Chastain: U.S. men's defense problematic

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Brandi Chastain played on two World Cup championship teams and two Olympic gold medal-winning squads.

Former U.S. women's soccer star Brandi Chastain sat down with espnW recently while in New York City promoting her partnership with Johnson & Johnson, an official sponsor of the upcoming 2014 World Cup. Chastain discussed what the U.S. men's team must do to advance out of group play and talked about the recent coaching changes with the U.S. women's national team.

Chastain made 192 appearances for the U.S. women's national team from 1988 to 2004. The 45-year-old, who is a soccer analyst for NBC Sports, is most famous for ripping off her jersey after scoring the penalty kick that won the United States the 1999 Women's World Cup title.

Q&A with Chastain



Q: What's your scouting report on the U.S. men's national team heading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup?

A: I actually went to their practices a lot at Stanford, because I live down the street, and I can't keep myself away because I like soccer. I even took my son, Jaden, out of school to go and watch. You know, I was surprised by the Landon Donovan decision -- that's what I call it, the "Landon Donovan decision." I just think I was surprised by that because, I lived that moment, too, being cut from the team and not being selected. It's really hard. That can shake up teams and give some uneasiness going forward. The thing is, those players, they're told and then they leave -- it's an abrupt departure.

They have to win the first game. They need three points from the Ghana game.
Brandi Chastain on what the U.S. men must do to advance out of group play

But what I saw from this team after that decision, and the interviews I've seen, and the demeanor I've seen after, I think they handled it well. Landon has been "the guy" for so long, and also for men's soccer in this country in general. I think the team handled it with maturity. I think that's something about this team that maybe wasn't always present: They have more of a worldliness about them than they have had before. Of course, I'm hoping that's not a callousness, either. They were just like, "We're OK; we're going to be OK." And so I think that gave me confidence in them going forward.

Q: The team's defense didn't look so good in the friendly against Turkey. What were your thoughts watching the U.S. men's most recent match?

A: I think the hardest thing for teams that don't have players who play together regularly -- or in the same league like Spain has, for example -- is the chemistry defensively. Because if you don't have that, you have to trust with your whole self that your teammate is going to be there, and he is going to know what you're doing. You have to give him the confidence to make a decision, whether it is going into a tackle on a play and he knows that you're going to be there to get the ball when it comes loose. Or when I say, "Step up," I mean it -- you can't lag behind, because the margin for offside is a hairline.

I think with the men's team it's that defensive commitment to each other and the team defending that is most important right now. Yes, we have guys who work hard defensively: DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley -- they're going to work hard. But Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler, they need to know that the line is together, because [goalie] Tim Howard is going to have to make decisions like, "How close do I play to them? How far away?" And those are tricky decisions when someone like Cristiano Ronaldo is on the ball and they're lightning fast. That is the most problematic area, and the area that needs the most attention.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Before hitting that memorable penalty kick to clinch the 1999 Women's World Cup, Brandi Chastain earned her way back onto the U.S. team after getting cut in '93.

Q: What do you think the team needs to do to get out of the group stage?

A: They have to win the first game. They need three points from the Ghana game. I'm not a big revenge person, so I don't see the game against Ghana as revenge from the last World Cup -- the rosters are so different. But I think the U.S. team needs to go into the game thinking it is a one-game tournament. If we win this first game, it sets us up in those next two games to possibly come in second in the group, and possibly, well, who knows? Soccer is crazy. The ball can bounce in a funky way.

Q: What are your thoughts on the recent firing of U.S. women's national team coach Tom Sermanni? And about his replacement, Jill Ellis?

A: I was surprised and shocked by Tom Sermanni's departure -- as was he. I spoke with him not long after, and he said he didn't see it coming, and I don't think anyone else did. And I really felt that for him to do what he set out to do, he didn't have enough time. Jill has been a part of U.S. Soccer for a long time, so there is some kind of continuity and comfort level. But what I liked about Tom was that he was a departure from comfort. And I think change is uncomfortable for people sometimes, and they don't give it a chance. And so, I think for some of the players, it will be comfortable to have Jill as the head coach. That could be good. But it could also not be good because you want to be able to, as a leader, to be able to stand before your group and give them inspiration and be able to motivate them in a way that maybe they haven't been motivated before. And if it's the same thing ... well, I don't know.

Q: In retrospect, what are your thoughts about the Twitter drama with Hope Solo during the 2012 London Olympics? Do you change anything about how you discuss the team going forward?

A: I honestly believe that I have to look at that as my job. As a broadcaster, it's not about, "Are we friends?" As a commentator, having had experience as a player, I'm seeing it from both perspectives. I know what it's like to be on the field, but I also have to tell the viewer what happened and how it happened, and how it could be better or different. For the athlete, you've been coached your whole life. Who hasn't been analyzed, criticized or critiqued? Everyone. So you have to take it with a grain of salt. It's not a personal attack. My job was to comment on what happened and it didn't matter if it was Player X, Y, Z.

Q: Do you feel like there is more pressure on the U.S. women entering the 2015 Women's World Cup, because of the budding new soccer league, the NWSL, and also because they haven't won the World Cup since 1999?

A: I hope not. In all fairness, I think, like any competitor, I think they want to win. And they want to win for their own reasons, for their own team. I don't feel they have to live in any shadow. We're two completely different rosters and teams. Me, as a former national team player, I want them to win because they are the legacy of women's soccer in this country. And they will be the examples and the role models for young girls coming up. I think every athlete feels pressure to win, because when you're the elite, that's what's driving you. But ultimately, I don't think they should feel external pressure, or feel they need to win for the NWSL to be successful, or for young girls to keep playing soccer, or somehow for the "life of soccer."

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