NY 4 Washington 1
Well - itís tough to figure out what to say about this one. Itís the first game of the season and I certainly donít want to get too down or take too many lessons from it just as I wouldnít be too too excited if my team had won 4-1 (NY fans, donít get too excited . . . really). So I think Iíll just take it as a game, a game where some individuals showed a lot of promise but a game that also showed the Freedom have miles to go before they actually resemble a "team." Since it is just one game, I donít know how comfortable I even am saying that - after about 4 games if the speed of play is still as dreadfully slow as it was for the Freedom and if theyíre still passing to phantom players and folks wearing the wrong color jersey then maybe that statement will have more meaning - but at this point I think I say it because it was awfully hard to sit watching the disparity in the talent level of the Freedom players on the field and the difficulty they were having making all those different talents mesh without at least some thought about how far they have left to go before they gel as a team. The encouraging thing is that unlike some games last year, the Freedom were really trying - while they came unhinged and panicked and it all went really wrong in the second half, the effort and energy level was there to the end. Now, they just have to find a way to direct all that energy and all those good intentions more productively and to not let one goal scored against them, by arguably the best goal scorer in the world today, unhinge them so completely. Tiff is going to get hers, as will Mac, as will Dagny, as will Birgit, as will Smith, as will a lot of folks, thatís the way the game is played - theyíve got to just tip their hat to the talent, move on and keep on playing. Hopefully, the second half self destruct and the first half indecision and slow speed of play was a little nerves, a little panic at Zimnyís sudden absence, and a little not knowing each other and how everyone would react in a game situation. Hopefully next week Pu Wei will be played in a bit, Lindsey will have had another week back in her old stomping grounds in the central D so there wonít be so many breakdowns there (although, I couldnít really put a finger on the breakdowns - Tiff was just faster and no one was marking her through the midfield - people would come crush her every now and then, but until the ball was on the way to her, there was no one on her more often than not - whether you like man marking or not, youíve got to cave in and do it on a player who was responsible for over half her teamís offense last year . . . but I digress) and all will look better next week. Like I said at the start - this was just one game, and it was just the first game . . . thereís no question this was somewhat of a discouraging start, but I think we saw some glimpses of some really wonderful things in there that hopefully by next week, or more realistically, within the next 2 or 3 games theyíll start to put together so that the gifted individuals will start to look like a gifted team . . . I hope . . .
Re NY - well theyíve gone from a one woman team to a three woman team - Ormen and Rapp are great additions for them. Thatís something. The GK situation is comically bad over there - although I have to confess Saskia looked a bit better in the second half than she did the first, the defense is nothing more than adequate, not good, but adequate, and the midfield still has a lot of trouble maintaining possession and building any kind of sustained or organized attack - itís still "get the ball to Millie" over there. All that said, you can not bet against a team with Tiffeny Milbrett on it - she was frustrated as all get out most of the first half, cursing at refs, throwing tantrums (sheís extraordinarily lucky she only got one yellow in this one - the refs were generous), looking uncharacteristically frustrated and flat, basically just having one heck of a time - but all it took to completely change the tenor of her game and the game as a whole was seeing one seam, running through it and putting the ball home. Thatís all it takes for the Power, just one good read and for both Ormen and Millie to make that read at the same time. I think the Power will be a wild card this year - some games theyíll get killed and other games theyíll be the killer. All that said, thatís just me guessing - just like with the Freedom I donít want to take too many lessons from this one about NY other than youíre a fool if you bet against Tiffeny Milbrett.
Formation Freedom 4-3-3 (back to front, right to left)
GK - Greathouse; Def - Moore, Grubb, Stoecker , Barr; MF - Gerardo, Makinen, Cook (although Mak and Cook switched a bit - not sure where they officially started but Mak was in the middle and Cook was way the heck on the other side of the field most of the first half); F - Little, Wambach, Milburn - Milburn and Little must have switched a bit because she was right in front of me for a significant stretch in the first half. Bai Jie in for Milburn and Pu Wei in for Cook at the half. Bai Jie came in as the center forward and moved Abby out right (one of the more puzzling moves of the day - why do you move your 5í10" player out right in favor of one who barely stands 5í4") and Pu Wei came in Iím not sure which midfield spot officially and if any shifting went on, but it didnít really matter because our midfielders all played pinched in right on top of each other the entire second half. Rigamat came in for Little toward the end of the game.
