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SBI’s Top 5 USWNT stories of 2014

Hope Solo Sept.18 by Mark Konezny-USA Today Sports
Photo by Mark Konezny/USA Today Sports


This year was bound to feature an intense push to build for next year’s Women’s World Cup. But while the U.S. Women’s National Team had plenty of important matches to watch this year, some of the biggest storylines of 2014 happened off the field.

After spending the previous year coasting through an unblemished record and little by the way of change, 2014 could not have been more different. Surprise hirings and firings, legal wrangling and match upsets peppered throughout the last 12 months made this year one to remember for the USWNT. Indeed, 2014 featured plenty of storylines and SBI waded through them all to determine the ones that made the biggest impact.

Here are SBI’s top five USWNT stories of 2014:

5. USWNT draws the “Group of Death” for the World Cup

It was a bit of déjà vu for American soccer fans to close out the 2014 calendar. Again, the national team had drawn the feared “Group of Death” for the next World Cup – only this time it was the women, who remain contenders to win the tournament despite some missteps in 2014.

The early December draw placed the USWNT in a group with three tough opponents in Sweden, Australia and Nigeria, rendering Group D the only one in the tournament with three top 10-ranked teams. While the expectation is that the USWNT will make it out of the group stage, the Group of Death possibly sets the team up for a very difficult road in the knockout rounds. Indeed, the last big USWNT story to come out of 2014 put renewed pressure on the team to stabilize performance while also setting the tone of the year to come.

4. Players take legal action against FIFA and Canadian Soccer Association

A senior men’s or women’s World Cup has never been held on playing surfaces without natural grass, and no one really seemed to like the idea of the 2015 Women’s World Cup being held on artificial turf – except for FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association, that is. After a year-long media blitz led by Abby Wambach failed to elicit action from the organizations in charge of hosting next summer’s tournament, the players turned to a team of lawyers.

With less than a year until the event’s kickoff, a group made up of mostly USWNT players took legal action, asking a Canadian human rights tribunal to correct what they called gender discrimination by using fake grass for the women’s iteration of the tournament. In the end, both FIFA and CSA reaffirmed their plans to use fake grass, and the legal proceedings still languish after requests to expedite the matter were denied. It’s unlikely the tribunal will do anything before the tournament kicks off next summer and fake grass will get its debut on the senior level next year.

3. USWNT falters at Algarve Cup, drops in FIFA world rankings

Outside of the most dedicated women’s soccer fans and journalists, the annual Algarve Cup doesn’t garner much attention. Though it traditionally has been considered a benchmark test for the Americans against some of the world’s top teams, it wasn’t even broadcast in the U.S. in 2014. But come spring of 2014, the Algarve Cup was all anyone seemed to be talking about as the USWNT’s performance was shockingly bad.

The tournament set some dubious milestones for the USWNT: It ended a 43-game unbeaten streak; the team suffered their first back-to-back losses in nearly 13 years; the team conceded their most-ever goals in a single game; and the USWNT had their worst-ever showing since the tournament started in 1994. In short, it was very bad. When the next FIFA rankings came out, No. 2-ranked Germany was closing in the Americans. By December, Germany had made their move – the USWNT was knocked out of the world’s No. 1 spot for the first time since 2008.

2. Hope Solo arrest makes national headlines as she plays on

When goalkeeper Hope Solo was arrested over the summer for allegedly assaulting her sister and nephew, the story mostly came and went. The men’s World Cup was gearing up and, at the time, the matter was largely viewed as an isolated incident. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said the legal process should precede any action from the federation and Solo expressed confidence the charges would be dismissed. As punishment for skipping an away game after her arrest, Seattle Reign FC benched Solo for one match and then she returned as her club team’s starter. A trial had been set for later in the year and that was that.

By fall, however, the issue had exploded on the heels of scandals involving American football players who had been accused of domestic violence while the NFL ignored it. Right or wrong, Solo was brought into that controversy as a growing chorus of pundits called for her suspension. U.S. Soccer stood their ground and Solo told SBI her focus remained on preparing for next summer’s World Cup, with Solo setting a new USWNT shutout record along the way. Whether the case will affect Solo’s career won’t be known until next year — her trial is slated to start Jan. 20.

1. Coach Tom Sermanni fired, replaced with Jill Ellis

It seemed like 2014 was going to be another great year for coach Tom Sermanni and the USWNT. After all, the team went through 2013 unbeaten in his first year on the job. But things quickly took a precipitous nosedive following a disastrous Algarve Cup in March and Sermanni was abruptly fired the following month. The timing was odd, with Sermanni getting the news on the road following a win over China in the middle of a two-game set. Hours after the announcement was made public, Sermanni exclusively told SBI he didn’t see it coming and he wasn’t given any specific reason. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati declined to share specific reasons, too.

Immediately, Jill Ellis was named as Sermanni’s interim replacement and she shot to the top of the shortlist of candidates to permanently replace Sermanni, alongside Sweden’s Tony Gustavsson. The USWNT ended up with both – Ellis was hired for the permanent job and Gustavsson later became her assistant coach. Gulati said the job description for Ellis was simple: To win the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Given the up-and-down year the USWNT has had, Ellis has her work cut out for her.


What do you think of this list? Were there any other big USWNT stories you think should’ve been included? What will you remember most about the USWNT’s 2014?

Share your thoughts below.


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