US 0 Japan 0

Well - even in the world of January games, the team looked uninspired and unprepared to play. This one was a snoozer and I have little to say about the individual performances in this one that I havenít said before. I donít think we saw anything that was spectacular or notable on the good or bad side of the ledger and weíll just have to chalk this one up to first game of the year, three days into camp and leave it at that. Overall, I guess there was one surprising thing for me - the whole team was playing so incredibly deep in the first half. It wasnít just the midfield - I figured Fair would play deep, sheís primarily a defensive player in the midfield, and the tactical portion of Macís game isnít the best so I figured she wouldnít push up unless led there, but man - even CP and Tiff were playing in the midfield or behind Aly for much of the first half. Maybe Japanís team speed threw them, maybe it was the USís inability to string together more than 2 passes or hold possession, but it seemed to me, the whole team took a very defensive posture in the first half. The first half was played in the midfield and because no one was pushing forward, there was just no way they could change that minus the errant shot toward goal (or, more accurately, the errant shot over the goal). The second half was much more unorganized mess than the first, but at least they were playing aggressively and pushing forward. Iím going to start calling her Jena "who are you passing to" Kluegel, but at least she was pushing forward and does have some instincts on when and how to do that. Fair does not.

Well - not just a ton more by way of general comments other than that. I do hope that all the players were just providing sound bites yesterday and that theyíre really not going to rotate in and out of the lineup as they are contemplating - take rests now and in February - after that, they have got to start preparing as a team. As April herself has said many many times, an All Star team isnít going to win the World Cup, and itís going to take more than being fit and well rested to come out on top in China. From what we saw yesterday, it doesnít matter how good your individual players are, if you canít put it together and show some semblance of chemistry on the field, itís going to be awfully tough to win.

All the doom and gloom aside, I think it was pretty much just a boring and uninspired game, rather than a truly awful outing that should be alarming for Team USA fans. As a fan, I understand itís January and theyíve all been resting and the like but it was disappointing to watch such a completely lackluster effort nonetheless. If weíre still seeing this come March or April, then Iíll be more concerned, but for now, Iíll just continue to wonder why I skipped the first half of Raiders-Jets to watch this one, try not take too many lessons from it and move on with my life.

Formation (4-4-2 - back-front, right-left)

GK - Mullinix; D - Sobrero, Fawcett, Chastain, Reddick; DMid - Roberts; Mid - MacMillan, Fair; AMid - Wagner; F - Parlow, Milbrett (although they switched sides almost immediately and switched back and forth throughout). Beene in for Mullinix, Wambach in for Milbrett, OíReilly in for Parlow, Hucles in for Mac, Kluegel in for Roberts and Fair moves into the defensive midfield, Bryan in for Sobrero, Tarpley in for Fair and Hucles moves to the defensive midfield.

Players

Mullinix - If Iím Siri, I sure would have yelled at Kate a lot more when Kate kind of escorted a Japanese striker right into goal instead of clearing the ball. Had Bryan not done what she did later in the game that would have been my defensive gaffe of the game. Itís amazing how Bryanís move put Kateís game into perspective for me though. Anyway - this is about Siri - solid - not really tested, came off her line strong and confidently a couple of times. I think her decision making (i.e., that she waffles instead of deciding and then gets nailed because she didnít decide one way or the other) is her biggest weakness and I donít think we saw any signs of that in this one. As for her kicking - wonder what Devvyn Hawkins would have made of some of those kicks . . . or Abby who rarely fails to pull back into the midfield, win those kicks and flick them forward for the Freedom.

Sobrero - After that play in about the 5th minute I just mentioned, she was fairly solid defensively. I think everyone was caught a little off guard by the Japanese team speed at the outset but the defense managed to adjust nicely. Offensively, Kate managed a really nice outlet and was able to push the ball forward every time Brandi and Cat decided to switch fields. She is showing improvement on that right side - I must say, contrasting the offensive part of her game with Catís though, she is still lacking in that area, but steady improvement is all I ask for and she looks less and less awkward moving forward every time we see her. Not really an outstanding game but solid enough and better than what we saw from most of our midfielders and forwards, so no complaints.

