US 0 Norway 2
What in the . . . . why on earth . . . how did this . . . what were they . . . ARGH!!!!!!!! I should stop here, I should just stop here . . . really, I should . . .
OK Ė I know I usually start the first match report of a big tournament with a comment on the pageantry, on the beauty of the moment, on how great it is for it to finally be here. But come on, could I really sell that today? Letís face it, and I think we can all agree on this point, very simply, today, they had a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad game. And they all decided to have this horrible, terrible, no good, very bad game on the same day. I just donít know what in the world they were thinking. Thatís got to be the theme in this one. It started with Hope coming off her line so late Iím still not sure what the heck I saw. I mean, the ball was there, Chalupny was there, not making a perfect play, but definitely in the way, and at that point, about 8 yards from goal, Hope comes out? What was that? Just stay on your line and make the stop Ė how in the world could she have thought that was a good idea. And we went downhill from there. A backpass with no pace when you obviously have no idea where the opposition is Ė great move, very professional Ė exactly what youíd expect from one of the most experienced, decorated and revered defenders in the womenís game Ė yeah, that was great. And then, because no one wanted Hope and Kate to feel bad all by themselves, I guess everyone thought theyíd make some bad decisions and the team engaged in a collective panic and reverted to the long ball, skill-less, selfish, unable to connect a pass team of the Ryan era.
Every single player on that field at some point during the game reverted to her very worst soccer instincts and every single player on that field at some point showed a complete unwillingness to play as part of a team. Now, thatís not to say they werenít trying, because they were, they really were. They were playing hard. Each player just looked like she was determined to do it herself. Instead of patient passing through the middle, a defender was going to hit a homerun with a long ball all the way up to a forward. Instead of patiently poking forward, finding seams and looking to put through balls into the forwards on the ground, the midfielders were shooting from 30-35 yards out (thatís you, Carli Lloyd). Instead of playing with this yearís newfound sophistication on the ball, certain tattooed forwards completely reverted back to being a deep abyss from which no ball emerged, even if that meant shooting into traffic, shooting 10 yards over goal, putting the ball over the endline in a silly silly play and then pounding your fists on the ground when these ridiculous shots didnít go in. Man, I just donít know what in the world happened to them. We didnít watch Piaís team today. This was Greg Ryanís team. And in case you ever wondered if Ryanís team really needed Abby Wambach, I think you have your answer. This is what play the ball to Abby and hope for the best looks like when Abbyís sitting at home with a broken leg. Not pretty.
One last general comment. Norway. The commentators were talking like itís shocking news that Norway can play. Uhhhh, so Team USA ran over Norway in some friendlies and meaningless tournaments. Big deal. Norway in the Olympics or World Cup? Please. Yeah, there have been teams of Norway past where theyíve gotten down and figuratively folded up their tent and gone home, but Norway v. USA in the Olys or WWC while both teams are still in the thick of things? That's always a dogfight. To characterize this as a huge upset is just insulting to Norway. I realize the two early goals were huge US mistakes, but those goals aside, Norway was just the better side in this game. More composed, more professional, more in control. Theyíre a good team and maybe a little bit of US arrogance and failing to respect the opponent was a part of the problem in this one.
Formation: 4-4-2, back-front, right-left: GK Ė Solo; D Ė Mitts, Rampone, Markgraf, Chalupny; M Ė OíReilly, Boxx, Lloyd, Tarpley; F Ė Kai, Hucles. Cox in for Chalupny; Rodriguez in for Tarpley, Hucles moves back to the midfield and Rodriguez plays up top; Heath in for Cox, they play a 3-4-3 with Heath in the midfield and Hucles moving back up top.
