ESPN and ESPN2 will combine to televise live all 32 matches of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011 beginning Sunday, June 26 and concluding Sunday, July 17. The Women’s World Cup will also be available on ESPN’s digital media platforms such as ESPN3.com, ESPNnetworks.com, ESPN Mobile TV and WatchESPN app.
Below are excerpts from a media conference call held Wednesday, June 22, with ESPN Senior Vice President and Executive Producer Jed Drake, analysts Julie Foudy and Tony DiCicco, and espnW.com special contributor Mia Hamm – all former World Cup champions. Highlights:
Q. One question for Jed and then one question for Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm. Jed, what will you consider a successful production, and should ratings be part of that matrix?
JED DRAKE: “There’s always that twofold evaluation. One is our intrinsic read on how we did as a production team, and then inevitably, in the end more importantly, will be our ratings … But I do believe that the interest in the U.S. team is going to generate a lot of interest, and we’re starting to feel that buzz now.
“I will tell you this – we have put in a lot of effort on this one, and we’re doing some things that we didn’t even consider doing in South Africa, and we’ve learned a lot from South Africa. We got a lot of very nice praise for what we did, and it was greatly appreciated. But we’ve learned a lot. We’ve applied that to what we’re doing, and I’ve got to tell you, I think this thing that we’re about to embark upon is just going to be a spectacular production.
“As far as the ratings … I do believe the X factor here of course is the U.S. team.”
Q. Given your tenure and great history in the sport, how do you guys negotiate between wanting the Americans to do well, but also being objective in your analysis of this tournament?
JULIE FOUDY: “That is something that we discuss internally a lot because, I mean, the last thing we want to do is not be true to the game. So my approach has always been to give an objective, or as objective as I can, analysis of a game. Of course you have some allegiances to the United States team and always will, but at the same time my job is to give perspective on how people are playing and analysis on whether they’re doing good things or maybe they need to be better in certain areas.”
Q. Going back to 2003 World Cup, Mia, … you talked about the rise of Brazil, and you said the United States better be careful because if it doesn’t get it together tactically and technically a lot of these teams are going to overtake it. I wonder if you could talk about what happened to the U.S. team and why it’s struggled so much and maybe if what you said after 2003 is maybe coming true a little bit?
MIA HAMM: “What I was feeling was hopefully that all of us, as players, as a federation, as coaches, that we don’t sit there and use our success to hinder our development. That we sit there and go, ‘well, we’re ranked No. 1 in the world, we won a couple World Cups and a couple Olympics, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ We always need to be evolving …
“With our development in the U.S., we need to continue to recommit ourselves to be better every day. I know that’s the way we felt as players. I know when Tony (DiCicco) was our coach, he was committed to that as a coach, and we just want to make sure as a Federation and as a women’s national team program, and that’s the youth players, that we’re all on the same page and want to do that.
“And I will say, I’m part of a task force with US Soccer. They’ve just hired April (Hendricks) and Jill Ellis as development and technical director. Everyone is committed to making sure that we continue to give these young soccer players and our women’s national team players the best opportunities to compete and be successful at the highest level.”
JULIE FOUDY: “Mia (Hamm) said it very well. You can never take your success for granted. You constantly need to develop. You’re seeing all these countries doing great things at the player development level from a young age, and we have so many young girls in this country playing, which is a distinct advantage.”
Q. Can you just talk about why the United States has been struggling so much this year and heading into this World Cup?
JULIE FOUDY: “Many countries are doing well at the youth-player side. They have dedicated more resources to the women’s game, which is phenomenal to see … Teams are getting better. The field is getting larger and deeper.
“When we were playing, we and the Europeans were largely the show. So now what you’re seeing is other countries are catching up.”
Q. This is for Mia: Do you view in any way this experience you’re about to have media wise at the World Cup as sort of a test of how much you like it? Do you see yourself doing more media stuff in the future, or is that not your thing?
MIA HAMM: “I look at this as a great opportunity just to share my insight and my passion for the game with the viewers that are watching or going on to espnW. Maybe give them some insight on the blog posts of just day-of-the-game routines that players have. What you actually do, which is kind of a whole lot of nothing.