Fawcett - Solid - I have very little. I guess they had to give player of the game to someone and since if a goal is scored the central defenders get no consideration at all, it was nice they gave it to her. I have very little recollection of anything she did . . . which is always what you want to say about the central defenderís game - if you notice them too much, then too much is going wrong.

Chastain - Like Joy I thought she was solid and I didnít notice her too much. The defense didnít have too much to worry about in this one and what did come their way, the central defenders handled capably and without too much trouble. As for Brandi taking as many free kicks as she did - uhh, no - when is Mia back? Actually, I know sheís very capable taking them, but that one on the right, I think it was the first one of the game, should have been Macís - and yes, if Mac wants the ball, sheís old enough and has been on the team long enough to demand the dang ball, but I also think Brandi needs to recognize thatís Macís sweet spot and she needs to let her boot it (and with such a short roster, the team would have been better served had she gone and made herself a target). The whole reason why you have Mac in the game playing out of position in a position she has yet to tactically master is so that she can take set pieces just like that one. All that said, it was a solid, yet uneventful outing.

Reddick - Another solid defensive effort. The defensive starters really did play a reasonably nice game so I guess I should have restricted my opening comments above to everyone else. Not too much got by her defensively which was good to see considering they were playing a very fast side. Part of it was simply that Fair was playing so deep though that there was an extra left sided defender in that first half, so Iím not prepared to completely relax at the prospect of Cat and Brandi playing next to each other, but it was a good test and if I see it a few more times I might let it go entirely. As for offensively - well, I was quite impressed with what she was doing in the first half to try to kick start the attack. She has the leg and the accuracy to switch fields very efficiently - I donít think she missed Kate even once. And more impressively, the decision making behind her switching the field was quite good - Kate doesnít show the same kind of sophistication tactically on the right and Bryan couldnít manage anything other than a short pass to Joy so I guess watching those two made me appreciate what Cat brings to the table a bit more. Sheís another one who shows steady progression and improvement from game to game. If Slaton comes back ready to play it certainly will be interesting to see who sits . . . and it certainly will be nice to have 5 starting caliber defenders all five of whom have experience playing both centrally and on the wing.

Roberts - I donít really have a whole lot too interesting on anyone. The whole team was having trouble possessing the ball and connecting on passes and she was no exception but she really didnít stand out as having any more or less trouble than anyone else. Her near header into goal was a prime example of what Iím talking about with why I donít like a tiny little midfield though. Tiffany Roberts did absolutely everything right on that play - she was in front of goal, read the pass and play well but it just didnít matter because to put it where the opponent wonít get it, you have to put it too high for TR to control. Individual game-wise, TR gets kudos for that one - great effort, but overall picture-wise, it just underscores my concerns of playing with such a short team. On another front, but largely the same point - the US was not coming anywhere close to winning its share of 50-50 balls . . . and this was against a team that might actually be shorter than they are. Maybe itís only partly about height, and the rest of it is about desire.  In the first half of this game, that desire just didnít appear to be there for Team USA. Theyíve got to get better with the ball winning than they were in this one. Overall, though, solid defensive effort, but like everyone else, her giveaways negated her takeaways and she was passing to phantom players. Itís just the kind of day it was for almost everyone (minus the starting defenders) on the field.

MacMillan - A bit disappointed in her game. She played way too deep, wasnít combining with her teammates and showed a complete lack of composure in front of goal on that one gimme shot that she booted about 20 feet over the top. With time and space, a finisher of her caliber should do better with that opportunity - even in January. I also mentioned this in passing when I was talking about Brandi - but Mac has got to call for the ball on set pieces on the right. With Mia out, she is without question the best person to take a free kick from the right within 30-35 yards of goal - she shouldnít let Brandi call her off. Sheís not the kid on the team anymore, she is a vet, she is the reigning US Soccer player of the year, sheís got to assert herself and be far more aggressive in just about every aspect of her game - from pushing forward, to demanding the ball from Aly, to saying "Iíve got this one" when she and Brandi are lining up behind a ball she should take. As always, it is her reluctance to do that, that appears to hold her back the most. We have all seen what Shannon MacMillan can do and she can be spectacular - what we still donít know and have never seen, is whether she can do it with any consistency at all. This is my hope for her this year - that she will consistently contribute and that her streaky ways are a thing of the past. This wasnít a great start, but then again, it wasnít for anyone - Four Nations will tell the tale a bit more completely.

