My sense is that the players are operating at a higher technical and tactical level than in the legendary era of the great American team holding off Linda Medalen, police-officer/captain of Norway, and the Chinese squad that seemed like the future but wasn’t.
The players I have been seeing can swing the ball from side to side in ways I don’t remember from the 1996-99 era of Akers-Lilly-Hamm and the rest. They know how to widen the field, find a seam, push a ball upfield through traffic.
Watching the Eurohooskies and the Yanks grappling in tight space also tells me they have been working on their WWF tactics necessary in the scrum.
It has been a delight to watch Megan Rapinoe take off on angled romps – clearly the most compelling player so far. She is quoted as saying she is doing her Messi impression, but I would compare her more to Cristiano Ronaldo. She’s got more pizzazz than Messi, or you could call it ego.
Sometimes Rapinoe holds on to the ball too long, missing a teammate, but then again she scored two goals in the opening victory. There is room for ego in this sport. Rapinoe seems to have a dash of Keyshawn Johnson, the receiver who was heard to say, “Just give me the damn ball.”
It’s funny. Before the World Cup, Rapinoe was recuperating, not discussed as a factor, but she is the engine of this team, so far, backed up by energetic younger players named Johnston and Klingenberg and Press and Sauerbrunn.
Abby Wambach is a niche player now. I thought she was coming in for a late header Friday, but her real aim may be drawing a foul in the box. She’s been watching the male strikers, who go down easily to juke the referee.
There is nothing wrong with learning from guys who are bigger, faster, stronger, and play a game that has been evolving for many decades. The other day I read an essay in the Times proposing lowering the basket in women’s basketball. This is totally nuts, because the women’s game is appealing as it is now – rare dunks, but much more power and elevation and gutsiness than a decade or two ago. The men’s game has become a dunkathon, with muscles. Raise their basket. Maybe that sport would be more watchable.
Soccer is still a sport of frustration and patience and trial and error, and once in a great when a footballer like Rapinoe takes a romp. Jogo bonito, personified.