US 4 Canada 0

Just a whole other world.  The level of play in WPS is great, light years ahead of the old WUSA, but this is just a whole other world.  Frenetic pace of play for a full 90.  Constant motion, seamless one touch passing, and quick decisions decisively made.  This was just a really fun game to watch.  I liked the way Team USA consistently used the entire width of the field.  There just seemed to be so much space for a lot of the first half.  Width opens things up and gives everyone some room to run.  Some chemistry between offensive players was lacking at times, way too many cute little back heels (the first time it’s a good play, every time thereafter, it’s not), and not all of those quick decisions were necessarily good ones, but considering the team has been together just about a week, this was a strong performance.  Even when mistakes were made, the ball and players off the ball remained in motion, and with the exception of some turnovers right in front of goal by the good captain, Team USA  generally regained possession of the ball on miscues without anything terribly dangerous occurring.  Not much else – it’s been rare in years past for the team to look this good when they meet for friendlies in non-WWC and non-Olympic years.  That they’re played in is due to the new league, that they are able to combine this well, play at this pace and play this quick one touch style is due to the raised expectations set forth by the coach.  That and the fact that there are some really hungry newcomers out on the field who are pushing play for everyone.

Formation (4-4-2, back-front, left-right)

GK – Solo; Def – Chalupny, LePeilbet, Rampone, Mitts; MF – Rapinoe, Hucles, Boxx (playing a little withdrawn), O’Reilly; F – Rodriguez, Wambach.  Barnhart in for Solo, Buehler in for LePeilbet, Dalmy in for Mitts, Tarpley in for Rapinoe, Cheney in for Rodriguez and Nairn in for Hucles.

Players

Solo – Not much to say here, she wasn’t really tested.  She needs to pull back a tad on her kicks though.  She put a couple almost to Canada’s box – that’s too far.  Team USA can’t make productive use of those balls.  But that’s quibbling, there’s really just nothing to say here. 

Barnhart – She had a little bit more than Solo to do.  She made at least one nice stop and put her hands on a few balls.  She has a nice kicking game, good range . . . and that’s about it.  She was one of my favorites when she was in college and I’m glad to see her get a chance at the national team level.

Chalupny – She had a fairly quiet game.  I think part of the reason for that is that in this formation, width is provided by the flank midfielders, not as much by the wing defenders.  She had a bit more to do in the second half.  She made some nice defensive plays, but Canada was really attacking up the right side, especially after Dalmy was put in the game.  She was cutting inside and joining the attack through the center of the field at times.  And that’s about it, a fairly quiet workmanlike performance.  She’ll have louder games against teams that mount a more effective attack than Canada managed in this one. 

LePeilbet – LePeilbet and Rapinoe seemed like the hungriest players on the field in this one.  Adding some competition for starting spots on Team USA is going to make the whole team better.  She was extremely active with double teams, very effectively got in passing lanes, was very patient and composed when faster players were running at her and she managed to make good passes up through the midfield to help get the offense started.  She’s not the speediest of the defenders, but she reads the attack very well.  That interception in front of goal was a perfect read – a good read on the attack and good knowledge of the attacker’s tendencies such that she was able to make a sound play and not get suckered into trying for a steal.  Nice performance, I think she helped herself in this one. 

Rampone – Keep your head up, always keep your head up.  Two very bad turnovers when she wasn’t under pressure that could have led to far more dangerous chances at goal if Canada had been having a better night.  Just too careless, as the captain of this side, she’s the last one who should be having these mental lapses.  That said, she had a solid outing defensively.  She looked a little flat footed at times in the first half, but by the second half, she looked more like herself.  Running down attackers, using her speed well, helping with the double team and very effectively getting forward into the attack.  I think she was marking Sinclair for stretches too – it’s always tough to tell for sure on TV, but Mitts was pushed in covering for her at times when she followed Sinclair forward.  So, solid outing, but she needs to keep the silly mistakes to a minimum.