Fair - I knew she was going to play deep on the left if she played out there. There just is no offense when the midfielders play so deep. She really doesnít have any offensive instincts at all. They need to watch some tape of Lil playing - both her and Mac - to see that you have got to get forward playing those outside midfield positions. You shouldnít be playing behind Aly all night long because you really give her absolutely no one to pass to when the forwards are being double covered (and Tiff and CP were being double and triple covered) - youíve got to pick spots and move forward. For all the ripping I do on Jena Kluegel and for all the complaining the commentators in this one did about how unorganized the US was in the second half, the one thing Kluegel did manage to do that was completely lacking when Fair was in there, was get forward. She picked her spots and made herself an option in the attacking third. I just donít know if Fair (or Mac for that matter) has the tactical ability to do that effectively. I imagine sheíll have several games here to try and figure that out though. Overall, not a bad game, just a very very defensive game when what Team USA needed from her (and is accustomed to getting on that left side) might have been something a bit different than that.

Wagner - Like all the other midfielders, not a lot of passes connected and not a lot of possession maintained. Her plight was not helped by the fact the forwards were behind her as often as not in the first half. Just a very defensive posture from Team USA. That one chip shot was a nice idea, even if it wasnít executed wonderfully and some of those other shots I think she took simply because there was no one in a USA jersey in front of her on the field and there was nothing better to do - I really have no idea why the whole team was playing so deep. Yes, high Japanese restraining line and they were fast, but Team USA wasnít even pressuring it by sending balls through and trying to push it back in the first half (or if the ball went through, no player followed) . . . and Team USA is fast too, especially the team they started in this one. Iím still trying to figure that one out. Overall, not my favorite Aly outing, but it wasnít really my favorite outing for anyone. I imagine a few more days of practice will be key for everyone and hopefully weíll read about her doing good things in China. I must say, with the midfield Team USA has got right now, if sheís not doing good things in China, it might be a very long trip.

Parlow - Usually I would rail on CP for being so inactive and such a nonfactor in this one, but honestly, how much can she move with 5 Japanese players hanging off of her. Sandra Hunt really does swallow that whistle when players over 5í9" are getting fouled doesnít she? CP was hammered and being harassed throughout as was Abby and they only rarely got calls (I think CP got one and Abby got one or none). It must be frustrating for them - I know I was frustrated on their behalf. As for set pieces, well, she didnít get to any of those balls, but then again, none of those balls really got to her - very rusty to say the least. Ultimately though - a very uneventful outing - so uneventful I canít even come up with much to say. And she does get two thumbs up for being more honest in her little sound bite than anyone else - yes, Cindy, you all were very very rusty.

Millbrett - I know she was there, I know she shot one over the top and clapped her hands together in disgust as she always does when she muffs a shot like that . . . I know little else. Again, she was playing deeper than I would have liked, and was behind Aly a bit too much and no one was reading what anyone else was doing with any skill at all. Like with the rest of the offense, I have little to say here and it was a lackluster effort to say the least. Another one who I assume will do better once they have a few more practices under their belts and head to China.

OK - subs - boring game, boring match report - sorry - I could start making stuff up if you want . . . I could probably come up with a real fun fictitious game . . .

Beene - a couple of interesting decisions as far as adventurous excursions off her line, but it all worked out in the end. Really donít have much here - besides interesting positioning on the Japanese free kick and one scary charge off her line she was solid. And those two instances, she made work, so no harm done - she knows what sheís capable of better than I so maybe those were good choices. She just plays like that though - she definitely is an aggressive keeper who will keep the fansí hearts in their throats thatís for sure. Solid outing - as for Thoriís miscue, sheís probably used to Bryan doing scary scary things right in front of her like that, so it really didnít affect her too much at all. Still think when those defenders do really stupid things like that they deserve to hear about it, and had Bri been in the nets, she would have, but Beene is a pretty laid back keeper who doesnít let too much rattle her so it was definitely a case of no harm, no foul. They did get awfully lucky there though. Awfully lucky. Ultimately though - solid outing - donít think the keeper situation is any less murky than it was before the game started.

