US 4 Australia 0
Well, it was a nice win and in the first half it sure did look like a chalkboard diagram come to life didnít it? Maybe itís my mood, maybe Iím just being difficult and maybe Iím the only one, but frankly, it was tough to get too excited about this game. Yes, in the first half the team looked great - the switching/movement/ebb and flow was undoubtedly as April diagrammed it, the passes connected and were taken with apparent ease, the combination play was beautiful and the US possessed the ball and easily won the ball on those rare occasions when they werenít already holding it . . . but it all seemed to move veeerrrrryyyyy . . . . vvvveeeerrrrryyyyyyyyy . . . . ssssllllllooooowwwwllllyyyyyyyyy . . . .. It was like watching a training tape, the US players had all the time in the world to neatly receive a pass, trap the pass, head up, look around and decide where to carefully, and slowly with textbook technique make the next pass . . . honestly, and this is why I canít get too excited, defensively through the midfield and back where the US defenders were, it was like there wasnít another team on the field. Australia wasnít playing low pressure defense, they were playing no pressure defense. The entirety of the Australian strategy coming into this game appeared to be "whomp the player with the ball." Now, admittedly, "whomp the player with the ball" can be quite effective when paired with an actual game plan (see e.g., Canada, teams that play a highly organized bunker where they likewise have 10 players behind the ball but those players are playing very high pressure D, or just watch some tapes of Brandi Chastain ca. 1996-99), but if all youíre doing is waiting for that ball to get into the attacking third and then you send your team to whomp the player with the ball . . . well, thatís just not going to get it done. I hope the Aussies on the board arenít offended, but I was very disappointed, not with the Australian players, who played hard, but with the Australian coaching. Game planning against the US and not pressuring the ball at all is ridiculous - I played whomp the player with the ball in high school . . . but I was coached by a volleyball coach and I had no talent at all . . . this is not how a National Team should be playing. Maybe they shouldnít just be pulling players up from their U-19 team in Australia, but if they really did so well in the championships, maybe they should pull some coaches up too. Good effort from their players though - they whomp very well and managed to mount an attack toward the end of the game - the sophistication (more accurately the lack thereof) with which they were playing, however, was disappointing at best.
OK - all that said - it was, in fact, a very nice training exercise for the US. They did have to dodge the whompers at some point after all - and since there were 10 or 11 Matildas behind the ball most of the game, dodging the whompers became an issue in the box (rarely was it an issue before that time however - even playing "whomp the player with the ball" defense itís nice to go whomp some middies every now and again, but Australia just seemed content to let the US hold onto the ball and possess, possess, posses - Lil actually whomped them more than they whomped her which was baffling . . . ). In the first half just about everyone looked very good (as they should when theyíre not being pressured) and they are learning the intricacies and the movement that needs to take place in the new diamond formation. I think that everyone needs to keep in mind just how much time and space there actually was on that field though, before we expect it to look like this against a top tier opponent or even an opponent who actually wants to come out and play.
Formation (4-4-2 back-front, right-left)
GK - Mullinix; Defenders - Sobrero, Fawcett, Chastain, Slaton; DMid - Fair; Mid - Foudy, Lilly; AMid - Wagner; Fwd - Parlow, Hamm (although they took turns being on the left and yes, they both looked better over there - when they switched and she went right, CP just disappeared, for like 10 minutes at a time). Reddick in for Sobrero, Hucles in for Foudy, OíReilly in for Wagner, MacMillan in for Hamm, Wambach in for CP, Roberts in for Slaton (she came in as the DMid, Fair moved to left back) . And just a collective note to the 2d half offensive subs since I was trying to help them during the game "YOUíRE BUNCHING, STOP BUNCHING!!"
