, the Women’s National Team may have found the same fortune with Wambach playing the pivotal role. Like any sport soccer has a mental component. We watched Abby miss a couple of glorious chances against Australia. One could argue that in the midst of a Carli Lloyd-esque hot streak, Wambach buries those chances.
Those are the breaks in sports. Tom Brady’s career launched at the expense of Drew Bledsoe, and analogously Lloyd’s eternal place in the hearts of Americans was sown in the decline of one of the best before her.
Let’s not forget Abby, either. She did have a great hand in this World Cup victory, getting the only goal in the victory over Nigeria. More importantly though, she’s helped us realize the natural progression every National Team must eventually make.
Perhaps the best thing to do is not to label the team as “Abby’s” or “Carli’s” at all. That especially goes for the people who run the Federation, who may be inclined to hang onto one era a little too long because of the commercials or the number of shirts sold.