Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Fifa's VAR bumbling hurt a World Cup in which the women's game shone | Hope Solo


Fifa’s VAR bumbling hurt a World Cup in which the women’s game shone

The greatest US team I have seen held off opponents who are rapidly closing the gap. Meanwhile, the game’s governing body hit a low

The US won their World Cup but the competition will only get more intense in the future

The US won their World Cup but the competition will only get more intense in the future.
Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

I had to wipe away a few tears as the final whistle blew on Sunday. It was emotional watching friends and former teammates win this World Cup. I understand what it means and I know first-hand the time and effort that every team member put into the end result.

I was especially happy for some of the younger players who earned this – as well as the unsung heroes who aren’t in the spotlight and don’t get a lot of attention: Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Rose Lavelle. They all played so well during the final and across the entire tournament. You don’t hear a lot about those players but they are the heart and soul of this team.

The game changed when the US were awarded the penalty. I wanted to see them score from the run of play, not from a VAR call. But, as it turned out, at 1-0 the game opened up and the Netherlands had to take more risks. The VAR controversy wasn’t whether it was a penalty or not (it was). The bigger issue is Fifa’s lack of respect for the women’s game. We have the fans, we have the viewership, we play quality football, and now it’s time we had respect. That means not testing VAR for the first time ever in women’s football on the biggest stage.

VAR first needed to be implemented into women’s leagues around the world so referees could get used to it before a major tournament. VAR had at least been tested in some men’s leagues before being used at Russia 2018. And that’s even before we talk about introducing a lot of new laws at the same event. Women were used as guinea pigs. VAR has been so frustrating throughout this tournament that the Premier League has now said it’s reconsidering how it will implement the system.

Women’s World Cup 2019: how USA became four-times champions – video

Lavelle, Dunn and Tobin Heath are my players of the tournament. Rose was a great playmaker, Tobin had individual brilliance, and nobody could beat Crystal. Being unable to separate those three is one reason why this is the best American side I have ever seen. That doesn’t take anything away from teams of the past. We’ve had great athletes and good physical players like Christie Rampone – probably the fastest defender we ever had on the women’s national team – and Abby Wambach, who had unrivalled goalscoring ability, especially in the air. Yet the technical ability of the current team – from passing to reading the game – is better than any previous US side.

How did that happen? Relying on physical players won us tournaments in the past. We used to have only under-16, under-18, and under-21 youth teams but as football grew we have been able to develop the technical ability of players at younger ages. The popularity of football in America means it was bound to grow and with better coaching now available for girls, better players have emerged.

Still, women’s football in America has to be aware of how to remain the best in the world. We have put so much focus on the national team that we have cut corners on the domestic professional league. We want to always win on the biggest stage but countries like Italy, Spain, England, and the Netherlands are fast becoming leaders in player development. It’s incredible how much money has been invested in the Women’s Super League in England and Spain’s Primera Division. You can see how far those countries have come. They will ultimately develop better players than we do in the US unless we reconsider how we approach the big picture. Previously, US teams were competing with our own history. From this point on, we’re competing with the future and with the fact that other nations are quickly catching up.

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The United States dominated this tournament with better fitness levels and physicality but the rest of the world has advanced in those areas as well. Once teams with good technical ability – Italy, Japan, England, and Spain – raise their level of speed, endurance, and power, things will change fast. Phil Neville said that his team has to improve by 15-20% in order to really challenge for the World Cup. Can a team close that gap in four years? I think they can. The US needs to understand that while they dominated this tournament the difference between teams is getting smaller quickly.

The US is already losing out on bringing more players to the NWSL because many top players want to play in Europe. If the best players in the world don’t want to compete in our domestic professional league, it is going to affect development in America. That should be seen as an exciting challenge for football in the United States and put more fire under the American game. We need a stronger US professional league, more financial investment, and better player development. That’s not only an investment in our team’s future success, but it’s also good business. This tournament again proved the market value for women’s football in the US and around the world – unprecedented viewership, packed stadiums, record jersey sales and more.

We can’t stand still and let down the young girls watching this team win the 2019 World Cup. We want them to have an equal opportunity to play the game at the highest level and build women’s football to levels we haven’t even come close to yet. We want today’s team to wipe away tears when they watch future generations add more stars to the shirt.

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