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As Team USA hits its stride for finals, ratings on the rise, too

July 3, 2015 at 6:30 PM EDT
On Tuesday, the U.S. women’s soccer team scored a 2-0 victory against Germany to advance to the World Cup finals against Japan. Christine Brennan of USA Today and former U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry join Judy Woodruff to discuss the upcoming match, why the team has seemed to improve so much recently, and whether the league should reevaluate its policies on head injuries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Sunday night, the U.S. has a chance to win its first women’s soccer World Cup since 1999, when the Americans square off against Japan.

I sat down yesterday with Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today and an ABC commentator, and Briana Scurry, goalkeeper for the U.S. women’s team that won that 1999 World Cup. We talked about the U.S. team and growing public interest after the U.S. defeated Germany.

Briana, Christine, welcome to you both.


BRIANA SCURRY, Former U.S. World Cup Player: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, big game Sunday night, 7:00, the final. What are we looking for, Christine?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It’s going to be a fascinating rematch, really, of the 2011 game.

Of course, Japan beat the U.S. at the last World Cup. So the United States wants nothing more, Judy, than to have revenge and to win this World Cup. I think the U.S. will be able to do it. The U.S. is playing just an amazing brand of soccer, what we saw the other day. And Japan is so tactical and so organized, you can’t count them out. But I think the United States team is saying this is their year.

They feel strongly that this is the one they’re going to win, and finally after 16 years win that World Cup back.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Briana, what are you looking for?

BRIANA SCURRY: I’m looking for a fantastic game as well.

I agree with Christine that the USA has been waiting four years to revenge the loss that was so heartbreaking to them against Japan in the 2011 World Cup. And so now they have this opportunity.

And also they have basically the home field advantage, essentially, in Canada right now, because they have been selling out the stadiums that the USA has been playing in, predominantly USA fans. And so they’re really excited about this. Now is the time. I think Japan is going to put up a really good fight. They always do. They have done well to get to this point.

But I also agree with Christine that the USA is ready. And they’re not going to take anything for granted, and they’re going to get the goals.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about something that happened in the Tuesday night semifinal, Christine.

You had — the U.S. was playing Germany. And one of the German players in a very — in a moment I think where everybody was holding their breath, her head hit the back of the head of a U.S. player. They both went to the ground to lay there for a while. Then they got back up and, within a few minutes, they were back in the game.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Some people said that wasn’t handled well. What were you thinking when you saw that?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: It wasn’t handled well.

And Bri is an expert in this area, so I will defer to you, except for I will just say that FIFA has to get with the plan here. The fact that the soccer community has not figured out what so many experts in the United States have at least tried to start to figure out, that you have to evaluate this longer than a couple minutes, and that concussions are serious, and you need to come out of the game.

And I know, Bri, you have a great suggestion about the fourth sub, so that you would be able to do that, which I will then defer to you.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And as someone who has been through something like this yourself.

BRIANA SCURRY: Yes. Yes. I — my career was ended by a head injury in 2010 in a game.

A player hit — her knee hit the side of my head. And so I understand what that means and how hard it can be. And now I believe FIFA really has an opportunity to make some changes with regards to head injuries. Christine said three minutes is not long enough. I completely agree.

But I also feel like it’s multifaceted. So, also, what has to happen is, I believe players should wear some sort of protective head gear. I really do feel that we’re at that point right now. And I think shin guards at one point were not mandatory. Now they’re mandatory.

I think we can move ahead. And I have partnered up with Unequal, who is a company that makes protective head gear, the same head gear that Ali Krieger is wearing throughout this entire World Cup. And I think it’s better, something like that to help protect the players in situations like you saw against Germany.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, until there is head gear, Christine Brennan, what needs to happen in terms of whether players are allowed to go back in or not?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Well, Briana, you actually were on Twitter with this idea that there are three subs that — everyone who has been watching the World Cup, you see you have the opportunity. Each team can put in three subs. And that’s it.

And once you put someone in, you can’t bring them back off the bench. So, in this case, if you had a fourth substitution, so that those two players, the German player, Popp, and Morgan Brian, could have been brought off the field, evaluated, a player goes to replace them, they can come back in if they’re healthy. If not, they stay on the bench.

You would then be encouraging teams and these national federations to be serious about this, knowing they are not going to lose the player for the entire game while they go to evaluate her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there’s some about having an independent physician examine them, which is not the case right now?

BRIANA SCURRY: It’s not the case. You use the team doctor, who is qualified to make these decisions, but there’s a bias there.

Also, part of the process, they ask the player how they’re doing. I understand you have to ask the patient how they are. But you can’t allow that player to have to make the decision. I’m sorry. I played at that level. There’s no way I would say, I’m not OK.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I don’t want to be back in.


BRIANA SCURRY: No. Of course, I want to play out there. I want to do my thing and be my best out there as I can.

But you have to protect them. And that’s what I think is not happening. It’s not happening on the men’s side. It’s not happening on the women’s side. FIFA needs to do a lot of things. And the fourth substitution would be one of several things that they could do to help with this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One other quick thing. Popularity of the sport is growing. You and I were just talking, Christine, more than eight million people in the U.S. were watching the semifinal game Tuesday night.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: This is wonderful news.

For me, this team has always been, from Bri’s team in ’99 all the way through to now, about creating role models for girls and boys. And they have been almost to a woman just perfect role models, and all of these wonderful people that then go on and live their lives, as Bri has.

And so the fact that so many people are watching this, it is nationalism. I don’t even know if it’s that much soccer. I mean, it is, but it’s about cheering for your country. And I think we’re going to see another example of that Sunday in a huge way, with great TV ratings that once again show us how much the country really cares about our national women’s sports teams.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think it changes the game?

BRIANA SCURRY: I think it adds to it.

I mean, right now, with the influx of social media now, you can actually know the names of the players’ pets. That’s something you wouldn’t have known before. And so because you understand them personally, and you know these things about them, you feel like you know them.

And that’s why I think there’s been such a rise in ratings and a rise in activity and curiosity around the women’s game right now. And I think people really, truly do know these players as someone who is a friend, you know? And so that makes a lot of difference. And that helps them cheer them on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know what I’m going to be doing Sunday night at 7:00.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Watching the women’s finals.

But thank you both so much, Briana Scurry, Christine Brennan. Thank you.