Freedom 2 CyberRays 1
Much better . . . much much better. Well - I was pretty darn worried after last week, Iím not ashamed to say. We got creamed by a team that wasnít very good - like us, hopefully New York will get better, but New York really didnít show me much in game one, yet they certainly did cream us. But this game revealed something very important - for the Freedom about two thirds of the battle is controlling the freak out. If they donít freak out, they have an excellent possession game, strong midfield, a strong enough D for now (donít forget Steffi Jones is coming - as my partner in crime pointed out to me as we exited the stadium yesterday, Ms. Jones will change everything - and it will be for the better - for those of you Freedom fans not terribly familiar with Ms. Jones, just trust me when I tell you, youíre going to love her . . . even if you believe nothing else I spout off about, believe that), and a wonderful young striker prepared to do anything and everything it takes to win. Thereís certainly a lot to be hopeful about. I think this game showed the Freedom can go out and play with anyone . . . just so long as they control the freak out - let downs are fine, theyíre not my favorite, but theyíre going to happen - itís the freak outs we have to control. Now, Iím not delusional - this isnít like my yearly euphoria at the start of the Mystics season, Iím not ready to put the Freedomís name on the Founderís Cup just yet. But they improved from last week and managed to eke out a win against a good team in the process - couldnít reasonably ask a lot more from them than that.
Re the CyberRays, well, I sure do like their defense. And I sure do like Beeneís goal stopping abilities - between the pipes sheís probably the best in the league. I like their Brazilian forwards . . . And I like Brandi when sheís not pretending she can play forward at this level - as good as she was defensively in the midfield and as horribly awry every tricky little play she tried up top went, I have to wonder how much longer the Brandi as striker experiment will continue - it may make her happy to play up there, but ya know, in my opinion itís such a waste of her talents and doesnít even come close to playing to her strengths. I thought their midfield was having some trouble offensively yesterday though. Pre-Sissi and post-Sissi. But, it might have just been a bad game on Tishís part - everyoneís allowed to have one. Basically, though, they look like a professional team already - thereís really not much not to like about San Jose. Freedom just won the game - I donít see that that necessarily means there are negative implications for the CRays. Thereís going to be a lot of parity this year - look at the standings - while I imagine theyíll spread out a bit (with San Diego on top, man, was that as close to a flawless game as weíve seen in the WUSA on Saturday or was I hallucinating) but ultimately I think the standings are going to be close and any team will be able to win on any given night. And Sunday "any team" happened to be the Freedom.
Freedom Formation - 4-3-3, back-front, left-right (just to change things up a bit)
GK: Greathouse; D: Barr, Moore, Grubb, S. Little; M: Pu Wei, Stoecker, Anne Makinen; F: Milburn, Wambach, J. Little (awww, twins, isnít that precious). Bai Jie in for Milburn; Beard (oops, I typed Florance - these changing names still throw me) in for Little; Ann Cook in for Pu Wei; Rigamat in for Bai Jie.
CRay formation - 4-3-3, back-front, left-right
GK: Beene; D: French, Lindsey, Bryan, Borgman; M: Tish, Sissi, Dorn (I could have them all mixed up left-right wise, as usual, this thing will be very Freedom-centric); F: Chastain, Katia, Pretinha. Subs - well, did I mention this was going to be Freedom-centric . . . Letís see how close I come, judge for yourself - Alagich in for Sissi, Clark in for Tish, Hendershot in for someone - Pretinha, maybe. Iím not online or Iíd look it up - but I know those are the three who came in and Iím pretty sure thatís the order in which they entered. In the second half, Brandi appeared to fall back a bit and the CRays were going with a 4-4-2 with two layers of mids. I tell ya, having Brandi and Alagich clogging up that midfield together will certainly make players think twice about trying to ram the ball up the center of the field.
Greathouse - She made some nice stops. Didnít make too much of an adventure out of anything she shouldnít have. She played a very conservative game which is exactly what she should do. The kicking game is a problem, made more problematic by the fact that the Freedom D and midfield kept booting it back to her to clear. They should stop that until Siri gets back - neither Greathouse nor Fahey are good with their feet and we shouldnít encourage them to kick. Those quick counters off the foot of the keeper are going to result in goals one day (just like the quick counter off the foot of the defender did in this one). Overall though, a very solid performance. Nice luxury to have her as our third keeper - and Iím thinkiní it might not be too too long before sheís our second keeper.
