US 0 Australia 0

As the US National Team goes, so go I . . . which means, this shall be a disjointed, meandering effort with no flow or organization - random thoughts, each trying to carry the day alone and none terribly effective is what shall follow . . . hey, I'm just trying to carry over the tone of the game.

bulletIf Greg Ryan can not separate the personal from the professional, a committee needs to be formed and National Team call ups need to be done by that committee as they are done by USA Basketball. Marci Miller even being called into one camp was an absurdity, her being called into two, making two rosters and playing a full 90 is an abuse of discretion. And if it's not sheer hubris by the coach thinking it's his team, he'll play his friends if he wants to, then I am seriously concerned about his ability to judge talent.
 
bulletI have a friend who has a fantasy football team and I looked at his team and made a crack about his receivers looking like a Pro Bowl receiving corps . . . from 1999. Did anyone else look at the players available on the bench and get the same feeling? The absence of a league is troubling - there is absolutely no way to keep a National Team coach honest in his call ups and looking at the roster of castoffs and never weres that went into today's game and how poorly thought out it was is troubling. I mean how can you play 45 minutes without anyone on the field playmaking - no playmaking forward and no standard/traditional playmaking middie. If the college kids weren't coming in, and if Aly wasn't 100%, why wasn't the only non-Wagner and non-collegiate playmaking middie currently in the player pool (Lori Lindsey) in camp? And of the players on the roster, why wasn't Hucles starting instead of Miller - she's not spectacular, but she would have been solid in the playmaking role - at least she would have been better than either Miller or Boxx proved to be (I'm not sure who was supposed to be playmaking - I'm not sure anyone is sure of who was supposed to be playmaking - I'm not sure if anyone actually was supposed to be playmaking).
 
bulletI am very upset with Cheryl Salisbury - I mean, where was our very special Cheryl Salisbury moment? I was so excited about witnessing a very special Cheryl Salisbury moment - you know, that point in the game where someone hits her, she goes down, writhes around the field for 45-60 seconds, 4 or 5 of her teammates run to her aid, the ref comes to check on her, she slowly and dramatically gets to her feet, the crowd cheers and she bravely soldiers on, limping and grimacing all the way . . . and then 5 minutes later she makes an outstanding play that saves or wins the game, bounding around like she hasn't a care in the world or a pain in her body . . . Watch some old Power tapes folks, you'll see it - it's in every game . . . ohhhh, how I missed my very special Salisbury moment . . . it's just good TV . . .
 
bulletYou know it was a slow game when the most impressive thing that happened was the ref hopping off the field - I mean, she covered a ton of ground very quickly hopping on one foot - I was impressed . . . if it had been one of the Aussies, I'd put in a kangaroo joke here . . . but, alas . . .

All right - that's enough of that. There's little to say about this one. From what I've seen of Greg Ryan so far, he's not a stupid man, so I've got to assume that this game just wasn't being taken seriously. The starting lineup was silly. There was no playmaker and there was no forward with speed to run at the defense and without those two things, there was no reason for Fotop to be on the field (it's tough to be an efficient finisher with no one passing you anything you can finish), and Marci Miller being on the field was the same as playing a man down. With the lineup that started, it's disingenuous for anyone to be even a little surprised or dismayed that the offense had no flow/continuity/organization. I don't know what the point of this game was for the Nats, but I hope Ryan figured out whatever it was he was looking for because I hope we're not subject to a lineup like this again. Bad efforts are one thing (and I don't think this was a "bad effort" per se) but putting a puzzling group of non-complimentary players on the field together is something I hope he saves for closed door scrimmages in the future.

Formation - 4-3-3 - back to front, right to left - I must confess I missed the opening lineup as my Astros were on and I was flipping channels while waiting for the game to start (and yes, I am a little bitter I missed most of that game to watch this stinker) and they had absolutely no shape on offense so I am quite likely to screw up my middles, rights and lefts.

GK - Solo; Def - Reddick, LePeilbet, Markgraf, Mitts; Midfield - Miller, Boxx, Lilly (I have no clue where Miller and Boxx lined up - Boxx was in the middle most of the first half and Miller was off the TV screen and I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and figure she was off the top of the screen, aka, to the right); Forward - Welsh, Fotopolous, Wambach. Wagner came in for Fotopolous (Why? Why wasn't this sub for Miller? Why weren't the playmaker and the finisher given 15 minutes or so on the field together to try and score something?) and Lilly moved up top left with Abby shifting to the center. Milbrett in for Welsh.