Formation NY - 4-3-3 (seems to be the formation of the day, doesnít it) - honestly, past the formation and a vague recollection of who was on what line, I donít have this one. I was being beat about the head by a small child with those noise maker balloon thingies and was trying not to grab and pop those dang things the entire game (parents, there is nothing cute about your child beating me about the head - really, thereís not) - we need a grown ups only section at RFK - I donít know if Iím going to make it through the whole season. I guess I could look at a box score and fake it, but Iím not gonna. Hereís all Iíve got: Webber in goal, Pearce, Whelchel, were in back - I think Fair was back there too, wait, maybe she was in the midfield and maybe Katie Tracy was in back, I know Fair started and that Pearman was the left back - I got that; Lalor and Rapp in the midfield, I canít for the life of me remember who was in there with them . . . probably Fair, and Mustonen, Millie and Ormen were up top - I think Minna was in the middle and Ormen was right and Millie was left but I wonít swear to it; Davey got in the game at the very end, Minna came out a little ways into the second half - maybe Janss went in for her, I donít know - I probably missed a sub at some point - Iíll try to pay more attention next time. So anyhow - this will have to be quite Freedom-centric. Iíll have a few comments on some of the NY players but not just tons.
Greathouse - well, itís tough being the goalkeeper on a day like Saturday but those Millie goals were given up way before the ball got to Greathouse. Millie found seams, ran through them and Ormen got her the ball - Tiff is flat out faster than the Freedom central defenders so those goals were as good as made. Tiff wide open 1 v. 1 against a goalkeeper and Tiff scores the vast majority of the time. Canít really fault her there. Re the other two strikes, well, Rapp and Ormen pretty much had open looks at Greathouse as well. All the goals were very well struck and there wasnít a whole lot Greathouse could have done. She did sit back on her line a bit and didnít challenge the NY strikers at all, but frankly, all 4 goals happened so fast, she really didnít have a choice. These were not cheap little goals. Some of the decision making wasnít great and maybe she could have done something to cut off some angles or something, but, letís be realistic here, sheís the third keeper - itís about what I thought it would be. They need Siri back and healthy, itís as simple as that.
Moore - well, she had one absolutely brilliant play near the start of the game - she stripped Tiffeny Milbrett clean - it was beautiful - the kind of thing you expect from Joy Fawcett, not from Carrie Moore. Sadly, that level of play was not sustained. Donít get me wrong, she is solid, but when the chips were down and composure became an issue, sheís one of the ones who unhinged. Basically in the second half the Freedom had no offensive shape and no defensive shape and it was just a mess. I think Moore lost track of Millie a few times, unleashing her unmarked on the central D and GK and I think everyone lost track of both Ormen and Rapp - they just did not look prepared for those players to be as good as they are. Well, the strip of Millie was my favorite play of the game, so she gets kudos there, but I donít have a lot else to say about her individual game - I think watching how unorganized and how lacking in focus the whole team was in the second half may have clouded my view of the individuals back there a bit. She seems to have some talent, so I definitely am giving her a blank slate going into next week - hopefully, they whole team will stay a bit more composed so we can get a better look at the talent we have out there.
Grubb - sheís always in there working hard isnít she. We were down 3-1 and sheís still in there out jumping everyone for 50-50 balls. Re the Milbrett goals, well, itís no secret Millieís faster than Grubb - thatís not a shocker. Once Millie got through the midfield unmarked, it was lights out. The problem is that no one through the midfield had Tiff like Grubb did last year - it didnít seem like anyone was playing defensive mid (or defense in the mid) at times. You canít unleash a much faster player unmarked on a central D like that. She just left Grubb and Stoecker (and Moore on one of them) futilely chasing her. Re the defensive self destruct - keeping the defense together is her job now so I guess I have to ding her here even though I really donít want to. And I do have to wonder how much Zimny being gone hurt this team and was some of the reason for the lack of shape and organization. Theyíve played the whole preseason with her in there and Stoecker in the defensive mid so this had to be a problem. After a week of practice, I expect them to look much sharper in the next game. Frankly, they did look fine in the first half, minus the Milbrett goal. Minus the goal, they were doing a pretty good job denying her the ball - I wish a bit more of that had been happening a bit deeper in the midfield instead of on the cusp of NYís offensive third, but ultimately they were getting it done and had Millie yelling at the refs in frustration. In the second half, they just panicked - I really donít know why - they have got to learn to react to the other team scoring better than they did in this one - goals get scored on you - it happens - shake it off, donít lose track of what your team is trying to do and move on. I sure hope it doesnít take Steffi Jones getting here to stop the panicking - weíre a long long ways away from Steffi getting here. Anyway - good individual effort, now she has to find a way to keep the rest of the team under control defensively - I fear that might be a Herculean task, but thereís no one on this team Iíd rather have trying to tackle it.
