U.S. women turn attention to Beijing Olympics
SHANGHAI, China -- With the Beijing Olympics only 10 months away, Kristine Lilly may find it hard to retire.
Attacking defenders one-on-one with fakes and stepovers, always menacing around the goal, the 36-year-old striker may have been the best U.S. player in Sunday's 4-1 victory over Norway in the bronze-medal game of the Women's World Cup.
Just minutes after the win, Lilly's teammates were all talking about returning to China -- even goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who's also 36. Though she seems to be leaning toward one more year, Lilly wouldn't say so.
"I can't say for sure," said Lilly, the only player to appear in all five Women's World Cups. "It's so hard right now because it's so close. To come up a little short is in the back of my mind."
The bronze medal in the World Cup is sure to be a motivator for gold in the Olympics. The previous two times the U.S. settled for World Cup bronze ('95 and '03) it went on to win gold at the Olympics.
"Man, we've got something to prove now," said striker Abby Wambach. "We have the Olympics right around the corner to do it in."
The U.S. is certain to return basically the same youthful team, which was battered a bit in China.
"A young team that came into the World Cup just became very experienced," said defender Cat Whitehill. "Oh my gosh, I don't think words can describe what we've learned from this experience. We grew up, we grew stronger.
"Now we're going to put this World Cup behind us and we're going to focus on the Olympics."
The two uncertainties may be coach Greg Ryan, and goalkeeper Hope Solo.
In benching Solo for the semifinal against Brazil -- a lopsided 4-0 loss -- Ryan's surprise decision turned from unusual to headline-grabbing when Solo went public and criticized him -- and the play of teammate Scurry.
She apologized to both, but was still suspended for the Norway game. That fallout may linger for several months. And the squabble hurt Ryan, who guided the team to an amazing 51-game unbeaten string (he coached 50) until the Brazil loss.
Ryan's contract is up at the end of the year.
"Yes, I want to continue on as the head coach," Ryan said. "I don't feel like my job is yet done with this team. Moving on to the Olympics you have players who have got a world championship under their belt. That completely changes you. The only way you get experience is to get experience. You can't watch on TV and get this."
United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said no decision had been made on Ryan. In saying that, he also stressed noting should be read into this -- one way or another.
"We do a pretty quick analysis of what's happened," he said.
"What's gone well, what's not gone well. That will happen even more quickly in this case because there's a competition in a year."
Scurry will return, which may cloud Solo's future.
"I feel I still can contribute for one more year and I have every intention of doing so," she said. "I'm going to work my butt off as soon as I get home to be better than I've ever been to help this team do well in the Olympic games."
Scurry said she received a personal apology from Solo. She and other older players seemed the most upset that Solo went public with internal team matters.
"I'm an incredibly forgiving person," Scurry said. "I always have been. But the most important thing to me is this team; the way we conduct ourselves on and off the field. ... That's what's most important, not one individual person."