Illinois women's soccer head coach Janet Rayfield spent over three weeks scouting opponents and working for the U.S. National Team in Germany during the 2011 World Cup. Throughout her journey, Janet updated this blog to give its readers insight into her work, the World Cup and Germany during her time abroad. Updated: July 19, 2011 (Final)
Fighting Illini Release: Rayfield, Team USA Finish Second At World Cup
USA Match Information
Game One - USA 2, North Korea 0: Match Stats | Player Stats | Recap (U.S. Soccer) | Recap (FIFA)
Game Two - USA 3, Colombia 0: Match Stats | Player Stats | Recap (U.S. Soccer) | Recap (FIFA)
Game Three - USA 1, Sweden 2: Match Stats | Player Stats | Recap (U.S. Soccer) | Recap (FIFA)
Game Four (Quarterfinals) - USA 2 (5), Brazil 2 (3): Match Stats | Player Stats | Recap (U.S. Soccer) | Recap (FIFA)
Game Five (Semifinals) - USA 3, France 1: Match Stats | Player Stats | Recap (U.S. Soccer) | Recap (FIFA)
Game Six (Championship) - USA 2 (1), Japan 2 (3): Match Stats | Player Stats | Recap (U.S. Soccer) | Recap (FIFA)
Day 1 - Traveling to Germany (June 25)
As I type, I am on the last leg of the travel journey - the flight from London to Berlin that follows the bus to O'Hare and the long flight from Chicago to London. The excitement builds as I realize I am 24 hours away from witnessing yet one more incredible women's soccer event I could never imagine being a part of my life experiences. From joining as a participant in the "newly added" sport at the YMCA in 4th grade to a sold out World Cup opening game in Berlin, Germany, the journey has included a college career as a player and a coach, a World Cup in Sweden, an Olympic Final in Athens, and a sold out World Cup Final in the Rose Bowl. The milestones of women's soccer seen through the eyes of a coach, a spectator, a fan - milestones that I never imagined happening in my soccer lifetime. Of course I am not sure that I imagined my soccer lifetime would be quite this long.
So I embark on this journey, ever aware of the fortune provided by a sport and the people who play it, watch it, coach it and live it. For it is in the long run the people who make this sport my passion. So tomorrow when I join the thousands to witness the start to what is billed to be an incredible World Cup, I will watch with anticipation as former Illini athlete, Emily Zurrer, steps on the field to compete for Canada and feel pride in her accomplishments. I will dissect the game for tactical knowledge that I can bring home to further the players who have followed in Emily's footsteps at Illinois. I will takes copious notes with the hope that I provide insight, information and intelligence that will ultimately impact the ability for the USA to return home with trophy in hand. And I will enjoy the moment, as I have all the rest, because it is one more opportunity for me to, through a sport, connect with wonderful people around the world.
Let the competition begin!!!
Day 2 - Opening Day (June 26)
Well, it was everything that they said it would be - great weather, a sold out crowd that was enthused, engaged, and more then likely inebriated and a truly enjoyable match to watch. Although it is hard to enjoy the game the way a fan might when you are taking notes, the chanting crowd and the incredible spirit on both sides made being there truly special.
Germany prevailed 2-1 and was, for most of the day, the stronger team. However, EZ (Emily Zurrer) made me so proud with every tackle, with every hard fought battle in the box, with every run forward to get in the box for any free kick situation. Towards the end of the game, after almost 90 minutes of constant defense, Emily continued to make the run from her center-back position to get in the box, then back, then back up, then back again ... I was fatigued just watching but Emily was doing everything she could to will her team back into the game. Illini alums, whether you watched or not, you should be proud - she left her heart on the field!!
Emily - I sat in the stands as the game ended and watched you bend over in some combination of frustration and exhaustion and I felt for you but more importantly I felt honored to have coached you. You made anyone who knows you and who has had a part in your life EXTREMELY proud. I am fortunate to be one of those people. THANK YOU!!
And now it is time to continue my "job" over here and write up reports, watch a little video and get off to bed so that I can travel to another city and do it all again tomorrow!
The games have only just begun!!!
