US 5 Ireland 0

Night of the Bubble Players 2003. Obviously a game for some decisions. Donít know that we got real definitive answers on the bubble dwellers though. I think with Bryan and Fair we saw more of the same and as for Abby I think weíve seen that sheís been working on what she was told to work on. I donít know what all that means though. While the game was very entertaining and a nice way to spend a couple of hours, I donít know how much anyone can learn about this team playing opponents like Ireland. I enjoyed the game - donít get me wrong, good times watching the Nats score goals - however, this schedule scares the bejeebers out of me. That April goes on television espousing the excellence of the defense when they were playing Ireland - Ireland who didnít muster a single shot the entire game, scares the heck out of me. Now I know there was supposed to be a game against Nigeria in there and that game would have been a real test of this team, while at the same time it was a team that they should beat soundly. But had that game been played, at least, if Nigeria looked as they did in 2000, they would have been a big, physical, athletic team that would play straight at Team USA and would play fast. Team USA hasnít seen that since Algarve. And by my count, the last time Team USA saw a legitimate opponent, they were in the throes of a scoring slump. Since then, theyíve been playing all these scrubs yet seem to think all their problems have been solved . . . and that is how the aforementioned bejeebers have been scared right out of me. Especially since playing these scrubs has led the coach to pronounce the defense excellent and is what is going to determine final roster decisions - well, this concerns me, I'm not ashamed to say. I realize the road to Pasadena wasnít real taxing in 1999 at times, but Holland/Japan "not real taxing" is much different from England, Ireland and plucking Canadians off the street 3 days before the game "not real taxing."  I hope Iím fretting over nothing, but itís tough to get real excited about 5-0 over Ireland when Team USA only has 3 games left before the WWC. The point was made about Abby, that the WUSA level is very different from the International level - Iím left wondering why folks werenít thinking about that when they put together the National Teamís schedule this year.

OK - enough of that - if Team USA beats Brazil 4-0 in July, I will officially stop fretting about this. On to the game - basically very well played - it was Ireland - Team USA should and did look strong against this opponent. My comments are largely positive on the individuals. It was obviously a training match for the US Nats and while I donít want to take too much from it other than a nice "my team won" happy buzz, I do think a few useful things were learned. Basically, everything that follows goes back to a premise Iíve pretty consistently maintained in these little match reports for the last few years - if you canít shine in a game like this, youíre having some serious troubles - and if youíre a bubble player who doesnít demonstrably strut her stuff against an opponent like this, then maybe your little bubble needs to be popped (Iím only popping a bubble and a half - this will be a kinder gentler match report . . . except for that bubble and a half of course, I might tick some folks off with my bubble and a half - but I guarantee you if you put your guess and a half out there right now, my comments wonít surprise you so skip ensuing sections accordingly).

Formation

4-4-2, with a diamond midfield (back-front, right-left): GK - Scurry; Def - Bryan, Sobrero, Reddick, Pearce; DMid - Fair; Mid - Foudy, Lilly; AMid - Parlow; F - Wambach, OíReilly. Milbrett in for OíReilly after a very early and unfortunate injury. Beene in for Scurry; Slaton in for Pearce, Reddick moves out wide left, Slaton plays central left; Roberts in for Foudy; Hucles in for Lilly; Wagner in for Parlow; Hamm in for Milbrett; and Joy and Brandi get a well deserved night off.

Players

Scurry/Beene - Iíve got nothiní. Neither of them did a thing. I guess Beene had one not so beautiful looking clearance but that might have been as much a result of her dozing off at some point and being groggy as anything else. Not a good game to help make a keeper decision. The Brazil game should be a good game in which to evaluate Beene and Siri. Since Wendy is more Heinrichs/Palladino mouthpiece than independent color commentator these days (I mean really, did we need to interview April twice - isnít what she said exactly the words coming out of Wendyís mouth the entire match), I donít think itís much of a stretch to start calling Bri the #1 keeper at this point. Beene and Siri probably will be competing for the back up spot and I hope they each get a half against Brazil to show that they deserve it.

