US 1 Japan 1
Four reasons why I did not enjoy this game and why Iím having a tough time enjoying watching the National Team play:
1) Switching Formations aka Sacrificing Success at the Altar of the Versatility God: So - imagine Phil Jackson walking into Laker (or Bulls) practice at the height of their dominance and on the eve of the Finals and saying "Hey fellas - you know this triangle offense weíre running, well I think we do that just fine, so letís trash it today, practice something else for a week and then go play for the championship." Yeah - if that happened, theyíd have had him locked up . . . and heíd have far fewer championships on his resume. Sports is about repetition - itís why athletes spend a huge percentage of their professional/sporting lives at a place called "practice." Sports is about doing something over and over again so that you can do it so well that you find that youíre doing it better than everyone else - sure, youíve got to be able to adjust within what youíre doing, but adjusting is different from employing completely different formations and strategies depending on where/who youíre playing. Pick a formation, perfect it and it really doesnít matter who youíre playing, theyíll have to figure out a way to beat you. Something completely ignored in the comparison of the first and second half during the telecast, they switched back to the 4-4-2 in the second half. The formation theyíve played the most over the last 2 years, the formation with which all of the players are most comfortable, the formation they should be perfecting and running so smoothly that they strike fear into the hearts of all competitors and those competitors are left scratching their heads figuring out how to solve. Instead, 15 games into the year, 3 games before the Olympics, theyíre trying "something new" - something that looked terrible, and something with which no one on the pitch was comfortable. The first half of the Brazil game was brilliant. That they said "OK we can do that" and moved on to something else rather than building on such a fine performance makes me very sad and it makes it hard to watch these games. They are not putting themselves in the best position to be successful, they are making all the same mistakes they made before the WWC. Theyíre not learning from the past - not even a little bit. They call it versatility - I call it a lack of strategic and tactical focus. I hope the individual performances can carry them in the Olympics because they are not preparing to win as a team. Didnít we learn this lesson already - you canít trash what youíve spent years trying to learn and perfect on the eve of a major international tournament - you will not be successful.
2) The Heather Mitts Power Hour: Never has such an average player garnered so much attention. Yeah - Fair was worse, but they never spent an entire telecast focused on her. Unbelievable - the coverage is unbelievable. Youíd think she was an international all star with the number of times her face was plastered on the TV screen. Címon folks, take away the long blonde hair and scantily clad photos and sheís an average player struggling for a roster spot. There is absolutely nothing special about her game - on defense she is constantly behind plays, she is constantly so far out of position that itís hard for some folks to admit that sheís the defender who got beat, her reads are almost always late, and in this game, offensively, the one place she is reputed to shine, she couldnít connect a pass to save her life. Average is a generous assessment of her National Team career yet she garners coverage like sheís Mia Hamm - well, Miaís play warrants the attention. Mittsís does not. Itís unfortunate and I think it aggravates me so much because in every single game she plays, Christie Pearce Rampone finds a new way to show that sheís the best option for Team USA at right back and game after game, for whatever reasons, it doesnít matter. This isnít a beauty contest, this isnít a "who can sell the most t-shirts and magazines" contest, this is the United States National Team - and the best players should be on the pitch and garner the attention.
3) Letting Go - 1999 was 5 Years Ago: Iím sorry, nothing Shannon MacMillan is doing right now is reminiscent of 1999. That was a terrible corner kick, didnít look a thing like the corners she took in 1999. If the best/only thing you can say about her at this point is that the thud of her kick is the same as it was 5 years ago then itís time for you to get a new gig and for her to get one too. That was then, this is now, and Team USA would do better to put a player who has earned her way onto the field out there instead of someone who is very popular but painfully one dimensional at this point. Again, itís the United States National Team - not American Idol - the fans donít get to pick. I realize it was a limited appearance today, but Welsh, OíReilly and Chalupny are all better options than Mac at this point. All of the younger players are far more tactically sophisticated than Mac was even at her best - I just donít know that they need to carry a player who has made an entire career off a hard shot and set pieces anymore. It was very disappointing to hear Wendy ask about Mac when she had April on the headsets today - why ask about Mac - hasnít Welsh done more to deserve some time and attention this year? Why arenít we asking about Welsh? Werenít both Cindy Parlow and Mac warming up at the same time, why was only Macís entry heralded? 5 years folks - get over it. Call the game being played, not the game that was played 5 years ago. As for Mac? Why all the focus on her? I donít know about the rest of you, but I want to see the best players out there and I donít think thatís her anymore.