Barr - Emmy was Emmy. She has great speed that makes up for some specious decision making. She runs up that left flank very well, but speed of play in the attacking third sometimes is lacking. That said, I really didnít have any complaints in this one - solid game. I do think we waste a lot of opportunities with both her and Milburn playing on the same side of the field - they both hold on to the ball so long . . . I guess if we could flush the whole D over there to cover them it would be good, but somehow I donít think theyíre doing it on purpose.
Moore - to me the shame of her misclear that led to the SJ goal, in addition to a goal being scored, of course, is that itís all anyone wants to talk about when sheís mentioned in this one. The fact of the matter is, besides that play she had a rock solid performance- especially considering this was her first start in a Freedom uniform in the central D. Sheís shown that she can play all 4 defensive positions and play them well. That kind of versatility is nice to have. While her defense was solid and she is definitely growing on me, her defending isnít what made my jaw drop in this one. It was that shot . . . you know which one . . . that ridiculously hard laser blast into the upper left corner that forced Keysia to make an incredible save. She just ripped that thing and really didnít look like she threw her whole body into it - who knew she had that in her? Wow - that was a definite "wow" shot (and a "wow" save as well). So overall, I continue to be pleasantly surprised every time I see her play - if sheís not careful, Iím going to come to expect her to keep playing like this.
Grubb - I LOVE this girl. And I know I say it every stinkiní week, but the repetition doesnít make it any less true. She goes full tilt every minute of every game she plays. And there was one play in this one, very similar to the plays in which Tiff was sprung loose last week and Grubb was ready for it . . . well, Grubb and Stoecker were ready for it. She and Stoeck and she and Moore were working the double team so well in this one. They were really organized in this one and managed to quash a lot of attacks before they could fully develop. I kind of threw down the gantlet last week re her getting that D organized, and she definitely met the challenge. Admittedly, late in the game, they got lucky Clark was the one making some of the runs at them rather than the speedier Brazilians. But they managed to stop all challenges - and late in the game is when Grubb made the Freedom defensive play of the game. Clark was 1 v. 1 with Greathouse ready to tee it up and Grubb came in stuck a leg in there and stopped the shot and preserved the win. Great stuff and great thatís sheís still running that fast and that hard about 86-88 minutes in.
S. Little - defensively she was pretty solid. I didnít see any huge errors that made me cringe so sheís already doing better than at the end of last season (although, I did enjoy her last game last year - her red card was fun). My issue with Skylar was the same old story - her decision making with the ball. Grubb simply needs to go get it. Skylar has no clue how to advance the ball - there are very few occasions when Skylar doesnít pass backward. There were some sequences when she did a really good job getting forward, she had numbers up, yet she turned around and passed straight back. While I do like that sheís trying to play fast, and sheís trying to one touch it fairly quickly, she has got to stop using that back pass as a crutch the way she does. Game tape, someone needs to sit down with her and help her break down some game tape - show her the forward pass - her instinct is to play it fast, she just needs some help figuring out where. Iím afraid to say anything too nice about her because itís when everyone got real excited about her game last year that it all went so wrong, so Iím going to try not to jinx her. Iíll just give her a solid defensive game and has some offensive pushing the ball forward issues, that I hope time will improve.
Pu Wei - she sees the field so well. The first goal was such a good example of how she sees the field about 2-3 passes before most everyone else - she knew where everyone was before they got there and put the ball perfectly to Abby (threaded through a couple of defenders) who barely had to touch it to Jaqui. She just read that play so well and her every touch on it was perfection. Honestly, I donít know if weíre going to get to see her in all her glory here - she seems to me to be the type of player who has to drive the bus to play the game as well as she can, but I think language barriers might get in the way of that (although it hasnít stopped Liu Ailing over in Philly has it). If all of the communication issues can be overcome, Iím telliní ya, she and Anne Mak could develop into a tremendous two headed monster in the midfield. They both see the field so well and they both are tremendous possession players. Iím excited about this player - and if language issues prevent her from realizing her potential in the WUSA, then Iím excited to see her with the Chinese Nats - I donít know what it is, but I just have a feeling Pu Wei is a special special player and just like with the US youngsters, I look forward to seeing the next generation of Chinese stars develop. Thatís one of the fun things about China letting their younger/current Nats come over here this year - Zhang Ouying is already wowing the league doing incredible things, it wonít surprise me if in a few weeks everyoneís talking about Pu Wei as well.