Bryan - This is one bubble that should have been burst ages ago. Yes, sheís very fast - and if this were a track meet, sheíd be the best player on the field. But itís not - itís soccer and I donít think sheís an International level defender. Her reads are late, she has trouble clearing the ball when she gets there and she canít connect a forward or lateral pass to save her life. Her touch is awful. If it was just bad, then maybe they could let her sit on the bench as a 7th defender. But itís not bad - every touch, minus short back passes to Sobrero resulted in turnovers - that is in the realm of awful. Whether it be a turnover into the midfield or putting the ball too far forward and wasting possession. Honestly, if Team USA was really thin at defender, then youíd let her sit on the bench - but Team USA isnít - theyíve got 6 defenders who are all legitimate starters and they can all play all four positions. Thereís a reason she essentially got cut years and years and years ago - and she hasnít improved in that area of the game even a little. And this was Ireland.  If she canít connect a pass or constructively clear a ball in the no pressure conditions that Ireland affords than why in the world would you ever risk putting her on the field against even the lowest ranked WWC group opponent. As for her straight defending - well, in the WUSA, just being the first to the ball or the first to the play is enough the majority of the time. Players pull up, push out or engage in some panic passing or shooting. At the international level, getting there first is never enough - youíre not going to stop an international opponent just by being there, you have got to make a play on the ball or the defender and she always seems to be indecisive about what to do when she gets there. Even against Ireland. I donít mean to be overly harsh here, but this has been going on for a couple of years now. Sheís solid in the WUSA yet her performances against scrub International opponents are consistently lacking . . . at best. And yes - this was my full bubble pop - donít know if Aprilís going to pop it - judging from Wendyís comments over the last two years, everyone just seems to be so fascinated by the speed (and honestly, game speed, she doesnít look any faster than Joy or Kate - I donít give a care as to what she does in sprints during practice - again, not a track meet - game speed? I will put Kate out there every single time). So we shall see if she gets a spot at the end of the bench.

Sobrero - I do like Kate in the central defense. And seeing Thori out wide right really makes me appreciate the effort Kate has put into improving out there. I think this is why Iím kind of harsh with Thori - I think weíve run into a "canít" with her rather than a "hasnít done it before." Kate shows improvement with her passing and vision out there every time we see her. Over the past couple of years while Thori has been back in the National Team mix, we have seen no improvement at all - not even a little. But, back to Kate - like with the GKs thereís just not a lot to say about the central defending. They pretty much seemed content to defend the few players who made it behind the midfield 1 v. 1 and no one had too many problems. While the defense was solid, fact of the matter is, very little got back to them in this one. I like the 6 player rotation of defenders this team has very very much (Fawcett, Chastain, Reddick, Slaton, Pearce, Sobrero) and they very well might be the best rotation the Nats has ever had. But pronouncing them excellent and lamenting the fact the other lines didnít look as good as the defense did, actually struck me as quite silly in the context of this match. It's Ireland . . .

Reddick - I have very little. Not much for her to do in the first half. She was getting forward nicely when she moved out wide in the second. Thought she managed to play very well on the left side and thought she moved up and in very nicely. I would have liked to see her get a few minutes out wide while Lil was still in there, but I guess they needed to see if the right sided Christie Pearce could handle a switch to the left as well and thatís what they were working on in this one. Seemed to be just a little disconnect between Cat and Hucles on the left though. Both of them were playing on an unfamiliar side, so I imagine a few weeks in practice probably would solve those problems. As for her individual play - I thought she was fine. Served some nice balls forward, there was one possession where I was hoping sheíd tee it up and shoot from about 35 yards out - canít get that goal she scored in the ACC tourney out of my head. Very dangerous weapon - I tell ya - if she sees daylight through the D in a match and cracks one of those, she can change a game in an instant. Nice weapon to have on the field. She remains one of my favorite youngsters and itís been fun watching her develop into such a solid and versatile defender.

Pearce - I thought she had a very strong game. Sheís always seemed to be a fairly right sided player yet she pretty seamlessly made the switch left. She was providing great support to Lil with balls out of the back, she was making overlapping runs herself, sending good balls in and even cutting in herself at times. She sees the field very well, provided solid defending, the few times she actually had to defend, and has great offensive instincts. Just a perfect pass on Abbyís first goal. Great stuff - definitely in my defender rotation and thereís little question that she could play any of the four defensive positions. Nice game.

