US 1 Brazil 0
Wow – and I don’t say wow because it was a great game – it wasn’t. I say wow because once again, the US found a way to beat Brazil in an Olympic final. In 2004, they were completely outplayed, but found a way – one bad call, one smirky look and goal by Lindsay Tarpley and Brazil was derailed. In 2008 it was different. This time, the US wasn’t outplayed. Instead, Brazil decided to play right into their hands. The game was played at a ploddingly slow pace. Instead of pushing forward and using their technical players to attack at the US defense in coordinated waves, they passed slowly in the back, then inched into the midfield, then maybe they went up top if they weren’t dispossessed. On other possessions, they ploddingly passed it around in back and then in what was one of the more shocking developments of the game, started playing very direct instead of playing to Cristiane’s and Marta’s feet in a coordinated built up, swift attack. The ball came out of the sky and then it was one player against a highly organized defense and the rest of Team Brazil ball watched, waiting for that one player to do something spectacular. If the US could have written Brazil’s game plan, short of taping Marta to the bench and stealing Cristiane’s shoes, this would have been it. And the US took advantage. They didn’t play a great game, but they played as they’ve been playing all tournament (with the exception of the Norway game). They kept great shape on defense, they were very organized and relentless on double teams, and to the extent they had anything happening in the offensive third, they picked their spots and were fairly opportunistic. With the exception of the absolutely remarkable play in goal for Team USA, there really wasn’t a whole lot special about this game, other than the result and all that came with it. It was a very workmanlike performance by every player on the field. No one was spectacular, but everyone performed her role. And taking into account Brazil’s rather puzzling strategic decisions throughout the match, that’s all they needed.
Formation (4-4-2, back-front, right-left): GK – Solo; D – Mitts, Rampone, Markgraf, Chalupny; M – O’Reilly, Lloyd, Boxx (they were switching rather methodically all night – I think this is where they were at kickoff, but I looked up about 45 seconds later and they had flip flopped), Tarpley; F – Hucles, Rodriguez (and they switched some too – not quite as structured about it as the central mids were, especially since Hucles was slipping in behind Rodriguez and playing right on top of and/or alongside the midfielders). Cheney in for Tarpley and Hucles slipped back into the midfield and Cheney plays up top. Kai in for O’Reilly, Kai plays up top and Rodriguez took over on the right flank. Cox in for Rodriguez essentially to defend a corner.
Solo – I love the Olympics. My favorite part is watching athletes have their best day on their biggest day. I don’t care who wins or loses, I don’t care whether it’s heats or finals. It’s why I love the Angolan flatwater canoeist who raised his arms in triumph and dove into the water simply because he finished his race, and why Dawn Harper, who barely qualified for the team, has been my favorite performance in track and field. It’s about doing your best on the biggest stage in the world and peaking at just the right moment. And that’s why Hope Solo’s performance in this game is my favorite of the tournament. Team USA struggles 1 v. 1 against technical sides. The team had a fantastic game plan, and that was simply to not get stuck 1 v. 1 against anyone all night. That game plan was executed very well, but no matter how well, some things, as was inevitable against two of the most dynamic attacking personalities in the women’s game, got through. And Hope was ready. The Sportscenter moment was of course the save in the 72nd minute. The Brazilian attacker split Mitts and Markgraf and took a point blank shot at goal. Solo made a fantastic save. That’s what is going to get replayed over and over again. I was just as impressed with a ball early on – another attack in from the right, Hope had that moment where you could tell she was thinking about going out. Mitts had the attacker at a bad angle though so Solo pulled back and made the save on her line. Just a complete turnaround from her decision making early in the Norway game. She was spectacular individually and working with and trusting her defense. She punched out on corners, the box was usually so packed you couldn’t see her but she made a lot of plays on those 13 corners. And she grabbed crossing shots, hard shots, punched a couple in the run of play, confidently charged off her line at times and basically just commanded her box. This was the singular spectacular performance for Team USA on a day when the field players found their greatest success by playing as a collective unit. Great game, player of the match,
