By Michael Lewis
I would like to make a public apology – to the Spanish women’s national team.
Four years ago, I walked away so impressed with the Spaniards in the Women’s World Cup. I said that they would win the World Cup in a decade.
I was wrong, dead wrong.
Spain won it only four years later, a 1-0 victory over England in Sunday’s final in Sydney. The Spaniards joined the U.S., Germany, Norway and Japan in that exclusive group that have won World Cup titles.
They finished well ahead of my prediction, which might have sounded quite crazy in June 2019. After watching them play the past month, it was not far-fetched at all. They played well and were deserved champions.
Of course, four years ago, there were a few fans and even media members who thought I was crazy and some who thought that I was a bit premature.
But there was a bite to Spain’s game and a grittiness on both sides of the ball, especially in its 2-1 Round of 16 loss to the USA in France. The players were physical, but there was talent, attacking talent that needed to be honed.
Besides, when you’re around soccer as long as I have been, you could tell the intangibles, and Spain had plenty of them.
I just didn’t realize it would happen so quickly, especially of the discontenment that transpired between Spain’s players and its federation a year ago. I thought this team was in jeopardy of underachieving down under.
I liked the way Spain played. The players were entertaining and effective. They found ways to move the ball around and get quickly out of harm’s way and into attack mode and make the opposition sweat.
In fact, the Spaniards reminded me of the 1994 Brazilian men’s side, which won the 1994 World Cup. They play a short game, a Tiki-Taka way, in which the men made so famous at the 2010 World Cup. But they had a few wrinkles that made them lethal, with medium or even long passes to loosen up or unlock the defense when the situation was right.
It seemed that every Spanish player on the pitch was skillful, able to launch a quick pass or dribble through tight spots and get the ball to a teammate, using in the forward direction, not a pass back to the goalkeeper.
There was a rhythm and a flow to their game.
During the game, I thought to myself that I wished that this year’s USA side, which flamed out in the Roud of 16, played that way.
Left back Olga Carmona scored the winning goal.
In fact, she became only the seventh player to score in the semifinal and final of a Women’s World Cup.
A left back making a difference, huh?
Which brings us to Crystal Dunn.
The Rockville Centre, N.Y. native was used there for the 2015 World Cup, which the Americans won under head coach Jill Ellis, and in this competition. The U.S. was directed by Vlatko Andonovski.
Like many members of the media, I always thought that Dunn’s outstanding attacking ability and talent, which is used so well by the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, was wasted on the team.
Yes, she was considered one of the best defenders at France 2019, but still a waste.
When Andonovski took over the coaching reins in 2019, he had an opportunity and plenty of time to switch Dunn to midfield and find a solid left back. But he decided otherwise.
Yes, I am biased. I watched Dunn as a teenager many years ago and was impressive by her speed and strength on the wings.
Could she have solved the Americans’ inability to finish in this competition? Perhaps. Too bad we will never find out.
A wasted opportunity.
If you think whoever takes over for Andonovski will take a magic wand and that everything will be perfect, you are greatly mistaken.
This year’s two finalists, England and Spain, have extensive soccer cultures that were decades old. They eat, live and breathe soccer every day, like many players and fans do in many European and South American countries.
It is in the nation’s DNA and daily environment.
I know that many American soccer observers claim that we are a soccer country, noting all of the professional leagues and the growth of the beautiful game.
No doubt the sport has grown by leaps and bounds over the past five decades.
Whether the USA is a soccer country as an England, Spain, Italy or the Netherlands, depends on which level you are talking about.
Like it or not, soccer is not part of our culture like it is overseas.
Many of the top clubs in Europe boast women’s teams. We have seen how they have aided the growth of the game. Chelsea and Manchester City in England quickly come to mind, as do Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. Some of those professional leagues’ quality has surpassed the National Women’s Soccer League in quality.
The NWSL hasn’t been helped by its recent coaching scandals that have cast a dark shadow on the league.
And, there are too many sports at the present time to duplicate what is transpiring in Spain and England.
Many European countries are near the top of the pyramid, the USA near the bottom.
We still have a way to go.
That could be a roadblock for future U.S. teams’ hopes of going deep into tournaments.
We have to understand that several countries have surpassed the USA, while others are coming up strong in our rearview mirror.
Just wondering if there will be a first-time winner in the near future.