Wambach - I was a tad disappointed here. At this level, she just doesnít play with the confidence to which we are accustomed to seeing at the WUSA level. She looks too afraid of making a mistake. In addition, I feel for her and CP and all the no calls when they get mugged - but Abby needs to get up faster and get back in the game without all the incredulous glaring at the ref. There was one play where she managed to get the ball to Heather as she was being taken down and Heather held it, drew the defenders to her and wanted to give it right back to Abby - there was more than enough time for Abby to get up - she was just slow and only vaguely paying attention to what was going on around her as she did get up though. Itís the little things at this level - she canít take the time for all the dramatics - sheís got to keep track of the play and scramble to her feet. I am only guessing here, but I would imagine hustle (effort, USA mentality - all that stuff) is one of the key things April is looking for from Abby - it is what Rob and Wendy always implicitly (and at times explicitly in Robís case) seem to question with her and I have to assume theyíre getting that from somewhere. Abby canít afford to make mistakes or have lackadaisical outings - sheís not Tiff or Mac or CP or even Aly who can all get away with being "rusty" - sheís fighting for a spot on the team. This was a good opportunity for her and I donít think she took full advantage of it. And I guess I am so disappointed and probably a little too harsh here, because I watch her game in and game out and know that on top of her game, Abby Wambach is of National Team caliber, she does make all the hustle plays for the Freedom and she plays with a confidence bordering on cockiness at all times. I just want her to bring that to the Nats so she makes or doesnít make the team based on what she can really do instead of making or not making the team trying not to step on anyoneís toes. And yes, the offense was a mess in the second half and that really doesnít help a big target playerís cause, but the hustle of OíReilly and then Tarpley (and even Kluegel) was apparent in that mess - I guess my disappointment is that I didnít see that same kind of hustle from Abby. I hope she gets the opportunity to show more in China and I hope we read about how she takes that opportunity by the horns and has a fantastic showing.

Hucles - Well - to start, she completely disappeared when she moved to the defensive midfield. I donít think thatís a great place for her. Like Kluegel on the left, for the brief time she was on the right, she managed to push forward. Team USA really seemed to play a lot more of that second half in the attacking third than the first. No concerted activity but I just got the feeling most of that second unit was trying harder and thatís always a big one with me. But ultimately, the position I think sheís most suited for is on the right (maybe the left, I havenít seen it, so I donít know) in that diamond midfield. Hopefully, sheíll make the Four Nations roster so April can make a decision on whether sheís sticking around based on her play in what I think is her strongest position.

Bryan - where to start . . . At the outset, let me say, I really donít care how fast she is - I truly donít think she is an asset at this level. That one run down the right side where she blew by the Japanese defense that Rob was going on and on about - well, what happened to the ball there? She caught up to it . . . and followed it right out over the endline because she has no clue what to do with it once she catches up to it. A friend of mine is constantly telling me how bad Thori is with the ball at her feet and well friend, I am finally solidly on board with that one. I do think her problems go deeper than that though. Itís not just that unless Joy is standing 5-10 yards from her she coughs it up that bothers me. Itís that she is simply not a fundamentally sound defender - maybe because sheís so fast, sheís never had to be - at the WUSA level she is a very fine and solid defender. But here - everyoneís fast, and if you channel players into the box instead of pushing them to the outside, they will get a shot off . . . and if you misclear a ball horribly such that youíre left with a slow roller, they will get a shot off, and if you do both at the same time, and find yourself with the ball facing the center of the field and then you hit a misclear and you hit this slow roller in front of the face of the goal then good gracious - you have just done everything wrong that you could possibly do. This is the kind of stuff that loses games. And no, I would never cut anyone over one mistake, not ever. Itís just that we see stuff like this every single time we see her and we see absolutely no upside every single time we see her - always, all that weíre left with is "sheís fast." In my opinion, thatís not enough.

