Commentary

Experience counts for a lot, but youth will decide Women's World Cup

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

Change comes slowly in women's soccer.

Jill Ellis was no Jurgen Klinsmann in picking her 23-player roster for this summer's Women's World Cup. There was no chance she'd pull a JK and, say, drop Abby Wambach like he dumped Landon Donovan a year ago.

Tom Sermanni had begun to shake things up when he succeeded Pia Sundhage in 2013, but the experimenting, if you'd call it that, basically ended when Sermanni was fired four months into his second year on the job.

Ellis went big on experience in selecting her squad. It averages 101 caps per player, and its average age is 28 years old.

Despite two coaching changes, 14 of the 21 Americans who went to the 2011 Women's World Cup return. Eleven of the 13 players who played in the final against Japan are in Ellis' squad, the same number from 2012 Olympic gold-medal game.

The seven players who return from eight years in China are more than the six holdovers Klinsmann brought back from the 2010 men's team for last summer's World Cup in Brazil.

Donovan's exclusion was a shocker, but there were a dozen other toss-up calls as Klinsmann first got down to 30 players for the Stanford camp and then to 23 for Brazil.

About the only question mark in the women's team was whether Ellis would take Shannon Boxx, who had played just five NWSL games with Chicago last year and 33 minutes with the national team in 2014 and 2015, and if not, who between Crystal Dunn and Rachel Van Hollebeke would be dropped.

Ellis took Boxx and cut Dunn and Van Hollebeke. At 37, Boxx, who has battled lupus and gave birth to her first child in February 2014, will join Wambach in going to her fourth World Cup. (Christie Rampone, the lone 99er still active, will outdo them both and go to her fifth.)

“In January, I started to see just how far she’d come,” Ellis said. “I think Shannon can give us not just depth, but also some experience, being able to close out big games.”

If Klinsmann had taken Donovan, you'd have probably heard similar words from him, but he was no sentimentalist.

Experience counts for a lot on the U.S. women's national team -- five players from the 1991 championship team in China were still playing 12 years later and Kristine Lilly went on to play in a fifth tournament four years after that -- but it's youth that got the USA back in the game four years ago.

After the USA was trounced decisively in the semifinals of the 2003 and 2007 Women's World Cup, falling to Germany (3-0) and Brazil (4-0), it recovered with a series of epic matches in 2011 that brought women's soccer to new heights in terms of popularity and entertainment value. A lot of that was due to the influx of young players like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, who all brought a new dynamism to the U.S. game.

Youth will decide who gets to the top of the podium in Vancouver this summer in what shapes up to be a grueling tournament with the finalists having to play seven games for the first time -- and all on turf.

Whether that's the USA with newcomers like Christine Press, Morgan Brian and Julie Johnston, or Germany with Dzsenifer Marozsan and Melanie Leupolz, or France with the likes of Claire Lavogez and Kenza Dani, only time will tell.

4 comments about "Experience counts for a lot, but youth will decide Women's World Cup".
  1. R2 Dad, April 15, 2015 at 4:40 a.m.

    I find it amazing that Ellis would rely heavily on our old war horses in what is a large bet on experience over youth. Granted, Canada is not hot and humid Asia so our players might last longer than they would otherwise. Maybe Boxx is required to get the most out of our back line? Maybe Rampone's job is to get us to the Final, then step aside? Is Abby there just for Japan? If this all goes as planned, Ellis is the shepherd to guide the flock to another title, the old stalwarts retire on a high and Ellis gets another 4 years with those younger players waiting in the wings. If there is a player selection miscalculation in the quarters or semis, this could all blow up in her face. 7 matches in 4 weeks is more than Abby or Boxx will have played in quite a while. There is a reason coaches pick players in good form vs the sentimental favorites. Let's hope Ellis has all the bases covered.

  2. Bob Ashpole, April 15, 2015 at 4:22 p.m.

    Your comments are apparently aimed at the earlier decision (the selection of 25), rather than dropping the two defenders to reach 23. Canada will be no picnic. Synthetic turf is very hot in the sun and harder on the joints than grass. But the conditions are the same for everyone. The US has an advantage over the other teams in dealing with the tough schedule: the outstanding quality of all 20 field players. It would be more of a risk taking inexperienced players on the bench.

  3. James Madison, April 15, 2015 at 7:46 p.m.

    Ellis may regret the "part timers" Wambach and Boxx, who never has been a favorite of mine, as well as Rampone, who probably will be fitter than most of the younger players. However, the difference between her and Klinsmann is that she has selected World Class players, and JK still is hunting for some.

  4. John Soares, April 17, 2015 at 12:04 p.m.

    James, Ellis does have world class players available AND selects them:)

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