A very interesting night here in Hangzhou. The risky gamble by American head coach Greg Ryan to bench his star goalie Hope Solo in favour of the untried - at least in this tournament - Briana Scurry, was very much debated in our media centre. The American sportswriters couldn't believe his decision, and were lambasting it before the game even started.
Hope Solo, of course, was coming off three consecutive clean sheets, Scurry had not played a minute here in China. But Scurry's record against Brazil was 12-0. She had beaten them three months ago in the States, as well as in that hard-fought battle in Athens in the Olympic gold-medal final. Solo had never played against Brazil. A bold move by Ryan, which he said was guided "by his heart."
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but what a bad move it appeared to be. On a corner kick by Formiga, defender Leslie Osborne headed the ball into her own net past Scurry. Surely that set the US back on their heels as the Brazilian side went up 1-0 on the fluke goal.
Seven minutes later, Marta made sure, and it was Brazil up 2-0. At this point we were wondering when Solo would be back in net. During the half, she was warming up, and we were convinced she would start the second half. During the entire first half she sat motionless on the bench, as her team was clearly outplayed by the Brazilians. You could almost feel the anger from her for not being able to contribute to her side.
It didn't help that Swiss ref Nicole Petignat made a horrible call at the end of the first half, sending off Shannon Boxx for alleged contact with Cristiane (her second yellow card) forcing the American side to take the second half a player down.
Cristiane and Marta, the tournament's top two leading scorers, took advantage of the U.S. disarray following Boxx's ejection. Two more goals from them, and they were dancing their way into their first-ever World Cup final.
For the two American goalies, it was a night of despair.
For me, the fascinating part of the night was in the "mix zone" where the athletes have to walk by the press, to get to the team bus.
We were busy getting a clip from Abby Wambach when I saw Hope Solo, clearly upset, walking by. I said quietly, "Hope, do you want to comment?" The press person for the U.S., Aaron Heifetz, said out loud to me, "She didn't play, you only want to talk to people who played the game." Hope spun on her heels when she heard Heifetz say that and said, "No, I want to talk!" This is after she had walked by ESPN and other crews waiting to get clips. We were the first crew to interview her, and the first thing she said is that it was the wrong decision not to put her in net, and that she would have stopped those shots. Also, she said, the only people who would have made that decision, didn't understand the game of soccer. A stunning announcement from her, and clearly something the press person didn't want her to say. She went on to say she didn't understand the decision, that this was 2007, not 2004 (a reference to Scurry's performance in the Olympic final in 2004) and that she was terribly upset by the decision to keep her on the sidelines.
She was honest, fair, and to the point, and in my opinion, quite brave to even do the interview when she was clearly devastated at the team's result. Even more interestingly, as she walked away from the interview, she again spun on her heels and said to Heifetz: "Don't you ever tell me what interviews I can do."
Then we attempted to talk to goalkeeper Briana Scurry about the game. The same PR person who told us we can only talk to players who actually played the game, refused to let Scurry stop to talk to us. I called out to Scurry to ask her to talk and she pointed to Heifetz and said, "He's the boss." I told her she was her own boss and Hope was willing to talk to us. Scurry shook her head, and walked away.
Afterward, I told Heifetz that wasn't fair to keep Scurry away from the press. He told me what wasn't fair, was the way I was "digging" at Hope Solo. I pointed out she was the one who wanted to talk, but he walked away from me, shaking his head.
I feel I only acted as I was supposed to do as a journalist. I approached Hope in a gentle way, simply asking her if she wanted to talk. When she was told by her PR person that she wouldn't talk, she reacted in a way I think I would have in the same situation. While many times PR people are helpful in these situations, Aaron Heifitz managed to upset and anger Solo even more. That led to good clips for us that ESPN even borrowed, since they didn't have them.
It was a good lesson - always be polite in the mix zone, always ask people if they want to talk, because sometimes you'll be surprised at what you get.
It is terribly disappointing that the U.S. was refusing to allow the goalie they put forward in their most important match not answer questions from the world media.
Even when the Canadians were unexpectedly knocked out in group stage against the Aussies, many of them were willing to face the music, not just with us, but with the Australian media as well. I think the U.S. could learn a thing or two from the Canadians' team management.
And my heart goes out to both American goalies, who were both put in unfair positions, in my humble opinion.
On to Shanghai, as the U.S. try to rebound against Norway, and the Brazilians will be in their first-ever World Cup final, against the apparently unstoppable Germans, reaching the final with the first-ever five clean sheets.