Players - I don't have much - I don't think this game warrants much. I'm chalking this one up to an aberration caused by the coach looking at very specific things the identity of which it is simply impossible for a fan type such as myself to know or comprehend.

Solo - Very strong performance. I think I'm actually giving my player of the match to the GK in this one. This is the first time in these friendlies she's had people shooting at her and I think she showed some good decision making and nice athleticism. I think he's establishing her as the #1 keeper and if that miscommunication with Mitts showed anything, it's that the #1 keeper needs to be established sooner rather than later so that the keeper and defense can get on the same page. While the miscommunication didn't thrill me, the composure the defense showed when it all went so very wrong was heartening - no panic, they just filled in behind her and calmly protected the goal. The leg remains impressive but I think the field players need some work coming down with her booming kicks.

Reddick - Decent defensively - I really thought she and Kate were showing some great chemistry in the central D in the previous games. With some of the communication issues and the ability of Australia to penetrate the offense it seems Team USA has already come to rely on it. With Chalupny absent in this one however, it was a good chance to get LeP some playing time in the central D. While the bulk of the playing time needs to be Cat and Kate developing chemistry together and with Solo, they do need a backup to be ready just in case something goes wrong. That said, Cat is definitely much better playing centrally. Her crosses looked rusty, she overshot and undershot the folks in the box every time. Her most effective runs forward were when she was pushed in and running up through the center of the field rather than when she was spread wide. I have no doubt that with a few games wide, she'd get some of her flow back out there, but I just don't think there's any reason for that to happen. While Cat, Kate and Amy LeP very well might be the best defenders in the player pool (they're the only natural defenders in the player pool) I think if anyone is going to be forced to readjust it should be LeP. And honestly, I think if they're going to go with the 4-3-3, they're probably going to give up defense for a defensive attacking personality so they won't have all three of them out there at the same time anyway. Anyway, solid if unspectacular performance.

LePeilbet - Solid game defensively. The whole defense was relatively solid. I thought the midfield was having a very tough time defensively in this one and the forwards weren't tracking back at all. If Boxx didn't stop the Aussies, they were pretty much getting to the US third completely unharassed. So Kate, Cat, Amy and Mitts had quite a bit to deal with and they managed quite well. I also thought she was very good bringing the ball through the midfield. Both Kate and LeP were getting the offense started better than either Miller or Boxx when they ran forward. She made good decisions, was good in the air and tackled well. And she was very very composed. That composure led to the best play of the game for Team USA - her save off the line. Here's why I like what happened there so much - Hope got caught out, that's going to happen the way she plays, and instead of panicking, instead of trying to cover the ball, instead of tripping over each other, the defenders calmly fell back and covered the goal - they left the ball to Hope and they covered the goal. Well done, and the calm, "routine" save off the line, was the single most impressive moment of the game. I like the way she plays - I do enjoy defenders playing defense. I hope she stays in the mix.

Markgraf - Solid game. I like the composure on the backline and as always in these little reports, the central defender in charge of maintaining that composure gets the credit when things go well and I thought things went pretty well. Like I said, the defensive problems seemed to be coming through the other lines on the field. The defense handled what came their way fairly well. That there was really only one mishap speaks to the maturity and composure of the backline in this one. Defenders playing defense . . . there's something to be said about that. I also am going to echo Foudy a little on this one: Kate's composure with the ball at her feet has improved. I don't know whether it's that she's no longer on the outside charged with making some fantastic crossing pass, or whether she's just maturing, but she was great on the ball. She and Amy LeP were trying to generate some offense from their positions - they were trying to be the source of the attack and a few years ago, you would have never seen Kate handling herself so well bringing the ball up into the midfield. Good game - just what I've come to expect.

Mitts - I really don't have much here. I thought she was quite solid defensively just as the rest of the backline was. She didn't seem to get forward quite as much as I would have liked, but that was as much a function as there being little to no organization on offense as it was anything she was or wasn't doing. It almost got to the point of why should she bother when no one was going to put the ball out to her anyway. And sadly, that was pretty much the truth in this one - no one was looking to stretch the field. The best combination play was by the central defenders or Cat running pretty centrally herself. As for the miscommunication - well, that kind of thing happens. What I liked was the composure after it happened. Mitts is the one you'd expect to have panicked, simply because she's the one who had the misread with Hope. But instead of tripping over herself and over the GK panicking and trying to get to the ball, she ran back, let the GK go after the ball, and tried to place herself behind the play, between the ball and the goal. That was the exactly right thing to do since LeP and Kate were in/around the goal mouth and Cat was on her way. So, solid if unspectacular outing. I hope she gets more involved in the offense if she's out there in the next one.

