US 2 Canada 0
Ahhhh - a new day has arrived - the sun is shining, the birds are singing and all is right with the world . . . Well . . . OK . . . it was raining, all the birds with any sense were hiding in a tree somewhere and the world will always have its problems, but there was a lightness to the team and their performance in this game that made all that the case in the figurative sense, if not literally so. Change is good sometimes, and here, the regime change seems to have invigorated this team. If nothing else, the fact that regime change brings with it competition at every single position on the field has ratcheted up the level of play and work rate from every single player in the player pool - no one is safe . . . and that is a very good thing. As for the game, what stood out most to me is very very simple - ball movement. The ball movement was incredible - I realize this core group has already played this year at Algarve so this really wasnít the first game of the year, but even putting that aside - the ball movement was fantastic, especially the last 30 minutes of the first half, and especially considering the game conditions. And apart from that - I have very little - it was a thoroughly enjoyable outing - veterans played like 20 year olds, 20 year olds played like veterans, and the workrate all over the field was exemplary. I like what I saw from the team today - the scoreline was 2-0, but the US dominated from start to finish in a fashion that they havenít against Canada in years.
Which leads me to the one note about Canada I want to make - Iíve said it before and it wonít make me any friends in Canada, but until they develop a midfield, they will not have a chance at becoming a top tier team. Pellerud has done fantastic things in Canada, no question, but that midfield looks just as underdeveloped as it did the day he got the job as their coach. I think heís got some talent there, Chapman, for one, is capable of playing a very sophisticated game from the midfield/withdrawn forward position (she doesnít do it for them, but she does at Notre Dame), I just donít think thatís how he coaches . . . and I donít know how much room for improvement there is in Canada if they donít start playing through the midfield at least a little bit. The womenís game has advanced - getting Canada to play as Norway played in the early-mid 1990s isnít going to take them to the next level. Every time I make this point, someone defensively points out to me the names of 3 or 4 young Canadian midfielders who are on the verge . . . and thatís fine, I have no doubt thereís talent there, in fact, I know thereís talent there and was raving about some nice Canadian talent during the NCAA College Cup, but if the game plan is to kick the ball over the heads of those talented young midfielders, and if the game plan is to only very rarely play the ball to the feet of some very talented young forwards who prefer receiving the ball thusly, then it really doesnít matter a whole lot. Interesting to see what happens there. I hope itís good things because after immersing myself in the UEFA championships Iíve gotta say, it would be a heck of a lot of fun if the Gold Cup tourney here in this region, if it ever gets played again, could be as competitive some day.
All right - I think Iím done ticking off the nice Canadian Pellerud fans (hey folks, Iím a fan of Sinclair, Thorlakson and Chapman too . . . Iím just trying to get everyone the ball where they have shown they can be quite effective . . . I mean no harm . . . really . . . Go Canada). Onward.
Formation: back-front, right-left
GK - Solo; D - LePeilbet (referred to hereinafter as LeP - there is no way I can keep typing that right), Reddick, Markgraf, Chalupny; Midfield - Wagner, Boxx, Lilly, with Boxx playing a tad withdrawn and Wagner and Lilly playing fairly centrally and quite offensively; Fwds - OíReilly, Wambach, Welsh. Fotopolous in for Wambach, Milbrett in for Welsh, Hucles in for OíReilly. When Hucles came in they switched to a 4-4-2 with Boxx withdrawn - it was really more a 4-1-3-2 and they held that shape pretty well for a bit. Fair in for Wagner, Miller in for Boxx.
