espnW analyst Julie Foudy and ESPN analyst Kate Markgraf – members of the 1999 U.S. World Cup-winning team — answered media questions about the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup during today’s ESPN 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Semifinals media call.
Audio replay: http://es.pn/1efiXtL
Q: What are your general impressions of the tournament thus far, and U.S. team’s success through the tournament to date.
KATE MARKGRAF: I think so far, the tournament has accomplished its objectives, which was to expand the field. We saw eight new teams come in, and although the mainstays are what we saw basically in the quarterfinals — more of the established countries — it did open up the game globally, and the only way that could have happened in increasing exposure was to open up the field. So that was one objective.
The second objective was to hopefully see some great soccer, and we have seen that. Specifically in the Germany‑France game, [we saw] the game has evolved quite a bit. And a side like France who was relatively unknown two World Cups ago is now a team to watch for the next one.
So the game is evolving, and those are two things that have happened.
JULIE FOUDY: I think if you look at the U.S. team, [they] haven’t played yet to their potential, but [are] getting it done essentially, with winning that group — which was a tough group — and then getting that nice draw after that.
I’m excited to see these last few games, and unfortunately I’m sad to see France go out so soon because I thought they were a beautiful team to watch, and the way that matched up on the side of the bracket. But I think the draw and the U.S. winning the group obviously worked in [the U.S.’s] favor with the knockout stages and the easier path. So this will be a great test for them against Germany.
Q: If you were drawing up a game plan for tomorrow’s game, and Julie I know you think the Americans won this one, how would you design a game plan to beat Germany right now?
FOUDY: If I was drawing up a game plan against Germany, I actually would go in that 4-3-3, which I’ve been talking about, because I like the idea of the U.S. pressing higher. I like the idea of the U.S. having two attacking central midfielders in Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, which I think both of them playing higher is better suited. I just think it suits your personalities better, and it also brings Abby on to the field.
I don’t think Abby can play in a two-front. I think if you play a three front you have her in the game as your target high forward. You keep her eye, and you put speed around her. I don’t think that is going to happen, but if they do go in a 4-4-2, which is what I’m suspecting, I’m suspecting as well that they’ll leave Abby on the bench again and go with two faster forwards and then bring Abby off the bench, which I think is the right move.
I think you need pace up front because one of the weaknesses of Germany is their back line isn’t as fast. Then go with some pace on that outside midfield spot as well. You have [Megan] Rapinoe coming back in, and I thought Kelley O’Hara did really well on that right‑sided position the other night. Apparently she’s been training really well, which is why she got the look. So I would go aggressively and step offensively, step defensively. But you’ve got to go and grind them and put some pressure on the ball.
Q: You kind of touched on this a little bit, Julie, but obviously with Holiday out last game, Carli was able to get into the attack more with Morgan [Bryan] sitting. How do you think that ‑‑ obviously, I’m assuming Holiday’s going to be back in the starting lineup ‑‑ how is Carli going to be able to keep that role with this lineup kind of going back to what it was?
MARKGRAF: I would say the Holiday and Rapinoe subtraction was actually addition by subtraction. I thought the team as a whole improved when those two players went out. Not so much because the two players that went in for them, but because everyone else stepped up, and it forced [coach] Jill [Ellis] to kind of tinker with the lineup, something that she seems to have been hesitant to do in terms of how that midfield pair position themselves.
She used to have them side-by-side in “two sixes,” is what they call it. And from what we’re reading is now Carli’s been given the responsibility of more the attacking role, and she’s obviously excited about it judging from her quotes, as well as her inspired play. So against Germany, which will play three in the middle, they play 4‑2‑3‑1, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a 4‑5‑1, and you’ll see it triangle. They need to kind of stagger. If they sit square side-by-side, it’s really easy to penetrate through that line with just the movement that they have, because they run the triangle offense.
They’re able to get at you through multiple passing channels. So if they’re staggered a bit more…their wide midfielders, they have a chance of stopping Germany in the midfield. But also it makes Carli sit higher. So, that’s what I envision is going to happen against Germany, if she decides to go with the 4‑4‑2, which Jill Ellis seems to prefer.