Mullinix - Hereís what Iím thinking we, as fans, can do for Siri and Bri - come up with a reading list . . . someone has got to find something for them to do somewhere - looking at the schedule - if a US keeper is has a meaningful game for the rest of the year, then Iíll be surprised. I tell ya, in the first half, I think it had been 20-25 minutes since weíd even seen Siri on the screen and so when she just ran in there and killed that ball it cracked me up - it just appeared to be her way of saying "Iím up - no napping back here, nuh-uh - wide awake and ready for action . . ." Like I said, I didnít just find this a scintillating match - my mind was wandering all over the place . . . Overall though - not a good day to judge a keeper - she managed to stop what she needed to in the second half. We do need to get CP some tapes of how Siri and Abby connect over here with the Freedom though. CP is probably so accustomed to playing with a keeper with no leg sheís forgotten what a powerful weapon she and Siri can combine to be, but Iím sure Parlow can do those little head flicks off of Siriís foot and release the zippy little players just like Abby tries to do with the Freedom. I forget who the Freedom was playing, but there was one game before Mia came back where Siri to Abby was repeated over and over and over again at least a dozen times . . . on a team like the Nats, with Mia, Lil, Aly, eventually Tiff will indeed return (I assume), they could absolutely break loose on balls like that and itís lookiní like CPís going to be on the field a lot so it would be something that would be nice to see develop.
Sobrero - OK - so Kateís scaring no one over on that right wing offensively is she. Look at all that space she had. But ya know, Iíd give her all that space too - itís Kate. I must say, at least sheís running forward less awkwardly now. She doesnít look completely ill at ease when she crosses that midfield stripe, but her service and touch on the ball is just not getting any better. Almost every ball she served, including the one restart she took, wound up at the foot of an Aussie midfielder. She really has no offensive instincts at all and frankly, this is one of the reasons that the US right side is just completely ineffective. Thereís no one else out wide in this formation and there is a ridiculous amount of space. If the US wants to keep defenses honest, they need an actual wing defender out there - Iím still wondering why Kateís out there instead of Joy. It doesnít matter if Kateís got more speed on the wing if sheís completely ineffective when she runs forward. Joy made a couple of positively brilliant and dangerous runs forward in this one - while Kate probably made more runs forward than Joy, I canít say that a single one of them was as dangerous as the two of Joyís that I remember. I just donít think Kate has a ton of control of the balls she serves or that she is able to see the field real well offensively. She has no idea where the offensive players are going to be by the time the ball she serves lands. But, as I mention every time I criticize Kate attacking from the wing, they will be playing opponents at some point (not anytime soon, however) where the wing defender will have to defend - at that point, Kateís value sky rockets. But watching Slaton on the left, itís hard not to want as complete a wing defender on the right side as well . . . especially since weíve got one playing right to the inside of Kate. With Brandi taking over the organizing role, Iím wondering why itís still so necessary to have Joy in the interior. But ultimately, solid defensively, she was running forward better offensively, the only problem continues to be the service/pass after the run.
Joy - Very nice game. Nice defensively in the first half (although the middies were defending so well the defenders were kinda moot) and she had two runs that had me in 1990s flashbacks. One she and Kate completely switched and she took the ball and ran in all that space wide right and cut in and got the ball to an attacker (I forget who) - it was a very nice and aggressive run and Iím sure watching her come at them so fast and so confidently put some hearts in the throats of some Australian players. The other run was right up through the middle - just ran the ball right through the gut of the Australian defense. It was great - what was also fun to watch was the movement as she moved forward. Like I said at the outset, it really was a chalkboard diagram come to life - as Joy moved forward, you watched Fair drop back, then Jules move over and drop back and ultimately she ran passed Aly . . . it was just very fluid and very natural. Iíd like to see this flow with some pressure D thatís for sure. Nice outing for Joy - she seemed to have quite a bounce in her step at times in this one and that was fun to see.
