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World Cup is a win for American soccer despite U.S. loss

July 2, 2014 at 6:23 PM EDT
Team USA’s run in the World Cup ended with a 2-1 loss to Belgium, despite a record number of saves by American goalkeeper Tim Howard. For a closer look at goalkeeping, World Cup madness and the dangers of concussions, Jeffrey Brown turns to Briana Scurry, former goalkeeper for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.

JUDY WOODRUFF: America’s exciting run in the World Cup may be over, but these past two weeks have generated a new level of interest in the future of the U.S. team and in the sport itself.

Almost 22 million people in the United States watched the match against Belgium yesterday, strong numbers, and particularly so on a work day, higher than the average ratings for the NBA finals or the World Series.

And, today, there’s still plenty of talk about what lies ahead.

Jeffrey Brown has more.

JEFFREY BROWN: From sea to shining sea yesterday, Americans embraced the role of soccer nation.

CROWD: I believe that we will win!  I believe that we will win!

CROWD: I believe that we can win!

JEFFREY BROWN: Even President Obama joined in the fun, taking in the match with a group of White House staffers.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Go, go, go. Whoa, that’s a foul.

JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. squad forced Belgium into extra time, before falling 2-1, despite the heroics of American goal keeper Tim Howard, who had a World Cup record 16 saves.

Howard spoke this morning on ABC.

TIM HOWARD, Goalkeeper, U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team: Our heads are high because we couldn’t have given any more. We played four phenomenal games, and last night everybody — everybody gave everything they had, and sometimes you don’t win, but we’re proud of ourselves.

JEFFREY BROWN: Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, speaking just after the match, saw a big upside for American soccer.

JURGEN KLINSMANN, Head Coach, U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team: We now know that we can play eye to eye with the big nations. The teams that we faced here are pretty much everyone’s favorites to win the World Cup.

JEFFREY BROWN: As for the fans, the outcome produced a full spectrum of reactions, some serious, some less so.

MAN: But I feel that we played our hearts out. We did an amazing job. And I look forward to the future. I can’t wait. I cannot wait.

MAN: I’m boycotting Belgian waffles, chocolates, Stella Artois.

MAN: Everything Belgian is boycotted in Brooklyn.

JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. Soccer Federation praised the fans in a message to more than one million Twitter followers. It read: “Thank you for your support, passion and pride the whole World Cup.”

In the meantime, the competition continues Friday with two matches featuring World Cup powers: Germany v.s. France and Colombia against host nation Brazil.

And with me now is a woman who knows something about goalkeeping and World Cup madness. Briana Scurry tended goal for the 1999 American team that won the women’s World Cup after she made a crucial save. She’s also a two-time gold medal winner in the Olympics as part of the U.S. team. She retired in 2010 after an illustrious career, but also after suffering a severe head injury.

And welcome to you.

BRIANA SCURRY, Former Goalkeeper, U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team: Thanks for having me.

JEFFREY BROWN: I had to laugh.

Tim Howard told an interviewer, with so many shots coming at him, he said, it began to feel like the clock was broken.


JEFFREY BROWN: Do you know the feeling?

BRIANA SCURRY: Yes. I’m sure his minutes seemed like an eternity.

Tim had a fantastic game yesterday. You couldn’t have asked more from him. And being a goalkeeper myself, I understand what it feels like, can we get to the end of the game already, because you’re playing a great game, which he did do, and he just wanted his team to be able to move forward in the tournament. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to do that.

JEFFREY BROWN: I’m sure this is different for everyone, but I wonder your experience, in watching him — when you’re in goal like that and the shots just keep coming…


JEFFREY BROWN: … are you thinking, oh, my goodness, it’s one of those days, they just won’t stop, or are you just laser-focused, like, you’re not even aware of how many shots you have saved?

BRIANA SCURRY: Well, it was interesting, because Belgium was coming at him wave after wave after wave.

But in watching the game, watching how Tim’s positioning was, he was dialed in. He was a warrior.

JEFFREY BROWN: When you say positioning, explain what you mean.

BRIANA SCURRY: OK. By positioning, I mean his angle in the goal as compared to where the person is with the ball.

And so, as you saw, most of the time, you couldn’t get the ball past him because his angle play was so spectacular. And that’s because he was focused on this game, and he knew that he might have to take the weight of the team on his shoulders. And at this point in the tournament, when it’s round-robin, it’s one thing, but when it’s the knockout phase, sometimes, a goalkeeper can carry team through a situation.

