US 6 Canada 2
Wow – that’s a polished, prepared team. They’ve got some fine tuning to do, but I’d feel good sending them over to China tomorrow. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them play and they’ve come a long way. They seem to have solved a lot of my pet peeves:
|Numbers forward – check.|
|Advancing the ball instead of playing in the middle third for 90 minutes – check.|
|Fast speed of play – check.|
|Clearing the ball – check . . . well, most of the way check – checked better than the last time I saw them|
|Connecting on passes – check . . . check on the short passes, anyway – anyone not named Cat and not taking a free kick or corner kick needs some work connecting on the passes over distance. It wasn’t terrible, Mitts did connect an awfully nice distance pass into the box on the second goal, but in the early going, it was a little rough.|
|50-50 balls – check, both on the ground and in the air.|
|Killer attitude – check for all but the opening minutes of the second half.|
All in all, a delightful way to spend a couple of hours. And that’s saying something considering how annoyed I was at the outset (if the broadcast starts at 7, I expect my game to start at 7). Anyway – a good game, which has left me feeling all but giddy in anticipation for the real games at the end of the summer.
Formation – 4-3-3, back-front, right-left
GK – Solo; Defense - Mitts (oh Mitts Mitts Mitts . . . I hope it’s not what it looked like), Whitehill, Markgraf, Rampone; Midfield – Boxx, Lloyd, Chalupny (it was more Boxx back, Lloyd up and Chalupny everywhere in between than it was right, center and left); Forwards – Tarpley, Wambach, Lilly. Lopez in for Mitts, Rampone moves to the right, Lopez comes in on the left. Dalmy in for Markgraf, Rampone continues to show her versatility and moves inside and Dalmy is on the right wing. Osborne in for Lloyd, O’Reilly in for Tarpley, Wagner in for Chalupny, Kai in for Wambach. Methuselah plays 90+ as does the Shannon Boxx of the recovering knee.
Solo – the one kick she took short came back and bit her on the derriere. I realize that many people can’t handle her booming kicks, but when the turnover happens, or the header isn’t won, the ball is lost deep in the opponent’s end. When she booms a kick short, even if it’s more of a controlled kick, if the 50-50 ball isn’t won, it’s coming right back at her and it’s coming back quick. Especially if Christine Sinclair is on the pitch. That first goal, direct result of the short kick . . . and Sinclair just beating the shorts off of two veteran US defenders. The second goal, a failed clearance – probably the only mistake Cat Whitehill made all night. Lost the 50-50 ball and it went right back to Sinclair who put it in for a goal. Both goals were good ones that Hope really didn’t have much of a shot at stopping. I thought her decision making was solid most of the game (which was greatly appreciated as we were able to contrast it with some of the horrible decisions the Canadian keeper made during the game), her kicking was good most of the game – the short kick which came back and scored was the last one she tried – and she made some solid plays. Other than the two that scored, nothing really came at her that required a great save though. So she gets a solid yet unremarkable performance for this one. The defense was as culpable on the two scores as she was.
Mitts – ARGH!!!! I hope that wasn’t what it looked like – I really do, because this one has been growing on me over the past 3-4 years and she’s got some of the best game speed Team USA has on the backline these days. OK – enough negative speculating. She gets a thumbs up in this one. She was solid on defense. The whole backline was knocking the ball around well. She was getting up into the attack. She was positioned perfectly to take advantage of the ball that was headed out on the corner kick. A beautiful corner from Lilly, headed out past the top of the box, Mitts was there and served a perfect ball into the box, right in front of goal. Tarpley just had to flick it in and start the celebration. Solid game, and I hope I’m fretting for nothing.
Whitehill – I know I really shouldn’t in a game in which Team USA scores 6 goals, but I’m giving Cat my player of the match award. I thought she had an absolutely brilliant game. She made some beautifully technical takeaways that reminded me of Joy Fawcett in her prime, she made some perfect reads and made some great double team saves that made me think of Carla Overbeck in her prime, and she made some fantastic serves/kicks over distance that made me think uniquely of her, now, in what is most probably her very own prime. Just a great performance. She won a ton of challenges with her feet and the only notable 50-50 ball she didn’t win was unfortunately the one that scored (no one wins all the 50-50 balls – other defenders and the goalkeeper were all behind her – that goal was a team effort on the part of the US and a superior play by Walsh and Sinclair) . Other than that one play, I thought her game was great. Great workrate, had everyone covered, and even with a whole lot of defenders rotating in and out and switching positions during the game, the whole unit stayed organized and looked very composed throughout. Really no complaints here at all. She definitely seems to have become the commander of the backline and her cannon leg has become a viable weapon on offense.