“The one thing I want to make sure, Julie talked about it, about being objective, is never forget how hard this game is, because it is hard. I watch the team play, and you forget, you’re trying to make decisions under heavy pressure in the smallest spaces in the smallest amount of times. Let me tell you, the game is a lot easier sitting up in row K in seat 5 than it ever was when I was on the field.
“With regards to the future, I don’t know. I’m always open to share my love for the game, and we’ll see. I mean, ESPN could say: ‘Thank you very much, we’ve enjoyed it, but no thank you.’ I’m going to do my best, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges you face as broadcasters as you get ready for an event as large as the World Cup?
JULIE FOUDY: “Figuring out which North Korean players are — who they are. Every time North Korea plays they wear different jerseys and they have no names on the back and it’s hard to get telecasts of them with any rosters or match reports.
“That is actually a challenge from the women’s side, having covered both the men’s and the women’s. The men’s there’s so much coverage and so much detail and match reports and analysis, and you can find anything online.
“With the women, and they’re making strides, but — and FIFA is starting to make strides in this department, as well, it’s really hard to get good numbers, good stats, match reports on stuff. So we’ve a long way to go in that regard.
“But at the same time we have an incredible team of people here between the players like Kate Markgraf and Cat Whitehill and Brandi (Chastain) and Bri (Briana Scurry) and then our play-by-play commentators, of course, and a whole research team at ESPN that is dedicated to this – to getting us the best up-to-date information they can.”
Q. For Jed, being at this tournament that’s being played all over the country, all over Germany, is it kind of a logistical nightmare to put it together…?
JED DRAKE: “We decided to make this a far more interesting challenge … by taking our host operations on the road so that we could give our viewers the best possible tour of Germany and sense of place throughout this fascinating country.
“We are not putting as much of an emphasis on the cultural aspect of this country as we did in South Africa (2010 FIFA World Cup), but we are paying particular attention to the nuances and the sort of wonders of this country. We took a bus tour two months ago to scout all the different locations we’re going to host from, and it was really eye-opening, because the images that I had of Germany in my mind were changed rather dramatically by what I saw. And it’s that very thing that I hope we will carry forthwith for our viewers because it’s a fascinating country and filled with fascinating people who frame this great event.”
Q. Julie, what in particular do you like about the U.S. team and what challenges do you think it’s going to face if it’s going to get to the finals?
JULIE FOUDY: “Things I like: I like that they have some great depth and some players who can come off the bench. For example, Alex Morgan, who provides great speed and a total turn-and-burn type of mentality where she’s going straight to goal. I really like Lauren Cheney coming off the bench because she can go up front, she can come in that holding area in the midfield, and she can even play out wide.
“I like that Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx have changed a bit of their positioning in midfield and that seems to be working better. The fact that the U.S. has players coming back from injury like Hope Solo in goal is huge, and having her back and confident was always a question mark, and the fact that she’s playing as well as she has been is good news for the U.S. Christie Rampone back from a groin strain and some other nagging injuries; Abby Wambach has been injured pretty consistently for the last year with a bad heel. So I think that all bodes well for the United States.
“The challenge is you have 13 players on the roster who have never experienced a World Cup – quite a large number. I don’t know how that compares with other World Cups… The fact that you have a lot of players who haven’t played in this type of atmosphere in Germany is a concern.”
Q. Tony, your assessment of Pia (Sundhage)?
TONY DiCICCO: “Well, I think Pia is, first of all, a very good player manager. She showed that in the 2008 Olympics. Losing Abby Wambach in the last tune-up game and then losing the first game against Norway, but yet coming back and winning the Olympic gold medal. I remember them walking off the field after that loss against Norway. I said, ‘I know they just lost, but they’re walking off the field more confident than I saw them last year after they won in the 2007 World Cup.’ So I think she’s very good at player management.
“She’s given them a level of sophistication of the world game. She’s brought a slightly different style, and sometimes it’s a little bit of Scandinavian style. When I look at the team that I coached in 1999, this is a much bigger, stronger team with not as many small athletes. That’s the type of athlete she likes to coach.