Q: Julie, kind of picking up a conversation we had from last summer with the Men’s World Cup. I’m just curious if you’re seeing a continual gaining of traction? It just feels like it in the States. But I don’t know because I’m kind of in a soccer bubble. I’m wondering if you get the sense that this Women’s World Cup is building also is building on it which the domestic league really needs?
FOUDY: Are you talking about how much traction it’s gaining with mainstream people in the public in this country?
Q: Yeah, like we were talking last summer how crazy it got and there was a whole different feel for soccer in America, and now with the women’s league in that crucial third year or however you want to look at it.
FOUDY: Right, right. It’s hard. I was just having this conversation with Kate, I think, the other day. It’s hard because, again, we’re kind of in this bubble as well, to gauge how it’s being received. I mean the numbers, in terms of people watching the games obviously have been huge, which has been great to see. Especially when you’re not just talking FOX, you’re talking FS1 as well. Their numbers have been great.
So I think that’s a positive sign. If you’re pulling in 5 million on FS1 or just about, which is what I think they got, I think that’s a great sign. And there is constantly conversation now, not just about, oh, this is where they like to shop or these are the things they like to do. It’s tactics. It’s what should we be playing. How come we’re not playing better? It’s all these questions that you get from people just walking around town of what’s going on or that was better and constant commentary on how they’re playing, which I think is healthy.
So instead of treating it as an anomaly, and wow, what is this? It’s more, okay, we’re in this and we’re paying attention, so I think that’s all positive. Hopefully, it will have a positive impact on this critical third year with the league. The great news is this World Cup creates more U.S. personalities as well, outside of the Abbys, and the Alexes and the Hopes that everyone knows, obviously Meghan Klingenberg, and you’re seeing Kelley O’Hara in there, and Tobin Heath and all the others, Amy Rodriguez are getting some time. It’s great to see.
Q: Kate, kind of picking up off what you were talking about going back to tactics, it seemed like Kelley O’Hara really opened up the right side, the flank, which the teams seem to need. Can you talk just a little bit about that? What she’s meant to that and going forward how important that might be?
MARKGRAF: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think one thing that is different about O’Hara, and how she differentiates herself compared to who she’s playing against for playing time in that role, is she’s not a converted forward like Christen Press, whose first instinct when she loses the ball is not to turn around and chase. That’s something that if you’re not used to having to do that, it kind of takes a while to learn.
Tobin Heath is very crafty, but she has a tendency to prefer the left side more than the right in terms of getting end lined. She seems to get end lined a lot more eagerly when she’s on the left than she is on the right. Kelley O’Hara is the next person we saw in there, and that is someone that, if you tell her what to do, she has the skillset to get to do it as well as if she were to lose the ball. That’s what I love best, is she would turn and press. I think that combination of having Carli Lloyd higher and then O’Hara’s intensity was contagious. And all of a sudden, her ability to lockdown China on that side allowed Ali Krieger to come up. All of a sudden there are more numbers to advance on that position.
When Krieger got the ball, her first look wasn’t to lump it into the box, which is what we saw in the first couple games, a little more direct, and it was closer so she could hit passes more accurately and she was more inspired to do so because there was such a good shape in front of her. I think against Germany, you’ve got to terrorize them on the flanks. They are not fast, and that is a strength of the United States, so you have to exploit it. And you can’t to exploit them down those wings, especially because they like to push their wing backs, Kemme and Maier, up so high that that’s how you punish them.
That’s how France punished them. It ended up holding those guys back. And if those forwards counter attack so swiftly that the United States can do that as well, as long as they start fast players that want to get end line, and are disciplined to get end lined within the game plan.
Q: Kate and Julie, this question is about the other semifinal, Japan and England. Do you think it will even be close? What do you foresee there?
FOUDY: I do actually think it will be close. That is one of the things that Japan has dominated teams and passed them to death almost. They don’t have a finisher who’s been consistently dangerous in front of goal. So these small margins of games they’ve been winning by keeps it close. I think if England can keep it close, then you never know, right? Especially with this English spirit and the way Lucy Bronze is finishing some of these goals in these knockout stages. I thought Jodie Taylor, putting her in the starting position and some of the tactical changes England has made have been very good. I thought Mark Sampson has been pretty bold with a lot of his moves.
