US 5 Brazil 1
A very promising start on the road to Athens. Team USA looked as composed and confident as they have in years. Maybe itís just the benefit of their first televised game of the year being the 13th theyíve played, but I canít remember the last time I saw this team come out and play as confidently and as competently as they did in the first half of this one. They were composed on the ball, the one touch passing in the first 25 minutes was beautiful, they were playing strong team defense, especially through the midfield, and they were extremely efficient with their chances. I havenít looked at the stats yet so I donít know the number of shots the official statistician counted, but in so many of their games in recent years I have come away bemoaning at least a half dozen realistic chances that were just completely wasted because they were careless in the attacking third . . . Iím not coming away from this one with that feeling at all. I really donít have much else in the way of preliminary comments - overall, it was a very strong performance. I have my issues, but most are of the honing variety rather than over reaching problems that I think will prevent them from being successful. Thirteen games in, with 5 to go thatís where they should be though - on the one hand itís kind of a shame we didnít get the chance to see them get to this point . . . on the other hand, it certainly has saved my vocal cords a work out because I didnít have to yell at the TV even once today (well, I guess I could have yelled when the TV guys were showing a montage of fouls as Christie Welsh scored her goal, but I was just so flabbergasted I couldnít even make a sound). Nice game, nice performance, I expect them to build upon this start and improve each of the next 5 pre-Olympic games. What I certainly donít want to see is what they did last year - blow it all up on the eve of the tournament and implement something new. This is a good start, a good foundation, 5 more games, nothing more than sharpening, honing and perfecting should be occurring. I feel as good about what they did today as Iíve felt about anything Team USA has done in years - there was just something about them today that I havenít seen in a long long time - a focus . . . a sense of purpose maybe . . .
Formation - (back to front, right to left)
GK - Scurry; Def - Rampone, Mitts, Reddick, Markgraf; DMid - Boxx; Mid - Foudy, Lilly; AMid - Wagner; F - Wambach, Hamm. Parlow in for Wambach and Tarpley in for Foudy at the half. Chastain in for Rampone, Mitts moves out to the right wing, looked like Reddick shifted over and Chastain played left center back. Welsh in for Wagner, Hamm moves to the attacking mid. Luckenbill in for Scurry, Chalupny in for Lilly.
Scurry - I donít have much here. She looks as in command as ever. Made a couple of nice saves, asserted herself nicely and is definitely in control of her box. Watching Cat contort herself to keep from smacking the ball when Bri called her off is a sure sign itís her box and everyone else is just visiting. As for the goal, well, Cat miscleared, Mitts let the attacker roll off her and get clear and then she put the ball through. That close, the defense gets beat and against a strong team, that goal gets scored almost every time out. That was definitely a goal scored on the defense, not on Bri. As for her kicking, well, wasnít really much of an issue because she really didnít have to use her feet under pressure. The goal kicks and punts she did take looked fine though. Solid outing. No. 1 keeper, I donít think thereís any issue about that.
Rampone - Outstanding performance, easily and without question the best defender on the field for Team USA in this one. I donít understand why she doesnít get more credit/accolades/praise than she does. She was just everywhere - making plays on the right wing, making plays up the middle, crossing the field and making plays on the left side. Seems to read the attack better than any of our other defenders because she certainly was getting to plays a lot earlier than anyone else and was able to close in for a double team whenever any of her colleagues on the backline got in trouble. Tremendous workrate, some beautiful strips, defending 1 v. 1 that reminded me of when Joy Fawcett manned the right wing. She didnít get into the attack as much as she might have, but it seemed like she was covering a ton of ground defensively - Mitts is just getting accustomed to the central D and Rampone seemed like she was shadowing her and slipping in behind her when she got caught too far forward. Kind of makes me wonder why Mitts is the one who moved into the center instead of Pearce (oops, I was bound to do that at least once). Christie seems to be the much more sound defender and from the sound of it, Wendy and JP seem to think Mitts would be better on the wing . . . Anyway, fantastic performance - sheís well on her way to becoming the most underrated and underappreciated player on the team. I still wonder what would have happened if sheíd been on the field last October when . . . uhhh, OK, I wonít bring up old wounds . . . but I do still wonder . . . when I see the way she defended out there today, I wonder . . . .
