John Clay: UK women's soccer coach 'feels bad' about early World Cup doubts

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 30, 2014 

Is he watching? Stupid question. Of course he's watching. Jon Lipsitz has been watching and tweeting and cheering and analyzing this 2014 World Cup from the opening kickoff right up to the current knockout round, knockout being an apt description for the whole thing.

"It has been amazing," Lipsitz said Monday.

I caught up with the UK women's soccer coach via phone from Los Angeles, where Lipsitz was monitoring the France-Nigeria match — "on mute" — in his hotel while he awaited Monday night's ceremony in which UK All-American Arin Gilliland will receive the Honda Inspiration Award.

Why has this World Cup been amazing? Start with scoring. On Twitter, Lipsitz correctly predicted before the first Brazilian ball was kicked, this would be a high-scoring World Cup thanks to the skills of the players, the tactical changes of the countries and the more aggressive, attacking style of play.

He's been proven correct. France's 2-0 win over Nigeria brought the number of goals scored in this particular tournament to 147, already two more than the 145 goals scored in the 2010 World Cup.

"I think it's a great development that we're playing attacking soccer," Lipsitz said. "The attitude now is to use our skills and because of that I think world soccer is in the best place it's ever been."

The fact that the Americans have made a strong showing, escaping the so-called Group of Death, has done nothing to hurt general enjoyment.

"I am surprised," Lipsitz said. "And I feel bad about that."

Lipsitz admits that when he saw the Americans' grouping — Germany, Portugal, Ghana and U.S. — he was merely hopeful the U.S. could score a single goal.

The UK coach said his pessimism was "my own fault" because, looking back, Lipsitz should have realized the progress of the national program, the talent of this particular team and its improvement.

Credit Klinsmann. That would be Jurgen Klinsmann, the former German star and coach and now American coach who was harpooned for leaving Landon Donovan back home. He's now hailed as a magician who has coaxed the U.S. to unprecedented heights.

"People act like we've never done this before when we have," Lipsitz pointed out. "Bruce Arena did it (got to the quarterfinals in 2002). Bob Bradley did it (got to the round of 16 in 2010). But to do it in this group was remarkable, and now we have the confidence and the belief. Klinsmann is great at that."

The coach has also set clearly-defined roles for his players and used an effective midfield strategy that has made opponents have to go wide to attack.

"Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones have been revelations," Lipsitz said.

To those in the soccer community, it has to be an inspiration the way the country has taken to this sport and rallied around this team.

"It makes me smile," Lipsitz said. "It makes me so happy to think when I was growing up, those of us who played, we were teased for playing the sport. Luckily, I had a lot of friends who played other sports who were good-natured about it. But others weren't. We were the wimps, the ones who couldn't handle the other sports. It was not cool to play soccer."

Now, World Cup interest is through the roof, as proven by record television ratings, packed and rowdy viewing parties at drinking establishments, computer livestream numbers, mentions on social media.

"Now you have Kobe and LeBron tweeting about soccer," Lipsitz. "You have a Major League pitcher (San Francisco's Tim Lincecum) throwing a no-hitter and then wearing a U.S. soccer jersey afterward. The respect there is really great to see."

So who's going to win this World Cup?

"It's hard to pick against Brazil," Lipsitz said. "If you had to go with a final four I'd say Brazil, Netherlands, Argentina and Germany, but I don't think we are that far behind. Anything can happen."

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: Blog: Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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