Solo - I remember reading Michelle Akers making a comment once how Bri scared her during games when she yelled at her. Ya know, Hope needs to take a lesson. Ms. Solo put the sweeper in sweeper keeper . . . she is a very different keeper from Bri, it is going to take some time to get used to and there will be issues of the defense getting in her way. It is 100% up to Hope to eliminate this confusion and if that means scaring the bejeebers out of her defense while they learn how she reacts to balls, then so be it. What happened in this game, is unacceptable. Ball in the box, Hope is clearly going for it, the defense (I think it was Kate and someone else) converged on the ball and completely shielded her from it, leaving the goalkeeper out, leaving the central defense out, leaving a third defender wide with some other attackers, leaving the fourth defender covering the entire left half of the field and leaving absolutely no one covering the goal. This can not happen . . . Hope is behind the defenders, she can see them, they canít see her, she must get scary, she must call them off the ball and she must do so in a fashion that leaves them scurrying back into the goal to cover her in case she misses the ball. The US just got lucky that Canada couldnít capitalize. All that said, it was a solid outing and I probably went on about the miscommunication so long because thereís not a whole lot else to say. She really wasnít real challenged in this one. I hope we see more of her but Iíve gotta say, looking at our next two opponents, I donít think anything we see will be real instructive. If sheís in goal against the Ukraine, thereís a chance sheíll be playing most of the game 10-15 yards on top of her box.
LePeilbet - I definitely like having a defender playing defense. She does all the little defensive things that no one notices right - keeps attackers to he outside, shifts her hips around to make sure sheí kicks the ball out over the sideline rather than carelessly putting it over the endline for a corner, reads the game well enough such that she is able to act rather than just react to stop an attack, good in the air and has a strong leg. She even got up and down the sideline well enough to lend a touch of width to the attack. She didnít have a great ball in that I noticed, but she is a very good possession player when she crosses midfield - no silly panicky turnovers, she just made good decisions and got the ball to a midfielder. The root of my only concern came early - and it was speed . . . a lack of it. The speed factor doesnít matter quite as much with a central defender, but on the wing, watching an attacker zip by her gave me pause. She did keep said attacker to her outside and I really only noticed it once fairly early in the game because she does read the game well and was ready for most of what was coming at her, but it is something I noticed and a little something to keep an eye on. I definitely hope she stays in the mix over on the right. Just like with Solo though, I donít expect the defense to be challenged the rest of this summer series, but I definitely want to see her on the pitch against a strong offensive team, or at least a team thatís going to come out and play the US and see what sheís got.
Reddick - Nice solid game from Cat. The defense wasnít tested just a whole lot but they were organized, calm and even where there were a few glitches, they werenít particularly worrisome glitches - this is just a calm group that appears to be communicating very well with each other (even if not with the goal keeper at times). As for Cat specifically, I was left marveling at the leg - she has got a cannon out of the back. Sheís accurate over distance, sheís good with restarts and she makes good decisions and passes on the ground as well. Iíve been whining about an accurate leg out of the back since Carla Overbeck retired and I think maybe I can stop now. Thatís about it - I always used to comment with Carla that if I had very little to say, then sheís had a good game - that holds true for central defenders everywhere. Thatís the thing about the position, your best games are the ones where no one notices youíre out there - instead everyone just notices the other team failed to score and that they didnít appear real dangerous.
Markgraf - Nice solid game from Kate. The defense was organized and every one of them was remarkably composed on the ball both offensively and defensively. Granted, Canada wasnít pressuring the defenders a whole lot and they had quite a bit of time, but they still made all the right passes, showed a lot of patience and I donít think there were any panicky clearances all day long - a couple of misclears but those were bad hits more than panicky ones and Iíll take that. If this game is any indication, Kate seems to be stepping up into the leadership role on the backline very well - very impressed with the organization and composure of the whole defensive unit, and on my ledger, the defender in charge of holding it all together gets an awful lot of credit for that. Nice performance, Iím very happy to see her playing where she is best suited. Hopefully, she and Cat are consistently getting minutes in the central D and that is the one area with which Ryan does not tinker too much. Experimentation is all well and good, but your central defenders have got to get time together and with the light schedule this year and what I anticipate wonít be just a huge schedule next year, they need to be in there. I, for one, am sick to death of seeing Team USA give up huge goals in major tournaments on defensive miscommunication - other teams are good enough that theyíre gonna score some, if Team USA can avoid giving up the occasional gift goal, that would be a very good thing.
