There may not be a better person in the world to preview the 2019 Women’s World Cup Final.
From 2009 until late 2017, Mirelle van Rijbroek was the director of all things girls’ youth soccer in the Netherlands. She trained, coached, and was an important part of the Dutch girls’ youth system that eventually became the Dutch senior women’s team — the team that is now set to face the USA in the Women’s World Cup Final. That system was so successful, the world took notice. US Soccer brought her across the Atlantic to head up Talent Identification for American girls. She works with the USWNT senior team staff, ensuring the development of American girls aligns with the goals of the senior national team.
Van Rijbroek knows both the Dutch and American teams top to bottom.
I wrote above that van Rijbroek may be the best person in the world to preview the championship game. That is not an exaggeration. There may not be another person on the planet who knows as much about both teams as Mirelle van Rijbroek.
Immediately after the Dutch women secured their spot in the championship game, I texted Mirelle. I asked her if she’d be willing to preview the final for SoccerNation. She graciously agreed, and we got on the phone for this interview.
Keep reading and learn all about the Women’s World Cup Final from Mirelle van Rijbroek. You’ll be able to watch Sunday’s game with an amazing depth of knowledge you won’t get anywhere else.
“For me, personally this is a dream final.”
SN: You can’t lose! How awesome is that?
MvR: For me, personally this is a dream final. I worked for ten years for the Dutch Football Federation [KNVB]. Being a big part of the rise of Dutch Women’s Soccer and now working for the US Soccer Federation and being part of this is amazing. I could not have wished for more. I still can hardly believe it’s real.
“Dreams come true with hard work.”
SN: How proud of this Dutch team are you?
MvR: I am very proud. They have worked so hard and so smart. It’s a great achievement. My home country loves the game. Players, coaches, and staff behind the scenes have all invested in the country’s success. The last ten to fifteen years, slowly, an elite pathway for female players has been created and a learning and challenging performance environment. Things don’t come easy. It’s great to see that good work pays off. Dreams come true with hard work. It’s never one individual’s success. A huge team of people have been a part of this process, and I’m so proud.
“I hope female players will also be inspired by Sarina.”
SN: Do you know the Dutch coach, Sarina Wiegman?
MvR: Yes, for a long time. We worked closely together in the Netherlands. I always knew she would be a great head coach. When the timing was right, she was the perfect fit. She has grown so much. I am so happy for her. She is a true professional and a big example for many girls and women. Besides that she is a wonderful human being. I hope female players and coaches will also be inspired by Sarina.
“The way Jill deals with criticism and the high expectations is so respectable to me.”
SN: Can you tell me a bit about Jill Ellis?
MvR: I have an enormous respect for Jill. It’s not easy to be in her shoes. All those expectations. I admire what she has achieved. She is a nice and good person. The way Jill deals with criticism and the high expectations is so respectable to me. She is a great role model.
“I hope in the future we will have more female coaches.”
SN: The final is being coached by two female head coaches!
MvR: Yes! I am so happy about is to see that there are two female coaches in the final. This is so good for women’s soccer. It means so much. Besides the fact that they are very good coaches, they can inspire and empower so many girls and women. I hope in future we will have more female coaches. We just have to give female coaches the opportunity to grow. There is so much talent. So many females in soccer have the potential to become a top coaches and leaders. Be crazy and dare to invest in females, inspire them and create a platform for future success.
“Have you worked with many of the Dutch players on the World Cup roster?” (hint: yes, she has)
SN: Have you worked with many of the Dutch players on the World Cup roster?
MvR: Yes. Danielle van de Donk and Kika van Es are both 27 years old now. When they were 16, they came to play for the club where I coached, Willem II. [laughing with memories] That was back when they were so young they couldn’t drive themselves to training.
SN: You worked in the Netherlands federation for many years. I’m sure most of the players on this World Cup roster were part of the national youth system.
MvR: Yes, for example, in 2014, I was the national director and part of the coaching staff for the U19 team that won Euros. Six players from that team are on the senior roster now. I have worked directly or indirectly with every player on the 2019 Women’s World Cup roster.
“Both staffs will have done extensive analysis on the opposing team”
SN: So, you know the Dutch team very well. And because of your work at US Soccer, you also know the American team very well. A lot of hype was built up, for example, around the possible matchup of Megan Rapinoe and Lucy Bronze [of England] for the USWNT’s semi-final. We never got to see that matchup. Are there any particular match-ups you’re looking forward to?
MvR: Not Really. I have a lot of faith in both coaches, Jill and Sarina. They are very good at their job. Both staffs will have done extensive analysis on the opposing team, and they know which players are fit and should be on the field. They have figured out their teams’ strategies.
“Which Dutch players do the Americans need to really watch out for?”
SN: Which Dutch players do the Americans need to really watch out for?
