[MY VIEW] One loss in 36 games is certainly no reason to panic, but the USA's 2-1 loss to Mexico Friday in Women's World Cup qualifying is a wake-up call. More troubling than the result was the manner of the U.S. performance. Unless there's an overhaul in the women's development program, the USA runs the risk of quickly falling behind the rest of the world. A real scary thought if you realize the USA throws many times more money into girls soccer than any country in the world.
In the short term, Pia Sundhage's women will probably do fine. They'll probably defeat Italy in the playoff and qualify for next summer's World Cup in Germany, where they'd be considered among the favorites.
The risk, though, is that she sticks too long with the same team she's had since taking over in 2008 and winning Olympic gold in Beijing. It's the same risk the coach of every dominant team eventually faces. And the USA is certainly an aging team.
That was evident in Cancun, where the USA struggled to take control of games in midfield. The central midfielders, Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd, are 33 and 30, respectively. Boxx, who came back from knee surgery in 2006, helped FC Gold Pride win the 2010 WPS title but now faces the possibility of having her third WPS fold in less than a year. Lloyd has also had an inauspicious WPS career for different reasons. She endured an indifferent first season in Chicago, moved to Sky Blue FC but quickly went down with a broken ankle.
But in the bigger picture, the concern is that the Americans looked technically inferior to the Mexicans in the semifinals and even struggled to shut down Costa Rica's Ticas, who should have posed no problems in Monday's third-place game.
As the world catches up, all the problems the USA has had on the men's side pop up on the women's side, where it's only exacerbated because of the lack of a soccer culture among elite girls.
In a recent interview with L.E. Eisenmenger of examiner.com, Tony DiCicco -- coach of the U.S. women when they won the 1999 Women's World Cup -- ripped girls development.
"On the girls’ side," he said, "our players are not smart players, they lack sophistication, they’re not technical enough."
DiCicco, who predicted that it would be 11-12 years before the U.S. women had a chance to win another World Cup, didn't blame the players or their parents, he blamed their coaches and the programs they run.
Girls soccer has become such a big business that the chase for the almighty soccer scholarship -- a chase that begins earlier and earlier in a player's career -- has become an end in itself.
Lost has been the emphasis on technical development. Nowhere was that more evident than at this summer's Under-17 Women's World Cup, where South Korea, North Korea, Japan, and Spain reached the final four and dazzled fans with their skills.
And where was the USA? It didn't even qualify, albeit by a fluke loss to Canada in the semifinals of Concacaf qualifying in a shootout.
The point is, countries like South Korea and Japan are putting the time into doing things right way at the girls level and reaping the benefits.
To a greater extent than even in Mexico, girls soccer in Spain benefits from improved support by the soccer federation and clubs and greater acceptance from society at large.
At the 2010 U-20 World Cup in Germany, the USA met its match with a pair of African team, Ghana and Nigeria. Both played the USA to draws, and Nigeria's Falconets outshot the Americans 27-9 in the second half and overtime of their quarterfinal match they won in a shootout.
Forget Germany or Brazil or the Scandinavian countries, the USA's traditional women's rivals. Barring major changes, the USA risks being overtaken by the South Koreas and Spains and Nigerias of the world.
U.S. Soccer pours tons of money into the women's national team program, so money alone won't solve the problem. It must work to change the culture at the club level, just as it has done with the Development Academy for boys.
WPS is in danger of folding just as the U.S. women's game needs it the most to serve as a yardstick for what young Americans must do to keep up with the likes of Marta and Kelly Smith.
Just as Friday's loss to Mexico was a wakeup call for the media -- they gave far more coverage in the days following the defeat than they would have done if the USA had won -- an early exit from Germany next summer might be a wakeup call for the women's game at large.