Chalupny - All right - Iím set with the central defenders and guess what . . . Iím set with the left wing too - let everyone else fight it out for the right wing and two back up slots because this kid can play. Wow - her ball skills are incredible - on the one hand youíd like to use those skills at an offensive position - on the other hand to have that kind of 1 v. 1 capability coming out of the back, that kind of power shot coming out of the back, that kind of offensive instinct coming out of the back . . . thatís gonna have to be scary for the folks Team USA faces. That goal - all instinct - no hesitation, no waiting for a perfect shot, no overthinking, just a loose ball and boom - goal. Itís nice to have that on the field. Team USA is stacked offensively, Lilly is playing as well as she ever has so itís silly to sit her just to sit her, so what do you do? you put your best players on the field and shoe horn Chalupny in at left back. Sheís only about 6 or 7 games into her defensive career and already sheís showing strong instincts on when to get forward and sheís got the workrate and fitness to get back. I didnít notice that she over committed to the offense too much and I didnít notice that Canada was attacking in her direction too much. Straight up defensively, she made a tremendous flying header in the box which showed that she is both willing to give herself up defensively and that she has pretty good defensive instincts . . . that wasnít her area, that wasnít her man - yet she was there to cover on one of the few Canada attacks that actually looked like it could cause some trouble. I am always skeptical of the instincts and fundamentals of converted defenders, I am always skeptical of players who have the reputation of being good headers for "someone her size," I am always skeptical of overhyped players who have yet to show a whole lot at the international level . . . all that said . . . all my skepticism and biases against this particular move revealed . . . I have to say . . . I am impressed.
Just a note before I go on - the US midfield: what a tremendous performance by the entire unit. Letís take a moment to show Ďem some love . . . OK . . . moment over . . . letís continue.
Wagner - A very strong performance. Good possession, nice passing, some very good chances at goal that she just got a little too far under. She tried a quick shot similar to the one Chalupny scored on - when that ball pops out and the GK is out, youíve gotta put it back fast and without hesitation - even if the GK gets it, in that situation itís worth the chance. So often Team USA doesnít take the quick shot like that, instead, waiting for the perfect shot which lets the GK get back and ultimately winds up as an easy save. I donít mean the wasteful, letís boot it 15 feet over the goal because I donít know what else to do chance - I mean the ball is loose, someone else has just put the ball in and it has somehow deflected/been miscleared and landed at your feet and you put it right back on the goal frame. Saw several of those score during the European championship, saw Chalupny score one in this game so I was pleased to see Wagnerís quick trigger on a couple of those. Nice aggressive play. And in another context, that has been the issue with Aly - how aggressive is she, how much will she engage in physical play, or even just the physicality that is required to play her position. I think she answered a lot of those questions in this one. She looked fit and strong to me - I watched her push Canadians off the ball and I watched Canadians fail to dispossess her. I think she can still improve on this count, probably a lot, but itís obvious sheís working on it and I anticipate she will continue to improve. My contention has always been that we wouldnít really be able to get a fix on Aly until Foudy retired - they serve the same purpose on the field. Well, now itís all Aly and I think she got off to strong start. Continued improvement, continuing to play strong, and continuing to play with confidence and not deferring to anyone - this is what I would like to see from her.
Boxx - Dominance . . . sheer dominance all over the field. This was Boxx at her best. Stepping into passing lanes, winning everything in the air, dispossessing anyone in her path - she was just everywhere she needed to be - she gained possession, she kept possession, as the trailing midfielder, she pushed the back of the midfield up into the attacking half of the field - she just didnít let balls behind her. Good stuff from Boxx. She and Lil can arm wrestle for player of the match. Sheís turning into the most consistent player in the player pool.
Lilly - Savoir Faire is EVERYWHERE!!!!!!* My goodness - if the ball was in the attacking third of the field, Kristine Lilly was on it - just an incredible workrate and an incredibly active performance. This was the Kristine Lilly of the days of yore. In the DiCicco years, Lilly had this kind of freedom - the difference then, is that she was the only one. Now, judging from the performance of the forwards in this one, it seems that everyone has that freedom - or, everyone was just taking that kind of liberty in this one. Hereís the thing though - if Lil is going to be roaming all over the place like she was in this one, the rest of the offense needs to have some sort of structure. There was a lot of bunching by forwards in this game, there was a little bit of trouble getting the ball from the midfielders to the forwards. Youíll note I donít say from the midfield to the forwards - basically, Wagner and Lilly were playing in the attacking third and were playing well together - just as the forwards were passing well amongst themselves - at times, it just seemed the forwards and midfielders were playing separate games. I guess maybe we were all a tad spoiled with the chemistry between Lil and Mia or Milbrett for years and years - Lil could run around like a maniac and theyíd be ready for it and still go where they should be knowing that sheíd find them. In this game, I just didnít get that there was that trust - OíReilly especially was running around like a maniac as well and that did nothing but give the midfielders one less target up top. It all comes down to chemistry though - theyíll learn - theyíll start to trust each other a bit more and hopefully, be a tad more disciplined on offense. All that said, like Boxx, it was a dominating, energetic and thoroughly enjoyable performance by Lilly. She looks as energized for a friendly as she has in awhile.