Slaton - Solid outing. Again, not a great game to judge the central defenders. She seemed to be pushing forward through the center of the field more aggressively than the other central defenders. Seems to have a lot of her speed back, but not quite as fluid a runner as before her knee surgery. Luckily sheís as smart a defender as she is an athletic one so playing in the central defense I donít think the speed issue will matter too much . . . and there are still several months for that to keep on improving. If this was the same kind of thing Mia dealt with (I seem to recall Anson Dorrance saying that it was during a WUSA telecast at some point), sheíll get all the speed back eventually and already looks better than she did a couple of months ago. Anyway - that was a lot of rambling about nothing at all - she looked solid, nice defending, nice support offensively up the middle. Like Pearce . . . and Cat . . . and Kate . . . and Joy . . . and Brandi, Slatonís in my rotation and Iíd feel just fine with her at any of the 4 defender slots.

Fair - Sheís my other burst bubble player, but I have a hard time believing sheís really on the bubble so thatís why I only give her a half bubble burst. I think Fairís going to be on the roster. Letís face it - too much time, too many resources and too many US Soccer marketing dollars have gone into this kid for them to drop her without a clear replacement and frankly, no one so outstanding as to render her obsolete has emerged. I think sheíll make the WWC roster. That said, just like with Thori, my concern is that she canít excel playing these scrub opponents. If sheís still turning the ball over on almost every touch, being bypassed by her teammates, failing to stop attackers that get past her fellow midfielders before they get to the defense and still having trouble making an impact of any kind in a position for which I believe she is dreadfully undersized, and the opponent is Ireland; Iím wondering what kind of impact sheís going to make against even a low level WWC group opponent. For me on the road to Sydney, a benchmark game was the game against Costa Rica during Gold Cup - she was given keys to the car in that game - a game against a truly inferior opponent - and she failed to shine. This game was the same sort of test for me. I just donít know that sheís got what it takes to compete at the International level - Iíve never really seen anything indicating that she can. Nothing in this game against a very low level opponent made me think any differently. I expect her to get some playing time against Brazil. Theyíre a small technical team - the kind of team that Fair should best be suited to playing against. Letís see what she shows in that one. Iím pretty resigned to the fact sheíll be on the team though - I just donít see any reason why she wouldnít be - unless Shannon Mac comes back, OíReilly winds up being OK as well, Abby makes it and CPís move to the midfield sticks - if all that happens, then she might be the odd woman out. Otherwise, I expect to see her on the roster, but barring injury I donít expect her to see much playing time.

Foudy - play her out right and sheíll run the show from out there. Nice game. Distributing the ball and playmaking as well as Iíve seen in awhile. I thought she was dominant actually. Great possession, passing on a dime, completely controlling play. And a big issue for me with this team over the past few years has been getting numbers forward - the whole team did an excellent job at this in the first half, but Foudy was particularly strong. She got forward when she needed to yet got back defending as well. Speed isnít the be all and end all in this sport, game smarts count for a little something too and Foudyís soccer instincts/smarts are as good as anyone's. Her goal was very opportunistic - she was exactly where she needed to be and she knocked it in. Lil smashed in the shot, Tiff and Abby were creating a disturbance in front of the goal mouth, ball popped out, Foudy put it back in. Very professional score. Her assist to Wambach was just beautiful. Gotta love those big targets - put it up there and watch them put it in. Great sequence. Strong game from Foudy.

Lilly - Strong game from the vets all the way around. Just a typical Lilly game - running up and down that left sideline, sending balls in, lifting balls off the endline, smashing in shots that wreak all sorts of havoc in the goal mouth and a tireless workrate - as always. Glad Aprilís resting these vets, although I must say, wouldnít have minded Lil getting the whole night off just like Joy and Brandi did. I guess going in, Abby and Heather were kind of two of the primary things April needed to see and you had to have players who ratchet up the speed of play in there to make this a meaningful evaluation of them. So Lil had to play. Nice game though - Iíve got nothing else.

