US 7 Mexico 0
Welcome to Monsoon Bowl 2002!!!! Interesting game - the worse the weather got the better Team USA looked - well, the worse the weather got the better one Shannon MacMillan looked . . . and all of those subs joining her in the fray in the second half definitely look like they are ready to come into camp, make some noise and make the powers that be think real hard about whether it's time for the "future" of the National Team to become a significant part of the now. It was good to see them out there, it was good to see such a strong performance and it's good to see the youth on the team not only playing well, but forcing those above them on the depth chart to come out guns blazing as well. That's all I've got in the way of preliminary comments - with the weather what it was and with the Mexican Team appearing to struggle mightily with the weather and fitness in the second half, I don't know how many huge lessons/trends I'm prepared to take from this one, so I'll get right into the US players.
Formation 4-3-3 - back-front, right-left: GK - Beene; D - Sobrero, Fawcett, Slaton, Chastain; M - Fair, Foudy, Lilly; F - MacMillan, Parlow, Milbrett. Cramer in for Fair, Foudy shifted right and Cramer played in the middle (although, in the 4-3-3, Foudy was still playing central, as was Wagner when she came in). Reddick and Kluegel in at the half for Chastain and Sobrero, Kluegel came in on the right wing, Reddick played center-left back and Slaton went out and played on the left wing. Fotopolous in for Parlow; Wagner in for Foudy - I'm not sure whether Wagner and Cramer switched, but they both seemed to spend most of their time in the middle of the field so I don't think it mattered too much - Kluegel was filling in the right flank very nicely so it kinda didn't matter at all. Bryan in for Joy.
Beene - Well - she gets two thumbs up for not falling asleep back there . . . not a good game to evaluate a keeper. She had nothing to do. Her defense (Brandi) made some scary decisions in the early going, but she stayed composed and Slaton pretty much swooped in to clean up those problems. One thing I did notice is that she took one very nice goal kick. I only recall one goal kick, but it looked good. She prefers to get the US started by throwing the ball to Joy or Slaton, which is probably a good choice since winning 50-50 balls off the foot of the keeper is not exactly a strength of Team USA. That's that - she'll be tested a lot more in China . . . all those great games we won't get to see . . . so I guess we'll have to be satisfied just to read about how she's doing and settling into the #1 keeper role.
Sobrero - Uhhhh, not a wing defender - uhhh nope, not even close. Kate is ineffective at best when she crosses that midfield stripe. Unless Joy is just enfeebled in some way that I couldn't notice or unless Slaton is incapable of playing on the right, Kate needs to be left in the middle of the field. In a 4-3-3 formation, wing defenders filling the flanks is crucial. That is not a role to which Kate is accustomed and frankly, it is not a role she performs very well. Until Pearce gets back, a better solution than playing Kate out of position needs to be found. I understand that April probably wants to leave Joy central because she plans on Joy being the center back and center of the D for the next 2-3 years and wants continuity . . . but Slaton is a tremendous wing defender and unless she is soooo left sided that she can't possibly adjust, then she'd be much better choice for the right wing than Kate. Shannon Mac was pretty ineffective in the first half as well, and no support from behind was at least part of it - look how much better she looked in the second half when a more offense-oriented defender was playing behind her. Defensively, she was solid - don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Kate's defending - and against the tougher competition in China, that will definitely be more important. I just think there are better ways to get around the Pearce absence than playing Kate - game in and game out one of the most solid/steadfast/reliable players on the field in her regular position - out of position.
Joy - Rock solid. I got nothin' else. Defense really wasn't tested too much so she didn't have to do much. As you can probably tell from the above, I kind of wish she and Kate had switched . . . at least on a few plays . . . because Joy can certainly make some noise filling that right flank out of the back. Arguably the best right back to ever play the game, I'm still having some trouble understanding why she's not playing out there while Pearce is out . . . again, I understand the need for continuity and establishing Joy's leadership back there, but I'm pretty sure Kate's moving back to the central D before the next World Cup, so continuity is kinda shot anyhow . . . I don't know, all those wasted opportunities on the right last night in the first half just seemed a little silly to me - against tougher competition, missed opportunities could come back to bite the team in the rear.
