Finally out of the 16-year shadow cast by the 1999 Women’s World Cup Champions, the 2015 winners are searching for the next team to beat. With literally no other team standing, it only makes sense to compare the champs head to head.
Goalkeeper: Scurry vs. Solo
Both Scurry and Solo received the Golden Glove award during their championships. In the final matches, Scurry had more opportunities to prove her capabilities, including the game winning save in the shootout and a player of the match award.
Solo and Scurry overlapped as teammates for a bit creating one of those classic coaching dilemmas… starting fresh talent or experience? After starting every match in the 2007 WWC, Solo was benched in the semis for the more experienced Scurry. The US ended up losing to Brazil 4-0 and Solo nearly ended her international career with some strong comments.
The keepers are tied with the most WWC shutouts (10) and Solo surpassed Scurry’s all-time record (71) just last year prior to her suspension. Some of this credit clearly goes to each keep’s defense in front of them (see below), but as captain of that crew, the GK is ultimately responsible for setting up that ship.
Defense: Overbeck, Chastain, Fawcett, Sobrero vs. Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg
Interestingly, both teams only allowed three goals during the entire cup (not counting the four made by China during the 1999 final shootout). Each defense allowed an own goal (Chastain versus Germany in the quarterfinal, Johnston versus Japan in the fiinal). Each defense had game-saving headers on the goal line (Lilly, Klingensberg).
This year’s defense has received a lot of notice, particularly because they were needed. The 99ers goal differential was +12 coming out of group compared to the meager +3 this year. While the 15ers offense struggled, the back line was the only thing keeping them in contention. The 15ers held a clean sheet for almost 540 minutes (six seconds away from breaking the World Cup record). With no disrespect to the pioneers, the 15ers are the MVP line here.
Midfield: Akers, Foudy, Lilly, Parlow vs. Brian, Heath, Holiday, Lloyd, Rapinoe
This is a tough one. First, you have Michelle Akers, the FIFA Female player of the Century. Akers was the lion driving the US team forward, breaking up key plays and keeping the ball in the last third. Both Lilly and Foudy are superstars who scored and assisted many of the 18 goals in the cup.
Before this year’s semi final against Germany and final against Japan, the 15ers were looking a bit weak in the middle with only a few sparks from starter Rapinoe. Early in play, there was a complete desert in the middle as the team tried to work the 4-4-2 with players not comfortable in the new positions. Sketchy in the group, Ellis slowly tweaked their shape to allow Lloyd to attack. And attack she did. Lloyd’s three goals in the final did win her the Golden Ball award… plus that shot from midfield, come on.
But, had the 99ers played them in the group or the Round of 16, they likely wouldn’t have lasted long enough to see Lloyd in the position to dominate. Akers would have exploited their mis-plays while Foudy and Lilly would have easily found space.
Forwards: Milbrett, Hamm vs. Morgan
Forwards are the face of a team. No question, Mia Hamm made women’s soccer watchable in the US. I won’t even dig into some BS about how “cute” or “sexy” any of these players might be in a bikini… winning and scoring goals is hot and Hamm could embarrass defenders with a quick shoulder move and speed.
Morgan was poised to be the heir apparent after her appearance in 2011. But after repeated injuries and a slow return, she’s been a disappointing starter only scoring a single goal in 436 minutes of play. Other notable strikers such as Wambach, Leroux and Press saw little playing time.
Advantage: 99ers. Mia Hamm can do anything you can do.
Bench: MacMillan, Whalen, Venturini, Fair, Rampone, Fotopoulos, Markgraf, Roberts vs. Wambach, Leroux, O’Hara, Press, O’Reilly, Rampone, Boxx, Engen, Chalupny
The bench looks like it might be the deciding factor in this matchup. While the 99ers had plenty of talent, most players only came on after large leads. Rampone, the only current player remaining from the 99ers was a mere colt that year.
The 15ers relied on their bench for offensive momentum (O’Hara). This was particularly crucial when both Holiday and Rapinoe were forced sit after receiving their 2nd yellow cards against Colombia. Plus, anytime your bench includes Abby Wambach, (the first American FIFA World player of the year since Hamm) you know it’s hard to lose. We didn’t see either Press or Leroux much in this tournament, but both players are also capable of coming off the bench and making goals happen.
No doubt, the 2015 USWNT would not exist if the 1999 USWNT hadn’t blazed the path into American hearts and minds. Brandi Chastain made every teenager start doing crunches. They created a generation of soccer parents who drove their ambitious players (boys and girls) to weekly practices and far away tournaments.
Sure, it’s completely unfair to compare these teams. The 15ers take private planes while the 99ers had per diems. But, advantages or not, I’d pay serious money to see Hamm running right on Klings or Akers getting in the way of Lloyd. There’s something to be said of wisdom and experience challenging youth.