Day 3 - Seeing Sights and Mexico vs. England (June 27)
Well, my first adventure on the German autobahn was sort of oxymoronic ... After a great side trip to the beautiful Park Sanssoucci we headed for Wolfsburg. And yes, I was able to go at unrestricted speeds and things were great until, due to construction, (I think, if my navigation system traffic report said what I think it said) the autobahn became a parking lot!!! I sat in stand-still traffic for about 40 minutes before deciding to exit and find another route. Thanks to Jillian Ellis, my travel companion for the day and fellow scout, we used the old fashion method of map reading to find our way to Wolfsburg. It was a little slower and certainly more scenic as we drove through small town after small town and made our way through the beautiful back roads of Germany. We arrived in time to check-in to the hotel and turn around and head to the stadium for our second World Cup game: Mexico vs. England.
Again, the Germans came out to support the event by the thousands, 18,000 to be exact. It was another great crowd, fairly partisan to Mexico actually, and a great atmosphere. The game was also entertaining and taking notes was difficult as the excitement of the match built throughout the game. Soccer, like any other sport, can be a game of momentum and we often talk about game-changing moments. Monica Ocampo from Mexico had a great one. Very much against the run of play, Ocampo scored a great goal about 10 minutes before the end of the first half and England dominance ended at that point. The confidence it gave Mexico and the fatigue that England began to show meant the game was now going to be a hard fought battle to the end. And that is was. Although England had several good chances, and Mexico had a dangerous free kick sail just over the crossbar, the game would end 1-1. Based on the team reactions from both sides, Mexico was glad to get the point and England was disappointed to ONLY get one point. Perspective and expectations!!!
So now time to write up the details, the coaches' perspective and do my part to help prepare the USA - who will begin their quest tomorrow. I hope all of you are watching the games and can sense the excitement and energy this event has brought to Germany and Europe. We must find the same excitement at home if we hope to continue to compete and dominate on the world stage.
So GO USA!!!
Day 4 - Being Just A Fan (June 28)
Today was my "day-off" ... I just got to watch the Colombia vs. Sweden game for the pure enjoyment. The game was about 45 minutes from the city I have to be in for tomorrow's match, so I decided to accompany John and Jill (yes, it was John, Jill and Janet representing USA at the game today) to the game. We just enjoyed the atmosphere and the match without taking notes and then I joined them for a very small USA game-watching party. Traveling to Leverkusen meant a return to the autobahn and this time it was certainly not a parking lot. I learned why changing lanes on the autobahn can be dangerous and that there are slow vehicles and dumb truck drivers in Germany just like in the USA. However, here when a slow truck is in the right lane and he comes up on a slightly slower grandma and merges right in front of you in the center lane you must be very aware of the 120 mph Mercedes flying by you in the left lane.
It was another incredible stadium and another 21,000 energized fans. I continue to be amazed at the support of the German community and the genuine fan base they have generated. The hotel that John and Jill have for the night is actually attached to the stadium so it made the trip to the stadium and back to watch the USA game VERY easy! Jill made a statement during the game today about what is so neat about this event is the ability to see the culture of a nation and the strength of their people manifested in the style and way they play the game of soccer and she is right. The strength and discipline of the Swedes pitted against the fire and flare of the young Colombian squad proved to make a much better game than anyone would have anticipated - myself included. But it only takes a few lucky breaks, a couple of misses by the Swedish forwards and Colombia finds itself in the game for 90 minutes with chances of their own. But, in the end, Sweden gets the goal and, with that tally, the three points.
But that was OK because in the next game of the wonderful exhibition of women's soccer, the USA not only got three points, but sent a message to the teams, players and fans that they came here to play. Kudos to "Woman of the Match" Lauren Cheney for creating chances and finishing a great cross from Abby Wambach to give the USA the lead and a chance to settle into the game and ultimately come away with a 2 - 0 win. As we sat in the hotel lobby watching, I know every guest heard Jill and I scream when Cheney's header hit the far post side-netting - someone coached her well (she played for Jill at UCLA). So the table is set and the USA put themselves in a great position to start the tournament - I have seen three games in three days and tomorrow and Thursday will make four and five. And you don't have to say it - I acknowledge it completely - I am extremely fortunate!!!
Australia vs. Brazil tomorrow and time to get back to taking notes and dissecting the game - still very enjoyable but different than just being a fan!!