Slaton - Well, I'm not sure whether Brandi was thanking her or yelling at her after Brandi's ill-advised back pass to Beene in front of goal with an onrushing Mexican player, but I sure am glad Slaton ran in there and cleared it out of danger. It looked to me like that Mexican player was going to get to that ball long before Beene did and the pass was right in front of goal - if Brandi was doing anything other than thanking Slaton, she needs to watch the game tape a time or two . . . Yikes. That save was kind of Slaton's save of the first half - like Joy, she was solid but the central D had very little to do in this game. In the second half when she moved out on the wing, she played great. She filled in that left flank as ably as Brandi and made some nice serves inside. She gets forward very well, has good vision on the field and is an excellent passer. Great game, she plays like a pro already. Carolina would have been silly not to take her before Carla's knee surgery, but now, especially after seeing how good Fotop looks, it would be inexcusably foolish to pass her up (and it's not just because I want Wambach for the Freedom - I really and truly do think Slaton is the best choice the Courage could make - she is an impact player - the type who, along with whatever discovery players they manage to scare up, could completely change the complexion of their team).
Chastain - Well - defensively she had a couple of shaky moments - she was trying to be too cute or tricky a couple of times and seemed to be underestimating or just ignoring the Mexican forwards. Slaton bailed her out twice that I can remember - one time I think she just thought she had booted it a little harder to Beene or must have missed the Mexican striker - watching her reaction to Slaton's save, I still am not sure she understood how close she came to getting Beene nailed. That said, she was filling that left flank wonderfully - there were a lot of opportunities for Brandi to move forward in this one and she did so ably. She created a lot of chances for her teammates and despite the aforementioned shaky moments she wound up having a solid game. I imagine she can hear the footsteps of Danielle Slaton coming up behind her, though. I really wish we could see these next three games so we could get a look at how this little drama plays out - I'm sure Brandi's savvy and experience will come more into play against tougher opponents and I'm sure actual defending will be more of a priority, but playing time on the left flank is definitely going to be one of the interesting things to watch as we move toward WWC 2003 - especially after Christie Pearce comes back from her ACL and someone is going to have to be benched.
Fair - I'm going to give her a break . . . sort of. I'm just going to put the question out there - why do we have to go through this charade game after game? I think everyone knows Cramer is the better player right now so why is Fair still getting the start. It wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement Akers gave her was it? Yikes, Fair comes to her worried Cramer is going to take her spot and Mich says uh yeah, she might. Fair wasn't awful in this one, which is an improvement. But I just don't think she helps - she didn't mess anything up terribly (she had lots of turnovers and solid attacks stopped at her feet, but I think I have just come to expect that now), but she doesn't help. The entire right side of the field was just invisible in the first half or giving the ball up with alarming regularity. I just don't see the point in it when there are a couple of very capable players on the bench. The China trip will be a great test - I hope the youngsters play well, so this exercise in futility - aka starting Fair and then replacing her and watching the offense take off - will end.
OK - I have to put a non-soccer related interlude in here because I'm giggling like a fool - call it a commercial break, if you will, because I am now watching the funniest thing I have ever seen on TV - for you folks in ACC country don't flip away during the Chick-Fil-A commercials because you just haven't lived until you've seen a cow bungee jumping off a bridge.
Foudy - Third time was the charm, eh? Man those two shots she had and should have netted must have hurt - beautiful feeds (that one from Lil off the endline was particularly pleasing) but just put both of them 2-3 feet wide. Then she got her third chance and wasn't about to muff it. Great goal on the corner - Foudy always manages to position herself so well on set pieces and other instances where there are a whole gaggle of people in the box. Other than that, just a solid Foudy outing. The offense was rockin' and rollin' from the start. She, Brandi and Lil kept the ball forward and kept the Mexican defense guessing. Tiff was being defended particularly well in this one (more on this later) so Foudy just shifted things around to the left and to the big girl (CP) a bit. Nice game.