Stoecker - she really didnít make a huge impression in this one. I must say, her speed of play is so slow offensively I have to wonder why in the world anyone thinks defensive midfield is going to be a good place to play her. If Iím not mistaken this kid has played defender her whole life (well, college anyway). She has absolutely no offensive instincts at all - now this is only mildly annoying in a central defender, and is not terribly noticeable at all if the central defender has the good sense to always let someone else advance the ball as Stoecker for the most part did last year - but as a defensive midfielder, as slow as she is on the ball, it could be a serious liability. I hope Iím wrong about this, but her indecision on the ball Saturday made some very routine plays seem a bit risky - she just gives the offense so much time to get in the attacking third of the field that it becomes impossible to advance the ball on the ground. I imagine thatís part of why/how we wound up bypassing our midfield in the second half, the defenders held on to the ball too long trying to figure out where to send it and then just had to clear the dang thing in desperation. After a week of practice, sheís another one I expect to look better next week. I hope she just needs some time to reacclimate herself to the central D.
Barr - she is so fast itís ridiculous. There was one play where she coughed the ball up, the player who she turned it over to ran down the field, Barr took off after her, got in front of her and made the stop. Pretty nice . . . except for the part where Barr coughed it up to start with. Sometimes you just have got to wonder what Emmyís thinking. I donít think she reads the game very well defensively. Itís like she and Stoecker have the exact opposite problem - Emmy doesnít read the opposing teamís attack well, and Stoecker has trouble contributing to her own teamís attack. Emmy does provide a lot on offense though, and that speed makes up for a lot. Her cross on the goal was beautiful - she consistently serves beautiful balls into the box. I feel if we could put some sort of control collar on Emmy or at least give her an ear piece with someone yelling at her what to do she could be such a good player in the league. As it is now, I just wish sheíd stay a little more alert because that more than anything seems to be the problem sheís having. And sheís another one whose speed of play in the defensive half of the field needs some work - how she can make a decision with defenders in her face in the attacking third, yet sit on the ball like sheís hatching an egg on the defensive side of the field is a mystery to me. As is my mantra in the aftermath of Saturdayís game, I look for improvement next week - itís still early, itís still very very early . . . I look for everyone to improve next week . . . I hope . . .
Gerardo - the goal was nice - good positioning in the box. She played a solid game so I wonít harp too much on those same old issues that crop up time and time again and cropped up again in this one - passing to phantom players and folks wearing the wrong color jersey. She just consistently turns the ball over again and again. It makes my head hurt sometimes because if she would just stop turning the ball over so much sheíd actually be a player who I could like a lot - nice big solid midfielder with decent offensive instincts and not afraid to give up her body defensively (and is pretty sly about it too). Itís just the turnovers, sheís makiní me age with the turnovers . . . Maybe the solution is to let her defend, let her finish, just take any and all distribution responsibilities away from her - when Pu Wei gets played in, thatís a very viable option if they can work it. As for the second half - well the midfield was getting bypassed a bit - and the whole dang team was just a mess - she was no more or less a mess than anyone else and honestly, she just didnít have a whole lot of touches on the ball.
Makinen - not a bad game at all. She was distributing the ball well, winning 50-50 balls, her speed of play is excellent, overall a very solid first half. In the first half, the Freedom really did control the midfield and run of play. In the second half, for whatever reason, Mak was being bypassed. At one point, she finally got the ball, did that hands down "settle the heck down" gesture to her teammates and yelled at them a bit, started the offense again and everyone proceeded to continue running willy nilly to and fro and the mess continued. She was trying though, you canít fault the kid for trying - a bit of frustration was showing through, but I had no real complaints with her game. Like Iíve said, the whole team panicked and was bypassing her - itís tough to mount an organized attack when the whole team bypasses the engine that makes it all work. Hopefully, this was the panic game of the season and everyone will calm the heck down in the next one and things will be better . . . I hope . . .
Cook - hmmm - didnít notice one stinkiní thing she did the whole game. Sorry folks - I got nothiní - she was on the other side of the field and I just lost her. (Michelle French was brilliant at left back in the CRay game though - donít know why I feel a need to mention that right here, but I do . . . not just good, Frenchie was brilliant . . . you can quote me on that :-) )
Little - well - I donít have a whole heck of a lot on her either. She has some speed of play issues - a good percentage of our team has speed of play issues though, and hers arenít as severe as some others folksí. Basically, she did no harm and even proved to be a bit of a pesky little attacker on a few possessions. Ultimately, I donít think sheís a starter - sheís more a second half spark kind of player, but until Mia comes back, I think sheís just the best option we have. Iíll watch her more closely next time out . . .
