Hello and welcome to the L.A. Times’ weekly soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer reporter, and I’m writing you this week from just outside Dallas, where the reigning world champion women’s national team just clinched a spot in next summer’s World Cup by running roughshod over the rest of the field in the regional qualifying tournament.
In addition to exploring the ridiculous global dominance of the U.S. women, this week we’ll give a shout-out to Canadian superstar Christine Sinclair, who is poised to become the most prolific scorer, male or female, in soccer history; talk about the men’s team, which is trying to move forward after missing its first World Cup in 32 years; touch on what the increasing diversity in U.S. Soccer could someday mean for the sport; and offer a brief update on where the Galaxy and men’s national team are with their coaching searches (Spoiler alert: They’re both trying to hire the same guy).
Let’s start at the top, though, which is where the No. 1-ranked women’s national team generally hangs out. En route to winning its group and then trouncing Jamaica in the semifinal of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, the United States won all four of its qualifying games by at least five goals, outscored its opposition 24-0 and outshot it 143-10.
And the games weren’t nearly as close as those numbers would indicate.
But wait, there’s more.
— The United States, 15-0-2 this year, is unbeaten in 25 matches in 15 months. It is averaging better than 3.5 goals a game over that span.
— In the CONCACAF tournament, the Americans got goals from 10 players. Six of them came from Alex Morgan, who has 23 goals in her last 23 games and needs just four more to reach 100 for her international career. The United States is so deep in scoring depth, Carli Lloyd, a two-time world player of the year, didn’t even get off the bench in Sunday’s semifinal.
— The shutout was the third of the tournament for goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who this year has as many shutouts (7) and she does goals allowed. For her career, Naeher has 19 shutouts and 20 goals allowed. Naeher hasn’t faced a shot on goal in more than two games and has been asked to make just one save in qualifying.
“This team is, pound for pound, more talented than any team that I’ve been on,” said captain Megan Rapinoe, who has played on World Cup and Olympic champions. “You could tell that the younger players just had something different about them. It was just a matter of putting it all together.
“Everyone is in the same groove right now.”
Just by reaching Wednesday’s final of the qualifying tournament, the United States assured itself a spot in the next World Cup in France. The same goes for Canada, the other finalist; the winner of Wednesday’s third-place game between Jamaica and Panama will also advance.
Canada, which will be playing in its seventh Women’s World Cup next summer, is ranked fifth in the world and has consistently been in the FIFA top 10 for most of the last decade. Yet in another indication of just how dominant the United States has been, the Americans haven’t lost to Canada in 17 years.
Two of the last four matches between the two neighbors ended in draws, however, and the Canadians, who beat Panama 7-0 in their semifinal after routing Cuba 12-0 in group play, say the past is no guide as to how good their team has become.
“We don’t have a history of beating teams 7-0,” said midfielder Diana Matheson, who earned her 200th cap in the game with Panama. “Ten years ago we weren’t doing that.”
Sinclair has been a big reason for that change. She scored twice against Panama to give her 177 international goals for her career, leaving her seven back of Abby Wambach, soccer’s all-time leading scorer.
“For a Canadian to do that, it’s unbelievable,” said Matheson, who predicted the record will soon be Sinclair’s. “It’s a privilege to play with her. She’s literally the best scorer that’s ever played the game.
“Sinc’s just been an anomaly her entire career.”
Sinclair — in typically Canadian fashion — was much more modest, insisting the record isn’t something she spends much time thinking about.
“My teammates keep reminding me of it,” she said. “It’s not my focus. As long as Canada’s playing well, we’re putting the ball in the back of the net, it’ll come when it comes.”
USMNT is moving on
Compare the dominance of the U.S. women’s team with the struggles of the men, who this summer missed the World Cup for the first time in 32 years. But while that qualifying failure may linger in the minds of many national team fans, some of the players who were on that team said they’ve had no choice but to move on.
“Part of your job as an athlete, as a professional, is to be able to put things behind you. Good and bad,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who is expected to play Tuesday when the United States meets Peru in East Hartford, Conn. “You’ve got to be able to move on, learn from it and get better.”
“That will never go away,” he said of the loss. “But at the same time, you’ve got to be able to keep moving forward.”