Mitts - Iíll confess, I wanted to just hate her in the central D and think she was terrible . . . but she wasnít. She was basically just fine. I do think she needs some work if Team USA is going forward with her playing in the middle though and Rampone needs to remain aware of where Mitts needs to be because Mitts doesnít always get there . . . but . . . it was better than I thought it was going to be. For much of the first half she was rock solid. Some careless passes at the start though and I think she and Rampone simply arenít on the same page at times - a few too many times where they were swinging the ball around the backline and Mitts just bashed it forward - while that might be a great idea, catch Brazil on their heels, it didnít look like Christie had any clue the ball was going to get booted up that flank as hard and as fast as it did. Put her in a really awkward position and resulted in a few turnovers. As the first half wore on and into the second half, I think a few more problems popped up. Her 1 v. 1 defending wasnít great, Mitts doesnít win a ton of balls when sheís on her own, and it wasnít just on the goal that she failed to keep herself between her attacker and the goal. Sheís good at holding a player up and waiting for help to arrive and when she floats up into the midfield she makes some nice tackles, but deep in the US third, she has some trouble popping balls away from the attacker and keeping the attacker in front of her. Overall though - for all my complaining it wasnít that bad, the back four as a unit played fairly well and it sounds like Mitts in the central D is a stop gap measure. And I know I just said it, but Iíll say it again anyway - most of my issues with Mittsís game donít matter if Mitts is on the wing where sheís accustomed to playing. Sometimes I feel that some of these defenders are moved around just for the sake of moving them around rather than making sure everyoneís playing where they are most effective. Rampone, for reasons that elude me, seems to be low woman on the totem pole and, at the same time, sheís probably the one of the 4 who started this one who is actually as versatile as she needs to be to play all 4 of the defender positions at a very high level . . . so why isnít she the one who moved? Just a thought. Joy, with her freaky recuperative powers, will probably be back shortly, so weíll get a more meaningful feel of what the backlineís going to look like when she returns.
Reddick - Not the greatest clear out on the goal, but ya know, that sort of thing happens. A few too many careless passes by the defense and the defensive midfield in this one and they got burned on one. Other than that though, I donít have a ton here. It was a solid outing. For the talk of the speed of Mitts and Reddick during the telecast, Iím just not seeing it. The central defenders had attackers blow by them a few times in this one leading Markgraf and Rampone - both of whom have a game speed that looks a lot faster than that of Cat and Heather to me - to make some fantastic plays. Not really more than that - it did seem at times both the central defenders were a little too excited about getting forward which led Kate and Christie to fall back and therefore kind of killed a bit of the attack up the wings out of the back, but watching from home, itís kind of tough to figure out exactly what was happening there. Not much more than that. Solid outing.
Markgraf - runner up for defensive player of the game. Kate looked as confident and composed on the ball in this one as she has ever looked. Very calm and confident bearing on the field. You could definitely tell who the seasoned and experienced defenders were in this one. Everything Rampone didnít mop up, it seemed that Kate was handling. Both were swooping in to help the central defenders and were making a lot of plays not only on their respective wings, but in the box as well. As an added bonus, Kate was getting forward into the attack nicely too. Kind of a theme throughout the game is that no one was overplaying the ball, no one was trying to do too much. It seemed everyone was playing within the offense and she was no exception. Sure, she had that one shot she put about 10 feet over the goal, but she wasnít floating balls too far over the forwards or putting balls too far up the flank as sheís done in the past. Those home run plays rarely work out so itís nice to see theyíve eschewed some of that nonsense in favor of building an attack and spreading out and wearing away at the defense as they did in this one. Nice game by Kate.
Boxx - Solid game. Won a lot of balls on the ground, can muscle opponents off the ball, wins balls in the air, just what you want your defensive midfielder to be able to do. Early in the game I thought she was a bit too careless with her passing though. Some cheap turnovers, simply because she was a tad lackadaisical and wasnít putting enough pace on the ball. Thereís calm and composed and then thereís being too casual with the ball and I think she went on the wrong side of that line in the early going. Later in the first half, though, she seemed to sharpen up a bit. The first part of the first half seemed to be more about Aly in the middle of the midfield, later in the first half and in the second half, Boxx really seemed to assert herself and a lot of the attack began with her. That third goal was a great example, Boxx put the ball up to Mia in the left side of the box who slotted it to Abby and boom, goal. That kind of sharpness was missing from her the first 20-25 minutes but really picked up as play went on to the point that there was kind of a shift on the field from the offense going through Aly to it going through Boxx and the forwards. Anyway, nice outing from Boxx - sheís just as solid as can be at this point. Sheíll only get more effective with this team - sometimes itís easy to forget for how short a time sheís been playing at this level.