Miller - I don't know what to say here without being accused of being mean - then again, I think that ship sailed in the second paragraph of this report so I may as well tell it like I see it - if you're a friend or family member of Marci Miller, you should probably stop reading. I have never seen a player who is so completely out of her depth as Marci Miller is playing at the international level. She doesn't belong, she looked perpetually confused, she provided absolutely nothing positive out there and for all the talk of how tough and hard nosed a player she is, I saw her get pushed off the ball 3 times, I saw her miss two tackles, and I saw 50-50 balls go to an Aussie more often than not. She had absolutely no idea where she was supposed to be and what she was supposed to be doing - she's a midfielder who had what? 4 touches in the first half? 4? Even if I missed a couple that's ridiculous. She's not athletic, she's not skilled technically or tactically, she has never shown even a hint of being an international caliber player at any level at which she's played, she's not particularly strong physically against players of the caliber she's facing on the international stage, and Shannon Boxx ran herself ragged covering for her the entire game. This is the United States National Team and Marci Miller is a player who probably would have had a tough time making a WUSA roster had the league lasted another year (she certainly never would have won her spot back from Callie Withers in the Beat lineup). I think we've seen far more than enough.

Boxx - She was all over the place defensively in the midfield. She was the only player doing anything defensively in the midfield. A typical game for her defensively - she was doing a great job winning balls and slowing down attackers. Miller was probably trying, but she had no clue where she was supposed to be so Boxx just wound up doing everything. Now that the pats on the head are out of the way, she really provided very little offensively. Someone needed to take charge, spread the ball around, push the ball out to the wings and Boxx would have been a good person to have done this. At least switching the field every once and again in an attempt to stretch that very organized Australian defense a little bit - that's a role she routinely performs. The whole team was disappointing offensively though - Boxx had her hands full defensively so I'll give her a pass. Strong game defensively, adequate game overall. I expect that if a less nonsensical starting lineup is employed in the next outing, she'll look outstanding on both sides of the ball once again.

Lilly - Boxx got a pass . . . Lilly will not - I love her, y'all know I do, but this was not my most favorite Kristine Lilly performance. While it wasn't awful on its face, it was extremely frustrating that with the midfield that started, she did not take it upon herself to plop down in the center of the field and try and organize the offense. Team USA was basically playing with 5 defenders (Boxx was right on top of the D sweeping across the field mopping up whatever she could - 5th defender), 1 player who wasn't sure what she was supposed to be doing, 1 midfielder and 3 forwards - Lil was the 1 midfielder, Lil is the player with 297 caps, Lil is the player who is known as a master tactician on the field, Lil is the one who should have attempted to get that offense playing in some kind of organized and orderly fashion. Instead, Lil's best moments were as a finisher, not as an attacking midfielder. Yes, she was still technically playing midfield with that great shot from the top left corner of the box, but she was acting as finisher. Absolutely no one was looking to be creator and she's the one who should have been looking to do that most. Disappointing. Especially since not only did she fail to take charge, but she was simply absent from the action for much of the game . . . Here's hoping the next one is better - when she has games like this, the next one generally is.

Welsh - I don't have much here. For parts of the game I suspect Welsh, Miller and Lil excused themselves for a cup of coffee because they were all absent for long stretches. She did a few nice things, and tracked back a little bit more than the other forwards and might have gotten a little stuck back there. But ultimately, it wasn't a stellar outing, if only because it was so quiet and because none of the forwards were combining well together. I have nothing else. Quiet day. Midfield play has got to be better for her to be effective.

Fotopolous - Why? . . . And no, I'm not asking why Fotop, I'm asking Why Fotop in this situation? Why was she put in a situation where she could not succeed? Pre-game I'd been thinking about it and was getting on board with having a one dimensional finisher in the player pool and maybe ultimately on the next WWC roster. If Team USA has had one problem over the past 5 or 6 years it's been finishing - and I don't think there's any question that Danielle Fotopolous is as efficient in front of goal as anyone in the player pool. No, she's not a full field, complete player at this level, but this goes back to what I spent the entire Heinrichs regime griping about - not every player has to be able to do everything. Players have to play positions and ya know, if Team USA is tied 1-1 against Germany with 30 minutes left and Aly, Abby, Heather O and Lil are on the field, I'm kind of excited if I see Danielle Fotopolous warming up because all they have to do is put the ball in the box - if they put the ball in the box enough times, Fotop will put some shots on the face of the goal. All that said, putting her in a game without a playmaking middie and without a forward regularly running at the defense is a waste. She can't create at this level, she can't defend at this level, she really can't do anything but finish at this level and there was nothing for her to finish in this game.