Lilly - now this is the Lilly of 1999 - she misses once, she misses twice, she SCORES!!!!!! Nice game from Lil - the goal was great - she's such a power hitter - I don't know why people forget to talk about her when they talk about the power hitters on the team, but next to Mac, she's probably got the hardest shot on the team. As Mich pointed out, there's just so much movement on that shot that it's really tough for a keeper to save. Quinones simply dove the wrong way. Other than the goal, she just played her typical solid game - making great crosses off the endline, working well with Tiff, getting chances for herself and her teammates. Not a lot to say. Great game.
Mac - definitely a tale of two halves with this one. The first 20 minutes of this game were among the worst/most ineffective I have ever seen her play. I was wondering if she was even out there because she wasn't going on her runs, she wasn't on the back post for several Lil, CP and Millie passes, she was just completely invisible. Then CP found her for that beautiful header. Maybe getting hit on the head with the ball pretty hard woke her up a bit because she got a little more active . . . then the weather got a little worse . . . and she continued to get a little more active . . . then the rain turned into a bona fide storm and Shannon Mac took over. She's deadly on corners - I'm kinda scratching my head why she didn't get the assist on Wagner's goal - because it bounced? well, OK, in my world, I'm giving her an assist on that one - beautiful corner to Wagner, she gets some credit for putting that kick to an open Aly in the middle of a downpour. She was just much more active in the second half and playing a much more sophisticated game. She just looked more confident - she had a bit of a killer instinct in this one as well. She could tell the defenders were having trouble with the weather and went in for the kill. Hopefully, this sends her to China with a lot of confidence and she'll take players on with regularity and finally turn that corner I'm always talking about and hoping she'll turn and this will be the year she goes from being the very streaky player with the hard shot and great on set pieces, to consistently being one of the best International strikers in the world. Another one of the good dramas to watch as we hurtle toward WWC 2003 qualifying.
CP - How 'bout that footwork? People look at me like I'm nuts when I talk about CP the finesse player and how good she is with the ball at her feet, but the last sequence she was in there was absolutely beautiful. Only Mia's and maybe Tiff's footwork is better. Beautifully done, wish she'd gotten the shot to drop. The thing with CP I think is finding that happy medium. Earlier in her career it made me nuts that she played so small and didn't use her size at all - she was too finesse. Then the past year or two she's gone way too far in the other direction - she thought big meant brute and that's simply not her strength. Big players can take on players 1 v. 1 too with lots of success, really, they can. This game, however, I think she was finding that happy medium. She used her size really well, was solid in the air, took out a few defenders. But she was also taking players on 1 v. 1 and using her footskills with some success. She also showed some good field awareness on the assist to Shannon Mac - she's playing with her head up a bit more. Good stuff. At the start of the second half I thought she was way too worried about the rain - she didn't go hard to a couple of balls, but that was my only gripe with her game (I know Akers was talking about an injury - but if you're hurt, sit down, if not, run hard to the ball). Basically, that's nitpicking though, CP had a very nice game.
Tiff - It looked to me like Mexico's game plan was to not let Tiffeny Milbrett beat them. Monica Gonzalez played Tiffeny brilliantly (I tell ya, her WUSA draft stock had to have risen - I don't think anything can stop the big 3 - Slaton, Wambach, Kluegel - from going 1-2-3 in whatever order they get taken, but Boston should look real hard at Gonzalez - they won't take her, but this game should make them think about it . . . and at some point be sorry they didn't take her). But that just allowed us to get a look at how much Tiff's game has matured over the past couple of years. Two years ago, being defended the way she was would have shut Tiff down - there were a couple of times I just looked at Gonzalez on Tiff and said don't even try it . . . and Tiff didn't - instead of trying to dribble through Gonzalez as she would have, Tiff now plays with her head up and with tremendous awareness, finds her teammates and makes great decisions with the ball. No situation in this game better exemplifies this than Lil's goal. Tiff with the ball at her feet, a defender is all over her and instead of trying to dribble through the defense, Tiff, back to goal, puts the ball at Lil's feet for the score. Just a great sequence by all involved. She was setting her teammates up that well the whole game (as Mac's later goal bears out). Early in the first half especially, she put a couple of balls to that far post, I just don't know where Mac was, but she should have been on the end of those balls and in the second half she was on the end of those balls with some nice results. Overall, while it doesn't show up in the box score, and it's buried in some of the subtleties of the game, it's this kind of performance from Tiff that shows how she has developed from a great goal scorer into one of the best players in the world.
