Alex Massie

Department of Reaping What You Sow

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I hadn't paid any attention to the women's World Cup until the US manager Greg Ryan decided it was a sensible notion to switch goalkeepers before yesterday's semi-final against Brazil, dropping first choice Hope Solo (great name!) and recalling the 36 year old Briana Scurry. Off-hand I can't think of any comparable goalie switch. When Alex Ferguson famously dropped Jim Leighton and promoted Les Sealey for an FA Cup final replay his decision was at least based on what her perceived as Leighton's loss of confidence. But Ryan had no such excuse since no-one, not even the manager, pretended that Solo had done anything wrong.

Instead what seems to have happened is that Ryan forgot that he was picking a football team, not managing a baseball game. Then again, in fairness, he wasn't alone in this. Here's the New York Times's Jere Longman:

In the rubble of Thursday’s defeat, Ryan’s decision to start Scurry looks suspect, but the coach had his reasons.

He was no different from a baseball manager playing the percentages with a certain hitter or pitcher. Previously, Scurry was 12-0 against Brazil, having pitched 8 shutouts. She was in goal for a friendly in June, when the United States defeated Brazil 2-0.

Even though Scurry is 36, she had surer hands, greater anticipation, quicker lateral movement and better reflexes than Solo. I thought she was more prepared to handle chaos in front of the goal. No one has responded more confidently and sturdily in the pressure situations of a World Cup.

Solo has never played against Brazil and, the game was too important to rely on such inexperience. If anything, Ryan could have replaced Solo with Scurry after Solo struggled in the World Cup opener against North Korea. That would have given Scurry a few games to recover her timing before the Americans faced their biggest obstacles.

It was not Ryan’s job to worry about team chemistry. It was his job to win. If some of Solo’s teammates were upset, that shouldn’t have been the coach’s concern. Clearly, though, his experiment failed, and support for Ryan will be thin.

Whatever this is, it's not football writing. What is this pitching of shutouts rubbish you speak of?

Goalkeeping is goalkeeping. The opposition has almost nothing to do with it, given that, yes, goalkeeping is still just goalkeeping. You're either confident on crosses and a nimble shot-stopper or you're not. As a keeper you don't really prepare differently for Brazil or Germany. there's no real difference between the demands of the job.  You're keeping goal; it ain't rocket science. If Scurry really has "surer hands, greater anticipation, quicker lateral movement and better reflexes" than Solo then perhaps she should have started all along. But picking her because she didn't concede a goal in a friendly match makes no sense at all. Football isn't a game of numbers.

Every rookie manager knows that swapping goalkeepers in and out unsettles a team. It might not make sense, but it does. (You're also, of course, disrupting the back four and your centre-halves in particular). There's a pretty good reason why you don't mess around with these things. Changing keepers is a big deal.

Ryan forgot that and thought he could reinvent the game. Serves him right then that the USA were humiliated 4-0 and that Briana Scurry, appropriately, had a shocker.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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