By Mark Vincent Lincir
I have a couple of questions after stewing for a day over the United States’ loss to Japan in penalty kicks on Sunday (2-2 after extra time). First of all, why wasn’t Megan Rapinoe on the field for every minute of every game the United States played? She is the best player on the U.S. squad.
Rapinoe changed the game for the better every time she was on the field. But she was basically relegated to super-sub duty most of the tournament, which, for a player of her quality, is a total insult.
She played a brilliant left-footed cross to Wambach for the game winner against Brazil. She threaded a perfectly driven ball to Alex Morgan for what we all thought was the game winner against Japan Sunday. She scored a great goal against Columbia in the early rounds. She plays the ball with the outside of her foot (something I didn’t see many other players doing)…she’s comfortable playing with both feet and can serve the ball as well as anybody. Plus, she’s got phenomenal vision…something seriously lacking on the U.S. team.
Why then isn’t she a full-timer? Amy Rodriguez struggled the entire tournament and Lauren Cheney did great in her place until she was forced off with injury in the Final. The logical choice moving forward would be to start Rapinoe at outside midfield and keep Cheney up front. Cheney caused fits for the Japanese defense early though she and Rapinoe were guilty of being a bit greedy after trying shots from terrible angles instead of cutting the ball back into the box.
Another option is to have Rapinoe play with Lloyd in the center of the field and move Shannon Boxx off the field. The feisty veteran (Boxx) definitely had a World Cup to forget and with Lloyd doing the dirty work, Rapinoe could be freed up to get the ball and spray it around the park, a role she excels at.
But my biggest gripe about the lack of respect for Rapinoe’s ability is why she was subbed out in the waning moments of the game Sunday? Maybe she was tired, I think everybody was by then…and I understand the philosophy of bringing fresh legs on the help grind out the last few minutes…but Rapinoe would have been money in the shootout and instead youngster Tobin Heath was put under too much pressure and looked to be hitting her penalty shot with the intent of keeping it on target, instead of making it.
I would have subbed out Heather O’Reilly and kept Rapinoe on at all costs! Also, Pia Sundhage made a huge mistake in giving center back Rachel Buehler her spot back after she was forced to sit out the semi-final after being sent off in the quarterfinal. Buehler is not good enough to be in the starting lineup and was a liability the entire tournament. The U.S. paid dearly for her clumsiness in the final when she inexplicably played the ball right across the goalmouth on Japan’s first goal and then she was beaten on the game tying goal as well. Becky Sauerbrunn should be her replacement.
The United States came close, but it simply wasn’t good enough. And the expectation should be extremely high because this was a team ranked # 1 going into the tournament and unfortunately coming out of it as, in my opinion, the fourth-best playing team in this World Cup. I think that tournament champion Japan did play the best soccer, followed by France and then Brazil and then the United States.
The United States needs more players comfortable on the ball on the field at all times. This includes Rapinoe and Alex Morgan who both came off the bench and had immediate impacts every time. But their talents are needed ALL the time, not just at the end of games.
Give credit to Japan for never quitting or altering their game…they will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. The U.S. coaching staff will have to take a hard look at their lineup and make the very easy decision to start more play-making talent on the field instead of athletes who run hard and kick hard. Rapinoe (I swear I do not have an unhealthy infatuation with her!) and Morgan must be on the field at all times next summer in England…it will give the United States the best chance at Olympic gold…anything less is simply unacceptable.
Mark Vincent Lincir is the author of A Soccer Life in Shorts…available at