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That Sundhage moved the strategy from the training ground to the pitch for the biggest match of their careers shows how much faith she had in this bunch. Even more than American football, soccer is a game of possession and finishing a few scoring chances. The U.S. women succeeded at the first task, but came away with nothing too many times from the opening minute of the match through the final penalty kick. Even so, they came away with something.
Up until now, the closest thing to a coherent playing style any American squad displayed on a world stage is what the English used to call "hit and hope." It involves defending countless attacks as if your life depended on it, then booting the ball up the field and hoping a teammate latches onto it -- and somehow beats a crowd of defenders to score.
But this one time, even in a loss, the U.S. women stuck their foot in the door and let their countrymen glimpse a wider world of possibilities. Given their legacy and continuing success, it's only fitting that they'd be the first to break through soccer's glass ceiling in America. The guess here is that you'll see the benefits as soon as next summer, at the London Olympics, and not just because the U.S. women will be out for vengeance. They never lacked for motivation and they've already learned the game's most important lesson.
Now it's the men's turn. It's been a black mark on their record that a nation of 300 million has yet to produce even one striker good enough to sit on the bench of world powers like Spain, Brazil, Argentina, England or the Netherlands, let alone play in the first team. Anyone who thinks they're getting their fair share of elite athletes should consider what the NBA's dozen best point guards could do with a soccer ball if they grew up playing the game.
So it's long past time to hope we hit that jackpot. It's time to start developing players who can tame the ball with their feet, move it and get it back with enough time and space to carve the same wide swath through the World Cup as their female counterparts.
There will be plenty of time before then to start talking about a soccer boom.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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