4) 100 Monkeys at 100 Typewriters: So who in the world has been choosing the venues for these friendlies. Isnít the purpose of these friendlies to prepare for Athens. So they play in very high altitude the last game and they play on really hard, bouncy field turf this game - both are extreme conditions that Team USA will not face in Greece. So exactly why in the world are they playing friendlies in these venues? Again, a poor decision that is not putting Team USA in the best position to be successful.
So thatís my grumpy diatribe on that. The telecast is getting increasingly amateurish and dishonest. They have players they want to promote and unfortunately the ability/skills of those players donít warrant the attention. And what I think frustrates me so much about that is that when it happens the deserving players are necessarily ignored. And what really makes me crazy about all of this, is that not only are deserving players ignored, but theyíre on the bench when they should be playing. As for the game - well, I guess if it had been a good game the aforementioned issues wouldnít have bothered me so much. But the combination play in the first half was lousy, the organization on defense was lousy, Mittsí defense was lousy - I just think she forgot she was supposed to be playing defense actually - the midfield was lousy . . . it was all . . . just . . . lousy. Second half, well, for about the first 15-20 minutes of the second half, they looked better, then Abby and Mia were subbed out and they devolved back into lousy. Mac looked like she had no clue where to run and sometimes she just didnít, and CP didnít look much better so the fact that the midfield was playing a bit better just didnít matter. Frustrating game - they looked like this was the first game of the year . . . in a non-Olympic, non-World Cup year. Whether it was the players or whether it was the fact that the coaching staff spends a ridiculous amount of time screwing around with things that should already be established, I have no clue. What I do know is that theyíve gotta look a whole lot better than this if theyíre going to even have a chance at gold in August.
Formation - 4-3-3, back-front, right-left - GK: Scurry; Defense - Mitts, Fawcett, Reddick, Markgraf; Mid - Foudy, Boxx, Lilly; F - Hamm, Wambach, Tarpley. Subs - Luckinbill for Scurry, Chastain for Reddick and Markgraf moves to the central D and Brandi stays on the left wing, Rampone for Mitts, Wagner in for Tarpley (and they switch to a 4-4-2 - a point that was inexplicably ignored during the telecast), Parlow in for Wambach, MacMillan in for Hamm.
Players - I have very little, and what I do have is largely not flattering. This was a very disappointing game. While most of my disappointment lies with the coaching staff, disappointed I am, and the players will not be spared my inane ramblings - if youíve got thin skin about anyone, stop reading now, I donít know that anyone shall escape my wrath.
Scurry - Well, for all my tough talk, the very first player will indeed escape my wrath. She gets my sympathy. Because a certain overrated right back kept moving forward and forgetting to track back, Team USA essentially played with three defenders in the first half. After about 10 minutes of that, a savvy right back would have figured out she better hang back or at least track back a lot - that would have been a savvy back though, and thatís not who was in there. So Bri saw a lot of technical players on the ground, she saw a lot of players coming at her over the top, she saw a lot of players coming at her from around the side, she just saw a lot of players cominí and cominí and cominí and she wasnít getting a lot of help. Again, youíd have thought after about 15-20 minutes a 4th player would have taken it upon herself to fall back, but no one did. It was Joy covering a ton of ground, Reddick covering slightly less ground and not having a great day to boot and Kate staying back. Anyway - nice game for Bri - thereís no excuse for it to have been such a busy outing for her - hereís hoping in the next one they score a few extra goals for her to try and make amends.
Mitts, Mitts, Mitts, Mitts - ya know, my issueís not even with her as much as it is with the way others are reacting to her. Rampone is the superior right back - period. Rampone should be starting, period. This is not Heatherís fault. She is what she is - at the National Team level, sheís an average defender on a good day and a very very poor one on a bad day like she and almost the whole team had Sunday. Her lack of tactical sophistication is very apparent, her inability to play quickly is very apparent and her inability to read the game is very apparent. All of this is evident in her inability to gauge when to move forward and when to move back. All of this is evident in her chasing plays rather than reading plays as they develop. All of this is evident in her absence on the TV screen as attack after attack was being unleashed in the US defensive third - her absence indicates that she was woefully out of position time and time again - that bopping brunette ponytail of Joyís was covering a lot of ground - where was Mitts? If it happens 2 or 3 times you say oops, but if itís on almost every single possession that sheís either absent or chasing late into the screen after troubleís found itís way out of the midfield then sheís having a problem reading the game and figuring out strategically/tactically what she needs to be doing. Maybe she had marching orders to go forward and stay forward forever and itís not her fault, but frankly, if youíve got a player who is so tactically unskilled that inflexible directives like that are issued, then youíve got a player who has no business being in a National Team uniform. She is at most a solid bench player, she has never shown anything more than that at the National Team level - not even for a moment. And if her value is on offense and if sheís one of the two best offensive players out of the back on the team, then they better just plan on not attacking out of the back at all because if thatís the best (yes, I am highly doubtful about that - the Mitts hype is laughable), then Team USA is in a whole world of trouble.
