Whew. I've been trying to breathe ever since the final whistle and it's simply not possible after watching Brazil rout the U.S. 4-0 in the semifinals. Lots of debate about the game and the decisions made, but the real question is -- what's next?
1. Where does the U.S. women's program go from here?
Not back to the drawing board, certainly. This is still a good team. It's surely not "the greatest team you've never heard of" -- but it does have talent. Abby Wambach is still a world-class striker. The defense is still among the best in the world. The midfield is a problem and needs to get better, and more creative. Teams like Brazil and Germany can hold possession through their midfield. The U.S. can't. Eventually, it was going to catch up to them.
The U.S. isn't going to roll through tournaments, but it'll still be a top contender in future major international tournaments.
2. What does the future hold for Hope Solo?
The U.S. had Hope Solo emerging as its goalkeeper for the long haul, but now that might be in doubt. Before hearing Solo's strong post-game comments, I would've said she was going to be fine and that she'd start the third-place game against Norway and be solid. But now, I'm not so sure. Her comments about Greg Ryan, while we might all agree with them, were unprofessional. Yes, she's upset and she has a right to be, but she needs to handle that in the right way. Publicly calling out your coach, no matter how wrong he was, isn't a good thing to do. Will she and Ryan make peace?
3. What does the future hold for Greg Ryan?
Solo's contention that replacing her with Brianna Scurry "was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that" is troubling. Is this one player reacting emotionally after a bad decision left her watching the 4-0 loss? Or is this a sign of players questioning their coach's arguable decisions during the Women's World Cup? It's tough to say, but if Greg Ryan's goalkeeper switch truly divided and flattened the team as much as it appears to have done, then his days are numbered. At the same time, finding a new coach to get the team together in time for the Olympics is going to be tough, and even April Heinrichs stuck around for a year after her World Cup exit in 2003.
4. What does this loss do for the women's game on an international level?
Only good things, really. The idea that U.S. was a dream team that would march through tournaments unmatched and uncontested isn't interesting. The idea that there's a Brazil team that makes women's soccer infinitely entertaining -- a team who's top striking group could be together for the next 10 years and more -- will do more to get the game recognition around the world. Marta's getting some deserved publicity in the media. The more teams that fund their programs, the better the sport will be.
Sure, it's a downer in the U.S., but it's hard to ignore the talent and flair that Brazil put on the pitch Thursday. Teams that are legitimate challengers to the United States is what women's soccer needs to grow.
5. Where does Brazil go from here?
First, the Brazilians need to calm down from an extraordinarily emotional win for the team and beat Germany in the Finals. Then, if there's any justice in this sport, they'll get funding from their federation to play together more. This win over the U.S. was the most Brazil has ever played as a team and probably their most complete game ever. Imagine if the Brazilians spent even half the time together that the U.S. does? Marta, Cristiane, Daniela and company could change the face of women's soccer.
If they haven't done that already.
Jacqueline Purdy is an editor for espnradio.com. She also hosts the ESPN Women's Soccernet podcast on ESPN PodCenter. She can be reached at email@example.com.