Kluegel - I thought she was rock solid. She filled the right flank far better than Kate did and that was at least partially responsible for Mac's second half surge - very simply, more of the offense was being played right and right central than in the first half. One thing that bothered me is that she needs to learn this isn't college - she was taking way too long with the ball and trying to be a little tricky out on the flank - that may wash against college defenders, it results in turnovers at the International level. When she's way out on the flank, she's got a little space and players are in the box, she needs to serve the ball in there because there is no way in Hades she's going to be able to dribble in from out there. She'll learn though - she'll continue to get stripped of the ball 5 yards from the endline when she had all the time in the world to serve the ball in front of the goal like she did several times in this one and she'll learn. Her defending was solid although not tested a whole lot. Overall a solid performance, she just needs to work on her decision making a bit and have a bit more trust in her teammates - the women in the box really are a better choice than Jena out wide with the ball and a defender closing.
Reddick - like with the other central defenders - not a good day to evaluate or come to any conclusions about Ms. Reddick. She just wasn't tested at all. She did help out nicely wide left a couple of times and got forward herself and served a couple of nice balls forward a few times. Nice ball she put over the goal too. Heh heh - oh well - gotta love a central defender who's not afraid to try and pound one in there.
Bryan - I got nothin'. She was in for mop up time and the central D wasn't really tested.
Cramer - rock solid once again. She's a much more physical force than Fair simply by virtue of her height and she doesn't turn the ball over as much as Fair. This wasn't quite as good a performance as the last time we saw Cramer, but she was definitely solid. I really don't have a ton on her - she didn't have an overwhelming number of touches on the ball, and when Wagner came in, and Kluegel had pushed up so much on the right flank, it looked a little like Cramer slipped in behind Wagner defensively for a bit rather than playing along side her. Not a ton to say - I think I lost her for some of this one.
Wagner - fantastic performance. She came in and immediately made an impact. She's pretty fearless offensively, sees the field wonderfully and seemed very comfortable combining with and offensively organizing the mishmash of players who were in the game by the time she got in. She combined with Fotop wonderfully on Top's goal - Top is a world class finisher, always has been, and Aly obviously knew that and got her the ball where Top likes to get it. Regarding her goal - Tiff saw Quinones off her line and tried to chip her from way outside early in the game. I've got to believe Wagner was paying attention to that and disagree with Akers - I'm willing to give Aly the benefit of the doubt on this one, that she too was trying to chip Quinones on her goal - Tiff almost got it to work the first time, and Aly did score it on the second. Great job. I do so love it when Team USA gets these set pieces to work. Overall great performance from Aly - she continues to be one of my favorite youngsters.
Fotopolous - Welcome back Top!!!! Now, the goal wasn't what excited me - I don't think anyone has ever questioned Top's finishing ability and the goal was a great finish - no one has a nose for the back of the net quite like Danielle Fotopolous. The issues with Top have been more about her game away from goal, her fitness, her speed . . . well, in this one not once but twice I saw Danielle Fotopolous run down a rather speedy defender from behind and get to the ball, I saw her combining with teammates, I saw her playing with her head up and looking for the pass more than ever before and I saw it result in a Shannon Mac goal. Maybe getting cut made her hungry, maybe it was good for her because she looks much improved, even over what I saw from her in the WUSA last year. I hope she gets some playing time in China because I'm awfully curious about what she'll be able to do against top tier defenses.
All right - I think that's everyone. It was great to see them back out there. The China trip should be a great benchmark for the team and where everyone is right now. Between this and Algarve, the most telltale tourneys of where they stand are going to be unavailable for viewing which is kind of disappointing. Oh well - good luck to them, and I guess friendlies and Gold Cup/qualifying will have to do for us fan types.