Chastain - I really have very little. She is developing into a surprisingly disciplined central defender. Not even a single showy moment in this one (it makes me a little sad not to see even one ridiculous attempt at a bicycle kick from her . . . letís not entirely kill what makes Brandi Brandi . . . ). Really not a very good game to judge the central D though. In the first half, almost nothing got through the midfield so the central D could have borrowed a lawn chair and book from Siri and sat out there sipping daquiris as well. Second half a bit more got through the midfield, but most of it was coming in from the right flank. Brandi dropped back on that one ball where Siri actually had run to the edge of the box and make a play but besides that, there really wasnít a lot for Brandi to do in this one.
Slaton - Wonderful wonderful game. Defensively, she stopped the only dangerous Australian ball of the first half. That block was great. This is one of the major differences between Slaton and Kate - Slaton reads the game very well on both ends. She can read where the offense/ball is going before it gets there - thatís what defenders at this level should be able to do and one of the things Kate has a bit of trouble with at times (sheís a reactive defender - she is so athletic though and her reactions are so very very quick that it works for her - itís also why she has trouble leading that defensive unit in Boston - it works for her and her personal game, but it doesnít work so well for the others on that backline). She read that play wonderfully and got her body between the ball and the goal in the nick of time. As for offensively, watching that left side of the field work was brilliant. While Lilly got all the kudos during the telecast (and will get many more from me in a minute) Slaton on that left side was a huge part of why that is from where the entire US attack came. The left side of the field has always been the strong side for Team USA and Slaton is going to help that continue and add a new dimension. She plays the left wing a lot like Brandi, but I think she is a much more complete player than Brandi is/was. The overlapping runs with Lil were picture perfect - give and gos, serves in to the middies and forwards (one beautiful ball to Aly that I remember - nice connection there - Iím thinkiní weíre going to start to see that connection on the international stage a bit more) - everything she did was just wonderful. She looks more veteran than some of the veterans. My defensive player of the match. I sure hope rest is all that knee needs - Team USA is noticeably better with her than they are without her.
Fair - OK - sit down - find a nice soft comfy chair because I donít want to hear about any injuries . . . Lorrie Fair had a good game. The defense throughout the midfield was wonderful - very few balls got behind her and she definitely made her presence felt both defensively and offensively. She switched the field well at times, the movement between her and the other middies was very smooth, she quite ably pushed forward at times and she even managed to get in on some of that good stuff on the left. And ya know, even the turnovers were down . . . not only down, but I canít really remember any significant turnovers from her. When she went back on defense when TR came in I was just sitting here waiting for it - waiting for the turnover 15 yards from goal that was going to get Siri nailed - but it never came. Fair even very calmly dribbled in some very tight spaces while I was sitting here nervously yelling "clear it clear it" . . . well, she didnít just clear that particular ball, she put a very nice ball up to one of her midfielders that was the genesis of a very nice US counterattack - tremendous poise during one of the few times the US had to deal with any pressure from Australia all night. Rock solid performance and for the first time ever when Iíve mentioned a solid performance from her, Iím not going to put even a single qualification on it. Nice game all the way around . . . period.
Foudy - Well - of the starters, I found Foudyís performance to be the most underwhelming. Yes, she had some nice defensive moments and if thatís what they were working on than she did just fine. But itís hard to look at the disparity between the right side of the field and the left and not put a lot of that on Julie Foudy. Now - I donít expect Foudy to be the attacking personality that Lil is - that would be unrealistic. I do expect that the folks playing on the right are enough of a threat to keep the defense honest though. In this game I just didnít see that - from what I saw in this one I would flush my entire defense left and just dare Kate and Julie to beat me. Australia wasnít pressuring anywhere, but they were really leaving it wide open right and the US made nothing happen from over there. I think that could be a pretty dangerous thing in the future. Whatís Norway going to do to the US if they only have to defend half the field? Ultimately, it wasnít a bad performance from Foudy, but it wasnít a particularly notable one either. And since sheís had several performances in a row here that have had me going "enh" (in addition to an entire WUSA season) Iím thinkiní when Tiff rejoins the festivities maybe a hard decision should be made concerning the starting line up.