Solo Ė Horrible decision. Chastain put that first goal on Chalupny, but I disagree. No, Chalupny didnít body up quite the way the very physical defender Brandi Chastain would have, but she was there. There wasnít going to be a whole lot on that shot and it was going to be straight ahead. If Hope had stayed on her line, I really like her chances to make that stop. Instead, she made a very late decision to come off her line, the play had already happened, and boom, shot was into an open net. Just a horrible decision. Sheís got to play smarter than that. I donít know that Iíve ever seen her do anything quite like that. Sure, sheís always off her line, but this wasnít that. This was coming out late when there was zero chance of making a play. No clue what she was thinking. That said, the rest of her game was pretty strong. She was about the only player in the back sending balls forward on the ground (until very late in the game when she booted them forward because they had 12 minutes left and still needed 2 goals). She made one very nice stop on a cross that could have been trouble and late in the game she made a fantastic stop on a quick and surprising Norwegian shot. Overall she had a fairly typical game. But her inexplicable decision in the opening minutes of the game kind of set the tone for the day.
Mitts Ė Defensively I thought she had a pretty good game. She continues to use her speed and athleticism quite well and used her body to block crosses off the wing at least a couple of times. Offensively, she was one of the huge offenders on the backline of fairly aimlessly booting the ball forward and bypassing the midfield. She turned over countless passes over distance. Crosses on the offensive end, balls over the heads of the midfield, balls in the air to the midfield, just repeated turnovers on balls passed in the air over distance. I have no clue why thatís what was coming out of the back today but it was. And another point, thatís basically based on something Chastain said during the broadcast. Chastain commented that a way for the team to settle down was to make some hard tackles. Now, when I was done chuckling that the former Team USA enforcer voiced the opinion that all they needed to do was hit somebody to make themselves feel better, I started watching . . . and Team USA doesnít really have an enforcer. They didnít even have anyone tackling very hard. I mention this here, because the enforcer used to be Mitts. She was always up for a hard tackle and the nice folks at home would live in fear that she was going to cut someoneís legs out from under them in the box and give up a PK late in the game. But not since her injury . . .same with Boxx . . . and recovering from knee injuries, I get it. But I have no clue where that tough physicality we usually see form Carli Lloyd was in this one. One of the problems I think Team USA has been having defensively recently is simply that theyíre not that tough a team anymore. Now, I donít want anyone to get hurt or anyone to hurt anyone else, everyone should be playing the ball, but dang, this is a team that looks like it can be pushed around. More than anything else, Iím kind of curious to see if thatís where other teams try to take advantage of Wambachís absence. There are simply no repercussions to running head on into Team USA right now, to going up hard in the box on corners, to pushing smaller offensive players off the ball. Thereís no payback Ė I mean, heck, even little Tiffeny Millbrett and Kristine Lilly would deliver some payback on a 50-50 ball if one of their teammates got clocked. In this game? Nothing. Iíll be interested to see if they take a little of Brandi Chastainís advice in this one and toughen up a little. I think Mitts would be a great one to set the tone.
Rampone Ė I really donít have a ton of comments on her individual game. She defended fairly well, double teamed nicely at times. Ran with attackers at times to cut off angles and to make sure no one got much of a shot off. She sent some long balls forward but didnít seem to be turning it over nearly as often as some of her linemates. But hereís my issue with Rampone: it all fell apart. Team USA completely, totally and irreparably lost their composure in the fifth minute of this game and there was nothing out there to indicate that the captain was doing anything to help them get it back. Itís not enough just to play well and lead by example in a case like this Ė they needed something out there and it didnít look like Rampone had any idea how to give it to them. Hereís what a friend of mine emailed me when the match was over: ďSad Observation: I had no idea who the Captain was . . .. There was nobody out there rallying the teamÖ nobody giving orders or getting in peopleís faces from what I could tell.Ē I couldnít agree with that more. I just didnít see any veteran leadership out there at all, no one telling them to calm the heck down, no one holding the ball until everyone just settled and stopped panicking. Nothing. So she gets a solid game as a defender, but this team needs some meaningful leadership on the field right now. And it needs to come from Rampone. Now.
