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ESPN3 12:00 AM UTC Oct 22, 2017
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2:00 AM UTC Oct 22, 2017
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By ESPN Staff

Rae's Say: U.S. overtaken and Messi's magic

Women's football is a bigger deal in the United States than in most other countries.

While the USA national team remain near the top of the women's football tree, and likely will for the foreseeable future, questions must be asked about the type of player is being churned out by that country's college system.

For years, the United States could dominate teams through raw athleticism and power. They can no longer get away with that approach alone.

Thursday's chastening 4-0 World Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of a vastly superior Brazilian side, spoke volumes about the gulf in technical quality between the two women's national sides.

Forget blaming coach Greg Ryan for favouring Brianna Scurry in goal, as opposed to the incumbent, Hope Solo. It's also counter-productive to bang on about a red card for Shannon Boxx that admittedly was to say the least, dubious.

Instead, it's time to face facts. Brazil and Germany, who'll contest Sunday's final, have caught up and overtaken the American women.

The bigger question to be addressed is this. Can the USA change course and placing the emphasis on technique, or will it be more of the same robust, but ultimately uninspiring football, come the next Women's World Cup?

Something highly significant occurred at the Camp Nou this week.

Barcelona, normally so reliant on Ronaldinho, put in one of their best performances for quite some time, without the former world footballer of the year. That Zaragoza were comprehensively destroyed in a 4-1 mauling, says much about the team's evolution, not to mention the rise and rise of Lionel Messi.

Don't get the wrong end of the stick. I'm not here to tell you Ronnie is finished, or for that matter, viewing plush property and tasting the nightlife near the Kings Road, as others might have you believe.

Ronaldinho remains one of the finest footballing talents of them all and we have been privileged to watch him sparkle during most of his career with the blaugrana. Frank Rijkaard will still get good value from the Brazilian on the park this season.

The fact is though, Messi is the man of the moment, and probably the future, at the Camp Nou. His performance on Wednesday night had everything and a bit more. At his best Messi gives us Cruyff's vision, Gascoigne's gallus genius and Zidane's touch all rolled into one. Of course, he can also finish like Van Basten and entertain in the manner of a modern-day Maradona.

The little 20-year old Argentinian, while reminding us of these all-time greats, still succeeds in offering us football lovers something that's uniquely his own.

The wonderful thing is the Lionel Messi era has only just begun. A few weeks ago, Kaka looked set to run away with the Golden Ball and FIFA World Player of the Year awards. Who's to say Messi can't close the gap in the next few weeks and even pip the AC Milan star at the post?

Barcelona pride themselves on being 'mes que un club' (more than a club.) Maybe in Messi's case it should read 'mes que un jugador' (more than a player).

I know scores of Americans who change their work schedules for the sake of their UEFA Champions League addiction. With the games going ahead in the early afternoon for the bulk of American viewers, a little bit of forward planning is necessary.

Next week's live matches on ESPN2 will be the Manchester United v Roma re-match on Tuesday, and Liverpool v Olympique Marseille on Wednesday. We're on the air beginning at 2.30 pm, on the East coast.

It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention our comprehensive Champions League studio show, which hits the air at the end of each match week. In one hour, you'll get fiery debate and all the highlights from the week's games in European football's premier club competition. Tommy Smyth and Janusz Michallik, my ESPNSoccernet Press Pass mates, will join me at 2 pm, Eastern. I very much hope you will too.

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