"...But if the NCAA final was the example our youth are supposed to be striving for, I'm worried.
Then, I turned on the NCAA final between UNC and Notre Dame, and I almost puked. Here were the two best teams in women's college soccer in the country with the best women's national teams in the world, and they were playing the exact style of game I am trying so hard to avoid for our team. I don't think they worked the ball around the back more than twice. The back line never dropped off far enough in possession to provide adequate support, and the players constantly chose to try and force the ball in situations where the defense had already concentrated. In general, they had more patience than youth players, but the game was still more about getting the ball to the best players and trying to get a long ball to a streaking forward, or to punch it through a crowded defense after getting numbers forward.
My jaw was on the floor - in a bad way - for much of the match at the decisions these players were making. I mean every elite female youth player today views UNC as the ultimate in soccer for them (even though some dream of playing elsewhere, if UNC came calling, it would be VERY HARD to turn them down.) And here I was, staring at what is commonly seen as the pinnacle of female soccer, and having the SAME frustrations I had just had watching our own games.
Then, the Under-20 World Cup Final came on, and my prayers were answered. This team, made up of college freshmen and sophomores - and even some who had yet to begin their college careers - was playing some of the best soccer I've seen. They were calmly, yet aggressively moving the ball around and through all "thirds" of the field with possession as the major priority. They were holding the ball, and looking for the highest-percentage chances on goal - the chances that come when you unbalance a defense, and are quick enough to exploit it. Oh, and there were SO many moments of individual brilliance and creativity. Not just Alex Morgan's goal, but dozens of little things. A flick, a juke, a great first touch away from pressure turning a 50/50 ball into a counter-attack opportunity. It was just a pleasure, and just at the right time. Honestly, I think that U-20 team might have performed better than our full 2007 World Cup "Greg Ryan" team did in China. That team looked more like a college team, kick it long to our forward and pray. This U-20 team played like an Arsenal - with the only real difference being the speed of play and range of power.
What was the difference? Was it individual skill or was it coaching? You would think skill at first considering the U-20 team is an "all star" team, but then you think about that 2007 World Cup team that was embarrassed by Brazil and played poorly throughout the event, and it creeps into your mind that it's not the talent, it's the philosophy. Tony DiCicco is not one of my favorite personalities in the US Soccer world, but I have to say, that after what I just witnessed, he is clearly a coach I plan on learning from.
The college game is supposed to be the ultimate goal for so many youth players out there, but it is obvious to me that without more examples of a higher level of play like there is on the men's side, the women's college game is far too low a goal for our girls. They should use college soccer to pay for a great education for sure, but please don't look at the actual soccer on TV and aspire to only reach that level. That bar is clearly too low."