US 3 Finland 0
This was a fun one - usually when the opponent puts 8 and a half to 9 players behind the ball, itís not a good time, but in this one, the US managed to run right through the bunker which made for an exciting good time. They played with a lot of energy, heart and hustle. It was great to see such a strong effort and everyone playing so hard and together. Now, Iím not completely delusional, the game was not without itís problems. Specifically, taking 30 shots and scoring 3 goals is a bit of a problem and obviously finishing is something to work on. But overall, the trouble finishing does not negate the strong performance and that generation next meshed with the vets and the younger vets just fine, especially considering the team was together for such a short time. I donít really have much else in the way of preliminary comments. While this was a fun one with some great discoveries, the real test will come when we play a top tier opponent and see which of the youngsters is for real, whether the US can play this kind of possession game under pressure and whether these young defenders who play such good offense can actually defend.
Formation 4-3-3 - back-front, right-left
GK - Beene; D - Reddick, Fawcett, Slaton, Chastain; M - Wagner, Foudy, Lilly; F - MacMillan, Wambach, Milbrett. Kluegel came in on the left wing Brandi went out. Fair came in at the right midfield spot, Wagner moved to the middle, Foudy went out. Hucles came in at left midfield, Lil went out. Bivens came in on the right wing, Reddick went out. Clemens came in at left fwd and Tiff came out (I think thatís where she wound up playing and no switches happened - weíd lost some of our offensive shape at that point). Welsh came in center forward and Wambach came out. Solo in for Beene in goal. And the oldest player on the field, Joy Fawcett, Pebbles Flintstone pony tail just be-boppiní along, goes a full 90.
Beene - uhhhh, ya know, someone should have asked her if she wanted a chair back there . . . Not the best day to judge a keeper. Punts looked decent, I continue to think someone else needs to take goal kicks - both Slaton and Reddick have the leg for it, Carla used to do it all the time when Scurry was in goal, there is absolutely no shame in a defender taking goal kicks - itís just a matter of course for a lot of teams. I continue to like Beene as the #1 keeper, so it should become a matter of course for this team as well.
Solo - uhhhh, Iíve got even less here. It would have been sad if she was the only one who didnít get to play though, so why not throw her in. Donít remember a single thing she did - or whether she actually had to do anything that would potentially be worth remembering. She does have a fantastic kicking game, is great with her feet in the run of play and is really athletic in goal - at some point I hope she gets a start just so we can see what sheís got at this level.
Reddick - I continue to like her a lot. She is rock solid defensively and was working the double team really well with Joy in the back. It was only an issue a couple of times, but there was one play in particular where Joy held up a player for just a second, and boom, Reddick was in there and the two of them got the turnover. One of the themes in this one is that I really liked how well the vets were working with the kids. There seems to be a real chemistry building on each of the lines between the generations and building that chemistry goes a long long way toward getting this team ready for 2003. Since all the vets but Joy (Ď91 and the younger í99 vets) seem to be battling injuries off and on, how well the next generation blends in with the stalwarts and how ready they all are to play together and not just to have the youth serving as back ups will go a long way to determining what success this team will have in 2003. Offensively, she was filling the flank very well. She got forward plenty and fed Aly and Mac pretty regularly. She doesnít do the spectacular things that make you ooo and ahhh, but Iíve never seen her turn in less than a rock solid performance and I think sheís left little doubt she can play at this level.
Fawcett - She never fails to astound and amaze. 90 minutes. 90 minutes and sheís still running circles around folks a decade younger than she is. What makes it so astounding is of course, is not just that sheís out there, but the excellence with which she still plays. If sheís lost a step, I donít see it, if sheís less smooth, I havenít noticed, if sheís gotten complacent and lost some of the hunger, then sheís the best actress around . . . Well, enough waxing rhapsodic re Joy, letís talk about how she played. It wasnít a terribly busy one for her defensively. Some nice double teams, they were organized which allowed the wings to shoot forward (of course the lack of much of a Finnish attack allowed the wings to shoot forward as well) but thatís about it. Her best moments of this one came on set pieces. One of my favorite things Joy does is stand in front of the keeper on corners - the best thing about it is how nuts it makes the keeper and how she just stands there paying the aggravated and at times yelling and protesting keeper no mind.. And itís just a bonus when sheís the target on those corners and when they end with Joy putting the ball in the net. Sheís such a good header, both offensively and defensively. It was nice to get a reminder of what a potent offensive weapon she is and I have to admit, I miss Joy out on the wing where she can strut her stuff a bit more. Sheís turned herself into an excellent central defender though, so I guess I just have to deal with it. So, overall, great game and her goal was lots of fun and I still love watching her play.