The Next Day ... I'm starting to lose count :)
It is the history here in Europe that makes it a unique place, and as I wandered around the small wonderful town of Monchengladbach I was treated to an incredible insight into that history. After working on my reports this morning, I walked into the town and on the top of the hill was a wonderful old church. I entered to have a look around and was greeted by an elderly gentleman who addressed me in German. I sheepishly asked if he spoke English and he sheepishly replied he would try. His English was wonderful and he commented that my English was so clear that he thought I was from the UK, not the USA (I guess that is a compliment). For the next 45 minutes, I not only saw the details of a marvelous church, parts of which had survived World War II, I was enchanted by the retelling of stories, delighted by the sharing of family history and educated by the recollections of a father's wise words. I will forever remember Alart and his father's wise words: "We must all play the piano until we reach harmony." ... He gave me his card and told me to call if I needed anything, but little did he know he had given me so much with his kindness and his genuine love for the building he showed and the life he has led. Thank you Alart for showing me something no tour book could ever describe.
And thank you, Germany, for once again showing your support for women's football and allowing me to watch Norway vs. Equatorial New Guinea on a big screen in the town square and then join 27,000 fans for the Brazil vs. Australia game. So much fun --- four days and four games and all with different styles, excitement, expectations and implications. On paper, one would say that Brazil should beat Australia and Norway should beat Equatorial New Guinea, and they did. However, it was not without a struggle and most would agree that Australia and Equatorial New Guinea had chances to win it. So does that bolster their confidence? Does it crack the confidence of the expected victors - that their victory did not come as easy as expected with greater challenges ahead? It is the World Cup and every result, every point and every goal will matter. So far what has impressed and excited me is the ability of every country to compete. It says so much about where women's sports have come across the world. Sport has empowered women in the U.S. for decades and now you see it empowering women around the world. Today it is on the field, tomorrow it will be in the classroom or the board room.
The phrase they are using here is "the beautiful side of 2011." It is truly that!
Day 6 - Canada, Round Two (June 30)
It was a work-filled morning - the scouting reports needed to be completed before all the games, goals and teams started to run together. I left the hotel in time to take in a couple of the Monchengladbach sites - a botanical garden and a famous water tower. Both were interesting and possibly the best part was finding them and getting myself there and back to the car without getting lost. I am getting the hang of this German travel... or so I thought. I still haven't figured out how the autobahn continues to become a parking lot every time I get on it. This time it was on the way to the game in Bochum (about one hour from Monchengladbach, unless you stop still along the way) and my blood pressure rose as I sat in construction traffic watching the clock get closer to game time. Luckily I had given myself over an hour and half of extra time so I was still there and in my seats well before the kickoff. I was also early enough to find U.S National Team member Kate Markgraf, who is here doing commentary, and as this was her game off she joined Mark (my fellow scout) and me for the game. The announcer's perspective is different and enlightening.
It is hard for me to judge this game without bias. I feel for Canada - I feel for Emily. In many ways Canada was outmatched today by one of the best teams in this tournament. However, that does not ease the pain of the loss or alleviate the sadness of a goal not achieved. I was able to make it down to the sidelines after the game and as Emily came over I knew no words would suffice. So after she graciously obliged some fans with a photo and autograph, we embraced and left words unspoken. Thousands of miles from Champaign, in a stadium full of fans from across the world, I just wanted to let her know we were all proud of her.
As a neutral fan though, I now cannot wait to see the Germany vs. France game on Tuesday - ironically it will be here in Monchengladbach... The city I sit in as I type this. However, I won't be here on Tuesday, I will be south in Augsburg for the England vs. Japan game. Thank goodness for great TVs and Eurosport (Germany's ESPN)!
Hope you are all watching games!!!
Day 9 - The NSCAA & Brazil vs. Norway (July 4)
By the time you read this it will be the Fourth of July so ... HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! At least for me, being here in Germany only intensifies the feeling of pride as an American and of true gratitude and appreciation for the freedoms and blessings that we have. I am sincerely thankful for the people who have sacrificed over the decades to ensure and protect our freedom and our country!
It has been a couple of days since I have been able to find time to write. When you are traveling on your own it is a little easier to find the time and lucky for me my schedule allowed me to join the group from the NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) that was here doing an educational tour during the World Cup. What a great trip and itinerary they are in the midst of, and I was very fortunate to join them for two days and accompany them on a tour of the DFB (German Football Association), a visit to a great girl's and women's club program here in Germany and to be just a fan at the USA vs. Columbia game. It was a busy but wonderful two days with them and I thank them for allowing me to join the group. AND CONGRATS TO THE USA ON ANOTHER GREAT WIN!!!