Mitts – Like Chalupny, there really wasn’t a lot of room for her to get into the attack much.  Especially since it seemed like there were only three defenders back at times as one of the central defenders would move forward.  She would move in and help cover.  She did manage some forays forward and sent a couple of decent balls in.  There were a couple of sequences where she used her speed well against the Canadian attack.  I think that Dalmy was targeted once she came in, made me appreciate how good a job Mitts had been doing in the first half. 

Buehler – She’s just a solid defender.  She tackles the ball away well and is good in the air.  And she has a fantastic kick from distance which I hadn’t really noticed in the past.  It’s probably not quite as dangerous as Whitehill’s leg, but it could get there.  Not much else, she had a solid outing and she used her leg to provide good support to the offense.  She’s another one who I think helped her cause with her performance.

Dalmy – I think she struggled with the speed of play and the speed of the players running at her. She hesitated at times and she seemed a little overwhelmed.  She definitely lost her composure and patience on that one Robinson run.  She let herself get suckered in by a player dancing on the ball.  She went in for the swipe, and Robinson got right around her.  At this level, a defender has got to show more patience than that – let her dance on the ball all she wants, she can’t go anywhere if you stay off her, if you go for that steal, she’s around you before you know what hit you.  Team Canada was definitely targeting her – lots of runs up the right side after Mitts went off.  She didn’t do horribly, but I’d be concerned to see her in there against a top tier side.  It wasn’t a bad outing, no harm was ultimately done, but she just seemed to be in over her head for much of the time she was out there. 

Rapinoe – She is just perpetual motion.  She runs on the ball, she runs off the ball, she runs behind the defense, she runs in front of them to intercept balls throughout the midfield.  She is everywhere doing everything.  Her play in this one highlights the difference between the international level and what we see in WPS.  In WPS a team has great possession if they hold the ball, and a lot of it is a player holding the ball being relatively stationary and pinging the ball side to side in the midfield.  Here, possession is combined with motion – the ball and the players never stopped moving the entire game.  The whole team runs off the ball, the whole team is ready to find holes and run through, the whole team runs up the sideline ready for a give and go and they make that run repeatedly even if the ball doesn’t find them.  As for the ball, the team possesses, not just one player, the ball is always moving, no player has the ball more than one or two steps unless running at goal.  Instead, it’s quick, seamless passing . . . motion, everything is in motion.  It was fantastic to see and no one had a higher workrate and made more of that motion than Rapinoe.  Her goal was brilliant.  She saw the hole, she was running through the hole, Heather O’Reilly found her in stride with the perfect pass and she finished by putting the ball right past LeBlanc.  Well executed and would have never happened had Rapinoe not been in motion and had O’Reilly not trusted that she’d be making that run.  Anyway – great game, the way she plays, it challenges everyone, from the greenest newbie, to the most experienced veteran, to match her run for run, stride for stride and on a good night, goal for goal.

Hucles – This is going to sound like a broken record – on a good night, these generally do.  But she had a great game, nice one touch passing, putting a lot of balls through for her teammates, was good winning balls in the midfield, she reads passing lanes really well and she wins more than her share in the air.  Rock solid performance. Her versatility at the international level makes her an invaluable asset on this team.  She can fill in for any forward or midfield position and she has enough experience that the coach trusts her to sub in, even at the last minute.  My only complaint, most of the corners were a tad lacking.  She finished strong on this count and the corner to Abby’s head on the third goal was perfect, but they really muffed a lot of set piece opportunities earlier in the game.

Boxx – Solid outing.  She was sitting on top of the defense, intercepting and winning balls.  Offensively, she was utilizing the width of the field well and spreading the ball out wide.  She was passing effectively through the middle and sent the occasional ball over the midfield up to the forwards.  And her goal was a fantastic opportunity.  It’s definitely a luxury having a defensive midfielder who can dribble the ball through the box and then have the composure to slot the ball home.  The whole team shot well in this one – fewer balls being pounded 10 yards over goal and more balls smartly placed with just the right amount of pace to get by the keeper.  My only complaint is really more about the person taking the corners than about her, but I’d really like to see her on the end of more of those.  Strong outing.

