Road to Vancouver: For once, FIFA gets its right

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

The one thing you can say about the Torneio Internacional da Brasilia that concluded on Sunday was it certainly was an eye-opener. It put Brazil in a new light and showed how much work the USA has ahead of it before it begins play at next year's Women's World Cup. Here are four takeaways from the tournament ...

1. FIFA got it right with its seedings.

FIFA came in for a lot of criticism for going with Brazil ahead of Sweden in the seedings for next year's Women's World Cup, but you can't argue with putting Brazil in the first pot now.

Brazil went out and showed it will be a serious Women's World Cup title contender by beating and tying the USA. The 0-0 tie was almost as impressive as the 3-2 win. Marta and Co., had the Americans playing defensively for most of a game they needed to win to capture the tournament title, and the Brazilians demonstrated their game management has gotten better.

Based on 2014 results, it's an easy choice between Brazil and Sweden. With the win and tie against the USA and 4-1 win over China, Brazil finished the year with five wins, two losses and six ties against teams headed to the 2015 Women's World Cup. Sweden had just one win to go along with five losses and one tie in seven matches against teams bound for Canada next summer.

2. U.S. struggles away from home continue.

The USA finished the year with a record of 16 wins, three losses and five ties in 24 matches. While it was almost perfect -- 14 wins and one tie -- in 15 games at home, it struggled on the road. With one win, one loss and two ties at the Brasilia tournament, it finished with two wins, three losses and four ties in nine games.

You have to go back to 2001 for the the last time the USA had a losing record on the road, and that year it went to China and Portugal for tournaments without its big stars.

The USA has far more depth now than it did then, but it has not been a good year on the road. The two losses at the Algarve Cup cost Tom Sermanni his job, and the USA did not look comfortable in albeit difficult conditions in Brasilia.

3. USA needs to get Alex Morgan healthy.

No team in the world can match the depth the USA has at forward with Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Abby Wambach, Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez, but it is not the same team without Morgan.

It is no coincidence that the USA got such poor results on the road as Morgan missed all nine games, first recovering from the ankle injury she suffered in October 2013 and then rehabbing after going out in the second game of the Concacaf Women's Championship with another ankle injury.

None of the other players stretches the opposition like Morgan does, creating chances for herself and her teammates.

4. USA needs to find spot in midfield for Morgan Brian.

One of the toughest decisions Coach Jill Ellis must make it what to do with Morgan Brian, the University of Virginia senior. After the USA lost to Brazil, 3-2, Brian was brought into the midfield alongside Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd for the Argentina game and stayed there for the final against Brazil.

Brian's creativity and skills on the ball are what's been lacking in the U.S. game, but it begs the question, where does Ellis play her? One of the biggest needs is finding a midfielder who will play the holding position to prevent what happened in the first game against Brazil when it was overrun on Marta counters.

Brian's strengths are in the final third, but Ellis has said Brian could grow into the role of the covering midfielder.

Big names headed to Algarve Cup in March

Usually, the Algarve Cup consists of two strong groups and a third group in which host Portugal faces a trio of up-and-coming teams. Not so in 2015. Nine of the 12 entrants are bound for the Women's World Cup, and a 10th team, Denmark, beat the USA, 5-3, at the 2014 Algarve Cup. Besides Portugal and Denmark, only Iceland won't be going to Canada next summer.

The USA's Group B with Norway, Switzerland and Iceland is a piece of cake compared with Group A, which includes Germany, Sweden, Brazil and China. Portugal will face France, Japan and Denmark in Group C.

The big news is Brazil's participation. It has never previously participated in the Algarve Cup, but it will take part in 2015 as it sends its national team in residency -- another sign of the stepped-up commitment of the CBF for women's soccer.

Switzerland will be the other first-time entrant in the Algarve Cup, while France will be making its first appearance since 2007.

CYPRUS CUP. Seven other Women's World Cup finalists are signed up for the Cyprus Cup, the other big women's tournament. Australia, Canada, England, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea will all take part in the 12-team tournament won last year by France.

The notable omission from the two spring tournaments is Spain. It qualified for the Women's World Cup for the first time but has yet to beef up its schedule. It only played one friendly in 2014. The other absentees represent the third world of women's soccer: Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Thailand.

Keep an eye on ... Grace Maher

A trio of Americans -- retiring Lori Lindsay, Chantel Jones and Stephanie Ochs -- started for Canberra United in its 3-1 win over Perth Glory in the FFA Cup championship, but Australia's grand final was notable for the presence of 15-year-old Grace Maher.

The Canberra United midfielder is being tipped as the next big Australia star, and she did not disappoint, setting up Ochs for the game's first goal. Maher was only told the night before the final that she'd be starting in place of American Kendall Fletcher, whose guest player contract expired after the semifinals.
4 comments about "Road to Vancouver: For once, FIFA gets its right".
  1. Michael Murphy, December 23, 2014 at 7:16 p.m.

    How about we talk about the real issue.

    Age.

    Move the old folks off and commit to the next generation. Our back five is a full 6 years older on average than Brazil's back five and showed it.

  2. James Madison, December 23, 2014 at 7:18 p.m.

    When, oh when, will SA begin to rate the performance of players on the WNT as it does the men? Until that happens, SA will be treating the women as second class players just as FIFA does by having them play on second class surfaces.

  3. Gus Keri, December 24, 2014 at 10:29 a.m.

    Michael, this is what Tom Sermanni started to do. Guess what! He got the boot.

  4. John DiFiore, December 27, 2014 at 4:07 a.m.

    Abby looked tired... and Brazil was WAY more creative..

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