Parting shots

August 29, 2004
By Michael Lewis

Some final thoughts about the Olympic soccer tournament:

Purity, please

This was the fourth men's tournament for Under-23 and the third that allowed each team to use three overage players. The sport would be better off if the Olympic soccer tournament becomes a pure U-23 competition.

Overage players? Let them watch on TV, or better yet, rest up between their fall and spring seasons. We probably have a better chance of going to Mars and back than FIFA and the IOC agreeing to such setup. Of course, the IOC would love to see an open tournament (yeah, the top European club coaches would love that, a World Cup and a mini-World Cup every other year). It has been difficult enough for clubs to lose several top players for the Olympics.

Here's a solution: Let FIFA agree to the drug deal with the IOC. In return, the IOC will turn the tournament for players less than 23 years of age. The idea of several age-specific tournaments (Under-17, U-20 and U-23) is fine. Besides, you we see wildcard players for the U-17 and U-20 competitions? It makes sense, a lot of sense. But when FIFA and IOC collide heads, good sense is thrown out the window.

The ridiculous schedule

The men and women have to play a game every 72 hours. Add to it the summer heat and that certainly takes its toll on one's body.

Because the soccer tournament already is stretched to the limit (it begins two days before the opening ceremonies), how about a temporary rule change for the Summer Games?

How about each team getting four instead of three substitutions per match, just to give players some much needed and deserved rest? That may be a radical proposal, but first and foremost should be the players' health and ability to play at the highest levels. And isn't that what the game and the Olympics are all about?

Unfortunately, the top administrators and paper pushers never have played the game or have forgotten what that is about. What a shame.

The promise

FIFA president Sepp Blatter says that the next women's Olympic tournament will have 12 teams instead of 10. Beijing 2008 better, because this year's tournament was a farce - 10 teams and eight make the knockout rounds.

It was a ridiculous format and they should have had the original two groups of five teams where the top two teams go directly to the semifinals.

The new proposal will have eight of the 12 teams reaching the quarterfinals, still too many teams surviving the first round. There still should be quarterfinals for the women's tournament, but it would be perfect if there was a 16-team tournament.

However, the Olympics may not be ready for a 16-team tournament. There are not enough really good women's National Teams around. It will take the evolution of the game for that to happen.

As for the new format, well, while I am from New York, I guess I have a lot of Missouri in me, as in the Show Me State. I'll believe it when I see it.

The decision

U.S. midfielder Kristine Lilly has a difficult decision to make: Does she continue with the Women's National Team and help the next generation? Or does she retire after the victory tour this fall on top with a second gold medal?

If she did retire, you can't blame her for calling it quits and getting on with her life. But then again, she could keep on playing. It certainly wouldn't hurt the youngsters to have an old pro around. Lilly demonstrated that she had something left in her tank during the tournament. She did it all: scoring (three goals), setting up goals (the game-winning corner kick in the gold-medal match), playing on both sides of the ball and demonstrating a never-say-die attitude even when she was tired. If playing isn't in the cards, congrats on a great career.

Player of the year

It's not even September yet. But it's never too early to get one's opinion in for FIFA's women's player of the year. Coaches will have to vote over the coming months because FIFA's annual awards gala is usually held in early December.

We've got some legitimate candidates out there. For the U.S., it's Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach. For Germany, it's Birgit Prinz and Silke Rottenberg. For Brazil, it's Marta. For Sweden, it's Hanna Ljungberg and Victoria Svensson. You certainly can make a case for any of them.

Every coach of a women's National Team is eligible to vote, although in the very recent past, some of the votes have been mind-boggling. Even though Tiffeny Milbrett had a fantastic WUSA season in 2001, earning the scoring title and MVP honors on a New York Power team that lacked playmakers and another forward who could score every full moon (and there was no major tournament), Mia Hamm got the nod. Incredible, huh?

It will be interesting to see which women's coaches vote for the real candidates and the others who are trapped someone in the 1990's and don't do their research. FIFA should weed out these coaches and not allow them to vote because they make a farce of the entire voting process. Recent years results had the retired Michelle Akers and Carin Gabarra receiving votes. There is no excuse for such poor research. What were they thinking?

As for my choice, take your pick from Lilly, who had a fabulous all-around tournament (please see above item for further details) or Wambach, who scored the game-winner vs. Brazil in the final, finished with four goals, and has connected for 18 goals in her last 20 internationals.

Counting the house

This topic was brought up in Saturday's column, but here are some final thoughts on the matter.

A little more than 440,000 fans attended the Olympic soccer tournament, which was the equivalent of six crowds during the quarterfinals and beyond at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

The 2008 Beijing tournament should be much better attended because Chinese workers will be given the day off to watch games in their area or ordered to the games. That's what transpired at the very first Women's World Cup in China in 1991.

The revelation

Everyone so often we see a talent that is above and beyond that we witness every day. Argentina's Carlos Tevez is one of them.

What a joy to watch this multi-talented player, who shoots like a forward, passes like a midfielder and doesn't have to be told twice to go back and defend.

We don't know about his skills as a goalkeeper, but it certainly would be a supreme waste if someone who can perform such magic with and without the ball wasn't allowed to dazzle and entertain the public. And he's only 20-years-old.

Here's for a nice, long career with whatever European team(s) he winds up with. Stay away from injuries and never, ever change your attitude.

The last word

It has been a pleasure writing for ESPN Soccernet for the past three weeks. I hope you have been informed and entertained and had as much fun reading these columns as I had writing them. Also, a big thanks to the folks at ESPN.com for giving me this unique opportunity to write about the beautiful game once again. Until the next time ...

Michael Lewis, columnist for the New York Daily News, provided commentary about the U.S. women's Olympic team and other soccer matches at the Summer Games in Athens for ESPN.com. He is the only journalist to have covered 27 of 28 U.S. Women's National Team games in the last three Olympics (1996, 2000 and 2004) and Women's World Cup (1999 and 2003). He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.