Aug. 2, 2011
BERKELEY - After Alex Morgan and the U.S. national women's soccer team captivated a nation and more at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, CalBears.com sat down with the man that coached Morgan during her four years at Cal - women's soccer head coach Neil McGuire. McGuire gave CalBears.com his thoughts on the final match, Morgan's performance, current Golden Bear Betsy Hassett's experience and more.
CalBears.com: How many games did you get to watch?
Neil McGuire: I made an effort to watch them all in whole or in part, and have the ones I missed recorded to later review. Our summer is busy with camps, recruiting and my own children, so it was not always easy to get time to sit and watch.
CalBears.com: What did you think of the final?
NM: I felt like the U.S. was the better team and dominated much of the match. We played really good soccer, and possessed the ball as well as I had seen all tournament. If we had been able to take advantage of the opportunities we created early in the game, we would have won with relative ease. However, Japan was able to weather the storm and fought its way back into the match by scoring from each of their most dangerous opportunities.
CalBears.com: What do you think the U.S.' performance said to the world?
NM: Winning the World Cup is not easy and people tend to forget the quality of the women's game globally has grown significantly. Soccer is heavily ingrained in many of the cultures around the world and you can see it in the way other teams played. I think the U.S. showed that it is still a force in world soccer and its team spirit was unrivaled. The U.S. team will only find it harder to be dominant due to the quality of the other countries, and not because the U.S. is going backwards, which is what seems to be the opinion of so many. Are there things we can improve? Yes. But these women are doing amazing things at a very high level and we should respect their abilities more.
CalBears.com: Will the U.S. win the World Cup again?
NM: I believe wholeheartedly that the U.S. will win the World Cup again, and will be one of the challengers in every World Cup in the future.
CalBears.com: What did you think of Alex Morgan's performances?
NM: Alex played extremely well in each of the games and should be very proud of her accomplishments. She is, in my mind, the best rising natural goal scorer in the world as she can score in so many different ways. She is an aerial threat, tremendous shooter with both feet and can finish from both short and long distances. She has also developed great sophistication around the goal in pressured situations. People are tagging her as the next Mia Hamm, which in many respects is understandable. But it is important to allow Alex to grow into her game at the international level and not put too much pressure on her. She can learn a great deal from the play of Abby Wambach, who like Alex, is a prolific goal scorer and great leader.
CalBears.com: How much lasting impact do you think the U.S. playing in the final will have on women's soccer in the U.S. in the future?
NM: The final three games the U.S. played brought a nation together and this seems to have carried over into the WPS attendance figures with many sell-out crowds. I know I have had many people ask me about the games, and how to see more soccer, so I think the impact has been and will be significant. These players deserve tremendous credit for carrying themselves in the manner they have after such a devastating loss. They have show amazing character and resilience, and I know my own daughter is a huge U.S. soccer fan.
CalBears.com: How do you feel about penalty kicks?
NM: Penalty kicks are not the ideal way to determine a winner but you cannot have players playing much longer then what they do due to the physical demands put on their bodies. Dead-ball situations have determined many wins and losses and it is a part of the game.
CalBears.com: Should Alex have started for the United States in the Women's World Cup?
NM: I have been asked many times if Alex should have started in the World Cup and all I can say is that the U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage had the players every day in practice and clearly had a plan for the team and the players which we should all respect. Was Alex talented enough and prepared enough? Yes, but I have never coached in a World Cup so can only imagine the level of detail associated with player selection and both Abby and Amy Rodriguez must have shown themselves to be the right choices. Alex will get her opportunities soon and long into the future. There were players at the World Cup who did not see the field, but Pia has to make those choices for what she believes is in the best interest of the team. I think she did a fine job.
CalBears.com: How will the experience of playing in the Women's World Cup benefit Betsy Hassett?
NM: Betsy will have grown significantly from her experience. She was already a magnificent player and team leader by example. But, I am excited to see her lead the team forward this year.
CalBears.com: Will Betsy likely miss any games next season due to national team commitments, as New Zealand prepares for Olympic qualifying?
NM: At this point we are not sure of the exact playing cycle for the New Zealand team, but I will be supportive of any player who aspires to play on their national team. Our Bears are great talents and many have the ability, and the desire to play on the national team and one of my goals is to help them get there.
CalBears.com: What does it say about your program that you had players from the 2010 team play in the Women's World Cup?
NM: We try our best to help our players excel to the level they aspire to and look to cultivate their talents in a manner that offers them the best chance to play beyond college either professionally or internationally. Sending three players to the pro leagues last year was fun with Megan Jesolva and Katrin Omarsdottir joining Alex in the pro ranks.
CalBears.com: Will the popularity and exposure that Alex received during and after the Women's World Cup rub off on fans and bring them to more Cal women's soccer games?
NM: It is hard to tell how Alex's success will affect our fan base, although we have had an amazing outpouring since the World Cup. Alex always represented Cal in a first-class manner and we are very proud of her, as she is of being a Bear. We will do our very best to continue to grow the soccer support and allow fans to watch great soccer at Cal like they always have done.