Markgraf Ė What in the world was she thinking. That was just one of the most inexplicably stupid things Iíve seen done at this level. Just complete brain freeze. Iím not going on about it. She made a huge honking mistake and gave Norway a goal. Iíd say ďit happensĒ but it really doesnít Ė not quite like that and not at this level. But, it did in fact happen here. Itís what happened after that, that concerns me more. Sheís not going to make a mistake like that again. The long balls out of the back though? Come on Ė play the ball on the ground, play the ball on the ground PLAY THE BALL ON THE GROUND! Nothing is more indicative of this team completely losing itís poise than the fact that they were playing the ball over the midfield to a forward who wasnít even in the country at the time. Why in the world was Kate playing all those long balls. And Iím sorry, Chastain thought Kateís shot was great Ė I thought it was an idiotic waste of a possession. She shot the ball over the goal, just like sheís always shot the ball over the goal, because she canít score a goal. Itís not her job, itís not what she does, itís not what she should have been trying to do. It was yet another example of a single player trying to win it on her own instead of playing smart, playing patiently, playing together and getting a good chance. So, the backpass annoyed me, that should not happen to a defender the caliber of Kate Markgraf, but what has me concerned, is that one of the teamís veteran players, a starter from í99, a player who has shown consistent excellence over the course of the last decade, showed such a complete lack of poise when this team was under pressure. I really need to see better from her in the next one. Iím sure I will. And yes Markgraf and Rampone fans, I realize Iím being very hard on them Ė they are the veterans though, they are the leaders. Today was a day when the team needed leadership and it wasnít there, not even a little Ė if you thought I wasnít going to call them out on that, then my writing probably isnít for you.
Chalupny Ė I didnít think that first goal was really her fault. It wasnít the best defensive play of her career, but she was there, the angles were cut off and the Norwegian player was going to have to shoot pretty much straight ahead and probably wouldnít be able to get a ton of pace on it. If Hope had just stayed on her line, it would have been a very savable ball. Weíll never know if she would have stopped it, but I certainly would have liked her chances. Chalupny made a couple of nice defensive runs after that. One really nice play right before she got pulled. And thatís all Iíve got there Ė she was playing pretty well when she came out. I certainly hope sheís able to play the rest of the tournament. She is one of the more poised and consistent performers on this team and I think they missed her quiet reliability for most of this one.
Cox Ė Ya know, I know I always fret about her speed defensively (or lack thereof, to be more precise) but I really thought she was solid defensively in this one. She made some really nice takeaways, read the passing lanes well and intercepted some balls, won some balls. Just a nice defensive outing. That said, Iím not sure she connected many passes over distance, yet thatís what she kept on doing. She kept on sailing passes through the air and they kept on going to Norway. Sheís usually spot on with her crosses, but in this game, it was just awful. A huge number of turnovers. The point at which no one in a USA jersey is winning those balls, or even attempting to win those balls, the game plan has got to change. Patient passes through the midfield. Just really didnít see much of it though. So nice defensive game, but just unable to complete a pass.
OíReilly Ė Well, I guess if I had to pick sheíd be my player of the game, but it was really only about 15-20 minutes where she was playing well. The rest of the time, she wasnít playing poorly, she just wasnít getting the ball. It was a tough day to be a midfielder Ė some of it was the midfieldersí fault, some of it was because the ball was being skied over their collective heads on its way to a big tall forward who happened not to be playing. For about 20 minutes in the first half, Heather was taking on defenders, trying to slot some passes in and running at goal. She wasnít launching silly balls, she was making smart moves. The trouble was that some of the forwards were having some trouble staying forward and the offensive shape was simply non-existent. Thus, Heather often found herself up top alone. After about 20 minutes or so though, and after a few times getting caught forward with little help, I think she succumbed to the ďIíll just do it myselfĒ disease and started taking some ill advised shots. OíReilly simply isnít going to hit when she takes a shot from 2-4 yards outside of the box. Those were silly and impatient shots and Heather wasnít immune. In the second half, when Tarpley went out, she seemed to fall off the page a bit for me. She and Tarpley had been switching sides in the first half and I thought that mixed things up well. Heather O was quite disruptive on both sides, and Tarpley got off a nice volley shot as well. Chastain spoke a lot of predictability during this game and I guess when Tarpley went out, OíReilly got a little more predictable and I guess a little easier to defend. Anyway, relatively speaking she had a decent game Ė there was bunching, there wasnít much shape and there were a few times when the ball was put out on that right flank and she wasnít making the run others were expecting her to make, but in this one, 20 solid minutes? Itís better than just about everyone else.