And he definitely did that yesterday.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that’s the key to goaltending, is the positioning?

BRIANA SCURRY: It is. It’s always been the key. The positioning…

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s always about the angles?

BRIANA SCURRY: Yes. It doesn’t necessarily matter how it looks, just as long as it’s effective. And he was definitely more than effective yesterday.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so it was a loss, but it’s being seen as a great — this whole experience is being seen as great victory for American soccer. Now, what has to happen to maintain that, you know, to make it more than just a once-every-four-years experience?


This World Cup was one of the first that had social media just all over it. And I think that was the one thing that got people more involved, feeling like they were part of team USA, was the social media. The players were very blue-collar, very American, very much roll up your sleeves and get it done.

They may not have been the best team on the pitch, but they sure worked hard. And I think a lot of Americans could relate to that. And so I think now, moving forward, we have got a new fan base bubbling up. And so now U.S. soccer and all its entities need to take that momentum forward and grow the game.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that can happen through the professional game here, through young people? You think that can be maintained?

BRIANA SCURRY: I definitely think it can be maintained. We have got a great momentum right now. If anything in soccer works, it works for everybody, so whether it’s the men’s team doing well or the women’s team doing well.

And this event really put soccer into the mainstream. And so we need to grab on to that momentum and keep going forward with it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, now, even while celebrating what’s happened, you’re also trying to raise awareness of a problem in this sport, which is head injuries, not just for this sport, but, as we have discussed on this program, for many sports.


JEFFREY BROWN: And it’s something you experienced firsthand. First, how big a problem is it for the sport? What should people know?

BRIANA SCURRY: Well, what people should know is that concussion in female soccer is the second highest rate of concussions.

So it’s alarming. It’s alarming. Our youth players, females in particular, are having more concussions reported than just about any other sport. And now, with the World Cup being as successful as it’s been there, there are going to be more kids playing. So, actually, youth safety with concussions is even more important now than before, because you’re going to have more youth wanting to play, and we need to keep our kids safe.

JEFFREY BROWN: Your own experience came in 2010. Right? It wasn’t what we think of — the headers is where we think probably a lot of concussions, head-to-head injuries.


JEFFREY BROWN: Yours was a — what, a knee to your head?


I was playing goal for my team, the Washington Freedom. We were playing Philadelphia. And I was coming out for a routine low ball, bending over to pick it up. And their forward came in and tried to get in front of me and she ended up crashing her knee into the right side of my head.

And, unfortunately, with concussions, it’s oftentimes not head to ball. It’s head to head, head to knee, head to post, these kinds of things, where the side impacts are the worst impacts. And, unfortunately, in April, that’s what happened to me, 2010. And it changed my life. And it hasn’t been the same since.

JEFFREY BROWN: How much awareness of it is there even to this day? In the World Cup, there was at least one incident that got a lot of attention. A player from Uruguay was knocked cold. And then he came back and played.

BRIANA SCURRY: Right. Yes. That was unfortunate a situation.

FIFA didn’t handle that properly. That Uruguayan player was knocked out for at least, like you said, 10 to 15 minutes, and they actually let him decide whether or not he should continue play. At that point, you want to take that decision out of the player’s hands.

And clear to the medical staff and the officials, it should have been, at least, in my opinion, that that player should have been done for the rest of that game, because there is no reason to risk it.

JEFFREY BROWN: So when that happens, how — well, how did it change your life?

BRIANA SCURRY: I have many different symptoms that I suffer through, and I continue to deal with.

One was really very difficult headaches, intense headaches. I have balance issues. I had problems with memory, concentration, learning, retrieving information. I had a basket of symptoms. And it took me three years to even get to the right doctor to be able to diagnose what I had going on and to be able to get me on the road to recovery.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you briefly, for now, because we will continue our conversation online, but what do you think should be done? Is it an equipment problem?  Is it stopping headers, for example? Is it a training issue? What should be done?

BRIANA SCURRY: The solution with concussion awareness is multifaceted.

There are things that can be done on the prevention side. One of those things that I am in favor of is not teaching kids how to head until they’re 13, 14 years old. There is no need for an 8-year-old to be heading the ball.

We know that is true. And then, after the concussion happens, knowing what to look for as a player, as a coach, as a parent, understanding the differences in your child, in your player, and knowing that, you know what, we might need to take this player out and be safe and get them back in when they’re ready.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. We will continue this conversation. I’m going to invite our audience to join us later online.

But, for now, Briana Scurry, thank you so much.

BRIANA SCURRY: Thank you for having me.