Abby Wambach - she very simply is as advertised. Sheís a wonderful player - big and dominant, fairly skilled on the ball, good speed , fantastic near goal, better than solid away from goal and a competitor with a capital C. There was nothing not to like about her game - especially in the first half. One of the most amusing moments of the game came very early on - Ronnie Fair was on her and watching tiny little Ronnie Fair pushing and tugging and pulling on Abby with all her might and Abby barely even noticing she was there was hysterical. Fair wasnít on Abby much past the 20th minute of the game though, so I guess Farmer didnít find it quite as amusing as I did. Re the second half - well, I couldnít figure out why in the world when Bai Jie came in, she came in as the center forward and Abby moved out wide right. While just about the whole team lost its offensive shape, Abby didnít - she was very disciplined most of the second half and stayed wide to try and spread the field a bit. So basically, our 5í10" player was taken out of the box for the second half in favor of our short little zippy player - I thought that was not the best move that could have been made. The ball was being played over the top and was therefore being played to Bai Jie and Jaqui Little who were both playing pinched in and on top of each other - and neither of whom are 5í10". Abby, meanwhile, was out right all by herself. And you add to it that because the ball was being played over the top rather than through a midfielder no one was spreading the ball out to her, so Abby simply had far too few touches in the second half. In the first half, Abby probably had at least one touch on about two thirds of our offensive possessions - in the second half, Iíd be surprised if she had a touch even half that often. This team has got to stick to itís game plan and part of the game plan has got to be that Abby is the center forward . . . period. Ultimately, though, I like this kid a whole lot and look forward to seeing what she shows us next.
Milburn - hmmm - well - this wonít go on her list of "games I played well" . . . actually this wonít go on her list of "games in which I did not stink." I did not enjoy her game at all - her speed of play is atrocious, her speed period is not good, she made turnover after turnover largely because she couldnít decide what to do with the dang ball, and wasnít running hard to the ball (a cardinal sin with me) - she just seemed to concede the ball to the opposition without putting up much of a fight at all. OK - just to show Iím not just being mean - hereís what Iím talking about. A give and go - Abby was trying to work one with her. Abby passed to her and took off - so Milburn takes a touch, takes another touch - stops, looks around - in the meantime, Wambach has run offside, run back onside and has three people on her and Milburn is still standing there with the dang ball trying to figure out what to do. Ridiculous - give and go - Wambach touches it to you, you touch it back being sure to lead your striker and do it quickly enough so that you protect your striker from an offside call - itís a simple little play - Milburn simply does not get it. Her whole game was like that - it is true the Freedom have players who play on vastly different levels and because of injuries and the Chinese playersí late arrival we are starting a good number of players who simply are not good enough to be starting and who play much slower than Mak and Abby and Pu Wei and Grubb and the like - but Milburn wasnít even playing well enough yesterday to be a reserve player. I hope it was just a bad game - I know she looked better than this last year - she would have had to. But in this one she simply looked like she had absolutely no idea what she was doing out there. To the extent I look for her at all in the next game (and I wonít) I surely do hope she looks better.
Pu Wei - well - assuming communication isnít going to be a huge issue (and I fear it might be) she is going to be fantastic. All you have to do is look at her and the way she carries herself and something as simple as the way she runs to the ball to know that she is a very very special player. That said, itís going to take time for her to get played in. Right now she has no chemistry with her teammates so sheís out there trying to do it herself. And she was trying to do some great stuff - no faulting her effort - but she is much much better than most of our players and is attuned to playing with players much much better than most of our players and she is going to have to adjust her game accordingly (i.e., develop some chemistry with the players who can keep up with her - Anne, Abby, Grubb, Bai Jie . . . Steffi and Mia when they get out there . . . and just be real real patient with everyone else). Itís going to take some time for her to fit in, but if weíre patient, if the coaching staff is patient and handles her better than they handled the foreign players last year, I think there will many rewards on the other end. Itís going to take some handling though, and I certainly hope that the all of the appropriate people have been concentrating on that.