Boxx Ė I donít really have much to say here that I havenít already said. Boxx was trying to switch the field and spread the ball around at times, but even her passes over distance were getting turned over. She was putting them in the air and Norway was just intercepting everything. She was winning some balls on the ground and I thought she was at her best when she was sitting on top of the defense for a stretch in the first half and then a stretch early in the second half. She looked more comfortable winning balls and disrupting attacks than she has looked playing even with Lloyd. That said, I donít think her falling back was by design, I think she, like all of her teammates, was falling back on old habits Ė the old habits she was falling back on, just played better than most everyone elseís. I do want to say that I thought Chastainís comments that Boxx was the one who needed to settle them down and lead the attack were misplaced. Carli Lloyd is the quarterback of this team, not Shannon Boxx. Yes, Boxx is more veteran, but sheís never been a goal scorer/assist person. Her goals tend to be opportunistic fluke chances and on set pieces. Her role offensively, even under Pia, is generally to spread the ball around, help the team maintain some shape by going wide with the ball and winning some balls in the midfield. Sheís a supporting player in this system and really wasnít the one I found to be disappointing. That said, let me move on to the one who was . . .
Lloyd Ė I think she is supremely talented, she has shown herself to be a very aggressive player, she has shown herself to be a fairly savvy player, she has shown herself to be a very smart and efficient goal scorer. As I have made very clear in the past, I am such a fan, that if I was starting a franchise right now, sheíd be on my short list of players around whom to build. Thatís why I was so disappointed with her performance in this game. The shots from 30+ yards out? The failure to put balls through to the forwards? The failure to do a whole lot of ball winning in the midfield? The failure to go to the knuckleheaded defenders sending those long balls forward and demanding they give her the ball? The failure very simply to be the leader on the attack she needs to be and is capable of being? All of it was very disappointing. She was trying to do it all on her own and thereís no way this team was going to settle down, play patiently and play smart if the player through whom most of the play should have been going was panicking and playing selfishly as well. I agree completely with Chastainís point about Aly Wagner. If Lloyd canít calm down and play smart, start putting those balls through to the forwards so that theyíre forced to stay in the offensive third, and start putting balls out to the flank to force those wings to stay wide, then Aly Wagner needs to get on the field. Yes, they lose athleticism, and most days they lose a bit defensively (although I didnít think Lloyd was her usual tough as nails self in this one anyway), but they needed to calm down and play together, they needed a quarterback and performing that role is something Aly Wagner unfailingly does. Even if sheíd passed into space, the rest of the team would have seen the pass, realized it was missed and then gone wide, or stayed forward, or whatever it was they needed to do to get the next one. So, letís chalk it up to a largely disappointing outing. I expect everything to be rectified in the first half against Japan . . . and if itís not, I expect to see Aly Wagner.
Tarpley Ė I actually thought she was playing OK and was quite disappointed to see her out of the game in the second half. That quick little one time volley was one of the better chances of the game for Team USA. I thought her switching sides with OíReilly was actually effective at times, probably more so for Heather O than for Tarpley, but it threw the Norwegian defense a little. And thatís really all Iíve got. I know Iíve yapped a lot about the midfielders, but for a lot of this game, the long balls made them irrelevant. A lot of the bunching issues occurred in the second half so she wasnít in the game at the time. And thatís about it Ė just not much to say here.