Today I drove from Hennef (where I had joined the group) to Wolfsburg to get my second look at Brazil - the team I have responsibility to scout that may become important down the road. I did not realize that the full team would join me - they play here on Wednesday, but was not aware that they would arrive this early! The town here was so excited to have the U.S. Women's National Team that they had cheerleaders and a band out to great them as they arrived. Well, I arrived about an hour before the team bus and as I got out of the car in my U.S. Soccer jacket, several hotel employees scurried out with very shocked looks on their faces. I assured them that the team was NOT right behind me, that I was alone, and that they still had time to prepare their welcoming committee. And they did a great job!!! It was wonderful to get a chance to sit and listen to the staff, laugh with them and be around the team. It has re-energized me to hop back on the road for my longest drive of the trip and watch what is going to be another great game, England vs. Japan.
I should probably recount a little about the Brazil - Norway game that I watched tonight, but I can't give away the secrets (of course there really aren't many). The game was interesting due to the tactics of both teams and Marta, with 2 goals, showed why she is world class with her speed and her composure and craftiness in the box. Again, the crowd of over 26,000 was incredible and it was on a cold (especially cold if you are from Brazil) and rainy night. Thank goodness for the wonderful covered stadiums of Europe!!
Tomorrow is a drive of almost the length of the country from North to South, so be sure and check the next update for more scenic photos of the places I visit along the way. Until then ... I really hope my DVR is working so I can re-live this journey and these games again later!
Day 9, Part II - INDEPENDENCE DAY (July 4)
World Cup Photo Gallery
Well I celebrated the Fourth of July with a LONG drive across the countryside of Germany from North to South - and yes, literally - across the country. Just get a map (or Google for those of you who Google everything) and check out the trip from Wolfsburg to Augsburg.
The good thing was the drive was absolutely gorgeous and thanks to my trusty travel book, Back Roads Germany, I managed to find two wonderful towns, gorgeous cathedrals and monasteries, incredible "schloss" (castles) and wonderful quaint German streets surrounded by houses and shops. As I drove through nature parks and even ski resorts, some of the views out my car window were the most beautiful of the day. However, since I was alone and did not try to take photos and drive, you will have to enjoy the ones I took once I stopped at different places along the route. That being said, I think this entry is better written in pictures ... enjoy!!!
Day 11 - The Last of the Group Stage Games (July 6)
Well I survived my longest drive down to Augsburg and it was well worth the drive... What a great city with incredible architecture and a wonderful town setting, great bakeries and incredible ice cream. Definitely no going hungry here!!! They also did a great job celebrating the Women's World Cup. First, a small 4-vs.-4 tournament field was set up in the middle of town and a school-based World Cup tournament where each school represented a country, complete with a fan section, cheerleaders and a team to compete was played. A really neat idea! Then, the people of Augsburg set up a great viewing area that was packed that night for the Germany vs. France game before packing the stadium itself, 20,000 plus, for the England vs. Japan game.
The England - Japan game was a very interesting tactical game since Japan was definitely through to the second round and England was in a great position in terms of goal differential advantage over Japan to win the group. The coaches had unique decisions to make about resting players, strategy to ensure advancing and possibly even thinking about potential quarterfinal opponents. So, Hope Powell - the English coach - decided to sit back and not really come and pressure Japan. They stayed compact, stayed together and were not going to give up goals. Well today she looks like a genius as an early counter attack goal and Japan's inability to get into a rhythm gave England the win and first place in their group. They will face France in the quarterfinal, which lost its goalkeeper to a red card in their game against Germany. Things are getting interesting.
I have made it to Frankfurt for my third opportunity to see Brazil in its last group stage game, against Equatorial Guinea. I think it will be very different to Norway, who sat and was not pressing at all to EQG, who is going to buzz around and use their athleticism to see if they can force a Brazilian mistake. Brazil is through as well, so their tactical decisions will be interesting. And then it will be find a place to watch the USA vs. Sweden match and cheer the USA on to victory.
I am in soccer heaven ... can you tell??
Day 14 - My Role in the Process (July 9)
Sorry for the hiatus for a couple days, but remember I am over here to work... if you can call trying to play a small role in helping the USA bring home a World Cup Championship "work." However, when the USA slipped up and lost to Sweden and finished second in their group it changes their path to the final and standing in the way - BRAZIL! Well guess who had seen Brazil play now three times!