So I think it could be close. If it’s close, then England has a chance. But I suspect Japan is probably going to win it.
MARKGRAF: Yeah, I think England has probably been ‑‑ the England squad has been utilized fully in terms of everyone seems ready to step in. With Mark Sampson outcoaching a lot of the other opponents with his tactics as well as his personnel decisions have been very bold and very drastic compared to what we’ve seen from other teams.
So I think England definitely has a chance if they physically push Japan around a little bit. And Japan, they kind of just lull you to sleep. I compare them to a boa constrictor, they slowly suck the game out of you because you never have the ball. They defend by their attack, and they hold on to the ball so long that that’s their defense. All of a sudden, when a team wins the ball, they’re in their own half and they have to build out of that, and they have all these numbers around them. So they’re kind of strangling other teams to death slowly. But I think England has a chance if they can quickly counter.
I think in that quarterfinal game, England didn’t take the game to Canada at all. They capitalized on two Canadian mistakes. So that is something they’re going to have to be a bit more creative with and try to create some chances on their own.
Q: Kate and Julie, what did the win over Germany in 1999 mean within the U.S.’s run to the title? And what did Germany’s win in 2003 mean for their rise to becoming a women’s soccer power?
FOUDY: I actually think that was probably one of our hardest games [in 1999]. I think that was our hardest game, actually, because we had so many things to overcome in that game. You had the Brandi own goal. You have them equalizing or going up, I think, at halftime.
Yeah, it was one of those games I remember it was just hot and humid. I remember feeling like I had a hole in my heart or a hole in my lung — one of the two — that game and struggling. But think once we got through that quarterfinal, we knew that was one of the biggest tests. That’s always such a hard hurdle to get over. Once we got through that quarterfinal, you were only one game away from the final, of course. It was just this sigh of relief of, okay, because we knew just how good the Germans were. So I’d say that was one of the hardest games of ’99.
I’ll let Kate speak to 2003 because I’m still scarred by it.
MARKGRAF: That and she wants to avoid the Germany part. In 2003 I think the game evolved in 2003 specifically because of Germany because it was the first time a women’s side had effectively utilized four lines. So they were already starting to toy with this 4-2-3-1, and I remember we lined up in a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, and because they had an additional line that that person was sitting in they basically always had someone sitting in between two lines. So they always had an easy passing option, and we had no idea how to defend that.
So even though we were only down 1‑0 at the half, they were just outplaying us. I remember I was starting at a left outside back, and I always had two to three people that were passing options every time my player got the ball or someone came up. I literally as a defender, I was always on an island because they just kind of surrounded me. And that’s kind of what you see now.
That was borrowed from the men’s game, right, and it finally started to transition to the women’s game where Germany showed everyone how to do it, and that’s what you see a lot of sides now. We just play a 4-3-3, we never thought about making it a 4-5-1, and on defense having those two forwards drop back. That’s what Germany did in terms of style, and for them, it just helped bolster the federation, and they got money from it and they put it right back into their league.
Germany’s probably arguably maybe one of the best leagues in the world. Maybe better than the United States in the sense that it’s more unified, so that all the teams are connected with their federations. So basically all the players are kind of playing the same positions or had the same role responsibilities within the positions. They’re playing the same tactics and same formation, so when they go into the National Team, if they get called up, there isn’t this huge learning curve because they have to learn a new formation or a new style of play or have the different responsibilities than they had on their club team.
So always the United States will have bigger hurdles and unifying their game compared to other federations, but specifically against Germany. So that was a huge win for them.
I had a couple of teammates from the first league iteration, and it was great to see them win because they played such great soccer.
Q: Regarding one of our local players in the pro team, Christen Press. She really has a more permanent role from the beginning of the tournament and we’ve seen less of her. I wanted to get your thoughts on how her tournament has gone, and has she lived up to the expectations that you guys had for her?
FOUDY: Well, I think you saw what you can get from Christen Press in that first game when she scores that important goal, and a nice one. And that’s the thing with Press, is you want her in front of goal because every time you talk to a player or a staff member on the U.S. Team they’ll say she is the purest finisher. She can strike a ball like we’ve never seen. She can strike it with both feet and just how good she is in front of goal.