Wambach - I think I'm most disappointed in Abby and Lil not because they played worse than everyone else, but because they're the ones who have to make the rough games better. That's what goes with being an elite player. Abby was trying at the start - she made one beautiful run up the left side and laid the ball back into the box - it was great - as nice an attempt at combination play as there was all game. I think that was in the first 15 minutes though. I really didn't notice her combining well, or even attempting to combine well for the rest of the game. In fact, I almost switched the game off for good in the second half when Abby had the ball in the attacking third, right side just off the top of the box, her back to the goal, Lil (I'm pretty sure it was Lil) was making a run right by her completely unmarked and instead of laying the ball off to Lil who so clearly had the best look, Abby turned and shot right into the two defenders she had to have felt right on her back . . . it was ridiculous, Abby's better than that. That was my issue with this game - not that they tied - Australia played very well and but for an outstanding performance from Hope Solo (with an assist from Amy LeP off the goal line) they would (and should) have won this one. My issue is simply that everything positive we've seen over the course of these friendlies was just absent. And for me, that play from Abby was like a flashing neon light telling me that it wasn't about lack of practice time together, it was just that they weren't even thinking about playing together and combining on offense. And that's frustrating. Once the game starts, the coach has picked his lineup - you can only sit and whine about the fact a confounding group of players was on the field for so long - then Lil should have taken control of the offense and Abby should have been looking to set Welsh and Fotop up - especially since Australia had her so well defended. Anyway - Heather O will be back in the next one, one would have to assume after this performance a more appropriate third midfielder will be back in the next one and order will be restored. As with everyone else, I don't think there's any lesson to learn about Abby's play in this one. But to the extent this was a test of onfield leadership, I'm disappointed in what I saw.

Wagner - I feel about her game as I did about Fotop. She wasn't put in a situation to succeed. If there's one thing we've learned about Aly over the past 2 or 3 years it's that she's not a very good sub. She's not a high energy game changing player - she is a tone/energy establishing player. Which means you start her or she doesn't play. In this one, if you knew you only had her a half, it should have been the first half. I have to bring in a basketball reference here - when commentators talk about Lindsay Whalen's impact on the Connecticut Sun, they talk about how her unselfishness and pass first mentality rubs off on the rest of the team and makes them all share the rock better. Aly's the same kind of player - if she's in there swinging the ball wide and peppering it up top from the start, everyone would be. Someone has to set a tone - it's subtle, and the player who does it is never ever given her due - Foudy certainly never was and I read the comments, and it appears Aly won't be either, but when it's gone everyone notices. It was gone in this one, no one even attempted to perform the playmaker role - no one even attempted to pass the ball wide (if a wing back didn't run it forward, it didn't get wide), and there was very little productive passing in the attacking third. If Aly had been in from the start - no, she wouldn't have been doing it all on her own, but at least someone would have set a standard and someone would have put a ball through and if someone had done that, maybe someone else would have too.

Milbrett - I was really hoping she'd get in there and just hammer forward, push the defensive line, maybe get called offside a few times, just shift the whole field forward. It just didn't happen. Part of it was simply that Australia is a very well organized team (on both sides of the ball), and they were very well prepared for this game. Part of it was also that there was no combination play by Team USA and there's no point pushing forward if you have no confidence anyone's going to get you the ball. I really don't have much - unlike Aly, if Millie's going to make this team, it's going to be as a spark/high energy player off the bench. She didn't provide that in this one . . . maybe Mac gets the minutes in the next one (or, gasp, actually let Tina Frimpong play her real position - that's a player who can generate some sparks on offense).

That is it. Probably more negative than it should be because this was, after all, just a meaningless friendly. But, from a fan's perspective this was a frustrating game from the start - from the starting lineup, to the complete lack of combination play, to the fact that . . . well . . . let's face it . . . this game was just boring as boring can be. And I don't want to hear the "they haven't played in three months" excuse, because neither had Australia - and Australia looked organized, they were combining well and they thoroughly dominated the US through the midfield. The problem wasn't lack of playing time together. The problem was they weren't even attempting to play together. And that's disappointing. Here's hoping that they come out on fire and inspired in the next one - there's nothing I like better than the team forcing me to eat my words after I do a report like this.

Beulah