Mitts – Oooooo – she could have so easily been kicked out of this game with a second yellow on that hit in the 63rd minute. That said, it was good to see her provide the toughness Team USA needed. There was one play in the box where she just bodied up perfectly. Couldn’t make a clean play on the ball, couldn’t go in for a late tackle, just bodied up, destroyed the angle, insured that what ever got to Hope had no pace on it. I thought Mitts did really well in the offensive half of the field. In the first half she was as active as anyone on Team USA – just a ridiculous number of touches. She was also defending well with her head – she was a backstop deep in the midfield. Some of the things that were a little troublesome? Turnovers. Her passing in the defensive half of the field through about the first two thirds of the game was not good. Just turnover after turnover after turnover. The last thing you want to do against a team like Brazil is give them the ball for a quick counter. She needs to take more care with those passes over distance. She was also chasing a lot. She doesn’t read the game as well as some of the other defenders and uses her athleticism to correct a lot of mistakes. Against Brazil, that doesn’t work very well. Team USA was tremendous with the double teams though, so not too much damage was done. I did notice the Brazilians were attacking at her a lot – they must have seen something there. All that said, it was a rock solid performance for Mitts sprinkled with a few too many turnovers and some really good and timely plays.
Rampone – My defender of the match. She was everywhere making play after play after play. She was working the double team on all sides of the field, she was passing well through the midfield, she was also defending well with her head, she had some smooth takeaways and she used her athleticism very well. She anticipates as well as anyone on the defense and makes some very timely plays. And since I nailed her after Norway, I have to praise her for this one and actually the last couple. The defensive shape was beautiful. You could see the lines most of the game and the double teams were very well structured. Very few instances occurred where a defender was out on the wing or in the box completely alone. She did have a whoops moment on a giveaway late in the second half which Markgraf swooped in and made a tremendous play on (Rampone definitely owes her dinner, a very very expensive dinner), but besides that one play, I have nothing but praise for her performance. Very well done.
Markgraf – Very solid outing. She was patrolling the defensive third making play after play just as Rampone was. A lot of the attack seemed to be coming to the US right, but you could still see the shape and that the defense wasn’t bunching and/or giving up acres of space. The shift was very organized and she anticipated very well, as the stop on the aforementioned Rampone turnover showed. I liked that she wasn’t sending as many long balls as she had previously. She was fairly patient and passed through the midfield more often than not. That passing forward over distance is still what Team USA misses most with Cat Whitehill out, but honestly, in a game like this and with Cat not being the swiftest defender on the roster, she probably wouldn’t have played anyway. Those long passes are something for the defensive unit to collectively work on though. Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent . . .Kate was the topic and Kate had a rock solid performance in a game where I really thought the defense would be on its heels more than it was. They really did perform well as a unit considering what they were playing against.
Chalupny – Another rock solid outing. Like the rest of the defense, she’s very fast. Unlike the rest of the defense, she’s a very skilled/technical player. That might be a reason why Brazil wasn’t running at her quite as much as they were Mitts. There really wasn’t a good side to attack in this one speed-wise, so I think they avoided the player who can make the most takeaways with her feet. It’s like the old Fawcett v. Chastain decision (although Mitts is a better athlete than Brandi was – don’t scream at me, I didn’t say she was a better soccer player, I said she is a better athlete). Do you get hit, or do you get stripped? I think Brazil chose to take their chances with getting hit. She wasn’t getting all the way forward as well as I would have liked at times, but she was making a lot of plays in the midfield instead of waiting for the onslaught. The US was having a bit more success dispossessing the Brazilians in the midfield than they usually have. The pace of play was really in their favor for most of the game. And that’s really all I’ve got. Solid defensively, did well with double teams and dispossessing players, and made a little mischief throughout the midfield. Nice outing.