Slaton - another one who seems a little wasted in the central D, but thereís no denying how good she is there. Just a rock solid performance. Often the true test of how good the central defenderís game is is whether you noticed her a whole lot or whether the announcer had to call her name. Basically, a central defender gets credit for nothing and blamed for everything, so if you donít hear from her at all, odds are sheís had a good night. Well, Slaton just kind of stealthily did her thing in this one and had a rock solid, professional night. Admittedly, there wasnít a whole heck of a lot for her to do, but this performance definitely makes me want to see more - sheís one who I definitely want to see against a top tier opponent.
Chastain - Looking a little spryer and healthier than Iíve seen her look in awhile. She filled the flank nicely. Played solid defense. Wasnít too too active, Lil was hanging out wide and filling the flank herself most of the night, so Brandi didnít get forward quite as much as I would imagine she likes. But a solid performance - I was just glad to see her looking healthy and energetic.
Wagner - Well, I got my wish, Aly starting. And she did not disappoint. In the first half she provided a great second in command to Julie. She ably helped in the distribution, which in turn freed Lil up to play out wide and run through the seams up top. Possession with the team as a whole and throughout the midfield in particular was much improved by inserting Wagner into the lineup. It is a relief to actually be able to have an expectation that a pass is going to connect rather than it being a surprise. Just a simple little play that would never have happened with Fair in there, happened in the first half, it was nothing more than a pass across the field and about 30 yards forward in the air to Tiffeny Milbrett. It didnít just get close to Tiff, it hit her square in the chest. Beautiful - something we should always have been able to expect from our central midfielders (she was pinched in with Jules in the first half - Reddick and Mac were wide right and Lil was wide left) and now actually can. At some point she even got herself forward for a great shot at goal - she just hit it straight at the keeper and Iím sure she would like to have that one back. As for the second half, even better. April took Foudy out, and gave Aly the keys to the car. Aly did a fantastic job in the driverís seat. Peppered the ball all over the field, got the ball to players where it best suits them (she was great controlling Fairís touches to situations where Fair was in a position to do something positive - itís what they seem to do with Fair in Philly). She was in complete control and the team obviously is very comfortable playing the ball through her on almost every possession. If I had to estimate, in the second half Iíd say she had a touch on the ball on at least two thirds of the offensive possessions. For such a young player to have that kind of control of the field especially on the International level and playing against a bunker is pretty remarkable. As time goes on and she learns each of the players sheís serving to better, I think some of the finishing problems will magically begin to disappear.
Foudy - Just a nice solid performance. She was spreading the field left and right and left and right the whole half and blending in new players very nicely. With someone as totally new to the Nats as Wambach thatís not such an easy task, especially considering Wambach seemed to be everyoneís favorite target in this one. Having Wagner in there to take some of the pressure off and help with the distributing definitely frees Foudy up to run around a bit more and get a little more creative. A ton of chances were created, and like I ding her when possession is bad and chances are few she has to get praised when things are clicking. Now, they just need to finish all those chances and make all that possession count for something. So - good performance from Jules, itís always understated, but she continues to be the engine who makes it all work.
Lilly - well, if her back is still giving her problems, she didnít let it show. I thought she looked great. Stayed wide or pushed up and in most of the first half. Her assist was vintage Lil. A run down the left flank, streaking past a defender, getting near the endline and putting the ball into the box - this time she targeted Abby, hit her and Abby spun and nailed it for the score. Good stuff, Lil at her best. She had several other streaks down that left flank and was able to get herself into the box for a couple of great chances at goal - what would a National Team game be without a Kristine Lilly screamer a few yards wide. Basically, a rock solid most Lilly-like performance - she had a bit more of a spring in her step than I was expecting considering the recent back issues, but I was happily surprised that she just looked like Lil. Good stuff.