Lilly - were the world a just place this would be your Chevrolet Woman of the Match - but itís not, the forwards get all the glory - ask Hege Riise about that WUSA MVP voting. But to say that CP had a better game than Lilly is simply ridiculous . . . especially since I am highly skeptical about whether she actually got a foot on that first goal from Lil (even if she did it was going in anyway). Kristine Lilly had a fantastic game - she was great defensively, any ball she gave up she turned around and tackled back; she was great offensively, she combined brilliantly with her teammates and basically, the entire US offense seemed to revolve around where she was. She is tactically one of the most sophisticated players youíre going to see in the womenís game today. CPís first goal was a Mia to Lil classic - such a seamless and beautiful combination. And one of the most satisfying things to see as the Nats move into the future is the combination between veteran and youngster and in this one, the Slaton to Lil connection was every bit as effective and troublesome for opponents as the Chastain to Lil duo has been in the past. Ya know - she was one of the players replaced in the Russia game - now, I didnít see that game, but I did read Aprilís comments concerning the game and the reports of the game saying how much better the team looked after the three subs came in. Now - I have no idea to whom some of Aprilís more critical comments were directed, but Lil played in this game like all that talk was about her. She elevated her game, played a full 90 and left no doubt about being one of the best and hardest working midfielders on the team. I was listening to CP talk about how the forwards were gassed and asking the backs to hold the ball longer, thinking about how she and Mia were switching so that the number of times they had to make those runs on the left were cut in half and then I thought about Lil - she had no one to switch with and made every single one of those runs for a full 90 and didnít even look tired . . . this is the difference folks, this is what has made Lil one of the best in the world for such a long time - no excuses, no drama, just gets the job done.
Wagner - Well - CPís hair has gotten darker so it took me awhile to figure out that blonde head wreaking so much havoc up top with Mia was Aly, not Parlow. She really plays that attacking midfield role aggressively. She was very natural pushing forward and up top. There was a lot of the left sided forward drifting left, the right sided forward kind of drifting out of the play (I assume in the hopes of taking at least a defender or two with her) and Aly very aggressively running up through the middle and filling up that space in the box. She had a couple of chances at goal that were very near misses. That one crack off the cross bar was an especially impressive shot. Seems to have a nice hard shot. That 20-25 yard shot seems to be a real shot from her rather than a half chance - again, that will help keep defenses honest. Theyíre not going to be able to simply shut off her passing lanes to the forwards to stop the US, theyíre going to have to put someone between her and goal as well. Thatís one of the reason why Mia causes so many problems in the attacking midfield role and it was telling to see that while Aly is a very different player, her game lends itself to causing the exact same problems for opponents. Aly is, of course, a traditional midfielder, but sheís not afraid to go face up to the goal, take on players and/or just shoot the dang ball. That she continues to not only show development but that she also manages to show some new things with the Nats as well just speaks volumes about her potential in this game. But weíre at the point in Alyís career that it ainít just about potential - she has arrived and she continues to not just be on my WWC team, but in my starting lineup. Admittedly, most of the action was going through Lil in this one but it was a nice disruptive performance defensively, and a nice aggressive performance offensively. Wish Iíd had a chance to see the game against Russia - sounds like a bit more of the action was going through her in that one as where this was definitely Lilís night.
Parlow - I thought she had a nice game but not as nice a game as the commentators thought she had. She was visibly gassed 25-30 minutes into the game, she had long stretches where she was just nowhere to be found and her workrate always fails to match that of many of Team USAís other forwards and midfielders. On the other hand, she has a tremendous nose for the back of the net - her second goal was all about poise and composure in front of goal and being ready to pounce on any opportunity that presents itself. Those opportunistic goals have at times in the past few years been the ones the US flubs. CP is all about not flubbing those chances and thatís incredibly valuable. In addition, and maybe itís just me, but there is just something about watching the pigeon-toed, big girl with the long long legs dance around defenders just like the little zippy girls that is especially satisfying. There are always cheers in my living room when she manages that and one of the few right/central attacks in the first half came from CP just dancing around defenders and deep into the box with the ball at her feet. I just love that. And I would be remiss if I didnít mention the PK call - nice job, again CP attacking goal making something good happen. So overall, nice performance. Probably enough to keep Abby on the bench . . . for now.