Fawcett - She was covering a lot of ground, solid in the air. Some nice double teams - she certainly didnít look like she just came off of back surgery. But her passes out of the back werenít any better than anyone elseís and the defense wasnít organized at all. Carla retired 4 years ago and last played a meaningful game 5 years ago and weíre still waiting for Joy to take charge - I got it, ainít gonna happen . . . and since itís not gonna happen, itís as likely theyíll give up a goal or two on a defensive miscommunication as not. Theyíve gotta figure out whoís in charge back there each and every defender and midfielder has got to commit to obeying that voice. 5 years . . . 5 years theyíve had to try and figure out how to maintain their defensive shape without the good captain and 5 years later, they still look like theyíre floundering as often as not.
Reddick - I have almost nothing. The cameramen seemed to enjoy the close up in this game (there really wasnít even one thing about this broadcast that didnít annoy me at least a little - maybe I was just having a bad day without realizing it) - someone needs to send a memo to the brain surgeon directing this telecast that when you pull the camera in close in soccer, the nice fans at home canít see what the heck is going on. Anyway - not much on Cat, but a ton was getting through left central and Kate finally just set up camp back there with Cat so she couldnít have been doing much that was good. Iíll have to take a pass here on anything further - sorry.
Markgraf - Versatility . . . the buzzword that makes me want to scream. The road to mediocrity is paved with versatile players. Sheís a central defender, period. The transition to wing has been ill advised from the start. Sheís not an offensive player, sheís a defender. And before the switch to wing, she was on the short list of best central and individual defenders in the world - after the switch sheís . . . well . . . versatile . . . a slightly above average, versatile player who so rarely does something good offensively that we set off fireworks and throw parties with each connected pass. But let her play defense, and sheís self assured, competent and shows why it was folks spoke so highly of her in the first place. Compare and contrast it sports fans - first half v. second half - wing v. central defender, you decide. Versatility . . . . it is the bane of this teamís existence on both a strategic level and an individual one - a lack of strategic focus and a lack of individual focus - the two players who have blossomed in this setting are Abby and Boxx, and they are two of the least "versatile" players on the team. They both play one position, they are able to focus on that one position and lo and behold, they are able to play that one position better than anyone else. Versatility or lack of focus? first half or second half? you decide . . . I tell you, watching this one makes me a little wistful to wonder what kind of defender Kate would have been able to become had she been a little less "versatile" the last 2-3 years.
Foudy - She had a much stronger second half than first, thatís for sure. I was a little disappointed that she didnít fall back more as Mitts was getting caught too far forward. She just seemed to be part of the midfieldís inability to hold and/or win the ball in the first half and wasnít picking up on the fact that they needed someone to double back on the right to fill in the vast expanse that Joy was trying to cover by herself. It was obvious that they were trying to push Mitts forward, after about 10 minutes it became equally obvious that Mitts wasnít going to be able to get back and that Mitts and Foudy had absolutely no chemistry together, so being the captain and 16 year veteran of the team she either needed to reposition Mitts or call it a perpetual overlapping run and get her own fanny back there and cover it herself. Second half, I thought she improved. Someone made the point to me earlier that she just canít cover as much space as a 4-3-3 requires from a midfielder anymore and thatís probably fair and would explain why her defensive presence improved some when they switched back to the 4-4-2. She was also winning more balls, playing quicker and moving to the ball more so I think there was an effort issue in that first half as well. Overall though, Foudyís performance was one of the least frustrating - maybe itís because she actually showed some sustained improvement in the second half that I so easily forgive her first.