MvR: I don’t think it will really come down to one player because they play together as a collective team. Players who have done a good job this tournament are Stefanie van der Gragt [c-back] and Sari van Veenendaal [GK]. They will need to be their best on Sunday. Danielle van de Donk [mid] works very hard. She makes surprising runs, and she can be a pain for the opponent in the way she puts pressure and regains balls. Sherida Spitse [mid] is solid. She reads the game well, and her passing is world-class. She’s a weapon with her set pieces and crosses.
“Which American players do the Dutch need to look out for?”
SN: Which American players do the Dutch need to look out for?
MvR: That’s an impossible question, really, because the roster is full of amazing players. But I’d say Tobin Heath and Rose Lavelle. They are both great players. Very creative. They can surprise opponents, break lines and dominate individually. And they can score goals. I also like the way Lindsey Horan is playing [I agree, Mirelle!].
“What will be the USA’s biggest strengths?”
SN: Besides specific players, what will be the USA’s biggest strengths?
MvR: This USA team has so much more experience. They are more mature in everything — number of World Cups, how to play World Cups, on and on. That experience is important. The USA has also one more day of rest. Maybe this will help. USA has more players that can really play at this level, and many of those players have had more rest. If you see the way the USA has played, the power, the speed, the pace of the game. Breaking lines, skipping lines, and anticipating. In front of the goal the Americans are more direct and have numbers in the box. USA is so goal-oriented and also cleaner in finishing.
“What style of soccer are you expecting the Dutch to bring to Sunday’s game?”
SN: What style of soccer are you expecting the Dutch to bring to Sunday’s game?
MvR: The Netherlands play basically the same eleven players. They need to have a really good day, and the players need to perform above expectations. The Netherlands likes to have the ball and play more possession-based. Although, they have possibilities for quick transitions on the right side with Shanice van de Sanden. She is very fast, but she has not been very lucky in her play yet. If you give Vivianne Miedema a little more space, she can be very effective.
“The Netherlands will try to overwhelm the USA center defense.”
MvR: The opportunities for the Netherlands will be central, through the central defenders and center midfield. The Netherlands will probably look for combinations in the midfield to create overload. They will try to unbalance the USA central defenders, because the USA defenders mark space and are close to their own goal. If you saw what England created in the midfield when White scored: nobody marked her! That is probably why Julie Ertz dropped back and the USA played with five defenders in the second half against England. The Netherlands will try to overwhelm the USA center defense. A possible weakness of the Netherlands can be the pace of the game. Sometimes it is a little bit too slow, and their game becomes predictable, less dynamic, less fluid. The last games they have played very careful with a lot of horizontal balls. The USA plays more vertical and direct. This will be a challenge, but anything can happen!
“If the Netherlands can keep the USA from scoring for a long time, it could be interesting.”
SN: Do you think it will be a low-scoring game like the Netherlands Sweden semi-final?
MvR: I think the USA can create a quick goal, based on what I have seen so far. But if all players on the Dutch team have the best games of their lives, then it could be a very good match up. Nothing is impossible. If the Netherlands can keep the USA from scoring for a long time, it could be interesting. As long as Netherlands can keep playing their positional based style of play, they could have an opportunity. During the second half, when everyone is getting tired, spaces on the field become bigger, players become more fatigued. The Netherlands team has to fight that fatigue and keep playing their style of soccer. If they do that, anything can happen.
“I’m most happy that we will have these two amazing female head coaches matching their teams of world-class players up against each other.”
SN: You literally can’t lose! That’s pretty cool.
MvR: It still seems so crazy to me. When I would talk with Sarina about a Netherlands USA final, we would laugh, because it would be such a dream come true. It couldn’t possibly really happen, but here we are. I’m so excited. I’ll be happy no matter what happens. I’m most happy that we will have these two amazing female head coaches matching their teams of world-class players up against each other. It’s going to be so fun to watch.
SN: Which jersey will you wear when you watch the game?
MvR: Well, I am not really a person to wear a jersey. I have never done that, besides on the field as a player. I work for US Soccer now, so practically everything I own is US Soccer clothing. My daughter is wearing a Tobin Heath jersey. What would be nice, for this occasion, is to have a jersey that is half USA and half Dutch. [Maybe if we had more time, we could have had Nike hook Mirelle up with her dream jersey combo.] This is just a dream final. I’m really looking forward to it.
So are we, Mirelle! Thank you for taking the time to share your insight with us so we can watch Sunday’s game with even more knowledge.
If you got all the way down here, you’re my new best friend. To learn more about every player on the American roster, here are all of the “Fun Facts” I put together for you:
- Keepers edition (Naeher, Harris & Franch)
- Defenders edition, Part 1 (O’Hara, Sauerbrunn & Krieger)
- Defenders edition, Part 2 (Dunn, Sonnett, Davidson & Dahlkemper)
- Midfielders edition, Part 1 (Ertz, Horan, & Lavelle)
- Midfielders edition, Part 2 (Brian, Mewis & Long)
- Forwards edition, Part 1 (Rapinoe, Pugh, & Press)
- Forwards edition, Part 2 (Heath, Lloyd, McDonald)
- Alex Morgan edition