Foudy - Actually had a nice game. I spent most of last year ripping her to shreds but I thought she had a nice game today. She had a great defensive presence out there and was getting forward in support of the front runners very nicely. Being in the box for that first goal is a great example - that play was all about Mia and Abby running the ball forward and trying to put one in and Julie just kind of followed the play, snuck into the box and was right there when the ball hit off Andreiaís outreached hands. Very professional finish on that one, just put it through the back of the net. As for the rest of it, she put some nice balls in, had a strong workrate and was working very nicely playing the ball through Aly in the early going. Just a rock solid performance - itís been awhile since Iíve been able to leave it at that with Julie.
Lilly - Hereís a shocker - I have almost nothing here. Combining well with Mia, Aly and Abby, playing great D in the midfield, nice workrate. And thatís about it. She didnít really stand out for me one way or another in this one. Nothing spectacularly good and nothing too notable that was a problem. Some games are like that. As for the card, unless she said something, sheís been doing that forever, somehow smacking the ball such that the other team canít do a quick restart - technically, every time she does it she could get carded for delaying the game (or whatever) but she doesnít. Guess Sandra Hunt got sick of seeing it today and pulled a card . . . or maybe Lil said something, who knows. Gave me something to ramble on about here though, so it served itís purpose . . . Solid, but quiet outing for Lil.
Wagner - I thought she had such a nice 20-25 minutes to start the game. Just beautiful one touch passing, everything connected, offense was running through her and it was a great reminder of why sheís on this team and why sheís been so highly touted. She just sees the field so well, sees things developing before theyíre apparent and sees where folks are going to be long before they get there. Nice, nice start to the game. Then she just kind of fell off the page for me. When Boxx started to assert herself and her passing got sharper, and as Mia and Abby really started to fall into their flow, Aly just kind of receded into the background. She needs to not do that - she needs to go to the ball and insert herself into the proceedings more. That beautiful start in this one really needs to last more than 20-25 minutes because I think the US attack will be so much more dangerous and varied if it does. As for how she can assert herself once Boxx gets her offense flowing? Well, first she can run to the ball harder - sheís great distributing, sometimes receiving though, thereís not a ton of flow. Hereís what Iím getting at - when Lindsey Tarpley got into the game, well, letís be honest, thatís just a lot of blonde ponytails to try and keep track of . . . but Lindsey is easy to find because sheís always the one running hardest to the ball - she makes her own chances - Aly needs to up that workrate and match that drive. She also gets stripped a bit and while I think sheís standing in there more physically than she did last year, sheís having a bit of trouble winning the ball away from opponents at times - itís not for lack of effort, sheís in there trying, itís for lack of strength. As little as Lil is, sheís got a lot of upper body strength, Aly needs to get that - the more sheís able to possess the ball, the more chances sheíll have to make something good happen. The chances arenít going to fall into her lap though - thatís not how this offense is running right now, so sheís going to have to go make some chances for herself and get involved in the offense more. Contrasting the way Aly and CP were playing with the way Abby, Mia, Tarpley and even Foudy at times was interesting - you canít wait for service, you canít depend on the ball being played to you - you have to create the opportunities. After the first 20-25 minutes, the players who were winning the balls in the midfield defensively were the ones who took over offensively as well - thatís when she fell off the page for me a bit. Great start to the game though, nice, fast, one touch passing . . . she made it look effortless. I hope she gets some time in the next one - itís all about building on this foundation leading up to Athens . . . In the next game, maybe weíre not talking about 20-25 great minutes, if she gets a chance, maybe weíre talking 45-50.