“As Julie said, they’ve got a great goalkeeper, probably the best in the world. They’ve got one of the best strikers in the world. They’ve got a good, solid core down the center. This is something she’s built over the last few years, and they’ve got great depth.”
Q. This is for anybody. Compare and contrast the general things about the teams, starting from, if you could, maybe ’91, then ’99, and the team now. Just compare and contrast how those teams are in the U.S.?
TONY DiCICCO: “’91, the competition was, I don’t know, 50 or 60 teams worldwide. Now the competition is 150 teams. There wasn’t as many teams that could win it back then; USA, Norway and maybe China – although I think they wilted being the host.
“In ’95, it was a smaller event – regional event in Sweden. So the ’99 World Cup was such an important event for the game, especially for the game of soccer, especially women’s soccer. In 1999, there were actually more teams that could win it than this year. I think you had Norway, defending champions, USA, China, Germany – our quarterfinal win against Germany in 1999 might be the last time they’ve lost in the World Cup, and Brazil.
“This year, in my opinion, Brazil, Germany and the U.S. are the three teams that can win it, but the rest of the teams are at a higher level than any previous World Cup. So it’s hard to compare teams from like the ’99 team to this team. I do know that the ’99 team was certainly better at the outside back. Meaning, Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett were great defenders, but they were also fantastic attacking players, so they were part of our play-making corps along with Julie, Kristine Lilly, Michelle Akers in the midfield.
As good as this team is, that would be the one thing that I would like to add to it is more speed.
Q. Continuing that same theme, and Tony already expressed it, but what do Mia and Julie think are the biggest challenges facing this U.S. team?
JULIE FOUDY: Well, you’re playing a German team that is two-time defending champion in their own country, so that’s a big challenge, of course. And the field is deeper than I’ve seen it ever. You’re seeing an England team — we did the game in April where the U.S. lost 2-1 in London, and that was a tremendous English team.
It’s different now. It’s a much more level playing field, to throw that cliché out there. It really is true, which is great for the game.”
TONY DiCICCO: “If I could just add to that, my concern with the U.S. team is it hasn’t played consistently well this year. It has great games and then all of a sudden, the kind of a game that seems sub-par, and I’m not sure why that is. And that would be my concern is for them to really get a consistent World Cup together where every game, they’re playing at their peak, and if they do that, they have a great chance of winning.”
Q. Tony, can you talk about how important Hope Solo is to the success of the U.S. team as she comes back from her major shoulder surgery?
TONY DiCICCO: “It’s hard to win at this level, at these types of events, without a top goalkeeper, and Hope Solo right now in my opinion is the best in the world. She’s a great athlete. She has a great mentality when she gets in goal. She has almost an arrogance of how she plays. She’s very good with her feet …”
Q. Tony, why do you think the U.S. has fallen short in the past couple World Cups? Is it they weren’t the best team on that day or do you think it’s something deeper?
TONY DiCICCO: “We’ve lost our way as far as our player development scheme, and we haven’t developed the same level of players that I think we enjoyed earlier. We still have some great players … Having April Heinrichs, Jill Ellis, taking over the technical direction for the U.S. girls, I think is going to help.
“But on any given day, you can lose to a great team. In 2007 it was Brazil. In 2003 it was Germany. These are two of the great teams in the world. You know, I love the fact that we want our women to win everything. It reminds me of Brazilian men. We’re not happy unless we’re winning it and we’re winning it with style and flair. And I think that’s awesome for the U.S. women to have that as their goal, and I think it’s also one of our strengths.”
Q. Mia, espnW.com has really evolved a lot, and as a contributor can you talk about the importance of having this new online targeted women’s outlet?
MIA HAMM: “I think it’s incredibly important. We kind of view the game differently than our male counterparts. Sometimes there are certain environments that I think are intimidating for us when we walk in. But this is a great environment for female sports fans, whether you’re a fan of the Women’s World Cup or the Dallas Mavericks that just won. Just an opportunity to go and learn and share and see things from a women’s perspective is fantastic.
“I feel incredibly blessed and excited to contribute with espnW.”