Mia - Mia to Lil, Lil to Mia - yes, one of my favorite things. The connection on CPís first goal was vintage Mia to Lil . . . gotta love it. She had a nice solid game. The US offense was at its most dynamic when Mia was left. Her workrate is always one of the best on the field and she was far less invisible when she moved right than CP was under the same circumstances. Still didnít get much more done over there than CP did, but at least she was playing some defense and drawing some more defenders . . . then again, just by being Mia she was drawing defenders and thereís not just a lot CP can do about that. Nice performance - Mia is really one of the players I have very little on.
Reddick - the midfield was letting quite a bit more hit the backline in the second half (especially after TR came in and Fair moved to the left wing), but even taking that into consideration, it was apparent Australia was having some success running right at her. Reddick has better offensive instincts than Kate, but seeing that Cat is who Australia picked on is support for the "who cares if Kate canít successfully serve the ball" proposition . . . she is the more respected defender (and probably the better defender at this point) so teams wonít attack at her quite so confidently. I realize after watching the first half Cat probably thought it was going to be a slow night, but this really does have to go down as one of the poorer performances Iíve seen from her. I hope she gets another chance Sunday so we can see how she comes back from a substandard performance. She is a young player with a lot of poise and composure, and seeing how she comes back from a not so brilliant performance will be telling.
Roberts - Well - as you can probably tell from my comments I was not so thrilled with Ms. Robertsís performance. To the extent attackers got back to her, they got by her. The last 20 minutes of the game or so, Australia finally manage to show some life offensively and when they werenít running at Cat, they were running right up the middle and through TR. She spent far more time in the US box playing defense than Fair did - Fair stopped most trouble before it got back there. This performance was far inferior to that in her previous outings. Iíve been skeptical about whether her game lends itself to the international level since she got called back up but I donít know if Iím prepared to take too much from this performance other than she doesnít handle being benched as well as Fair did. Mentality is important and her reaction to being benched is disappointing. TR got the start in the Russia game and Fair saw it as a challenge and responded with what was one of the best games Iíve seen her play with the National Team. TR, on the other hand, came in late in the game and seemed thoroughly unprepared to play. Like with Cat, I realize she probably thought Australia had folded up the tent and gone home, but thatís no excuse. Hopefully she gets another chance Sunday and we see a better effort that is more representative of what weíve seen from her this past summer.
Hucles - YOUíRE BUNCHING, STOP BUNCHING!!!! Needless to say, the midfield substitutes were not having the same kind of success the starters were - it actually seemed to be a step backward for both Hucles and TR. Lil was still in there trying to spread out (which is why she didnít appear to be as active in the second half - because everyone else was bunching in the middle, she appeared to be staying out of the fray to try and spread the field out a little bit and keep some semblance of shape) but Hucles was running right up the backs of others and was having others running right up her back. Maybe it was just too many subs for them to work it well - all the offensive players but Lil were out . . . Then again, youíd think the second unit would have some chemistry. Whatever - since the entire second unit kind of seemed confused, unorganized and overall just having sub par performances all the way around, Iím prepared to kind of take a wait and see attitude for all of them. Might just have been one of those games - and anything they were going to do, judged against the first half, was going to look poor by comparison. I do like her game a lot and seeing how she has improved since we first got a look at her, makes me think thereís probably a lot more from her for us to see if she gets the chance to show us.