I think the challenge for Press going forward is that she’s got to be an impact player even when she’s not in front of goal. Meaning, is she making a difference offensively getting in line? Is she making a difference defensively by getting stuck in on tackles and working both sides of the ball? And I think when she can bring that consistency, because we know what she can do in terms of goal scoring when she gets close. But if she can bring that consistency of really getting in line and making an impact in games and turning players and taking on and doing that on both sides, then I think she’s going to get more minutes.
Q: Do you think Julie Johnston has been the breakout player or the MVP? What stands out as being so superlative?
MARKGRAF: I think what has to be said when we talk about Julie Johnston is that she’s extremely lucky to play next to Becky Sauerbrunn, and that’s not to take away anything that she’s doing because she’s playing great, but Becky Sauerbrunn holds down the fort. When you know you have no responsibility other than to show up and play and do what you want to do, then you are the freest person on there. Becky is organizing everybody. Becky is making sure that Klingenberg comes back and that Johnston’s on the same line and she’s reading the passing angles and holding the line and telling them when to drop.
And Julie is very similar to the role that I had in 1999 where I dropped into a position where I could just play, and it was so easy, to be honest, because you can just go and have fun and you don’t quite have the pressure that the person next to you does.
But where Julie is really killing it, to me, is just what she brings offensively. Because now if you are a defender on a set piece, you’re not only worried about Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach, if Wambach is in the game, now you have a third person you have to mark.
So that makes the U.S. attack very unpredictable on who their target really is because arguably Julie is just as dangerous in the air as Lloyd. And then if you add Leroux in there and all four of those players on the field, that’s four players you have to mark because they’re all really good in the air going forward.
So Julie Johnston has been a breakout star, but a lot of that is because she’s free to do what she wants because of Becky Sauerbrunn.
Q: I was wondering, someone had mentioned earlier the success of Germany in 2003 and pouring money back into the women’s league there, and given sales growth here, how much this kind of match and how much deeper into the tournament might help to springboard to help the league here especially given the great TV ratings so far?
FOUDY: I think it absolutely will help, especially if the U.S. can get through this Germany semifinal, and especially if we can see the U.S. team that we all know is there and that’s playing more fluid, offensive soccer as well. You know, that is the thing I think that you heard so much early on in the tournament about their offensive struggles and the reason for that is because you know it’s there. You have all this talent.
So I think that will obviously help the league if they can not only win this Germany game, but do it in a style like Americans are like — I want to see that on a weekly basis. Because the numbers that are watching are great, but translating that to a weekly basis is always the biggest challenge, of course. That we’ve seen with the past leagues.
But I just feel this league is in a better place as well. It’s got all the Americans back here playing. You’ve got the support of the federation. You’ve got MLS owners who are in it right now, and I think going forward you’re just going to see more and more ownership interest from parties that get this is really an untapped market that if they tap into can eventually get a return on.
Q: I’d like to hear from both of you, just an assessment of Alex Morgan?
MARKGRAF: I think she has improved game by game, and improvement in just how her body is holding up minute after minute, because she’s been off for a while. So the last thing to come back is your confidence. But how it starts to build that is by being able to make that intense run at the 61‑minute mark when you could previously only get to 59.
So she’s starting to get her fitness and her strength back. I think the biggest thing about Alex Morgan is her agility. She’s very difficult to knock off balance running at speed with the ball, and you’re starting to see that come back. Even though maybe she’s not the same player yet, but she has been in some of the ‑‑ in 2012 and 2011 [form] — because of her injury, just having her on the field is impactful because defenses don’t know if she’s back yet.
And it doesn’t matter if the United States is being beaten stylistically or being dominated. Alex Morgan is the type of player that she just needs a half chance and she can convert that. We haven’t quite seen it at that level, but you’re starting to see the impact she has with how she set up both those goals or have a part in the first goal in the Colombia game. Even though the United States was never in danger of losing it, they weren’t able to create much either except when she started to have space in that second half.
We got to see what she was able to do with her intelligence runs and movement. So she’s getting better every single game, but that’s how you have to measure her success right now because you can’t compare who she was if she’s a hundred percent healthy because that takes time.
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