The United States Women’s National Team has struggled all year, and FIFA has finally caught on. For the first time since 2008, the United States is not the best team in the world. As of December 19th, Germany is the top ranked team in the women’s game.
The FIFA rankings don’t hold much significance, but these rankings portray a new scenario in the women’s game as we approach the 2015 World Cup. This requires us to accept the reality that the USWNT does not deserve to be considered the best team in the world right now.
FIFA credited the USWNT’s disappointing performance in the Torneio Internacional da Brasilia this month, which included a draw with China PR (ranked 13th) and a 3-2 loss to Brazil (ranked 8th), as the reason for the Americans’ drop to second in the rankings.
It’s no surprise, though, that FIFA is late to the party. The United States hasn’t been the best team in the world since Pia Sundhage resigned as head coach in 2012 to take over her native Swedish team. Sundhage has since undoneher own work, as Sweden (ranked 5th) broke the USWNT’s 43-game win streak at the Algarve Cup in March.
This year the U.S.A. were 2-2-4 against top ten opponents, which is not exactly a record indicative of dominance. The team’s trip to Brazil this month did not showcase a sudden collapse; the Americans were disappointing, but they may have been even more disappointing in their loss to Denmark (ranked 16th) during the Algarve Cup.
The Americans should not have maintained the top spot in the rankings after finishing 7th in the tournament. It is obvious that the U.S. has struggled to evolve from their 2012 side, and the consequences are taking a toll on them.
Germany has been nearly as dominant as the USWNT for the last decade. They won both the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, and have won the last six European Championships (the most recent competition was held in 2013).
Like the USWNT, they have never fallen below the 2nd place FIFA ranking. The only notable shortcoming seems to be their performance in the Olympics; they have only earned three bronze medals (2000, 2004, 2008) and failed to qualify in 2012. But as the U.S. has declined, Germany has maintained their form, evident in their 1st place finish in the Algarve Cup this year. Germany’s jump to the top ranking should come as a shock to no one.
The timing, however, is interesting. The last time Germany claimed the #1 ranking, it was just after the 2007 World Cup. The Germans had proven their quality and had the hardware to show for it, but the USWNT reclaimed their throne in March 2008 and again went into the Olympics as the best team in the world.
Now, Germany has earned the ranking without necessarily competing for it; the Americans forfeited it with their bad run of form. If the U.S. cannot recover before June, Germany will head into a World Cup as the top team for the first time. They will have to cope with being the favorites. Instead of hunting the cup, it will be theirs to lose.
The United States will have to adapt to their new identity: strong, but not the strongest. If the women are anything like their male counterparts, they will relish the idea of being underestimated. The U.S. Men’s National Team put up a fight in the 2014 World Cup and managed to advance out of their Group of Death.
The women now have a Group of Death of their own in Australia, Sweden and Nigeria. If the Americans want to do well in 2015, they must channel the “I Believe That We Will Win” mentality that U.S. Soccer enjoys bragging about. Winning is no longer a guarantee.