Parlow - Well - I like her much much better in that right midfield spot than I do as the attacking midfielder. Foudy was the one running the show, not CP - and if that was going to be the case, then CP should have gotten time at the right midfield spot - I think thatís probably where sheís going to wind up and this would have been a great 45 minutes for her to further acclimate herself out there. Sheís definitely a player who likes to pick her spots and who likes to be the one dishing out any physical play rather than absorbing it. Sheís not a player at the international level who should be touching the ball on almost every possession. She simply isnít the type of player who is going to do that, never has been. In this one, she didnít have a bad game, she just really didnít play the role she was supposed to be playing. Like I noted, the offense was being run from Foudy, not Parlow - Parlow didnít have enough touches, her workrate is not nearly high enough and she and Tiff kept running up each othersí backs. It seemed that Abby, Tiff, Lil and Foudy were ever-present in the box and Parlow was elsewhere and she just didnít flow with the offense at all. She had some nice moments, but frankly, I have enjoyed her so much and sheís been so successful out right the last game and a half that Iíd like to see that developed further. Especially since the right side has been such a trouble spot for Team USA and putting CP out there seemed to be such a wonderful solution - both for her and the team. So, overall, not a bad game, but a much quieter game than is optimal for the attacking middie to have. I hope to see her back at that right midfield spot against Brazil to see how she looks out there against a decent opponent.

Roberts - See - Ireland - everyone should play well, even players who I think are marginal. TR makes my point - as you folks who read these little reports at all know, I am skeptical about what TR can provide at the International level. However, this is Ireland - and as any US Nat caliber player, even a US Nat caliber bench player, should, she had a strong game against them. I thought she played as well in this one as she has all season. She was moving forward well, defending decently sending in some nice balls and pulling some balls off the endline like Lil does on the left. Was it perfect? No - but it was better than she has been lately and that gets her a thumbs up. Improvement is all I ever ask. I donít think sheís starter material - and I think Team USA is going to have problems playing her in the defensive midfield against large opponents (she has trouble with attackers larger than herself - she canít stop them without fouling), but in this one, I thought she was rock solid out right. Her assist to Mia was one of the nicer sequences in the game. Picture perfect pass, Mia slotted right into goal - good awareness of where Mia was on TRís part. Well done. Solid performance - I think sheíll be a solid bench middie to have on the roster - a good stop gap on the right and against some opponents in the defensive midfield when the regulars need some rest.

Hucles - Well . . . I think combination play had pretty much deteriorated in the second half, and I think Hucles is far better suited to playing on the right side. Unfortunately all of Team USAís middies not name Lil are better suited to play on the right side and I think she might have just set an impossible standard . . . or her ever-presence in the lineup has been such that they simply havenít had a chance to develop anyone. Anyway - Hucles had a decent game, but I think weíve seen better from her and I donít think sheís real suited to that left side. She was strongest when she was playing centrally. She kind of collapsed into the middle for much of her time out there which worked fairly well since TR was going a pretty good job stretching them wide right. Honestly, I donít think Lil is going to be off the field too much during the WWC - and I think Team USA is going to be in trouble (or at least the attack will get far more limited and predictable) if she is. As for Hucles - she was solid enough, if unspectacular in this one. I think sheíll be a solid bench midfielder - Iíve noticed over the past few games April has played her at every midfield spot so I imagine sheís pretty comfortable subbing Angela in any of the four midfield spots. I think that versatility will put her on the WWC roster and probably put her in a few games.

Wagner - Well - I would have liked to see her in the attacking midfield in the first half. I guess April wanted to make sure one of her playmakers was in the game in each half, so she rotated Foudy and Aly rather than CP and Foudy. Even though they technically werenít playing the same position, Foudy and Aly performed the same role. Anyway - organization had deteriorated a bit in the second half, Aly was still pushing forward nicely though. Took a couple of nice cracks at goal, put a real nice ball into Abby if Iím recalling correctly. Played solid defense. Fairly uneventful game for her though. I look forward to the Brazil game because I assume April will be testing out her anticipated starting lineup against a solid opponent. I think weíll learn a lot more about everyone in that game. Not much to say about Aly - I might have lost her a little bit - past the little Iíve said, Iíve got to take a pass on Ms. Wagner in this one. I donít often lose young Aly (I know, with Heather and Cat around Iíve got to stop calling her that - the kids grow up so fast, donít they), so I imagine Iíll have more on her in the next one.