Heath Ė I just think this selection was made four years too early. Sheís obviously a tremendous athlete. When she ran down that Norwegian forward after starting about 15-20 yards behind her that was truly impressive Ė what she did when she caught up to the attacker though, shows her youth, inexperience and that there is a huge difference between a tremendous athlete and a tremendous soccer player. She had a huge speed advantage, there was no need for her to stick her foot in and foul in that case. Take a few more steps, get a little ahead of her and push her off the ball or force her into one of your teammates. Donít foul and give them a free kick. She let them burn a minute off the clock and gave them a set piece in the US end, Iím just not sure what she provides on this team and why, on an 18 woman team, you burn a roster spot with a developmental player, a developmental player who didnít play with the senior team most of the year. I have no doubt sheíll be a fantastic player on this level, but sheís not now. And Iím not sure why she was out there in this one.
Kai Ė Everyone on this team reverted to her worst habits. And none more than Kai. I have been so excited by her play this year. All that raw talent looked directed, she was playing with her head up, she was finding teammates, she was being very efficient with her chances, she very simply showed that she was capable of playing a more sophisticated game. But in this one, it all went away. We were back to the Kai who is a deep bottomless pit from which no ball can emerge, the Kai who wasnít even looking for teammates, the Kai taking stupid stupid shots that have no chance of going in, the Kai wasting possession after possession because she has no clue where her teammates are and because sheís not where her teammates expect her to be. Another performance Iíve got to label disappointing. I get that she was working hard, I really do, but she wasnít working smart. And with Abby gone, the team really canít afford for her to forget everything sheís learned this year. As with Lloyd, Iím just ready to chalk this one up as a really bad outing and look for improvement in the next one.
Hucles Ė I donít understand this. Iím not sure why Hucles was starting at forward. I guess Pia just didnít want to screw up her substitution patterns, but starting Hucles created two problems. 1) You didnít have her to sub in later in the game when you needed to sub in a midfielder Ė this is one reason we saw Heath; 2) I donít know that Iíve ever seen her play forward at this level Ė game 1 of the Olympics against the most difficult opponent in the group wasnít a good time to test this out. I really donít have much on her play. She had very few meaningful touches, and I didnít think she was staying forward/maintaining offensive shape any better than anyone else. As a more veteran player on the team I didnít see a whole lot of leadership from her. And I keep coming back to the way she usually scores. It tends to be a late game opportunistic score. Sheís a very versatile sub who usually comes in and jolts the offense in a good way. When you have her in there from the start, you lose that. She canít jolt anything when sheís been on the field and part of the problem for 45 minutes. And thatís about it Ė I like her on this team as a sub, not a whole lot as a starter, especially not as a starter at forward.
Rodriguez Ė She needs a quarterback putting the ball through on the ground to be effective. That just wasnít happening in this one. She was running around all over the place, but I never felt she was terribly dangerous and I never felt anyone was trying to get her involved in the offense. Yeah, Team USA was more aggressive in the second half offensively, but it was still a predominantly individualistic attack. Kai doing her thing, Boxx and Lloyd taking shots from distance, and everyone trying to pass to the forwards from other parts of the field were flighting balls in and most of those balls were turned over. Iíd have rather seen her starting Ė maybe if she had started, finding ways to unleash her on the Norwegian defense would have been more of a priority for the defense and midfield.
OK Ė all that had to be said. I had to get that out. Potential of head exploding if I hadnít. Itís a danger sometimes. But, now, letís dial it back. Letís go back to my initial comments, but this time, Iíll add a word: This was just a horrible terrible no good very bad game. These kinds of games happen. And teams move on. And Team USA will have to move on from this one and play like theyíve been playing for most of this year. For the first time in recent memory, Team USA is actually in a relatively easy group. Theyíve got two games that they should be able to win handily. They should get their confidence back. They should start playing as Piaís coached them instead of reverting to all the bad tendencies from the past. Itís what I expect, itís what I plan to be writing about on Saturday. This was game one, they saw how horribly not playing through the midfield works and they saw that they canít even approach anything like success playing this style without Abby Wambach on the field. Lesson learned, on to the next one.