The forwards: I didnít hate it, but it wasnít just a scintillating performance by the forward trio. Maybe itís just that I was so taken with the exciting, dominating play of the midfield, and the calm, poised play of the defense, but the forwards in this one, just seemed to be a little out of sync and didnít seem to be playing with a whole lot of direction. Iíll go through them, but I have very little - they didnít even do enough for me to hate in this one - as a unit, they just didnít register at all.
OíReilly - she seemed to have the highest work rate of the forwards, but this game saw the re-emergence of something we saw from her when she first hit the scene - a whole lot of running around with very little direction at all. Reminded me a little of Chicken Little - letís mic her next game to see what sheís saying . . . I think she needs to find some structure in this offense - hopefully Coach Ryan sees it too and will give her that structure - giving Kristine Lilly freedom to roam is one thing, sheís played on the Nats for almost as long as Heather O has been alive, sheís got a pretty good feel for things. Heather O - I think we forget how very young she still is. In this one, she was running up the backs of other forwards and middies were right on top of her. With the offense bunching as it was, it was tough at times to stretch the Canadian defense as much as they could have. If the forwards stay stretched and keep their formation the midfielders will find them and they will be finding them in better spots with fewer defenders sitting on top of them. At the very least, the switching with the forwards needs to be more concerted - in this one, OíReilly would switch sides of the field but no one else would head over to her side . . . When the forwards bunch the defenders can bunch and pockets of the field get very crowded and thereís nowhere real productive to put the ball. Iím making it sound a lot worse than it was, of course. There was some great chemistry and great combination play among the three forwards - and the workrate with Heather was very high. I guess itís that she just looked unpolished - as unpolished as sheís looked since she first hit the National Team level and that had me a little concerned.
Wambach - She just seemed a step off to me. Like OíReilly, she had some really nice moments, but the totality of the performance was just a little disappointing. She wasnít pushing the restraining line like she usually does. Did she have any offside calls? I know those arenít good, but theyíre a sign that the forwards are sitting on the defense. I donít recall that she was pushing that line in this one. I didnít note that the set pieces were finding her a lot in this one either and I didnít note that she was moving a lot off the ball or making a lot of well timed runs to give the other forwards/middies a nice target. All that said, she did create some very nice chances for her running mates up top. A couple where she was running up the right side and passing up to OíReilly I think, who passed it in to Welsh - all three forwards touched it, very quick, very nice attack - very nice ball movement. There were a handful of nice plays like that. Like Iíve mentioned a couple of times though - while they had some nice moments together, the forwards really werenít combining well with anyone else most of the game. Abby was no exception - as the #1 option up top and the most experienced of the starters, sheís got to take the leadership role up there. If Ryan has more of a laissez faire coaching style than that to which they are accustomed, then itís up to Abby to organize them somewhat up top. It doesnít have to be done (and really shouldnít be done) to the extent itís done on the backline, but you canít have all three of your forwards on the same side of the field for any amount of time - it just results in wasted possessions. Anyway - I wouldnít go so far as to say it was a bad performance, but it wonít go on the top 10 list. I look for an improved outing next time sheís out there.
