Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shame on You Greg Ryan

I’ve been reading the banter in the news regarding the Women’s World Cup controversy surrounding the head coach, Greg Ryan’s decision to replace his starting Goal Keeper, Hope Solo, with the more experienced Brianna Scurry of previous World Cup fame. The discussion is all over the map. It ranges from “You must never question the coach”, to “Fire the coach”, to “Shame on you Hope Solo”, for making negative comments after the game. This controversy is destined to become the legacy of Greg Ryan’s coaching career. While I can appreciate the perspective of many of the comments I have read I can’t keep from feeling there is a universal missing of the point. As trite as this may sound World Cup Soccer is the high temple of the beautiful game. There is no higher calling; there is no higher venue in this sport. Not the Olympics, not the multitude of world wide professional league cups, and not the super league tournaments. I will not argue this point further—If you doubt what I am saying you have no business commenting on this controversy.

To play in the World Cup is to play to win. Making it to the championship matches after two years of qualifying does not result in a strategy to hang in for 2nd or 3rd place. World Cup dreams are about going all the way. When the US was eliminated by Brazil after their semi-final match, the dream was over. Preparing the team for a third place consolation round against Norway is just that, a consolation round. The World Cup dreams were over and the team failed. Today we can rally around the team and say collectively it was not their fault, the better Brazilian side out played them. Not to take credit from Brazil but when a goal differential is so lopsided as 4 –0 something must have changed or gone terribly wrong on the field. Yes there was an own goal, and yes there was a dismal decision to send off Shannon Box, but there was also a major change in the defense. This is not to blame Brianna Scurry – she is a world-class keeper – the question is was she ready on every level to lead the team in the net during a semi-final match during a tournament in which she had yet to appear. Clearly the answer is no. One person has to live with the decision—Greg Ryan. And he has been quoted in the press as saying, “I can live with that decision”. What an arrogant ass. In the process of living with his decision he has shattered the nation’s World Cup dreams, the dreams of every player on the team potentially destroyed his own career, Hope Solo’s career, and indelibly marred the brilliant career of Brianna Scully. He can live with that? And to gain him more points as a world-class horses-ass he is now attempting to redirect blame onto Hope Solo for making negative comments after the game, seemingly because her negative comments have distracted the team as they prepare for their third place consolation match. In fact Hope was asked not to the train with the team or come to the game. Talk about lack of leadership, lack of professional integrity, immaturity, and either the arrogance, incompetence, or uncertainty in his coaching decisions – my views are now known. Greg Ryan has to go.

But there is more to this story because we have to understand Hope Solo – and save her reputation from the shadow of a miserable coach. First, she won the starting position during qualifying, practice, and the run-up to the World Cup. She took the position from the best keeper US women have ever had. No small feat – and to Greg Ryan’s credit he made this decision. Second, she was benched the night before the semi-final match. While we don’t know everything that Ryan told her that evening, he no doubt told her the kind’s of things that she commented on to the press. Things that would make her say, “living in the past”, etc. Third, Hope Solo, unlike Ryan feels responsible for the loss against Brazil. Her comments are not selfish in nature and do not stem from some anti-team sentiment. She feels totally responsible for not being on the field to help her team. That is completely a team attitude. To feel responsible when you are on the bench is how every player should feel. On the contrary – Ryan has not taken any responsibly for his decision nor did he display any leadership on the field. He could have curtailed Solo’s comments after the game by a simple expression of responsibility. Instead of hiding from his decision he should have gone to Solo after the game, put his arms around her and said, “I’m sorry I benched you Solo. This was my fault and my fault alone, I have to live with the decision”. By taking responsibility in this way, Solo would probably not have had the same run in with the press. And when the run-in with the press occurred, remember for Solo the World Cup is winning. And they just lost. All the preparation, all the sacrifice, the World Cup was over. Had she made her comments and showed dissent before the game that would have been problematic -- but she did not. She was a professional and waited. In the absence of truth coming from the right source, she spoke the truth. And as previously mentioned, Ryan then used her comments to deflect attention away from him and to further bury his mistake. What a coward. Shame on you Greg Ryan.