US leads the way but parity calls
Following a deceptively lopsided 4-0 dismantling of Australia on 19 August on a cool night in Victoria, the United States secured a spot at the big-girls’ table of the last eight – not surprisingly the first team to do so. Though the young Americans have laid claim to an impressive nine goals in two matches and conceded only one, the level of competition at the women’s youth level has seemingly reached a level of equilibrium and overall balance quite simply unimaginable some years back.
The US are still hot favourites to earn inaugural laurels, but coach Tracey Leone was quite quick indeed to point to a new level of parity emerging in the game, following a bruising, hotly-contested battle with Oceania candidates Australia. As the young ladies battle it out for goals and points in Victoria, Vancouver and Edmonton, another battle is being simultaneously waged – one of respectability – as sides from all over the globe search for recognition in their native lands.
“Internationally, the gap has officially closed … countries are investing more in the women’s game,” remarked US head coach Tracey Leone after the tight win over brave, colourful Australia. “There is no walkover in the World Championship. If you look beyond one, you’re done…”
Though the US can safely look past Chinese Taipei in their third and final Group C match, as they have already sealed a spot in the final round of eight, Leone’s respect for the competition and trepidation regarding what the future might hold was duly echoed by her squad.
US standout Leslie Osborne remarked of Australia’s performance, “The Australian team was awesome in the air, and awesome on the ground. Games like this really help make us better.”
Forward Heather O’Reilly too addressed the parity issue in no uncertain terms. “There are a lot of great teams here, and any given team is going to give a great game at any given time. We are playing one game at a time. We set standards for ourselves, meet them and excel at them.”
Australia coach Mike Mulvey was fast to praise the improvements his girls have made since emerging seemingly from nowhere, and facing a grudge match with impressive, upstarts England for second place Group C passage to the quarter-finals.
“Our girls are quality athletes. They have quality, speed and athleticism, and I’m proud of the way we played tonight. On the world stage, we’ve come a long way.”
With quality sides the likes of hosts Canada, Germany, and Brazil playing some dazzling football, the likelihood of the U-19 trophy heading south to the US, though still surely likely, has become more and more of a tantalising question mark – for the unequivocal good of the women’s game.
England’s spark plug Ellen Maggs had some defiant words of young wisdom on the dawn of this increasing parity. “We have the technical ability … once we start playing together more, we will be just as good as the US.”