Mac - honestly, I think I missed some of her game. What I did notice was that she was combining well with her teammates, and she and Lorrie Fair were working well on the right a bit in the second half. She seemed to be enjoying pounding things at teammates, especially Wambach, in much of this one. Maybe she figures her assist totals are lagging too far behind her goals this year. Sheís one who probably should be pounding them at the goal a bit more (unlike some of her teammates for whom the 30 yard shot is not the wisest choice). But even when she has a relatively quiet game, Mac has been finding a way to be noisy this year. And in this one, she showed how important it is for her to be on the field at all times. Those set pieces of hers are incredible. Joy and Abby get the credit but it all starts with those incredible Shannon Mac corners. I tell ya - watching the Washington Freedom get all those corners a couple of weeks ago and not do anything with them really makes me appreciate what Shannon Mac does on set pieces. She makes it look so easy, but thatís only because she does it so well.
Abby Wambach - well, I donít know where to start. Iíve got to say, it has been a long long time since I have seen such a dynamic young player come on the scene. She plays great near goal, she plays great away from goal, she can go back into the midfield and get the ball like the little strikers do, she plays defense, got herself tons of chances, got chances for her teammates and remarkably, considering she has less experience with the team than anyone but Hucles, she is combining extraordinarily well with all the other players on the field. And she has an engine that just doesnít stop (she looks disheveled and like sheís about to keel over, but she wonít, Iíve been waiting for her to run out of steam for three weeks and she just doesnít - she is deceptively fit). I tell ya, she has an amazing field presence on top of all that - she was just dominant out there. She plays with a reckless abandon yet manages not to foul an inordinate amount and this is the third straight week Iíve gotten to see her play and I never leave the game (or turn off the TV) without thinking that she is one of the, if not the, hardest working players on the field. This is a player I am just so excited about itís not even funny. Unless she just tanks during the WUSA season (and I doubt she will), I think she has more than earned a long look against a top tier opponent - I think we have absolutely got to find out what this kid can bring in a game against stronger competition. Iím also betting that even if CP is in traction back in Atlanta, for the next National Team call up she finds a way to get herself there . . . even if she has to crawl . . . over barbed wire. As for the goal - it was fantastic, showed nice technical skills and agility. She received the ball, spun around and calmly and confidently stuck it in the net. As for the assist, nice reflexes and ability to target Joy in a crowd. Great stuff all the way around. I am SO glad she plays for my home team . . . sheís turning out better than even I expected.
Millie - I thought she was working really well with Wambach and Lil in this one. She seemed to be getting the ball to Abby on some of those 8 shots she had. Tiff really didnít seem to be attacking 1 v. 1 as much as I like to see, but she did have a couple of nice dribbling sequences that were technically quite impressive. As crazy as it is to say, it really seemed like Tiff was trying to pass too much (Tiffeny Milbrett trying to pass too much, I feel I have fallen into an alternate universe where itís all gone really wacky typing that and it not being a joke). Both Tiff and Mac were passing a lot in this one where I would have rather seen them take on some defenders a bit more - on the other hand, getting some of that much needed chemistry and rhythm with the youngsters is valuable . . . but I donít think either one of them needs to sacrifice her own game quite so much. Overall, it was a solid if relatively quiet performance.
Letís see - the subs . . . running out of steam over here . . . I have a feeling this is going to be yet another day late . . . Then again, the day someone gives me a paycheck for these things is the day Iíll worry a bit more about being timely :-) OK - onward . . .
Kluegel - Offensively she plays a nice game - makes sense since she spent most of her college career as a flank midfielder. She seems to be very fit, has good speed and good offensive instincts. Her goal was very professional. Ran up the flank, cut inside received the ball stuck it in the back of the net. Very well done. She made a lot of nice runs up the flank and sent in some nice balls. I thought it was apparent she and Hucles were teammates because they were showing some nice chemistry out there. Solid performance and I have no complaints at all. Iím still awfully curious whatís going to happen when she actually has to defend though - defenders do have to play defense every now and again. The only game with the Nats Iíve seen her play where she actually had to defend is the only game Iíve seen with Nats where she looked a bit out of her league (the Canada game over the 4th of July last year - not a strong performance). Sheís a year older and more experienced now so Iíd like to get a truer test of the kind of defender sheís become. As for this one, though, nice job.
Hucles - Sheís the surprise of the game for me. Iíve seen her with Boston a handful of times and she looked like a nice player with some potential but no one who really stood out to me too much. Well, in this one she definitely stood out. She was combining so well with her teammates, playing great defense, helping to distribute the ball up top and out to Kluegel - just by watching her, you would have never known this was her first cap. She played a lot of the second half pinched in and she was key in helping to maintain possession. Toward the end of the game, I think the team lost some offensive shape a bit and all the youngsters were probably trying to make their mark (and that probably helped jack up the shot total a bit), but throughout it all she just was as steady as could be both defensively and pushing the ball forward. Thereís no one huge thing to point to (there probably is, but I canít remember it at this point) but she just had a really steady performance and showed a lot of maturity and composure on the ball. Definitely a player Iíd like to see again.