OíReilly - you know what I would have liked to have seen - you know all that space on the right side in the first half - I would have liked to see Heather OíReilly running right through it . . . this kid is one of the most exciting players in the open field I have ever seen. She was brilliant in that U-19 against Germany and I am so excited to see the kind of player she becomes. The sophistication that both she and Tarpley showed at the U-19 tournament was amazing - speaks well of them both and the coaching they received from Tracey Bates-Leone. I must say, Iíd like to see her get some time up top, and Iíd like to see her in a game before it deteriorates into a rather disorganized mess as it kind of did in the second half of this one. But thatís me being selfish. Even if she doesnít make a roster, any camp time she gets will go a long way to preparing for the future of the National Team because what I saw of her in those two U-19 tournament games indicates that assuming good health, sheís going to be a special special player for years to come. As for what I actually saw on the field from her in this one - well, she was very disruptive and active even if she was running around without some direction at times (yes, she was bunching too). Iíve really only seen her in a meaningful fashion for two games, but she seems to be more of a true forward than someone who should be in that attacking midfield role. Donít get me wrong, sheís a very complete soccer player (as opposed to say Kelly Wilson, who is a pretty one dimensional collegiate finisher), but I think she is a forward (as opposed to Tarpley who showed herself to be equally adept in both positions). So, I donít have a lot on this one - donít think we got a real good look at what she can do, but that will come. I think sheís the real deal and barring injury or other freakish event, weíll be watching Ms. OíReilly for years to come.
Mac - The corner kick goal was very nice. And yes, it was a goal - what? are we going to do start calling anything a keeper gets her hand on an own goal now? too silly. I can not remember ever seeing a keeper standing on her line charged with an own and it was ridiculous they were contemplating doing it here. That said, I really didnít see a thing from Mac here that puts her any further up the depth chart than she was before. Set piece specialist and finisher - this is all Iím seeing from her. She doesnít create for others, she doesnít create for herself, sheís not taking players on, as usual unless sheís scoring sheís not doing anything terribly productive. That she was bunching and as disorganized as the players with about a 100 fewer caps than she has and that she was unable to organize them and make them better really shows me that Mac is about where she should be on the US depth chart and that when Tiff gets back, sheís going to fall that much further down. And no, plantar fascitis does not even begin to explain it - it was just a truly uninspired performance. Admittedly, it is difficult to keep a player who, more than any other, can change the complexion of a game with just one touch, even if itís the only even remotely productive touch she has all night, on the bench . . . but from what Iíve seen the past few games from both her and actually more significantly, the other forwards in the mix, itís almost harder to put her on the field.
Abby - play until the whistle blows Abby, play until the whistle blows. You could see she realized her blunder almost as she was making it and she did double back and manage to be the one to finally clear the ball at the end, but the lazy play/mental lapse that turned the ball over and gave Australia one last shot at a goal Iím sure did not escape Aprilís notice. USA mentality is huge with April and playing to the end is part of it. There are not many chances to be had with the Nats for anyone and to blow it on such a stupid play 3 minutes into stoppage time in a 4-0 game is silly. Hopefully she gets brownie points for turning around and scrambling to get the ball back and even more hopefully, she gets the opportunity to redeem herself on Sunday. As for the rest of her game . . . BUNCHING, EVERYONE IS BUNCHING!!!!! It looked a little like the little kids playing swarm soccer didnít it. She was running hard and tracking back well on defense but to be perfectly honest she really didnít make much of an impression one way or the other. Have I mentioned I didnít just find this to be the most fascinating match Iíve ever seen. So basically, a hearty "keep your head in the game the whole game" for Abby and not much else.
OK - ran out of steam there at the end as usual . . . and the second half subs really werenít playing a whole lot of organized soccer so it really wasnít a real instructive half on any of them (other than to show us all that weíre not ready for the wholesale replacement of the vets yet). This was a very nice training game, it was good to see that the starters really are at ease with and learning this new formation and things appear to be moving forward in a productive fashion as we hurtle toward qualifying.