Cox – I imagine she was just in there to give Team USA a little more size defending that last corner. And to kill the clock a little. In a sub like that, I’m just looking to make sure nothing bad happens because of it. So she gets a rating of “good enough.” You can’t get rated higher than that when you only play a couple of minutes.
O’Reilly – Because Mitts was playing so aggressively in the offensive end O’Reilly spent a lot of this game covering for her on defense. Those two really had nice communication because every time you saw the lines, there were four women on defense. Sometimes that right side was patrolled by a darker haired Heather than I was expecting but someone was there and they kept nice shape. Offensively, I have to confess that I wasn’t overwhelmed by O’Reilly’s performance. The best thing she did in this one was stay wide. They’ve had a little trouble with bunching at times, but both O’Reilly and Tarpley stretched the field, and therefore the Brazilian defense. The midfield line was just as organized and structured as the defense. This was a very disciplined game by Team USA. She played good defense through the midfield. She used her feet to dispossess players at time. She made some nice runs toward the endline but it just didn’t seem like as many as she made in previous games. I really just wanted a more dynamic performance from her in this one . . . well, in this entire tournament actually. So, she had a solid outing, but really, I want and expect more than just solid from Heather O’Reilly. I’m not convinced the switch to midfield has exactly been a resounding success for her career. Yeah, it gets her on the field, and I want Heather O on the field, and she is more well rounded than some of the other forwards so I guess she’s the natural choice . . . but I’m just not sure she’s the one whose game I would have sacrificed when making the decision to take her out of the mix at forward.
Lloyd – Game winning goal in the Olympic gold medal match. Just doesn’t get much better than that. It was a wonderful combination play. Cheney passed a nice ball to Lloyd, who back heeled to Rodriguez, who booted it right back to Lloyd with some nice pace on it, which set up Lloyd perfectly to send a great hard shot into goal. It was just a great sequence, everyone playing with her head up and everyone making the smart play. Great job, a goal scored by the team on a night when team was what mattered. As for the rest of her game, I thought she was playing some nice defense through the midfield – dispossessing Brazilian attackers well. She was also making some really tough plays where she knocked Brazilians off the ball. I still wish she was playmaking more. Hucles spent a lot of time in the midfield rather than staying up top which gave Team USA limited options in the attacking third much of the night. Having a true playmaker on the field would help the forwards stay forward. But, I just don’t think that’s who Lloyd is. Attacking midfielder, yes, but more a target player than a playmaker. Teaming her with a Foudy-like playmaker, would really be interesting. That aside, she had a solid outing, and she had the offensive moment of the game for Team USA. She and all of her teammates have gold medals because of it.
Boxx – Most of what I’ve said about the other defenders and midfielders applies here too. She was defending well in the air, dispossessing attackers with her feet, making some nice hard tackles. She looked great playing defense through the midfield. Offensively, she was connecting some passes out to the flanks and was switching the field well. I don’t have much else. She had a Shannon Boxx-like rock solid performance. Nothing too flashy, but she was where she needed to be and made the plays she needed to make. Brazil wasn’t attacking straight up the middle most of the game so they were to some extent running away from her. And maybe the defense through the midfield is part of the reason why Brazil was playing direct at times. Nice game.
Tarpley – I was a little disappointed in her game to tell the truth. Like O’Reilly, I was really expecting Tarpley to be much more dynamic offensively than she was for most of the tournament. She didn’t do anything wrong, but as in most of the tournament, flanks weren’t going their far post runs. This gave Rodriguez and the flank on the other side of the field no options at times. She did stay wide and kept her shape well. That spread the Brazilian defense a bit. Made some nice defensive plays through the midfield and was running and pressuring the defenders at times. And that’s it. Nothing much to say about her performance in this one.