Fair - OK - what have I been saying for two years now - if she must play (and I realize she must, for whatever reasons, she must - the older I get the more I realize some things just are and itís better for your sanity not to question them) then play her out wide on a flank. While we appeared to maintain a 4-3-3 in the second half, she was pushed out wide and patrolling the flank. She had absolutely no distribution responsibilities and was primarily receiving the ball where she was the target or when there was only one pass to make (a cross into the box). I donít recall her getting the ball in any other situations in this one. And you know what - it doesnít just improve possession for the team when you play her like that and limit her touches, it improves her game as well. Sheís fit and sheís fast, and she can float a ball into the box - sheís going to outrun most defenders out there and sheís going to get back and help on D when needed so itís not a bad place for her to play. I have to concede that she looked pretty good out there - she looked pretty good combining with Mac and the assist on the goal was very well done. Again, I think she looked good out there because she was in a very different role than she has been playing since 2000 - playing her as a central midfielder is still a mistake in my opinion - using her as relief for the flank middies (or de facto flank middies, even when youíre in a 4-3-3 one middie is generally still spread wide or pushed in and up to clog up the box) uses her strengths and minimizes her downside a bit more than playing her as a defensive midfielder and in the center of the field. Not a bad night, not bad at all . . . I donít foresee myself becoming a huge fan, but I have no real complaints in this one.
Bivens - ya know, Iím always underwhelmed by this one. With Atlanta, with the Nats - I think I just donít get the Bivens appeal. Sheís not bad, I donít have anything to complain about, I just donít see what differentiates her from about a half dozen other players in the WUSA such that she should consistently get National Team call ups. She has yet to shine in any of these games and has yet to really make a mark in any Atlanta game Iíve seen. Maybe Iím watching the wrong games, but I see a nice young player here, nothing more, nothing less . . . I donít see a National Team caliber defender. I had the opportunity to see Christie Pearce play over the weekend (I love my new dish :-) ), she looked great against Philly, sheís not showing any signs of the ACL, Iím all for calling her back - I think she brings much much more to the table; I just donít think Bivens has that little something more that you need to have to play at this level.
Welsh - Iíve got nothiní. She looks like sheís shrunk though, doesnít she? Is Abby really that much bigger than her or was Abby just having one of those larger than life nights that just made her seem bigger? Welsh looked very slight to me in this one and I lost her. She got into the box a few times, but basically, while possession was strong until the end, the offensive shape was gone by the time Welsh got in - sheís a target player and I donít think a lot of folks were targeting her a whole lot as time wound down. Iíd like to get another chance to see her, but with what we saw from Abby and knowing that CP is going to be coming back and sheís going to want her spot back, I think team big girl might be a bit clogged at the moment - especially since both Abby and CP play better away from goal and are much more full field players than Welsh is at this point in her career. Welsh is a player I like a lot so I hope the "no more than two big girls at a time" rule Team USA seems to have going can be bent a little and Welsh will get called up and given some meaningful playing time next time out.
Clemens - I almost forgot about Clemens - she looks like she shrunk too . . . maybe I need to get my glasses checked. Thatís about all Iíve got on Clemens - I saw her, decided she looked smaller than she used to and then didnít think about her again . . . sorry, someone always gets lost - it was her turn.
Well - to say I lost steam there at the end is a bit of an understatement. Welsh and Clemens were really just in there for mop up time anyway. I donít think there was a lot to tell about either of them from this game - it takes more than 15-20 minutes to get a meaningful look. As for the game, it was fun to watch and they played hard. Individually, there was very little you could point to as being seriously problematic. Thatís what I like to see. We could sit and gripe and complain and run around screaming the sky is falling about the finishing, but I think it would be silly. Fact of the matter is, if the last touch is all thatís wrong, if the big problem in the game is that the last pass wasnít made or maybe one too many was made, then youíre real close to being in real good shape. In this one, possession was there, combination play was there, defense on all the lines was there, that intangible thing called chemistry was there . . . Basically everything was there but that last touch . . . Iíll definitely take it, especially when it gets put together in a package as fun and entertaining to watch as this one was.