So instead of heading to Augsburg to watch the Brazil quarterfinal against someone else, I headed to Dresden to brief the staff on everything I had seen in three very different games. For hours we discussed tendencies, tactics, personalities and watched game film. It was challenging and exciting and it wasn't even game time. But today I will sit nervously and watch the USA take on Brazil - arguably the two best teams left in the tournament after an INCREDIBLY wild day of women's soccer yesterday.
After meeting with the USA staff two days ago, I was sent to Leverkeusen to watch the France vs. England quarterfinal. With such a great rivalry and so much on the line, I was expecting a great game. What unfolded though was more that a "great" soccer game, it was a drama-filled sporting event of which I have never seen live. I can only imagine how it played out on television. It was an uneventful first half as both teams were being careful and tentative to not give the game away. However, in the second half, fatigue set in for England and with only having three substitutions the decisions on changes looked to be critical and they were!! I never try to second-guess a coach - you haven't been in the training environment, you don't know the health status of the players, etc. However, in this instance as Kelly Smith, the aging English star limped unable to run for the last 30 minutes of regulation and the entire overtime, it was hard to believe that she made all the right decisions. Her job was not all that easy though as the English players all seemed to be struggling, some limping, some cramping, while others just seemed to run out of gas. But I give them so much credit because, through heart alone they managed to keep France off the scoreboard for 50-plus minutes while really playing with 10 players - Kelly Smith only able to half limp, half hop around the field.
So, into penalty kicks and as always a dramatic finish. Kelly Smith, injured and limping taking the first kick? I was shocked but she buried it - England 1 France 0. Then the English goalkeeper makes an athletic dive and saves the first French kick. Advantage and momentum now to England. Both teams make the next two: England 3, France 2. But then France converts and a sub from England steps up and has the ability to put all the pressure on the French, but she misses wide and the now-relieved French player buries her shot. With the pressure on, the English captain and elder stateswoman steps up to take the fifth kick and send the game into sudden death penalties. You can sense the tension and when her powerful shot hit the cross bar and bounced out you heard the relief from the French and the silence of agony from the English. You had to feel for the English as they lay on the field - devoid of energy and full of emotion. World Cup and Olympic hopes and dreams dashed - an Olympic bid was also on the line in this game - heroes crushed by their inability to take their team to the next round ... Coaches who will never know whether different decisions would have resulted in a different outcome.
But the French celebrated - dancing with energy they didn't think they had after 120 minutes of soccer, but found when the ball made contact with the frame of the goal instead of the net. They were on their way to the World Cup semi-final...
The drama did not end there, although I had to watch the next quarterfinal game on TV as Germany took on Japan. I will make this story a little shorter...
The host country dominated for much of this match with their aging star on the bench replaced by a younger player earlier in the tournament. The Germans were relentless, but the Japanese answered. Late in overtime, Japan won a ball and played quickly forward and in an instant the German team was down, 1-0. And now you could sense the pressure of being the two-time defending world champions, the pressure that comes with the expectations of a nation, the pressure to win in order to fill the stands in the remaining games. But it was not to be ... Germany would find itself out of the tournament. Emotions flowed again - a winner elated, a loser overcome with anguish.
Life is full of ups and downs - triumphs and heartaches - today you saw sport, emulate life. It is here where sport becomes the teacher about life. For all of these players, it will be about tomorrow, about how they handle the victory and success, how they handle the defeat and the disappointment. Congrats to France, congrats to Japan.
Now I can only say GO USA!!!! I know I will watch with some trepidation because - just like the coaches yesterday - I will never know if everything I did to help the USA prepare is enough! But like the players from Germany and England, I will have to trust that, regardless of the outcome, I did give it everything I had.
Let's go USA!!!
I hope you saw the game - if you did you will understand this entry. If not, find the highlights, find a replay, find someone who has a DVR and recorded it. I did not think the drama from the first day of quarterfinals could be matched, but the USA vs. Brazil game not only matched it - it exceeded it. It is hard to say anything beyond --- WOW!