Wambach - For the last 5 years the vast majority of the time weíve been whining about the finishing with this team. And watching the touch Abby put on the ball on both of her goals it is obvious that this is something theyíve been working on. So often over the last few years everyone has been smashing the dang ball, smashing it over the goal, smashing it wide of the goal, smashing it right at the goalkeeper, smashing it off the cross bar, just unsuccessfully smashing it time and time again. Today, it was all about touch and angles. No smashing (except for one smash Iíll actually praise here in a sec), just great, well placed finishes. I loved what she did with the free kick - if she had tried to do too much with that header sheíd have popped it over the goal or straight out. She pretty much just jumped up and side swiped that thing with her head and put it in. Didnít try to cut the angle too much, didnít try to power it in, just a great touch on the ball. That ball was really a little too far ahead of her, but she managed to put it in, great goal by Abby. Her touch on her other goal was just as nice - she didnít try to kill it, she didnít try to do anything tricky, she didnít try to do too much - just saw which way the goalkeeper was leaning and slotted it in. Nice touch . . . And while Iím speaking of touch - the goals were great - go Abby - but what I liked so much was her touch away from goal. I mentioned the nice one touch passing in Alyís section and Abby was very involved in that. Her game away from goal is just improving by leaps and bounds. The sequence leading up to that first goal was a perfect example, quick touch from Aly to Abby to Mia . . . Just a beautifully executed sequence that advanced the ball very quickly and had the Brazilian defense on their heels and ultimately led to Foudy putting the ball home. Great game from Abby - her game is continuing to develop and improve.
Hamm - Great game - supremely focused on the task at hand. I donít know - when they took the field today, you could just read it on them, and on no one more than Mia, and the message Iím getting is: WEíRE NOT SCREWING AROUND. They look like they mean business - there was no panic, there was no overjoyed excitement at scoring a goal - there was just a workmanlike demeanor by every single player on the field no matter what happened and you could read it best on Miaís face. I know Iíve harped on this, and sure, Iíve seen them play better, Iíve seen them play a lot better - but in the last 4 or 5 years, even in those "better" games, I havenít seen this team come out as collectively mentally strong (if that makes sense) as they were in this one. I guess the simplest way for me to put it, from the moment they put the ball into play, there was no question about the outcome for me - they made me believe in them from the moment they started - itís been a long time since thatís happened. OK - enough rambling, great workrate, great assists, great everything. Aly really was the center of things at the outset but by midway through the first half, it seemed like Mia and Abby had taken over. They just have great chemistry together and both are out there working so hard - theyíre fun to watch together up top. What I liked best about Miaís game, and why I think Iím waxing rhapsodic over the team mentality at this point in my little match report, is that quick shot at goal - yeah, she smashed it right at the keeper, but I have been griping for the better part of 4 years about how Mia seems reluctant to pull the trigger on her shot at times, and the times when I gripe are precisely like what happened with that shot. The offense is humming along, Mia receives the ball, has about a step on any and all defenders and in recent years, sheís taken a touch, sheís taken a step, or sheís passed - here, she did none of that, she just stepped onto the ball and smashed a wicked shot at goal . . . it may have been the most beautiful thing I saw all day . . . she ainít screwiní around here . . . .
Parlow - Iíve got to wonder if she just hates coming in for Abby - I mean, CP is fine when she initiates the contact, when sheís in control of the hit sheís great with the physical play . . . But when it comes to taking the hit, well, she tends to be a little crafty, she either avoids or controls the contact . . . I mean, whenís the last time you see her crawling toward the ball on all fours with a defender ripping at her shirt like we saw Abby in this one . . . So, how much do you think she hates coming in as the big girl when the opposing team is in full out Abby mode, when theyíre not just hitting the big girl but taking running leaps onto her back and stalking her and taking her down like sheís the zebra at the waterhole . . . I just get the feeling Cindy Parlow doesnít have a ton of fun when the other guys play her like that. And I think in this one it completely took her out of her game. Besides the assist on Welshís goal (that we only saw in replay . . . grrrrrr) she really didnít make an impact on this game. I donít know that sheís as solidly built as Abby so when she comes in and takes that kind of abuse, I donít know how much she has left to give. I really donít have much else, other than to say, after seeing Welsh today, Ms. Parlow better get it together, figure out how to deal with the kind of defense she faced because even though I realize she took a licking, it seemed like part of the problem was that she was just getting outworked out there . . . outworked by just about every player on the field in a USA uniform. I donít know that 3 six foot forwards are going to Athens. I realize Ms. Parlowís ticket to Athens has come real close to being punched, I think something significant would have to happen for her not to be on the Olympic team. However, today, Ms. Parlow was the third best big girl on the team . . . and were I her, I wouldnít be too complacent with that.