O’Reilly – Another strong outing. Rapinoe probably had a showier outing, but Heather O played a really smart game.  She was the table setter for a lot of this one.  Her timing with the through ball was impeccable most of the game, as was shown by the Rapinoe goal.  Rapinoe’s shot was brilliant, but that pass was just as good.  Quick one touch passing, she’s fantastic at it and her combining with her teammates just got better and better as the game wore on.  She was kind of quiet at the start but got stronger the longer she was out there.  I just can’t say enough about the pace of play, especially as far as passing was concerned, in this one.  She was instrumental in it.  Great game – watching that Sky Blue team play without her against the Freedom on Saturday really made me appreciate what she brings to the pitch.  That team is a different team, and a far far less competitive team, without her.  I would guess Team USA would be as well. 

Tarpley – I thought she came in and brought a great spark.  She was making a lot of runs just as Rapinoe had been.  She was possessing the ball well, she was connecting with her teammates well.  She really got deep into the Canadian third almost as soon as she got in the game.  She was pressuring the defense immediately.  Her goal was the type of opportunistic shot that is becoming her norm.  She was right in front of goal on the corner, she stayed onside and was ready to pop the header from Wambach right in the back of the net.  This was the best executed corner of the evening.  Her role in Cheney’s goal was as impressive and shows how she always plays with her head up and is thinking a pass or two down the line.  She made a beautiful pass all the way across the field to find Heather O on the right side of the field, O’Reilly then just bounced the ball in off Cheney’s head.  Great vision to see O’Reilly across the field and great execution getting the ball out there.  Creative.  Tarpley doesn’t get enough credit for that.  Nice outing

Nairn – I got nothin’.  I saw her come in, I saw her trot by, I didn’t see much else.  Good experience for her to be with the team though.  I’m looking forward to getting a closer look this fall at Penn State. 

Rodriguez – Her confidence is shot.  She is hesitating before every pass, before the first step in every run and before every shot.  You can see her running decisions through her head rather than just making a pass or making a run.  The hesitation and contemplation is causing her to miss teammates and to be late on her runs.  Someone needs to tell this kid to stop thinking so much, make sure she’s running into spaces and just play. 

Wambach – She had a fairly slow start, but she heated up  late in the first and into the second half.  She started playing a little deeper at times, getting involved with the midfield more and distributing to her teammates.  When they finally started finding her on set pieces, she delivered.  The header on Tarpley’s goal was perfection.  Great kick on the corner, picture perfect header back toward the goal mouth.  She wasn’t just serving as a target through the air, she was running through the defense and teammates were finding her feet as well.  She was making some good decisions as far as switching fields and spreading the ball wide.  Solid performance – I’m not sure she’s at 100% yet, but she’s looking stronger and stronger with each game.

Cheney – She really does have a knack for finishing in front of goal.  She is always around the goal mouth.  Heather O bounced one in off her head, I think Abby almost hit one in off her as well.  She’s a very dynamic offensive player.  I’d be interested to see if she got involved as more than just a target if given more playing time.  I know she has a very complete game at the collegiate level and am interested to see how it translates at the international level.  Time will tell. 

And that is it.  I could have done this very shortly with a simple “they all played very well,” but what fun would that have been.  A strong and entertaining outing by Team USA.  One of what is going to be many learning experiences for Team Canada.  They’re trying to switch styles, go from the very direct style they’ve been playing to actually using a midfield.  It will serve them well in the long run and I’m glad to see the maturation of their program, but it’s going to take awhile.  I hope they’re patient and give Morace a chance to see it through.  It will be interesting to see how they look in July. 

Beulah