OíReilly - No faulting the kidís effort thatís for sure. She, Kluegel and Tarpley were the only ones who had any energy out there - this is how hard a player trying to make the team is supposed to play. Period. As for what she did out there - I thought she was very disruptive and helped create some chances in the second half - she was all over the place and was part of the reason why that high Japanese restraining line had to fall back and why the US was able to get numbers forward. She kept looking for Abby, and I love Abby, but for whatever reason she just didnít look prepared to be looked for much of the time so what could have been some nice OíReilly created opportunities fell a bit flat and resulted in turnovers. I still would like the kid to get some time in a game before itís garbage time - thatís the only way to figure out if sheís even remotely ready to be on the roster for the big games yet. I honestly canít tell you what Iíd do - I like her effort and I think her potential is phenomenal . . . and regardless of whether we see her in September, we should continue to see her throughout the year - but at some point, I think she needs to get time in an organized offense to see if she can handle the speed of play, the sophistication and just the physicality of the game at this level. So far, Iím still curious and anxious to see more.

Tarpley - I have little here. She did a good job pushing forward and sending balls in. A lot of the balls were to no one in particular, but thereís a difference between passing to no one in the midfield and putting the ball into the box and letting the forwards fight it out - she was doing the latter so it was a bit more productive - not optimal smack Ďem in the chest passing mind you, but better than giving the ball away at the midfield stripe because youíre passing to ghosts - at least youíve got a shot when you put that ball into the box. I liked the hustle - I liked that the disorganized mess was at least a disorganized mess in the attacking third and while I do think physically, sheís just not there yet - I hope we see her again on the road to China. Like OíReilly, assuming good health, I think weíll be seeing her for years to come.

Kluegel - I guess I havenít officially done her yet, but I have mentioned her. All of her passes were to no one, she did little tricky garbage that turned the ball over that I just donít understand why no one coaches out of her (case in point, that one ball she popped straight up and thought she was just going to run around the Japanese player and get - well, the Japanese player was no fool, shielded Kluegel from the ball and it resulted in a turnover - when is Jena going to figure out that the junk she did in college wonít work anymore and start playing a more fundamentally sound game), but ultimately, I didnít mind most of it too much because at least she was out there hustling. That shouldnít be such an issue, but watching most of the first half taking place middle of the field, it was nice to see some players trying to push forward and just simply playing hard. The final touch wasnít there, and there was a ridiculous number of turnovers and miscommunications, but at least they were aggressive. As for the flank (or left central midfielder - whatever you want to call it, she was way out wide the whole time - Iím sticking to flank - itís where she was . . . so there) - I prefer it to Jena the Defender, thatís for sure. Her offensive instincts were much better than Fairís (minus that one nice shot on goal in the box, Fair really didnít get forward much at all) in that she knows when to get forward and doesnít sit on the defense so much, so that was refreshing to see in the second half as well. But sadly, the execution really wasnít there - again, too much trying to be tricky and fool the Japanese defenders by dribbling around them instead of just putting a nice ball into the box. She did attempt to put some balls in the box, but they just didnít come remotely close to Team USA players - she seemed to be hitting everything short. Maybe some time in the weight room can solve that. Ultimately, sheís still not exactly my cup of tea, and there were far more turnovers than connected passes, but it wasnít too bad of an outing - certainly not noticeably worse than any of the other middies and forwards.

OK - thatís it I think - if I forgot anyone, sorry about that - everyone played - in the context of writing these match reports, thatís never fun for me. I was probably a little more negative than I meant to be, or even should be for a January 12 game, but it was just a boring match in which not a lot of effort was expended.  Thatís disappointing to watch and Iím not going to lie about that.  That said, Iím sure by the next time we see them, there will be a bit more energy, hopefully theyíll have at least a couple of wins under their belts and weíll see improvement from what we saw in this one. I wish them well at Four Nations - it should be an education.

Beulah