Tarpley - I realize sheís the second highest scorer on the team this year, but you know what I thought was so wonderful about her game today? in my twisted little way, what pleased me most about the up and coming offensive superstarís performance? HER DEFENSE. Wow - I was floored by the workrate and by some of the defensive plays she made. One of my biggest questions with her is whether sheís physically strong enough to handle playing with the grown ups. Well, she must be a wiry strong because she muscled folks off the ball more than a couple of times. And the workrate and poise with this kid is incredible. The workrate was as good as anyone on the field, she ran so hard to every single ball - every single one. And youíd never guess she was 21 years old - a ton of composure and poise on the ball. I think sheís a wonderful addition to this team, and I hope she gets plenty of playing time in the next one.
Chastain - A very solid outing. Sheís another one about whom I was quite skeptical coming in and she went out and performed well. Sheís not moving too far forward, sheís playing within her abilities at this point and it worked. Defense really didnít have too many problems today, and they didnít look any worse with Brandi in there. Whether she should be moving into the starting lineup or getting significant time in Athens? Well - didnít really see enough of her today to have much of an opinion on that but after what happened with the WWC and knowing her legs have the same number of miles on them they did last fall, they need to plan for her to be unavailable - if sheís 100% and ready to go, thatís great, an added bonus, but I think theyíre just begging for trouble if they alter the defense to accommodate her.
Welsh - A very nice outing. Got off to a slow start but the goal that got called back seemed to serve as a spark for her. Her workrate picked up, her passing and combination play was strong and she netted a goal that actually counted. The play away from goal was stronger than it was in years past as was shown by Miaís goal - a perfectly executed give and go with Mia - she read Mia and the defense perfectly and delivered that ball back to Mia in just the right spot. Good stuff - nice, fundamentally sound combination play. It would have been nice to see her goal live but on the replay it looked a lot like Abbyís in that I liked the touch on it. It wasnít an overpowering smash, she didnít try to do too much, she got herself in great position behind the defense, timed it perfectly with the free kick and CPís header and calmly slotted it in. Nice stuff from Welsh. Iím glad to see her back and glad to see the coaching staff figure out that kids grow up and mature and four years later, a kid deserves another chance to get it right. Realistically, I donít know that Welsh is going to get a chance to unseat the folks sheíd need to unseat to make the Olympic roster, but I think she certainly played herself into the mix today. Like I alluded to earlier, today, I donít think there are a lot of people whoíd ranker her lower than the #2 big forward on the team.
Chalupny - She had a nice workrate - made some nice runs. Has a lot of energy. Sometimes sheís a little too tricky with the ball - sheís going to have to learn the hard way that those "cute" little moves that work in the NCAA are only going to result in turnovers or her getting whacked at this level, but sheíll learn. Honestly, she wasnít in there long enough and wasnít in the thick of things enough for me to have an opinion any more meaningful than that. Iíll reserve any other comments for another time.
Luckenbill - the only player from whom I didnít get the feeling of overwhelming confidence. Ya know, I donít think Bri is going to miss a single second of the upcoming Olympics, but if she does Iím real shaky with Luckenbill as the backup keeper. I have no clue whatís going on in camp, but Luckenbill makes easy/routine things look challenging . . . It may just be a personal preference, but for me, I feel much better with a keeper who makes easy/routine things look . . . well . . . easy and routine. She really was solid, didnít do anything too bad other than muff one kick really really badly, but Iím just not feeling the whole International level GK thing with her. Weíll see - Iíve got nothing to back up my position, just a slightly uneasy feeling when sheís on the field. Solid game though, and if sheís been working real hard in camp, well then Iím glad she got on the roster and saw playing time.
Thatís it from here. I enjoyed the game today - well, I didnít just enjoy the game today, I enjoyed the way they played today, I enjoyed the team today and I most enjoyed the workmanlike demeanor with which they approached the proceedings. Theyíre not fooliní around, and without even knowing it, I guess thatís what Iíve been waiting to see.