Boxx - One of her poorer National Team performances. She just didnít have many touches, she was winning some balls, but she wasnít the dominating presence weíve come to expect. Like the rest of the team, passes werenít connecting and she was having trouble maintaining possession the few times she actually had it . . . uhhh . . . . thatís about it. The entire midfield was discouragingly quiet in the first half of this one, and I really didnít think she asserted herself as much as Foudy and Lil did in the second so I think we might have a Shannon Boxx first - a lousy game. Sheís entitled, I suppose - everyone finds the lousy game eventually. I guess my only concern is that it wasnít just lousy, but she did look a little lost out there. And as with my Mitts comments, I think that concern is more with the coaching staff than Boxx though. They shouldnít be doing "new" things at this point and they really shouldnít be adding 4-3-3 new at this point - the reality of 1999 rather than the fairy tale it has become, is that the 4-3-3 was never a really dynamic offense and certainly is not one designed for the style of play that has become the norm for this team over the last 4 years so itís not terribly surprising that the combination play was nonexistent in the first half of this one. Anyway - not a great outing, I look for a return to form in the next one.
Lilly - Did she play in the first half? I mean, really, was she out there? Did she even have one touch? I love Lil, you all know I do, but dang, thereís a slow half, thereís not having enough touches and then there was her first half in this one - she was the amazing invisible woman. To her credit she came back and had a much better second half - it was still a subpar performance, but it was much better than the first half, thatís for sure. She and Brandi switched on D and showed exactly how itís supposed to work when wing defenders shoot forward - flank middies fall back and cover . . . if youíll note, she followed the play forward, but was following the play forward as a left back while Brandi was in the attacking third - this let her support the offense but still gave her time to go back on D. You save your GK from having to face life in a three back if you switch like youíre supposed to. This kind of switching/communication/cooperation was simply not happening between Foudy and Mitts in the first half, but happened on both sides in the second. Anyway - she took a nice crack at goal - even on a bad day she has that obligatory shot that goes a foot high or wide. And thatís about it - not my favorite Lilly outing - sheís one of the few players out there who knows what to do in a 4-3-3 and it was disappointing she was such a non-factor in the first half. Looking for a return to form from her in the next one as well.
Tarpley - I have very little. The midfieldís ineptitude in the first half of this one made life difficult for all of the forwards. The ball simply didnít get up to them and uncharacteristically (for all three of the starting forwards), they didnít track back and get it themselves. Ball winning was a definite problem in this game and against a team so much smaller in stature than Team USA that can only be regarded as disconcerting. I really have nothing else. Unfortunate that she finally gets her start and the team is as discombobulated as it was. I want to see her get a chance when theyíre in their 4-4-2 - thatís the only way to fairly assess what she can provide.
Wambach - service, can we get some service for the big girl please. Ugh - all the comments in Tarpleyís section you can put here as far as the first half was concerned. It really was surprising to me that Abby and Mia didnít fall back into the midfield and start knocking heads a bit once it became apparent that the midfielders were going to take the first half off. Neither one of them has a tremendous amount of patience for a lack of service and most games when this sort of thing happens (as it did so often to them with the Freedom) one of them would fall back and get the ball and feed the other. Disappointing that didnít take place Sunday. With the amount of tweaking in which the coaches seem to be engaged, combination play will more likely than not be occurring in pockets - the Hamm-Wambach pocket (throw in a Lilly there too) needs to be reliable - even when everything else is going poorly, that pocket can win games all by itself and it needs to assert itself no matter what else is happening on the field. In case you hadnít noticed, I have lost a bit of faith in the brain trust on the bench with this team, but I do have faith in the Abby-Mia connection - they did a lot together here in DC with almost no offensive help - if they have to, they can do it at the next level as well - they are that good, sports fans. Second half was shaping up to be much better. Wagner provided some nice balls for Abby and Mia, both of them came out determined to be more active and get more touches and then they got subbed out. Nice finish, decent second half but not the best performance weíve ever seen from her.
Hamm - Basically, you can put Abbyís section here. First half was a series of no service, no touches, no tracking back and creating herself. The offensive players just disappeared for stretches of the first half in this one - itís quite uncharacteristic. Usually when things are going like they were Mia will insert herself somehow but Ďtwas not to be in this one. Second half, just like Abby, she looked better - combination play was happening and she was part of the sequence leading to the goal. Thatís about all Iíve got. Disappointing game, her performance was slightly less disappointing than several other players simply because she was so far out of the action for most of the afternoon there was nothing she could screw up.