Bai Jie - She and Pu Wei were having the same problem a bit yesterday. Neither are played in so they were trying to do it themselves. They both kept trying to play without passing and got trapped 1 v. 3 or 4. The Freedom have got to find a way to better communicate with the Chinese players. Hopefully this is something time will take care of a bit better than it did last year. I really donít have a lot more - sheís one of the players to whom the phrase "running willy nilly to and fro without a lot of purpose" most applies, but again, I hope this is something time will take care of. No question sheís one of the most talented players we have on this team - itís just a matter of channeling that talent into a game plan shared by the entire team rather than her trying to take on the NY Power all by herself.
Stephanie Rigamat - the wheels had completely come off by the time she got in. A couple of her teammates seemed to yell at her real good because she had no idea what she was doing and who she was covering and where she was supposed to be. I got nothiní else - it was just that kind of day.
NY Players - Iím just going to do a few.
Webber - while her second half was not bad, and she did get credited with several saves (besides our goal I can only remember one dangerous shot and one semi-dangerous shot the whole game - Sask made some easy saves look difficult, but of her saves only one, arguably two, of those shots was actually a possible score - the one Abby put into the side netting was actually one of the best chances we had all night and Sask didnít have to do anything to stop that one), you NY fans should pray for a speedy recovery for Gao Hong. Iím not trying to be mean, actually, Iím trying to help . . . but . . . . uhhh, you might want to go light a candle . . .
Pearce, Tracy, Whelchel - I got nothiní (hey you were warned - next time, Iíll do better next time - someone just make that kid stop hittiní me and Iíll do better).
Pearman - well, I donít have much, but I did want to voice my approval for her switch to defensive wing. Sheís big and strong and has great speed and good instincts - and she flies up that flank to contribute on offense some as well. Good game - she actually stood out to me more than any of the other defenders.
Fair had a decent game - had a much better game when she stopped trying to cover Abby. They made that switch early though. Ronnie is definitely the Fair sister whose game I more enjoy. No real complaints about her game in this one.
Lalor - I never know what to say about her - I want to like her, but I canít help but think their offense is going to improve when they officially start running it through Rapp and Lalor takes a secondary role. Iíd rather see Rapp on the ball more often - the Norwegians have great chemistry with each other and with Tiff already and could be a formidable trio - and that means Rapp needs more touches and Lalor needs fewer. And in the first half, all the possession through the midfield issues NY had last year were still present. Again, I think a lot of the solution here is to simply cede control to Rapp and Ormen.
Rapp - I liked her second half very much. First half she was invisible and I suppose NY was having all the first game/new faces issues the Freedom were having. They seemed to solve their issues more quickly than we did, didnít they. Anyway, I think Rapp is definitely going to be an exciting new player in the league and I expect the NY midfield will tighten up a lot.
Mustonen - she didnít stand out a lot. I was looking forward to seeing her because I have heard a lot of very good things. Iím glad NY is the PAX game next week, so Iíll get another chance - and itís good to see some of these teams in back to back weeks so I can figure out how the Freedom are coming together in relation to some other teams. I definitely want to get another look at her, though, because I either just completely lost her or was underwhelmed by what I saw - I canít figure out which. Iíll let you know . . .
Tiff - Iíve gone on about her a bit. She was really having a hard time at the start. The Freedom game plan seemed to be to absolutely crush Tiff whenever she got within a yard of the ball. And the refs were letting them play and not calling many fouls so it was working great. Completely took Tiff out of her game, she started getting up real slow, started yelling at the refs, glaring, just flustered and frazzled . . . and that lasted about 30 minutes - then the fluster went away and the rage came and well, then she scored and then she scored again and well, you know the rest . . . All kidding aside, though, she scored two goals but this wasnít a typical Tiff game - she looked a little flat and frustrated from the first moment she stepped out there. Something to watch and maybe something a savvy defender like Joy Fawcett can try to exploit next week. Ultimately though, she scored twice on two absolutely beautiful and professional strikes and she was just Tiff - I love watching her play (watching her jawing at the refs is just a bonus).
Re the subs, I got nothiní. I liked seeing little Krista Davey out there though. Glad she hooked up with them - and glad she got a little bit of playing time before she has to go back to the reserve roster.
Well thatís about it from here. As always much longer than I intended. First games - first games are always fun. Weíve got our benchmark and now we get to see them build from here. Despite the score I think the Freedom have got a lot to be hopeful about - first, they kept their heads up and didnít give up - even though what they were doing was a mess, at least they didnít quit and ran hard to the end - that attitude is the first step. Second, I think we have some tremendous young talent on this team, namely Abby Wambach and Pu Wei and if they can come together I think weíre going to be a much much better team than this first game might lead people to believe. So, weíre officially off and running and I think itís safe to say it only gets better from here.