Perseverance has always been one of my favorite words and my favorite attributes and yesterday was the epitome of resolve and resiliency. The USA victory over Brazil wasn't tragic or life changing for me personally, but like events that are, I will remember forever where I was and who I was with when Abby's head got to the ball inches beyond the outstretched Brazilian goalkeepers hands. The USA in the World Cup quarterfinal against one of the top attacking teams in the world, after questionable calls by the referee, found itself down a goal and down a man. But the U.S. didn't care about the odds or about the calls or even about the time clicking quickly off the clock - they cared about the win. They cared about keeping their World Cup hopes alive and they willed themselves to victory. You can talk about tactics, about players; about performances good and bad but what this game came down to was will. A collective will that fueled a team, an individual will that fueled each player, an intelligent will that fueled a seasoned coaching staff - the team, the players and the staff willed the USA a victory. What a game!
I hope that young fans and young players around the world learned that perseverance pays off. That belief and preparation are powerful forces for persistence and the result is the ability to beat all odds. We should all, not just as fans of soccer, but as believers in the power of the human spirit, thank this team for showing us once again that we as Americans, as people, can have strength beyond our own knowledge; a strength acquired through meticulous preparation, consistent discipline and bolstered by an indomitable will.
But I sat in a meeting yesterday where the players celebrated that "will" and enjoyed the moment, and also spoke about coming here not to win a quarterfinal game, but to win gold. They have more victories to will, more challenges to overcome, more chances to take and more lessons to learn.
The time to celebrate is short when your ultimate goal is GOLD!!!
Up to this point I have given you this picture of Germany and of the Women's World Cup as a tourist and an analyst. I guess that is what I have been doing since I arrived here almost three weeks ago - seeing the sites and analyzing the teams from around the world. Meanwhile, I understand the excitement of the Women's World Cup has been building back home. Once again the success of the U.S. women's team is propelling our sport into the limelight and into a place of prominence in the ever-crowded landscape of elite-level sports. Soccer, women's soccer, is being watched, talked about, celebrated ... I can't wait to get home and experience that!!! But, the journey here must be completed first.
Last night when the final whistle blew and the USA was headed to the Women's World Cup Championship Game, my scouting duties had come to an end. The crowd, although not one of the largest the U.S. had seen, enthusiastically chanted "U-S-A ... U-S-A ... U-S-A" and I chanted right along with them. It was now time for me to be a fan and join the wonderful, and random, group of people I had met along the way: the Cheesehead from Wisconsin, the businessman from Dallas who has soccer connections with my family, the young 11-year-old soccer player from Kentucky, the former college player from UC Irvine, the German-American family from Chicago that just moved back to Dusseldorf in the last seven months. It has been wonderful to meet fans from all over the country and the world connected by a sport and an allegiance to the United States, but also once we begin to talk we always seem to find something or someone else in common. The world is small and the world of soccer even smaller. So although blogging is not my forte, it is important that I share this experience so that we can continue to bring the soccer community together.
So for the next few days, I will be a fan - who knows I may buy face paint for the final, wrap myself in a flag, and carry a sign that indicates my own admiration for the group of women who have once again rallied a nation. I sent a message to Pia Sundhage, the U.S. head coach after the semi-final victory in response to her description of the evening, which she called "unreal." I told her then - it was very real ... and a result of putting the fittest team on the field, gathering the best staff, and making timely, accurate and courageous decisions throughout this incredible journey. And for those reasons, I will confidently enter the stadium in Frankfurt on Sunday with all the other fans, hope that I run into some of my newly found friends, and cheer on my friends, my colleagues and my country with the hope of ending this journey once again chanting victoriously U-S-A ... U-S-A ... U-S-A ... U-S-A ...
Guten Tag!!! See you all soon!!!!
Day 21 - `Twas the night before... (July 16)
It is the night before the 2011 Women's World Cup final and I find my 25-day excursion coming to a close. I am amazed at all the emotions coursing through my veins and cannot begin to imagine what that means for the players and coaches who will take the field tomorrow with a chance to fulfill dreams of a lifetime. Fireworks explode outside my window coming from the fan zone on the river and I find myself full of anxiety, anticipation, excitement and eagerness. Yet there is also a slight melancholy feeling, with the realization that the end is here. Irrespective of the outcome, the story will be written, the bags will be packed and all that will be left will be souvenirs, lessons and memories. Even as I type those words I smile - because the reality for me is that it is the lessons and the memories that have made this journey special.