Midfielder Michael Bradley — who, like Guzan, returned to the national team this month for the first time since last fall’s qualifying loss in Trinidad — agreed.
“It doesn’t linger at all,” he said of that game. “Obviously, the disappointment will always be there. That part will not go away.
“[But] in football, in life, things go on. The game doesn’t stop for anybody. There’s always another game, there’s always another day.”
The national team appears to be moving forward on the field as well. Although last week’s loss to Colombia exposed a number of defensive shortcomings — the South Americans had little trouble overloading the left side of the U.S. formation, resulting in a long night for midfielder Kenny Saief and left back Antonee Robinson — there were also several bright spots.
Bobby Wood and Julian Green were dangerous and displayed chemistry up top while teenage midfielder Tim Weah set Wood up for a goal with a world-class pass that eluded five Colombian defenders. Christian Pulisic, 20, the team’s other wunderkind playmaker, missed the game with injury, but the thought of him and Weah roaming the midfielder together for the next decade has U.S. fans looking ahead, not behind, as well.
And speaking of the future, the last two national team training camp rosters featured a record number of African American players, suggesting soccer in the United States is no longer the exclusively white suburban sport that popular mythology has long held it to be. That led Eddie Pope, a Hall of Fame defender and member of three World Cup teams, to imagine what the U.S. national team would look like if soccer truly became the top choice for the best athletes in this country, as it is in Brazil.
“We’d win the World Cup for 100 years. It wouldn’t even be a question,” he said. “I’ve heard some people that like to sort of pooh-pooh that. But that’s crazy.
“Forget LeBron James. I’ll take the fifth player on the end of the bench and put him on the soccer field. I’ll take 10 guys who are on a D-2 football team. The number of people that we have and how eclectic we are, if we only had soccer, we could fill two national teams with no problem.
“Putting all of those athletes through a funnel with the size of this country, the team that you would come out with would be ridiculous. I could argue that all day long. It would be insane.”
Going after a first-class coach
Earnie Stewart, general manager of the U.S. men’s program, could announce his choice to fill the team’s vacant coaching position by mid-November.
Meanwhile Chris Klein, president of the Galaxy, said he is “making progress” on filling his team’s vacant coaching position, but has been more vague on when his search could be completed.
Neither man has publicly identified a favorite, but both are believed to be chasing the same man, Columbus Crew manager Gregg Berhalter. And he’s arguably a great candidate for each.
At 45, he’s young enough to be a transitional manager for a national team in the midst of a major renovation. He has been a successful player and coach in Europe and in the United States, had 44 caps in 12 years with the national team and made two World Cup teams, playing in the 2002 tournament alongside Stewart.
The general manager’s only firm requirement is that his new coach speak English, which Berhalter does.
Stewart has been on the job full time just three months, but the national team has been without a permanent manager since Bruce Arena resigned in the wake of the Trinidad game. That makes this hire an incredibly important one in establishing Stewart’s agenda, and Berhalter ticks a lot of the boxes the general manager has reportedly included on the application.
Berhalter may be an even better fit for the Galaxy. He got his coaching start as a player-coach under Arena and was groomed by AEG, the team’s parent company, which sent Berhalter to serve an apprenticeship with Hammarby, a Swedish club it has an ownership stake in.
Berhalter returned to MLS with Columbus in 2014, and has taken the team at least as far as the conference final in two of the last three seasons. With the Crew, Berhalter is also in charge of all personnel decisions as the team’s sporting director, responsibilities similar to the ones Arena had when he won three MLS Cups in Carson.
Berhalter is almost certain to demand the same autonomy, and since the Galaxy front office has thoroughly botched two attempts at rebuilding the roster since Arena left, turning that job back to the coach seems like a good idea.
Klein is looking for a new coach for the third time in less than 23 months. Neither of the first two — Curt Onalfo and Sigi Schmid — lasted a full season, so the Galaxy’s embattled general manager can’t afford another mistake.
However, it’s unlikely he’ll win a tug-of-war with the national team over Berhalter, which could create an opportunity for former Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter, Klein’s roommate when both played at Indiana University.
All times Pacific
Oct. 21 vs. Vancouver, 2 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46
Oct. 28 at Sporting Kansas City, YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46
Oct. 21 at Minnesota, TBD, Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes
Oct. 28 vs. Houston, 1:30 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes
Until next time