Markgraf – I thought she got stronger as the game went on. She looked a little shaky at the outset. Just a terrible angle on her run on Sinclair’s first goal. She looked a step slow too. She whiffed on some takeaways and didn’t look nearly as strong defensively with her feet as Cat did. On the upside, I thought she looked fantastic defending in the air, which is key since they were playing Canada, a team which launches ball after ball in the air toward the backline. Overall, a solid outing, and I assume the speed and some of the decision making will get sharper as she gets played in after coming off of maternity leave and subsequent injuries.
Rampone – She got smoked by Sinclair, that’s for sure. Don’t know if there are a whole lot of defenders out there who wouldn’t have been, but I think we’ll keep that one off her highlight reel nonetheless. That said, I liked that she didn’t crumble. She’s a veteran, she shouldn’t, but often, after a play like that, you can start playing stupid. Too cautiously. I saw it in one of the Canadian defenders – the defender was so worried about/intimidated by Abby, she didn’t go for a ball she could easily have cleared, instead she waited for Abby to get to it and reacted to what Abby did. Now, I’m all for staying between a player like Abby and the goal, but when you’re about 10 feet closer to the ball and clearly have the opportunity to clear it or knock it out, it’s only because the attacking player scares you that you make the choice she did. It was good to see that the US backline didn’t let Sinclair dictate play like that – even after being smoked like Rampone was on the first goal. All that said, Rampone had a solid outing. I thought she looked especially strong when she moved to the central defense. I know they were talking about how fast she is during the telecast, but her game speed didn’t look that fast when she was on the wing. She was making better reads, taking better angles to the ball and making better challenges when she moved into the middle.
Boxx – Why, o why, was she still in the game in the 86th minute. Are we just pretending she’s not coming off an ACL injury? Or is the entire coaching staff ignorant as to the history of players recovering from this particular scourge? If we start reading about tendonitis in Boxx’s knee or any of the other euphemisms for the various and sundry post-ACL injuries that are encountered by those who do too much too soon, we can look back to 90+ minutes and a hit in the 86th minute and all shake our heads in unison at the coaching staff’s failure to learn from ACLs past. OK – I’m done with my Chicken Little routine on this point – and I really do hope it’s just an acorn and the sky isn’t really falling. All that said, she looked great. I was surprised at how good she looked. Until that hit late in the game, there were no vestiges of her injury that I noticed. She was fantastic in the air and an authoritative voice keeping things organized throughout the midfield and into the defense. There was nice possession and passing through the midfield and she was a big part of that. She assisted the defense and helped out tracking Sinclair at times. Just a rock solid Shannon Boxx outing.
Lloyd – I continue to enjoy her play. As has become typical for her, she was playing very aggressively – just behind the front line. Her short passing game is very strong, the combination play between her and her fellow midfielders and forwards was very impressive at times. The fourth goal was a great example. The entire offense moved forward as a unit. Lloyd on the outside, Lilly and Tarpley to her inside and she made a great pass in that was finished for a goal. I love to see the numbers forward – the defense has no clue who to cover and they’re always a man down because 1˝-2 players are shadowing Abby where ever she goes. Thus, if they all move fast toward goal together, they’re going to catch defenses shorthanded and they will find holes. The speed of play at which the entire offense is moving is as good as I have seen it in a long long time. She has a nice hard shot and pass over distance – although the accuracy of some of the distance passing needs to be improved. A lot of times, the thought was good even if the execution wasn’t. She plays well in the air, has a great workrate and is tough on defense. A very well rounded player of whom I look forward to seeing more.
Chalupny – I’m exhausted just watching her. She impressed the heck out of me tonight. I liked her on the defensive wing, but honestly, I’ve always thought she was wasted back there. She’s got a motor that just won’t quit and fantastic offensive, on the ball technical skills. I think she’s a huge part of the reason the US speed of play is so amped up. There was one sequence, where the US attack, running forward, made several short passes and slotted it in for what should have been a score (Abby booted it over the goal). They very aggressively and quickly move forward. The Canadian defense was on their heels every single time the ball came up on the ground, through the midfield. If you spend a couple of minutes watching her and her hummingbird pace, you realize she’s the engine for a lot of it. They’re playing fast and they’re playing under control – Team USA looks dangerous. And for a lot of this one, Lori Chalupny looked like the most dangerous one of all – a strong runner up for my player of the match.
Tarpley – a workmanlike performance this evening. Nothing too flashy, just making her runs, doubling back on defense, making some nice takeaways and maintaining possession on offense. I’m glad she got the opportunity to make the finish on Mitts’s pass – she seemed to be a decoy for a lot of the night so that was a nice reward for a solid outing.