As a coach, I have watched tactical variations built on culture, talent and strengths. The incredible parity of competition has allowed me to witness critical coaching decisions with both favorable and disastrous outcomes. In every country there were stories of the players on their way up and the players on their way out. But most importantly I have witness a masterful coach in Pia Sundhage, who has artistically crafted a team - in EVERY sense of the word. From the selection of every member of her staff to her positive locker room personality, I truly believe I have been fortunate to observe one of the best. She has cultivated an environment of enjoyment balanced with industriousness, of delight knotted with discipline, of high expectations void of stress. She has allowed players to blossom, pruning and fertilizing in her positive and patient way. And she has put those players together in a way that their collective spirit has become their greatest strength. I know without any doubt that this experience has made me a better coach.
There have been things off the field as well. history infused in every church, castle and building from Wolfsburg to Augsburg and Dresden to Leverkusen. Germany and it's rich past has unfolded before me as I made my way from stadium to stadium. The Dom in Cologne may be the most incredible piece of architecture I have ever seen and it is unimaginable that it was constructed starting in 1248... although it did take over 600 years to complete. That is persistence!!!!
Through soccer I have felt the history of a country once divided showing its cooperative and collaborative spirit: filling stadiums, accommodating foreigners, aligning themselves with countries they may have never seen and supporting the players from around the world with their respect, their cheers and their never ending "wave" (The German fans are certainly obsessed with the wave).
So tomorrow there will be a full stadium, there will be an exciting game, there will be "the wave" and someone will be crowned the 2011 World Cup Champions. Pia is "feeling groovy" and I am feeling good about it - GO USA!!!!
Check Pia's interview if you don't get the "feeling groovy" :)
Day 24 - THE END (July 19)
Well it was all I said and more – a full stadium, an exciting game and plenty of Germans chanting “Ni--pon … U—S—A … Ni--pon … U—S—A” in alternating fashion, demonstrating many had no allegiance to either country, indicative of Germans being fans of SOCCER – and as the entire World Cup showed, fans of WOMEN’S SOCCER. My admiration, congratulations and appreciation go out to the German Federation and to Steffi Jones for putting on a world-class event and proving to the world that women’s soccer is a viable and exciting product.
I would be remiss to not take this somewhat public forum to thank Pia and her staff for inviting me into the inner circle, for valuing my contributions of tactical insight into their opponents and for always making me feel a beneficial part of such a knowledgeable and experience staff. Expansive in her tactical understanding, comprehensive in her attention to detail, masterful in her empowerment of, patience with and belief in the players, Pia Sundhage is one of the best. As I told her that night, I was both honored and grateful to have been given the chance to see her work and to work beside her.
I have already read the critics, that same ones who would most likely be singing her praises if one of our many shots in the first half found the back of the net. However, after seeing 12 games and listening to people critique, espouse and contradict every coaching decision, I am convinced that the factors are too many for ANYONE on the outside to understand. Whether it is the replacement of a star like Germany’s Birgit Prinze, not replacing a limping star in England’s Kelly Smith, or attempting to imprint a new style for a country looking for success – anyone not there day to day, not immersed in the dynamics cannot begin to appreciate the factors, issues and repercussions considered in each and every decision.
I am on the plane ride home, extremely ready to return to Champaign, to a somewhat more normal routine (although camp and pre-season can hardly be called a normal routine), to a familiar bed and to family and friends. The sadness of the loss still lingers and like me, I know each player and every staff member wonders as they travel to their own home if there was one more little thing that could have been done to change the outcome, one more piece of information as a scout, one more massage as a trainer, one more pass, one less pass or one different decision. And as I reflect in this sleep deprived state of travel, I realize that the answer is there are infinite possibilities of moments that affected the outcome and an infinite number of people who impacted those moments – infinite possibilities for a difference. Yet I can attest that every player on this team and every member of this staff did their very best in each and every moment and made each decision with a common goal in mind – to be World Champions. They, we, fell minutely but significantly short of that goal and that is excruciating, but isn’t it that very ache that spurs and fuels the fire of a competitor? Only those who can handle falling short will ever have the fortitude to be a World Champion.
Now it is time to focus on the Illini and the exciting season ahead. This World Cup experience has provided me incredible insight into the game, renewed inspiration for training and training and training again, and bolstered the courage to aim high. August 3rd marks the start of another journey, with a different group of players and staff. Nevertheless, it is a similar challenge to the one each World Cup coach faces – the challenge to, with an incredible staff, help a group of players define themselves and find and reach for the best inside them – a best they don’t even know exists at this moment.
My sadness is leaving and excitement returning … GO ILLINI!!!