Hucles – Watching her play this tournament, I wonder if she’s the one who should be the playmaker in the midfield. Yes, she scored a lot of goals in this tournament. The kind of goals she scored as a midfielder too – opportunistic goals. She’s not a flashy forward who can take on defenders, she’s not a target player type forward, she’s not going to push the defensive restraining line back. What she’s going to do is read the game, bide her time, and make the most of each and every opportunity that presents itself. That she reads plays developing so well and that she really does play very well when she pushes back into the midfield makes me wonder how the team would look with her as the playmaker. Maybe we’ll get a chance to see. As for this game, she was very active, she made some nice plays in the midfield when she fell back, she switched the field nicely a couple of times. I did think she had some trouble staying forward. Only playing with two forwards, they have got to stay up top or the offense is going to be overly reliant on the singular forward who does. When that forward’s Abby, life’s good. When it’s Amy Rodriguez, she’s looking for someone to pass to, trying to get a corner or is stuck taking a bad shot. Anyway – Hucles had an incredibly efficient, opportunistic and just a professional tournament. She is a very crafty and savvy player and Team USA was fortunate to have her on the field in this one. I’m still not sure how much I love her playing forward, but I do love her playing, so I guess it all worked out. Great tournament, and I’m glad that the consummate role player had a chance to shine.
Rodriguez – I continue to love her game. Most of the action was in the midfield in this one, so I think she got stuck up top by herself a tad more than she has in the past couple of games. She wasn’t getting corners for Team USA quite as often as she did in previous outings. She looked like she was pressing a little trying to make something happen early on. As the game progressed, however, she was passing back and combining much better with teammates. The game winning goal was a great example. She received the ball, back was to the net, instead of trying to spin and shoot into traffic, she just passed right back to Lloyd. She plays with her head up and has great field awareness for such a young player. She’s very crafty on the ball and plays with a lot more sophistication than most other players her age. Watching her develop into one of the best forwards in the world is going to be a treat. I look forward to watching her junior year at USC and seeing her with the National Team in the future.
Cheney – In a game that was all about team, it was obvious that she was the newcomer. She was having a real tough time connecting with teammates and was running right up the back of midfielders and the other forward. She was running hard though. When Brazilian defenders’ legs were getting heavy, she came in and was pressuring the ball well. And she did indeed have her head up and combine well with a teammate on the game winning goal. That’s how I imagine she’d look if she had some time with the senior team. What I think was problematic about her performance is due at least in part to the fact that she’s just not as familiar with this team as they are with each other. Time will tell if she’s a fit for this team. Nice pass on the goal – I think it will take more time to have anything really meaningful to say about her prospects on the National Team. I look forward to seeing her play this college season.
Kai – She came in with a lot of energy and was pressuring the defenders. And that’s it. I have nothing else on Kai – I noticed she came in, I noticed her roaming around making a nuisance of herself as far as the Brazilians were concerned and I noticed nothing else. Whoever gets her in the pro league is going to have an exciting player and a real popular personality. She’ll be a star and probably one of the top jersey sellers – watch . . .
And that is it – a lot of talk about individual performances when the individual was simply irrelevant in this game. This game showed the supremacy of the team over individual play. Team USA defended in pairs, kept great defensive shape so the superior individual personalities on Team Brazil wouldn’t overwhelm them. On offense, they opened it up by keeping their offensive shape, spreading the field so Brazil couldn’t double team and box in the forwards. The played best when they engaged in combination play – they won the game on a play with four passes in and around the box. They played and won as a team, and in soccer, it doesn’t matter if you dance on the ball, it doesn’t matter if you have the best individual talents if the other 9 or 10 players on the field aren’t part of what you do . . . or if you let your individual frustrations or emotions boil over. Team USA did none of that. They played together, they didn’t panic, no single player put herself above the others. And as a team, they won gold. It wasn’t a spectacular performance, it wasn’t a “game for the ages,” it won’t go on anyone’s highlight reel (well, other than Solo’s). It was simply a winning performance in a game where winning meant gold.