By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2007
SHANGHAI, Sept. 28 -- Greg Ryan enjoyed more than two years of peace and prosperity as coach of the U.S. women's national soccer team, steadily guiding the Americans to a 51-game unbeaten streak and the top ranking in the sport. But in a tumultuous 48 hours, the quiet Texan found himself in a storm of controversy and having to defend his decision-making as well as quell a disturbance within the squad while preparing for a World Cup third-place match Sunday.
A day after the Americans suffered a 4-0 semifinal loss to Brazil in Hangzhou -- the worst defeat in the program's 22-year history -- Ryan addressed questions during a 16-minute news conference Friday at the team's downtown hotel.
The primary topic was the postgame remarks made by goalkeeper Hope Solo, who was replaced by veteran Briana Scurry on the eve of the Brazil match after starting the first four games in the tournament. Solo told the Canadian Broadcasting Company late Thursday that "it was the wrong decision and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that." She also said she would have prevented Brazil's first two goals and "the fact of the matter is it's not 2004 anymore. It's 2007 and you have to live in the present" -- a reference to Scurry's past accomplishments with the U.S. team.
On Friday, Ryan expressed disappointment in Solo's comments, saying "the one common code has always been the players supported one another. That strong bond between the players to support each other no matter what -- whether they agree with me or not with me, playing style, performance decisions -- always, always backed one another."
Ryan said other players were "concerned" with Solo's comments but declined to elaborate. No players were made available for interviews Friday.
Although Solo was under no obligation to grant interview requests on Thursday, against the wishes of U.S. Soccer Federation staff members she had agreed to answer questions about her benching.
Ryan said he hopes to resolve the issues with Solo, who at age 26 seemed set to be the U.S. starter for years to come.
"There are always opportunities for reconciliation," Ryan said. "This has only just happened and we will work to try and get past this hurdle."
Ryan said that no decision has been made about the starter in Sunday's third-place game against Norway, but that Solo's outburst would factor into it.
Concerning his decision this week to start Scurry, who had not played a full game since June, Ryan said: "Bri gave us a great effort and it could've been worse. . . . I was thinking [Germany men's goalkeeper] Oliver Kahn might have struggled to keep that game level. Of course, as a coach, you will always say, 'Maybe I should've chose differently,' but at the time I look at experience against Brazil, and Bri has that. Reaction saves, Bri has that."
Scurry -- who started in three previous World Cups and two Olympics -- got off to a shaky start, letting a free kick slip between her hands, before an own goal gave Brazil the lead. The goal by Marta that made it 2-0 came on a shot to the near post; it was struck from an angle at which goalies are taught to cover the near post first.
Solo got off to a shaky start in the World Cup opener, conceding two goals during a tie with North Korea, including one shot she let slip between her fingers for the first goal. She rebounded and recorded three shutouts in helping the U.S. team advance to the semifinals.
Following the match Thursday, USSF President Sunil Gulati declined to discuss whether Ryan's job was safe for next summer's Olympic Games in China. However, Gulati is expected to address the situation here Saturday morning.
Sunday's consolation game, which will precede the Brazil-Germany final, will have meaning for the U.S. players, who would earn $10,000 bonuses for finishing third but nothing for coming in fourth. They are also seeking to continue the team's streak of finishing in the top three in all eight major international tournaments since 1991 (World Cup and Olympics).
"This team will come together," Ryan said. "Sometimes opposition or frustration from different sources can help this team be even stronger. They are focused."