By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007
HANGZHOU, China, Sept. 26 -- It is not unusual for a soccer coach to make a change to his starting lineup before a crucial match. It is, however, highly unusual -- and potentially disruptive -- to change goalkeepers on the eve of a significant game.
But that is exactly what U.S. Coach Greg Ryan has done for the Americans' Women's World Cup semifinal against Brazil on Thursday night at Hangzhou Dragon Stadium.
Hope Solo, the No. 1 goalie the past two years on a team that has built a 51-game unbeaten streak, was dropped from the lineup and replaced by Briana Scurry, who is the most accomplished keeper in U.S. history but has not played a full game since June.
Ryan said he made the decision for tactical reasons.
"The way the Brazilians play, in terms of creating off the dribble in the penalty box and making a goalkeeper make reaction-type saves, I think Bri is the best goalkeeper in the world in those situations," he said during an afternoon news conference.
Solo, 26, has started 15 of 19 matches this year, including all four previous games in this tournament. She conceded two goals during an opening 2-2 tie with North Korea, letting a shot slip between her hands for the first goal, but registered shutouts in the next three matches.
Scurry, 36, started in the 1995, 1999 and 2003 World Cups, as well as the 1996 and 2004 Olympics, and has had some of her finest moments against the Brazilians. Solo has never faced them.
Solo's strength is her ability to cut off crosses and distribute the ball, though she has also made several superb saves in this tournament, including a gem in added time to preserve the tie with the Koreans. Scurry is known for her reflex saves and big-game experience. Ryan declined to say who would start Sunday, should the top-ranked Americans advance to the championship game in Shanghai.
Solo, clearly shaken while answering questions after Wednesday's training session, was told of the decision Tuesday night and "I was very taken back. I didn't see it coming. . . . As much as I was stunned, I guess it's the thing that happens."
Ryan and Scurry said that, as far back as this past summer, they discussed the possibility of her playing in a select World Cup match.
"I am a great shot-stopper, and I can read the ball really well," Scurry said. "Brazil is a team that is going to get their chances no matter what you do. They are very tricky on the ball and I have pretty good reflexes, so I guess that that was the matchup Greg wanted."
Veteran defender Kate Markgraf does not believe the sudden change will disrupt the back line, saying, "At this level, the differences between players is so small, it's just what strengths you need at a given time."
Asked if she was surprised by the move, forward Abby Wambach said: "At this point in the tournament, yeah, you do want to get a more solidified starting 11, but we do want to put the best team on the field for every individual team we face. . . . Our whole team, we all trust [Scurry] is going to get the job done."
Ryan said he does not think the decision will adversely affect Solo's confidence.
"That's not our concern," he said. "We're not looking at long term; long term Hope is going to be fantastic, she's had a great tournament, she might be back in, who knows?"
The only other time a U.S. team turned to a backup goalkeeper in World Cup play was in 1995, when Saskia Webber started against Australia after Scurry received a red card against Denmark in the previous game.
Scurry's 163 international appearances are by far the most by an American goalie and are 11th on the U.S. career list. She is perhaps best remembered for making a save during the penalty kick tiebreaker against China in the 1999 World Cup final before 90,125 at the sold-out Rose Bowl -- the game that launched the women's program into superstardom for one summer.
"Bri's ready," Ryan said. "Just wait and see."