Saturday, January 12, 2008

Former U.S. women’s national team coach Greg Ryan broke his silence this week on why he benched starting goalie Hope Solo for the semifinal game against Brazil at the Women’s World Cup in China last September.

Appearing on Fox Soccer Channel’s “Fox Football Fone-In” show Monday, Ryan admitted that he benched Solo for veteran goalie Briana Scurry, not just because he needed a more “reaction-save” goalie but because Solo had violated team rules by “missing a team dinner on the day of the England game,” and stayed out “much later” than 11 p.m. the night before that match.

“A player has to figure out how they are going to take care of themselves, and I don’t think she was doing that the right way,” Ryan said.

The 50-year-old coach faced a storm of criticism for the late goalie change and the ensuing loss 4-0 to Brazil. The controversy took on more steam when Solo publicly aired her grievances and criticized Scurry’s play in the defeat.

Ryan says he spoke to team leaders Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly and other veterans before making the change and said they “were 100 percent” behind his decision.

“My veteran players told me over and over again that they felt much more comfortable with Briana and less so with Hope because Briana communicated well with the defense,” Ryan said.

The loss to Brazil was Ryan’s only defeat in regulation time during his 55 games at the helm of the U.S. team. He was fired after the World Cup and replaced by Swedish coach Pia Sundhage.

Ryan said he does not regret the decision, which attracted enormous media attention.

“It didn’t matter if Briana or Hope were in goal that day, Brazil played better and deserved to win,” Ryan said.

When asked why the other players didn’t speak out in his defense at the time, Ryan said: “They were so upset, not because they were angry at Hope but because their team bond had been violated and I think it’s even stronger in the women’s game, where the team comes first. … I said ‘You guys keep quiet, let me deal with this.’ ”

Ryan says he is speaking out now because in his final talk with Solo he told her that he would say “there were rule violations” if people kept asking about the incident.

“We are two or three months down the road now so maybe it’s time to bring it all out and put it on the table,” Ryan said. “It’s time to reflect on this. How should a player handle themselves in a World Cup? How should they be preparing themselves. Briana was right there on Hope’s heels ready to play that day.”

Both Scurry and Solo were named this week to the roster for the upcoming Four Nations Tournament in China from Jan. 16-20.

As for his future, Ryan said he has been in talks with helping out an unnamed national team and may be involved in the new women’s league set to start next year.

“I figure after one loss in three years I might still have a shot in coaching,” he said.

Ryan will be one of thousands of soccer coaches in Baltimore attending the annual National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention, which starts on Wednesday. Ryan is conducting a seminar: “2007 World Cup — Implications for Elite Player Development.” Other coaching sessions will be conducted by former Liverpool coach Gerald Houllier and Steve McClaren, the former England national team coach. The MLS SuperDraft also will be held at the convention on Friday.

Note — Former D.C. United forward Ronald Cerritos has joined the new United Soccer League franchise, Real Maryland, that will begin play in April at the SoccerPlex in Boyds, Md. The El Salvadoran star is 10th all-time in goals scored in MLS with 71 in 221 games.

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