Wambach - Well - again, low level opponent, bubble players are getting their chance and if they canít shine, off with them. Well - I think Abby made the best of her bubble opportunity. Whatís key with Abby isnít what we know she can do well - itís that she seems to have improved in the areas in which she was previously criticized. I think we saw much improved footwork from her in the first 25-30 minutes (she started playing much more direct after that - a very fast one touch style), her fitness isnít an issue, her workrate was outstanding - and of course, the things we know she does well, opportunistically sticking that ball in the back of the net, she did well in this one too. Two very efficient and professional goals - that efficient finishing has been missing from this team at times over the last few years and itís nice to see. At times I felt she was being too unselfish and made some ill advised passes but I imagine a player such as herself is probably a little wary of coming in and being a ball hog. In a 2 front though - ball hog in the box is what she should be. Lots of folks were putting the ball over the goal in this one, Abby was taking some of the nicer chances, and she should have kept a few more of those chances for herself. Overall, a nice performance though - I donít want to get too excited, because it was Ireland - this is a "should" game for her. But the coaching staff has got to be encouraged that sheís taken the criticism to heart and improved on her perceived areas of weakness. All Iíve ever wanted for this kid is a fair chance - I was happy - and a little relieved - that she made the most of the chance against Ireland. Now, unless the hypocrisy/Catch-22 is just going to get way out of control, theyíve got to put her in against a top level opponent before they close the door on her. The criticism that sheís inconsistent and canít play against top level opponents is horribly unfair if they donít give her a chance (she got no playing time at Four Nations and wasnít on the Algarve roster - exactly how is it fair to criticize her for not performing against top tier opponents when she didnít even get in a game). The WWC is not the time for that "chance" - they need to know what sheís got before then - but this game against Brazil is (actually Four Nations was . . . donít get me started though). We shall see what happens. I thought she was solid in this one though. I imagine she helped herself - unless a decision has already been made about her, she should have.

OíReilly - Dang - hope it wasnít too serious. Great fearless goal. Unfortunately, thatís all there is to say about her in this one. I tell ya - assuming good health and that she wants it for herself, I think sheís going to be a great one for Team USA - you can feel that every time you see her play. Wendy was talking about Mia and pointing out that sheís the type of player who just generates excitement with every touch. Heather OíReilly is that kind of player - you sit forward a little, hold your breath in anticipation and your heart beats a little faster when this kid is around the ball. I donít know that her time is now, but itís coming . . . and itís going to be great . . .

Milbrett - Her touch seems a little off . . . OK, her touch seems way off. I donít know - something just didnít seem right there to me. She was playing a bit too deep for much of the game, playing behind CP and Lil and even Foudy at times. With a 2 front, they really need the two to stay forward. Honestly, I donít have much - she had some nice moments and was a fairly disruptive presence out there especially on Foudy's goal. She just didnít look terribly dangerous though. I really donít have much - as Team USA is getting a little thin at forward all of a sudden, and April was totally hedging about Abby in the post game interview so we might be even thinner at forward than weíre thinkiní, Tiff needs to work through this little slump and needs to do it pretty soon.

Hamm - Nice game - seems she got in toward the end there to stretch her legs a bit and make the nice fans happy. Combination play wasnít just fantastic by the time she got in, but it was good enough for TR to send her a perfect ball to put in the back of the net - which she slotted in very nicely. She was really booming those corners in there well too - slammed them out wide onto that far post - for those of you keeping score at home, thatís where she puts them more often than not with the Freedom - Abby always starts out high and makes the back post run and Mia puts a ton of those to her. Miaís corners are looking as strong as they ever have. A bit more time and a few more targets in the game (load CP, Brandi and Joy into the box too) and Team USA could steal a few goals with those corners - or at least be a bit more efficient with them than they were in this one. Nice game - nice to see her playing where she belongs with a team that even when theyíre not combining as well as they were in the first half, still manages to get her the ball (sorry, had to take a little shot at my Freedom - I love Ďem, but dang . . . uhhhh . . . dang).

All right - nothing too earth shattering in this one. I donít think we really learned anything about anyone we didnít already know. We knew the defense was solid, we knew Thori couldnít connect a pass, we knew the goalkeepers werenít going to be challenged so it would be a pretty useless game for them, we knew Fair is undersized and turns the ball over a lot, we knew that if given a chance Abby could have a nice solid game, and we knew that weíre starting to get kinda thin at forward . . . well, I guess we didnít know a couple of things on that count - like that Heather was going to get hurt or that Tiffís slump was going to go on for any significant stretch of time. Hopefully the Milbrett issue will solve itself shortly and hopefully the Heather injury isnít too serious so our unknowns are temporary. As for the rest of it - it was a fun one, Iím a little worried that it was such an easy one, but a good time was had by all and Iím left anxiously awaiting the game against Brazil next month.

Beulah