Lindsey Stoecker - great game. She plays the enforcer-defensive midfielder role well. Even got some payback for a particularly nasty hit on one of our strikers at one point - thatís her job, sheís the big defensive midfielder. My concerns last week were her ability to advance the ball - and like Skylar, she was passing back too much and really has no clue to advance it - the Freedom counter attack and attack attack are just very slow to develop with all the back passing they do - it lets the defense set up and therefore just makes it harder to get a the ball into the offensive third and get a good shot off. What I did notice, however, is that sheís not in the position to make that decision very often - Anne Mak and Pu Wei do a good job of getting the ball in the midfield and making it pretty clear they want it and they should have it. And Stoeck is pretty good at obliging on that point. Overall, great game, she and Grubb worked really well together stopping attacks up the middle.
Anne Makinen - she had a great game too. The Freedom positively dominated possession through the first 20 minutes and the second half. She has great field awareness and just peppers the ball around all over the place and connects on most of her passes. I noticed she doesnít really do well when she jumps for 50-50 balls, but what she does do fairly well is body up against whoeverís jumping with her, pushes them back and chests the ball down. She wins her fair share of balls that way and I guess there is no rule that all the tall girls are good headers. Whatever works - and it might just be a control thing, she doesnít just want to win the ball, she wants the ball to wind up at her feet and no one elseís. Hey, if sheís big and strong enough to power folks off the ball and pull it down with her chest or leg, then more power to her. In addition, I feel a need to mention this since itís what I harped on with her last year - the frustration doesnít interfere with her play anymore. Yes, her speed of play is much better than most of her teammates and thatís got to get annoying. At one point my partner in crime noticed a little frustration from her, but the difference this year is that the frustration is fleeting. After it was pointed out to me that she was a little put out, I watched her, and she didnít lose her cool, she just kept on playing, kept on doing what she could to keep everyone calm and kept on peppering the ball to anyone and everyone. Very patiently and professionally done - ya know, the finishing will come, the speed of play in the attacking third will come - in my opinion itís this possession game that youíve got to have in order to give your team a chance to do everything else (take a look at the SD-NY game again, between the SD mids of Boxx, Foudy and Mascaro, their possession game was brilliant and look what it yielded) and itís this possession game, more than anything else, I was so excited to see with the Freedom Sunday.
Tracey Milbrun - well, she was better. She wasnít good, but she was better. Iíll be happier when Bai Jieís starting and sheís on the bench though. She was having speed of play issues, decision making issues, and just plain old having no clue about where to go and what to do issues. On the upside the turnovers were down, but that may simply have been because she didnít have nearly as many touches as she did last week. Thatís all Iíve got - basically, I just donít enjoy her game a whole lot and really never have (and we can go back to her college days on that one for me).
ABBY!!!!!! - OK - in my long standing tradition of letting everyone know where my biases lie, let me say right now, never ever trust what I say about this kid, because she has officially taken her place on the dais of Beulah faves. I LOVE this kid - I love everything about the way she plays the game. Heart, hustle, unselfish play, great vision, good speed, tracks back on D, gets herself in the best position she possibly can to score, creates for others and starts her warmup with a ferocious scream - which I could hear sitting up under the overhang at RFK (significantly higher up than my normal seats - what I wouldnít give to go to a Freedom game in which there was absolutely no rain). She was fantastic - the second goal was all her - Bai Jie fed her the ball, she just ran right at Keysia, got her to commit, had me wondering just why the heck she wasnít shooting, and then just slots it right in to Meredith Florance Beard who just barely had to redirect it into the goal - that goal so reminded me of the goal she scored from Susan Bush in the College Cup a few years back. Beard does have a knack for getting on the end of brilliant plays by her teammates - nice way to get your name in the headlines I guess. Anyhow, Abby plays with her whole heart all the time, just about runs herself into the ground and is just a heck of a lot of fun to watch. That effort on the field has got to be contagious and with Abby out there, I find it hard to believe weíre going to see any of the listless performances we saw last year again this year. Great stuff - while Iím sad weíre not going to be able to build on this weekís performance with our full complement of players next week, Iím just happy as all get out that she got a call up and I hope she gets some playing time with the Nats.