Wambach – Another steady workmanlike performance. Great workrate, great helping back on defense and making takeaways, good maintaining possession. And the most important thing she does on the field is that she occupies 2 defenders just by showing up for the game. It opens everything up for everybody and they seem to be capable of making the opponent pay. Her value on set pieces is simply unparalleled. The ball from Lilly was a perfect serve and she made a perfect finish. So many tall players are hyped for their air game and it’s just that, hype. With Abby, it’s 100% reality. I also liked that Abby didn’t make any silly fouls this evening. She’s taking the abuse better than in the past – she doesn’t lash out anymore. At this point, the threat of Abby is just as important as the reality of Abby – she distracts defenses and takes teams out of their game. She must stay on the pitch for Team USA to be successful and a little bit of control on her fouling will help her in that endeavor. Thus, I was pleased to see her not fouling a whole lot in this one . . . well, at least not fouling obviously.
Lilly – rock solid performance. Her workrate remains strong, running as hard in minute 92 as she was in minute 1, connecting on her short passes, firing in tremendous corners and free kicks throughout. She is an ageless wonder and I think the best thing to happen to Team USA was her deciding not to retire. Not because I think athletically or technically she’s superior to the younger players at this point, but strategically, I think she provides leadership on the field and makes things happen that no one else on the roster could. And OK, she looked pretty good technically and athletically in this one too. My only request is that they not wear her out. It’s May . . . she’s got to last until September. 35, almost 36 isn’t 25 – even though she feels good today, the coaching staff has got to be smart enough to be more concerned about how she’s going to feel in 4 months than how she feels right now. That means no more 90+ minute games when the team is up 6-2 – we know she’s fit enough, Team USA had the game in the bag, the mass substitutions started early in the second half, there was absolutely no reason in the world to have her out there at the end. The point is to win in September . . . with Lilly and Boxx, I think someone needs to remind the coach of that.
Lopez – I don’t have a lot. I’m a little worried about speed on the wings though. I didn’t see a lot of support in the attack either. She came up to midfield and had some nice short passes through the center of the field, but she doesn’t provide the same kind of support on the wing Mitts and Rampone do. I like her size and she’s good defensively in the air. She seems to be a tough stopper on the ground as well. I think I’m withholding judgment at this point, as I imagine we’ll be seeing quite a bit of her in the future. Preliminarily, the speed issue and her ability to support the offense are my concerns.
Dalmy – there’s always one, and she’s the one – I completely lost her. I saw her, she’s big, she was in a wall once, wasn’t she? Aside from that, I’ve got nothin’. Speed issues on the wing though – I hope I notice that she’s fast the next time I see her.
Wagner – now THAT’S how you make an entrance. Just a cute little touch on the ball and Heather O puts it in. Very nice sequence there. I thought she was solid. I think Lori Walker hit on it though – with Lloyd and Chalupny in the midfield, I think the speed is a bit much for her. She’ll be a great change of pace sub though. I’ve always said in the past that I don’t like her as a sub, but I think in a game with a lead, where Team USA needs to maintain possession and look for the occasional hole in the defense, she’ll be a great option. Strategically, she’s still one of the best on the team and she has great touch/knows when and how to get the ball to her teammates. Solid outing.
O’Reilly – I don’t have much here. Her goal was a great finish and the combination with Wagner was fantastic. Her workrate was high, passing was good, made some takeaways in the midfield. That’s about it – lots of depth on the roster, I’ve got to believe there’s more time in the offing for her though.
Osborne – I don’t have much here either. She made some nice stops/takeaways, her passing was solid. Nothing too much stood out here. When she was filling in for Boxx I was becoming a fan. I hope she gets a chance to play some more in the next one.
Kai – OK – I know she’s everyone’s “it” girl, but if she doesn’t stop with the cute stepover crap, she needs to not be on the field. It’s not the University of Hawaii, this is international competition and she’s fooling no one. All she managed to do was fake out her own teammates who were in the box waiting for the pass. Hit the ball the first time, if she'd just hit the ball the first time she had open teammates in the box right in front of goal. If she can't manage that, then she needs to double around and pass to a midfielder who can reset the play. She needs to stop turning it over doing silly, showy little things that use to confound her high school opponents. Team USA’s speed of play is very fast, that stepover move is completely unnecessary, it slows down play and gives the defense a chance to get the ball. The youth and inexperience argument is getting tired - compared to a lot of the offense, she simply isn't that young and she's been with the team for several years. If the coaches haven’t trained that silliness out of her yet, they need to get on it because they can’t have her out there doing that crap. And that’s all I have to say about that . . . and yes, I know she’s a heck of a talent, that’s why it frustrates me so and why they need to get her to stop using these silly little crutches. For me, she remains far behind the starters and Heather O on the depth chart. Lots of raw talent there, I’d like to see it mature some and for her to gain some tactical sophistication.
And that’s all folks. A thoroughly enjoyable game this evening. Team USA is playing a very entertaining style on offense. The speed of play was fantastic and the combination play was impressive. I know I’m a little rusty, but like Team USA, I hope to be peaking in a few months. As always, I look forward to the next one.