BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Perhaps a testament to how the United States got to the final of the FIFA Women's World Cup, the 2011 runners-up place six players in the starting XI of FOX Soccer's World Cup All-Star Team, one more than world champion Japan placed in the entire 21-women squad. Is that a US site's bias? It could be that, or a reflection of a number of standout players whose play in Germany helped propel an imperfect squad to within minutes of a World Cup.
Japan has three players amongst the starting XI. With a French duo rounding out the team, only three nations have players amongst our starters.
The reserves bring a bit more diversity. Sweden places two players in the team. Brazil and England each have one representative, as do hosts Germany, whose single player amongst our 21-woman speaks to a disappointing tournament for the two-time champions.
Speaking of disappointment, only one of the defenders chosen for our starting XI is even represented in FIFA's All-Star team, which we'll list as we go, and while FOX and FIFA agree on the reserves, the omission of some of these defenders is a huge head-scratcher.
But we'll get there soon enough. Starting from the back, we have one position to address first.
Starter: Hope Solo (USA)
Reserve: Ayumi Kaihori (JPN)
FIFA's picks: Solo, Kaihori
Whereas before the tournament recycled stories of 2007 cast Hope Solo as a combination of ability and attitude, her performance and leadership throughout Germany 2011 made her the clear standout in goal. Ayumi Kaihori, in helping her team to their first world title, was the only other `keeper to distinguish herself.
Starters: Ali Krieger (USA), Saki Kumagai (JPN), Christie Rampone (USA), Sonia Bompastor (FRA)
Reserves: Laura Georges (FRA), Saskia Bartusiak (GER), Alex Scott (ENG)
FIFA's picks: Bompastor, Georges, Bartusiak, Scott, Elise Kellond-Knight (AUS), Erika (BRA)
FIFA didn't pick a starting XI, which makes the differences between their list and ours more stark. None of Krieger, Kumagai and Rampone even made FIFA's team, and while each had tough moments in the tournament (Krieger and Kumagai on the scene for goals in the final, Rampone left chasing Lotta Schelin in the final group game), it's hard to overlook a World Cup's worth of excellent performances because of those incidents. Thankfully, no such explanations need be made about Bompastor, clearly the tournament's stand out left back.
Starters: Lauren Cheney (USA), Homare Sawa (JPN), Louisa Necib (FRA), Aya Miyama (JPN), Heather O'Reilly (USA)
Reserves: Elisa Bussaglia (FRA), Nahomi Kawasumi (JPN), Caroline Seger (SWE)
FIFA's picks: Cheney, Sawa, Necib, Miyama, Seger, Jill Scott (ENG), Genoveva Anonma (EQG), Sinobu Ohno (JPN), Kerstin Garefrekes (GER), Shannon Boxx (USA)
Most of the starting midfielders were no-brainers, with Cheney, Sawa, Necib and Miyama standouts in almost anybody's mind. Heather O'Reilly has been somewhat overlooked - perhaps because of the match she missed in group stage, perhaps because work rate and consistently pumping in crosses can be thankless skills.
Starter: Abby Wambach (USA)
Reserves: Gaetane Thiney (FRA), Marta (BRA), Lotta Schelin (SWE)
FIFA's picks: Marta, Schelin, Wambach
It seems strange to look at the goal scoring list for Germany 2011 and see Abby Wambach only scored as many as Marta, but with a goal in each of her final four matches of the tournament, the US icon made her tallies count: one game-tying goal, one go ahead goal, and one match-winner. At 31 years old, Wambach's unlikely to build on her 13 career World Cup goals.
Marta, with 14 career goals, is now tied with Birgit Prinz atop the all-time list, and with two more World Cups likely in the 25-year-old's future, she could break 20 World Cup goals.
Best Coach: Pia Sundhage (USA)
Don't blame her for the US hitting a wall against Japan. The oldest team in the tournament looked like it at the end of their six match run, but they would have never gotten to that final shootout had Sundhage not been the emboldening factor behind all those dramatic performances. Beyond motivation and management, she made tough calls in benching Megan Rapinoe (at the beginning of the tournament) and Amy Rodriguez (in the final) as well as dealing with the temporary absences of Rachel Buehler and Heather O'Reilly. Though we entered the tournament with the idea of a stoic, inflexible Pia, the coach that guided the Americans to Frankfurt proved to be flexibl and decisive, in addition to the coach we'd all want to play for.
Best Young Player: Saki Kumagai (JPN)
Only 20 years old, Kumagai was arguably the steadiest central defender of the tournament, though the lasting image of her from 2011 will be from that final shootout - the new FFC Frankfurt player converting the title-winning kick in front of what will become a home crowd. Not even selected to FIFA's All-Star team, it was easy to overlook her contributions, given Norio Sasaki's conservative (but opportunistic) game plan. Still, that approach was made possible because of the play of Kumagai and her teammates, whose 120-minute shutout of Germany team was the best defensive performance of the tournament.
Player of the Tournament: Homare Sawa (JPN)
Sawa was one of the most capped and respected players in the world coming into the tournament, yet Germany 2011 still served as a breakout for the 32-year-old midfielder. Her five goals won her the Golden Boot, an achievement which, along with Japan's title, made her the obvious choice for the Golden Ball. Just as obvious, though far less important, Sawa is our player of the tournament: the face of a team impossible not to love; a player finally getting the kind of transcendent, international recognition she so richly deserves.