Jaqui Little - well, I hate to tempt the fates and call forth the Little jinx, but dare I say it . . . sheís growing on me. I still think sheíd best be used as a second half spark kind of player (and thatís a very important role, every team needs one), but I thought she had a very nice game in this one. Sheís a little scamperer and can be very disruptive at times. Sheís good about getting forward, and since a huge problem the Freedom had last year was failing to get numbers forward, thatís pretty important. While her speed of play isnít quite on the level of some of her teammates, she seems to have found a way to blend her game in fairly nicely. Sheís playing very simply, but is playing the ball forward more often than not, and is making some nice runs and providing a good target for Anne Mak, Pu Wei and Abby. Her goal was a very professional one - Pu Wei did the heavy lifting on that one, but Jaqui definitely made a very strong and professional play to calmly find the back of the net with it. Thatís about it on Jaqui - nice game.
Bai Jie - I always lose someone, and honestly, I think sheís who I lost. Besides her pass on the goal, which was a very nice read and showing some nice chemistry with Abby already, Iíve got nothiní.
Meredith Beard - well, Iíve already gone on about her in Abbyís section. She does consistently get herself in a position to score. She does it fairly regularly, so it canít be a coincidence, so she gets a thumbs up there. Some of her decision making is not so great, but ultimately, when you bring on a player late like that, youíre looking for a quick goal and/or a spark and they got one, so mission accomplished. Frankly, I like Beardís game better than Milburnís and I wonít be sorry to see her get a few extra games to make an impact while everyone is off on Nat Team duty (we lose Mak next weekend too, donít we?) and injured.
Ann Cook and Stephanie Rigamat - I got nothiní.
Just one more thing I want to touch on - the Freedom offside calls. I think thatís a result of the slow speed of play/decision making combined with a very confident CRay defense playing a very high restraining line. As the Freedom speed of play improves I look for the offside calls to decrease - as it is now, players keep going on their runs and the player with the ball doesnít touch it quickly enough to protect the player running from the offside call. Our possession game is strong, but our touch passing needs some work. I imagine time will take care of a lot of this (as will Mia and Steffi getting out on the field), as the players get more familiar with each other and the tendencies of their teammates things will get faster and folks wonít get caught behind the D before the pass so much.
OK - Iím almost out of steam and want to finish this tonight so the CRay section is going to be brief (relatively speaking) - and some lilí fishies arenít going to really get mentioned much at all.
Beene - between the pipes, Iíll take Beene over any keeper in the league. That save on the Moore shot was incredible. Not just because she had to jump so high, but because it was so unexpected - I donít think anyone in the stadium expected her to rip that one, and I donít think anyone in the stadium expected what she ripped to be such a blast. Great alertness and reflexes by Beene on top of the incredible stop of a shot high in the corner. I have to say, at the risk of getting flamed again as I did the last time I said it, her kicking game is going to come back to haunt them if they donít manage it better (i.e., minimize the need for her to kick). She had a couple of misclears that the Freedom simply should have jumped on - eventually, the fishies will play a team who jumps on them and makes them pay (when do they play San Diego - if Beene pops any of those clearances up and they donít make it to midfield that San Diego team will turn the ball around and having it flying back at her in a heart beat). They managed it well last year, though, I think they need to stop passing back to Beene for a clearance thatís for sure. Ultimately though, I continue to be impressed with her abilities in goal but they need to work around her kicking game a bit better (the Nats worked around Briís kicking game for years, the CRays need to do the same).
French - I love that Frenchie scored. That was beautiful. And I love that she came in and had a fairly strong game against us - there were several occasions while watching her I sarcastically said "I am sooooo glad she wasnít good enough to play for us" so she must have been doing something right out there. And she seems to have found her inner beast - that was certainly as rough a game as Iíve seen her play. Her yellow card foul was as hard a shot as we saw all night. Basically, she was a strong performer on a very good D.
Bryan and Lindsey - solid as usual. Honestly, I know there were breakdowns somewhere on the goals, but I was more focused on what the Freedom were doing on those strikes rather than what the CRays were doing. Overall though, both Lindsey and Bryan were making the Freedom pay for their slow decision making in the attacking third. Against this defense you canít stop, youíve got to play quickly. And the offside trap was working to perfection - although, I donít necessarily think itís a trap, I just think that defense is so confident and so confident in their keeper that they play really really high. It will be interesting to see what Tiff and Mac (and Zhang) do with a defense playing so high - all it takes for those guys is to slip behind the D once and they can turn a whole game around. Something to watch when they play SD and NY.