Welsh - And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why you always, always go on your back post run. Her goal was all about being in the right place at the right time. There is nothing lucky about that kind of goal though - that was a professional doing her job. So often, players get caught ball watching in a situation like that - it looked like Abby had it covered, she was going at goal, but Welsh kept on going on the back post run - the thankless back post run, that so often results in the far side forward sprinting forward, then turning around and trotting back on defense, then sprinting forward and trotting back and forward and back and not a single touch to show for it. But a professional doing her job, keeps on making that run over and over and over again, and here, she scored. Nice job - I liked what I saw from Welsh in this one. My favorite performance of the three forwards - I still think theyíre having some communication/chemistry problems with the midfield, but Welsh was making an attempt to keep some shape - after the first 15 minutes or so, when all the forwards were bunching a bit, she seemed to be making an effort to flow off of OíReilly and fill in where Heather vacated. They definitely need to get accustomed to playing with each other but I guess thatís what the next two years are for. The next two games will be all about the offense . . . Well, OK, if Iceland bunkers as they generally do against Team USA, one of the next two games will be all about the midfieldís ability to break a bunker, but still, the forwards will have the opportunity to figure some things out without having to worry too much about defending. Anyway - itís nice to see Welsh in the mix, playing well and looking so fit. I hope it continues.
Fotopolous - Well, on the one hand, I can be sentimental and be happy to see her back. On the other hand, I can be honest and say that watching her versus watching the three forwards who started this game, even in what was a subpar performance for two of those three, and there just seems to be something lacking. Thereís just a bit of that indescribable "it" missing with Fotop now. I guess part of it is just the aggression and confidence. Itís just not there with her - I watched her back off the ball in the face of defenders rather than just plowing right through and taking the hit. She just didnít seem as natural out there or on the ball as the other forwards on the pitch did - her presence out there just looked a little forced to me. I donít know, maybe with a few more games sheíd look better, but honestly, I was watching and thinking to myself "why?" What we saw from Welsh was much better, what we saw from OíReilly was much better and what we saw from Abby, even on an off day, was much better. It just seemed a little nostalgic to me and that it wasnít based on what she can bring to the field today, but rather, what everyone thought sheíd be able to bring to the field 5 or 6 years ago. Maybe youíve got to look back to determine that you really need to keep the focus forward . . . or maybe Iím just missing something. Whatever it is, if this performance is any sign, I think the Fotop experiment will be over sooner rather than later.
Milbrett - Honestly, Iíve got almost nothing. This is another nostalgic look back. That said, she didnít look as out of place on the field as Fotop did, she just was having trouble receiving the ball from anyone. I was a little surprised she wasnít able to combine a bit more with Lil or Aly (with whom she was developing some nice chemistry when we last saw her), but at least the work rate was there. And thatís about it - she didnít really distinguish herself one way or another. As generally happens when the subs come in groups, Team USA lost quite a bit of its momentum. Not too much notable happened in this game after the subs started. And thatís it - as this was 200 for her, I wish I had more. Iím sure weíll see her back in Portland - maybe Iíll have some more to say about her after that one.
Hucles/Miller/Fair - nothing, nada, zip zilch . . . Oh, I was excited that Marci Miller managed to get into and back out of the game without hurting herself or anyone else . . . that was a definite plus . . . but thatís about it. Huclesís entry into the game brought the formation switch and I was having a good time watching how well the midfield was keeping that shape for about 5 minutes, but thatís about it. Hey, I gotta amuse myself the best I can once the en masse subs start and the level of play deteriorates a bit.
A nice domestic debut for Team USA. As I said at the outset, the ball movement had me wowed. The defense and midfield both played quite well together and hopefully, itís just a matter of time before the forwards get on the same page with them. The next two outings will be all about the offense. I have no idea what weíll see from the Ukraine, but hopefully, theyíll come out and play. Theyíll be overmatched, but one of my favorite things about the UEFA Championship is that even teams that were overmatched, came out and played their opponent rather than bunkering. Thereís something quite satisfying about watching a scrappy team eking out a goal against a vastly superior side - my preference, of course, is to see a competitive match, but ya know, thatís just not what got scheduled so youíve gotta hope for scrappy. The Iceland game - well, we know what that one will be - that will be a bunker, most likely fairly strong goalkeeping, and a test for the midfield to see if they can break through a bunker. Iíd rather either Wagner or Tarpley get a chance to try and lead the way through the Iceland bunker though - we know Lilly can figure a way through and it would be a much better test with one of the less experienced players at the helm. And that is that - as always, I look forward to the next one.
*My undying respect and admiration to anyone who gets the reference . . . without looking it up.