U.S. soccer stunted by its own culture 

July, 20, 2011

A couple of years ago, one of this blog's writers had the opportunity to take his daughter to a soccer clinic featuring Abby Wambach. The U.S. star was appropriately charming and inspiring in front of her rapt audience of 200 or so young girls. More than that, she gave a great tip on heading the ball: Square up to the target, with your hands in front of you, and as you strike the ball, move your hands down and back. "Like you're planting ski poles," she said.

Fast forward two years, with said daughter and writer on the couch, watching Wambach save U.S. Soccer's year with a textbook header to tie Brazil on the way to an unforgettable shootout victory. As ball hit net, writer turned to daughter and said, "ski poles."

Of such fundamentals are great soccer moments made. You can have all the grit, determination and American spirit in the world, but without skill it won't amount to much. That's the scary undercurrent of the American women's wonderful run to the World Cup final.

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.