For the first time since 2008 the United States Women’s National Team no longer sits atop the World FIFA rankings, slipping to number two in the latest ratings behind Germany.
Thursday’s 7-0 win over Argentina, combined with Brazil’s 4-1 decision versus China, was enough to keep U.S. hopes alive at the International Tournament of Brazil, but it wasn’t enough for the U.S. to retain that number one ranking.
The Americans will get a chance at revenge in Sunday’s tournament final against the host nation, but even if they can find a way to subdue Marta and co., the U.S. will finish 2014 behind Germany, as these are FIFA’s last ratings of the year.
A 3-2 loss to Brazil in the tournament’s second match, was the team’s first since Jill Ellis took over from Tom Sermanni following Sermanni’s firing last April.
Beating up on overmatched Argentina brought the team’s record under Ellis to 16-1-4. Impressive? Sure, but the team has not recaptured the air of invincibility that it once carried, and heading into a World Cup year, this demotion behind Germany is not a big surprise.
Sermanni never recovered from a dismal showing in the 2014 Algarve Cup, when the U.S. finished seventh in a tournament they have won nine times. Of course, no one is suggesting that Ellis’ job is on the line, although a win on Sunday would go a long way toward calming some fraying nerves.
The U.S. opened in Brazil with a disappointing 1-1 draw against China, before surrendering a two goal lead to Marta and company. Matra’s hattrick was equal parts brilliance on her part, and not quite sharp enough goalkeeping from Hope Solo.
Solo was given the game off against Argentina, with Alyssa Naeher picking up her first cap. With domestic violence charges against Solo still unresolved, Ellis needs to prepare a viable replacement, should her number one find herself suspended for the World Cup.
Sermanni was handed the tricky job of changing the team’s style to more of a possession oriented game, while integrating new players, all while still winning. He was tasked with accomplishing all of this with a team that was coming off of Gold Medal winning performance at the 2012 London Olympics.
It proved too much for Sermanni, and since taking over Ellis has faced the same challenges.
The backline has been unsettled with younger players failing to unseat 39 year old veteran Christie Rampone in the center, while competition at fullback is still underway. Too much available talent hardly seems like a reason to complain, but for the U.S. WNT coach there is an abundance of talent available from the midfield forward, and finding the right combination has been a problem.
Star players bristled, quietly, at reduced minutes, as Sermanni searched for the right combination. The personable Aussie found out the hard way that he didn’t have as much time to experiment as he thought.
With the World Cup coming in June, Ellis will understand the urgency of her task. Is attack minded Lauren Holiday the answer at defensive midfield? Is Morgan Brian, a natural fit at the spot, a better choice. Does Ellis play the two together?
Goal scoring midfielder Carli Lloyd is an automatic. Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Amy Rodriguez, and the team’s best pure winger, Heather O’Reilly, all have a case to make.
Then there are the young stars Christen Press and Sydney Leroux, strikers who have been tried in midfield positions to get them on the field.
Up top a healthy Alex Morgan has to play. And what about Abby Wambach. Could the worlds leading international goal scorer be used off of the bench? She could be quite a weapon with fewer minutes on her 34 year old legs.
Falling from number one is a blow to the ego of U.S. WNT, but one that will be assuaged if the Americans can do in Canada what they have been unable to since 1999 at the Rose Bowl. And that is to win the World Cup.