Aly Wagner’s pioneering role last summer earned her a promotion.
The former U.S. national team midfielder made history when she became the first woman to call a men’s World Cup game. She handled analyst duties from the group stage through the quarterfinal round during Russia 2018. Now the two-time World Cup veteran and two-time Olympic champion with 131 caps on her resume heads to France next month as the lead game analyst for Fox Sports’ coverage of the Women’s World Cup. Wagner will work alongside veteran play-by-play man JP Dellacamera.
The Daily News caught up with Wagner earlier this week at Fox Sports’ Women’s World Cup send-off celebration in Manhattan.
(Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity)
DN: If you were U.S. coach Jill Ellis, what would be keeping you up at night heading into the World Cup?
AW: My backline without a doubt. I feel like from what I’ve witnessed — from what I’ve seen — they’ve been very conservative. This doesn’t mean it won’t shift. They are very smart players, very adaptable. They are very conservative and they fear pace in behind. If they continue to drop off and they are not aggressive stepping into the half space, there are teams who will thrive on that and will pick them apart. At the end of the day, the best offense in the world will beat the best defense. You can do everything perfect on the defensive side of things, and if the offense does everything perfect you can’t stop it. So that would be something that would really concern me. I want my backline to be more aggressive and believe in themselves and step in the half space and keep spaces condensed.
DN: Can this tournament be considered a success even if the U.S. doesn’t win a fourth world title?
AW: The (U.S.) have every advantage that most (teams) don’t and with the talent they have … no, this is a tournament they should win. Tournaments are funny things where some odd thing will happen and they could be knocked out. But if you look at the resources they have, the time they’ve had together, the build to this event – they’ve had the best leadup to a World Cup – they (should win).
DN: Is there more pressure on this U.S. team given the lawsuit they filed against U.S. Soccer? Do they risk losing public support if they don’t go all the way?
AW: No. I don’t think they risk losing public support. I don’t look at it that way. I think with this lawsuit situation, I think the pressure is positive actually. I think this team is the team that is always going to have pressure on them to win. They know that anything else than repeating is a failure. And, with the lawsuit, I look at it as a positive pressure. If they are capable of winning again, guess what happens to revenue? Goes up. Guess what happens when you are sitting in a courtroom? Now you can show after two cycles you’re bringing in this amount of revenue. Oh, and by the way, we’re winning and we have this positive support and … you can’t argue we don’t bring in as much as the men. Everything goes against U.S. Soccer. So they have that motivation and not pressure.
DN: How frustrating is it as a former player that at every step of the way the team has had to fight these battles?
AW: I respect U.S. Soccer, honestly, for being the leader and pushing forward the women’s game. That’s point one, and I’m grateful for that. Point two is they’re a business and if you’re a business you want to get the most for the least. And if you can do — and they’ve done it — that’s a success, that’s a win on your bottom line. At what point does that become irrelevant? We know you can do that. But you’re a non-profit and it’s your job to grow the game and when are you going to shoulder that responsibility? I think they have done a fair job and now it’s time to step it up to the real women’s level and come through when they can. Because they can.
DN: Is FIFA doing enough to support the women’s game?
AW: Don’t get me started. … It’s first a lack of belief that it’s financially lucrative and then it’s like, ‘OK, but challenge that thought, how long did it take for the men’s game to get profitable?’ Look what is happening in the women’s game against (FIFA’s) efforts. It’s becoming lucrative, by the way. Maybe figure that out, invest in it and accept it and grow it. No, they aren’t even close. … They have the resources to answer (the) call and they have the onus to answer the call. They do. If they don’t, shame on them. There are so many amazing stories … so many lives to change through their investment. But there is money to be had and that’s all they care about. There is money to be made. So let that be your motivation and actually believe in it and see it and don’t be blinded by your stigmas of the past.
DN: What feedback did you take from your work broadcasting the Men’s World Cup last summer?
AW: The only feedback I really listen to and respect are my colleagues and my mentors, so nothing online, nothing from social media really impacts the way I do my job. Always keep your head down and focus on what you think is important and do your prep work and let the chips fall where they may. You’re never going to be perfect, I already know that, I was a player. … I know that about myself. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be flawless. Embrace it and move on.
DN: Speaking of embracing things, have you embraced the fact for a new generation of fans you are a broadcaster first and a player second?
I know, it’s so weird. Yes. It’s weird. People ask if I actually played and I’m like, Yes! It’s so odd. But, you know, I love it. It doesn’t matter. What I do is not for me. What I do is for the game. It’s to bring energy and intelligence and to share the beauty and what these people are accomplishing, what these players are doing. It has nothing to do with me and if a little girl recognizes that I’m actually that voice and looks up to me then I love it and it’s great and I’m shaping her world differently.
DN: Last year you told us that France would win in Russia, which team do you think takes home the trophy in France?
AW: Do you know that I haven’t given anyone a solid answer on that yet? … Can I think about it? I still have to wrap my head around a few things.
We can wait.
Since Wagner wasn’t ready to reveal her pick, we turned to her Fox Sports colleague Alexi Lalas.
“If I had to predict now,” Lalas told the Daily News, “France wins.