Q. Tony, you touched upon earlier that the rest of the world is getting better. I’m wondering is it mostly tactics or are they also getting better athletes?
TONY DiCICCO: “Both. You know, for years it was a stigma about the daughters around the world playing the macho game of soccer. That’s kind of been erased now. Just as American parents always wanted their daughters to play – their first introduction into team sports was soccer, that’s happening around the world.”
Q. A couple questions on the mobile studio for Jed. What’s the thinking behind going this route, and what’s it going to add to your coverage this year rather than having setups in every city?
JED DRAKE: “In 2010 we had that beautiful set that we built that had Soccer City (Johannesburg) directly behind it, literally a two-minute walk to the international broadcast center.
“This year the broadcast center is in Frankfurt. It is at the stadium … However, it is in the middle of a nature reserve and it is surrounded by a great deal of foliage and nothing else. We had to look elsewhere for a set that would have an environment behind it, look and feel vibrant …
“We’re going to take it on the road … We’re going to go on this tour of Germany and bring some of the feel, the vibe, the energy, the cultural aspects that have become part of our coverage to our viewers.
“We’ll start in Berlin with a big opening match; we’ll end with the semis and finals in Frankfurt; and along the way we’ll go to a bunch of other places and expose our viewers to a lot of things that they hadn’t seen before.”
Q. How does this differ from a regular remote, and how does this differ from say a 53-foot truck or something, and also, will there be additional trucks on hand to support or will it be sort of self-supportive?
JED DRAKE: “No, there are additional trucks. It’s one of those things when you asked me that question I kind of rubbed my forehead a little bit. But yeah, there are support trucks with “Big Blue.” It is completely different than what you would think of as a normal mobile unit. It’s got hydraulics in it that take the set up 21 feet, and we can go open air, we can go closed air, behind it. It rolls around the country with satellite trucks, and yeah, it’s sort of a modern marvel. It’s really never been done to this extent before.”
Q. You talked about the overall field in the World Cup perhaps being the best ever, and we know the favorites, Brazil, Germany, and the U.S. Who are perhaps some of the dark horses that are likely to do well this tournament?
JULIE FOUDY: “France could be listed as a dark horse. They just won the UEFA champions league, the women’s version, with Lyon. There are 10 of those players from that team. They play a really technical, fun style on the ground and have this core group together. A few of them played in the WPS.
“Canada has been talked about as a dark horse. Their new coach, Carolina Morace, who was the former Italian player and who was also the coach of Italy in the early 2000 era, brought a whole different style from what we’ve seen of Canada in the past. Morace has tried to put the game on the ground and make it much more technical, and they love her in Canada.
“The third one has never made it past the quarterfinal stage in the World Cup but may make a deeper run is England. They’ve got much more depth than they have in the past.”
TONY DiCICCO: “What’s interesting about that, and I think most people do pick Canada and France. What’s interesting is they’re in the same group as Germany. Canada and France can’t both come out. If we can see that Germany is going to come out, Canada and France can’t both come out. By the way, Nigeria is in that group. Julie and Mia and I, from having played against Nigeria, they’re incredibly athletic. They’re going to have a say in who comes out in that group.”
Q. For Mia and Julie, does covering the World Cup make you miss being a player? What do you miss the most?
MIA HAMM: “I miss my teammates. I miss competing at that level, training for something. That’s sometimes what we forget about these players … That environment, you learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about your teammates and your coaching staff. I just feel very fortunate to be a part of teams that were – I mean, we were one unit when we walked in there, and that’s extremely important. So I miss that. I miss that rush of being in this tournament.”
JULIE FOUDY: “Well said. I miss the fact that you’re playing to be the best in the world. Not many can say they’re world champions and that adrenaline rush of everything is on the line that you have trained for and it matters in these next two weeks, two and a half weeks. I mean, there’s nothing that replicates that feeling, that intensity.
“Running along the river with Brandi (Chastain) today was pretty competitive, but it doesn’t replicate that.
“It’s just – it’s once every four years, and for soccer players, this is it. This is the pinnacle. I mean, the Olympics are great and wonderful, but this is the World Cup. That feeling is the best.”
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