3Qs: U.S. women on the brink of historic success

Photo by Jim Pierce.

The U.S. women’s soccer team is only two wins away from winning the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1999. We asked Tracey Leone, head coach of Northeastern’s women’s soccer team, to assess the club’s summer run in Germany. For more insight, follow Leone on Twitter @GoNUCoachLeone during today’s semifinal game between the U.S and France.

Soccer experts have called the United States’ shootout victory over Brazil in the quarterfinal round of the World Cup one of the most thrilling games in tournament history. Where does the match rank among the all-time great games?

I think it ranks right up there with the most thrilling matches. For a team to fight through adversity in such an important games and then score with only seconds remaining while being down a player is phenomenal.

It was interesting to watch German fans, who truly appreciate soccer, start pulling for the U.S. after Brazil was allowed to re-take a penalty kick. Their support was a testament to the toughness and determination of U.S. soccer.

What are the keys to success against France?

The U.S. team has a lot of confidence. Having said that, they are playing on short rest and had to travel for this match. They obviously invested a great deal of physical and emotional energy during the game against Brazil, so their ability to recover with respect to the body and mind will be critical to their success.

Another challenge will be playing without defender Rachel Buehler, who received a red card against Brazil. Whoever takes her spot should be prepared because of all the training and games they have played together, but whenever a coach makes a change in the back line, there’s always a chance for repercussions.

France has some major speed up front. To counter its speed, the U.S. back line must play a tight game and read the play very well, like the club did against Brazil. The U.S. must finish its chances. That’s the name of the game.

U.S. soccer hero Brandi Chastain’s game-winning shootout goal against China in the 1999 World Cup was supposed to have elevated the popularity of women’s soccer to unprecedented heights, but the game never took off like expected. How would a U.S. win in this year’s World Cup influence participation in women’s soccer at all levels of play?

The 1999 World Cup did precede an explosion in soccer in both the U.S. and around the world. Since then, a lot of girls have started playing soccer, and that’s a wonderful thing to see. On the other hand, the World Cup win didn’t leave a lasting impact on the women’s professional soccer league in America.

I hope a win this year has some impact. For this sport to survive, we need this league to be successful, but it has not grown like it was supposed to and there’s no real certainty that it’s going to be around forever. All the players on the U.S. team play in the pro league and I’m hoping there will be a trickle down effect and participation will be improved.