Borgman - sheís such a tough mean defender, I love it. Combine that with great speed and sheís a very dangerous tough mean defender. Sheís playing like a seasoned pro already - moving forward ably on the attack, and fearlessly defending and going in for the kill on defense. I made the comment during the game that sheís the kind of player the opposition hates and the home team absolutely adores. That rough and tumble style is definitely what makes her my favorite recent UNC grad. I hope she continues to stay in their lineup - sheís a little rough around the edges, but sheís still just fun to watch (and to scream at as sheís fouling your teamís favorite player).
Dorn and Tish . . . and Alagich too - I donít have much on Tish and Dorn - they didnít do much too notable that I noticed. Might have just been an off night (or I might have just lost them). I do think that itís only a matter of time before Dorn is benched in favor of Alagich - as anyone who has read these things for any amount of time knows, tiny little defensive midfielders are not just my favorite. Big mean Dianne Alagich type players are what I prefer to see in the defensive mid. And Alagich had a nice game. While offensively SJ was having some problems in the midfield, I thought the defense in the mid improved a bit.
Sissi - I donít have just a ton there either. The offense definitely is very reliant on her, maybe too reliant on her, but I donít think this game will go in her memory book as one of her favorites. The Freedom really did control the pace of the game at the outset and in the second half - during the letdown after the French goal, the CRays had some nice play, but nothing too notable - they put a lot of shots on goal, but they werenít real real dangerous from what I recall. I really donít have much.
Pretinha - I certainly donít remember her running that hard for that long when she played for the Freedom thatís for sure. Iím glad she found a home where sheís happy. She had a nice game - even saw her track back on D a time or two. Her acting skills were excellent as usual - she not only faked the ref into giving her a foul call, she tricked the ref into giving out a yellow. Pu Wei got her later in the game though - Pretinha wasnít acting after that hit . . .
Katia - I keep waiting for Katia to bust loose - she has so much skill and talent and is such a nice big target - itís just a matter of time. Brandi was trying to find her a bit yesterday but they just werenít connecting. I definitely look for Katia to become the focal point up top as the season progresses - for that reason alone Brandi should move back to the midfield - Brandi gets attention and will be the focus no matter where on the field she is. If she moves back, that would open things up for Katia to be the focus up top and since I think her capabilities are more in line with what it takes to be a number 1 goal scorer for a WUSA team, they should really think about doing what they can to showcase her. And of course thereís the issue that Brandiís better when you move her off the front line as well - but I have discussed this already and wonít repeat it here. So basically, solid yet an uneventful game for Katia.
Brandi - well, Iíve talked about her already. I liked her second half better than her first, she was primarily playing a defensive role out of the midfield in the second half and I think thatís where sheís at her best. She made the CRay defensive play of the game. Bai Jie was streaking up the field with the ball, Brandi just steps in there, muscles the ball to a stop and Bai Jie goes flying - great stuff - it ainít Joy picking your pocket clean, but thereís something to be said for leaving a trail of bodies in your wake . . . and no one is better at that than Brandi Chastain. Re her first half - sheís trying to be way too tricky. I just donít think she can pull it off. Sheís going to score her goals and get her shots, sheíd do that from the midfield or defense, though - sheís Brandi, sheís made a career doing it out of the back. I look forward to seeing what happens here - whether Ian changes formations at this point and plays this 4-2-2-2 or whether this was just a second half adjustment he was trying out and Brandi will be back up top in the next one. He made all the right adjustments last year, thatís for sure so it should be interesting to see what lessons, if any, heís going to take from this one.
Kim Clark - I liked her game a lot. She was all over the place when she got in. Had several strong scoring chances in the final 10-15 minutes (however long she was in there). She kept getting sprung loose, but our defense just swarmed and in the nick of time got to her before she could do too much damage. I really like the effort and energy though - sheís definitely a player Iím going to keep an eye on and is great in that "second half spark" role I keep talking about for Jaqui Little.
Hendershot - I got nothiní.
Well thatís it. It was good to get a truer look at what we have here in Washington. They look like a solid team when they donít freak out. Not freaking out is definitely the way to go. Hopefully, this game will give them a lot of confidence so the freak out thing will not be a factor. We got a win against a very good team - thatís got to be good for something. Thatís it from here. This was a fun one despite the ridiculously cold and rainy weather. Hopefully theyíll put on this good a show when itís nice and sunny and people are actually in the stands to watch.