Luckinbill - Nice save . . . and thatís about all Iíve got. Iím glad the defense improved in the second half because I really really wouldnít have wanted her to be facing life with only three defenders back. My inclination is to root for the Ivy Leaguer, and she was solid enough in this outing, but dang, I canít help hoping Bri stays healthy . . . Really . . . really . . . healthy.
Rampone - Whatís it going to take . . . whatís it going to take . . . for two years now that right back spot has been up for grabs no matter how many times Christie shows that no one else in the player pool at that spot is worthy of carrying her shoes - so whatís it going to take . . . Maybe if her replacement gives up a corner leading to a score in a really really important match . . . oh, wait, that happened already didnít it? And still, the lesson has not been learned. The defense looked, well, normal in the second half. The broadcasters spent 45 minutes fawning all over Brandi, but Ramponeís impact was just as significant. Both players know when to move forward and when to fall/stay back, both players know how to combine with their respective flank middies, both players have the strategic and tactical know-how to play defense at the International level without leaning on a vocal central defender (as I pointed out earlier, they donít have one and at this point, I have little hope anyoneís going to sufficiently fill that role before August) and both players had a positive impact on the entire field and on their teammates. So - whatís it going to take before thereís an end to rotating players in and out of that right back spot? We shouldnít still be talking about this - no one who has consistently played at the high level Christie has over the last two years has had to endure the repeated and undeserved benchings - enough. Nice game - nice offensively and nice defensively. Now - letís stop messing with her head and get ready for Athens.
Chastain - Ya know, physically, she might not be there anymore, but she was a breath of fresh air on the field. At least the effort and the know-how were there and frankly, those two things were enough to set her apart in this one. You know the thing with both Brandi and Christie Rampone in this one - the thing that really just set them apart and made them look like they were playing head and shoulders above their teammates? They looked normal . . . Thatís it - they simply looked like theyíre supposed to look. This wasnít a great game by either one of them - it was a solid outing - some mistakes, some shining moments, all leading to a solid outing. I am through all the starters, and will get through the rest of the subs and it is for these two players and only these two players that Iíll have the opportunity to say what I usually say about three quarters of the team - it was a solid game. Three games before the Olympics, and only two players on the roster had a solid outing. Ultimately, my frustration isnít that the US Nats just stink (they donít), my frustration isnít that they tied a team they should probably be able to beat, my frustration wasnít even the half hearted effort when things were going poorly at the start (well, OK, that one bugs me) - the underlying cause of all my gripes is that theyíre just wasting these friendlies. They think they can go into the Olympics cold, without game testing starting lineups and rotations and who knows what strategy, and win . . . and there seems to be no recognition on their part that they tried that already, they tried this blowing it all up on the eve of the tournament before and you know, but for a Herculean performance by Abby Wambach, this tactic would have had them out of the WWC in the quarterfinals. Well, maybe this game served a purpose after all - it showed what a horrible idea it would be to try this again - what a horrible idea it is to go into a major international tournament cold - maybe they actually needed a game to learn something every single grade school student knows - you canít go into a major test cold . . . If you donít study, youíre gonna get an F and if you donít practice under game situations (which canít be replicated scrimmaging) youíre not going to win gold. Thatís why they have these friendlies - the team should be picked by now (both the core of the basketball and the entire softball team have been picked for months and months - actually, the core of the womenís basketball team was picked over a year ago), at this point, we really shouldn't still be worried about picking a team . . . so maybe, just maybe, this outing will insure it doesnít happen - this outing will insure they donít walk into the big test without studying. Maybe theyíll finally learn a lesson. Because only two players looked right in this game and they both spent half of it on the bench - and thatís not going to be good enough in August.
Wagner - so whatís going on here - is she just a 15 minute player now? What a great 15 minutes - she came in and immediately got the forwards touches, was passing, even won a ball or two, maintained possession. Breathed life into a dead offense, nice flick right to Abby on the goal - just great, this is the Aly we want to see . . . and it lasted 15 minutes. Yeah - part of the problem was Abby and Mia getting subbed out, but part of the problem was that she just fell off the page . . . again . . . Foudy and Lil started to assert themselves and Aly receded - she receded offensively, she receded defensively, she just fell off the page and couldnít hold the ball anymore and wasnít getting any touches. Whatís going on here - 15 minutes - sheís got to have more than 15 minutes in her. Disappointing - she came in so strong, she was an impact player at the start of the second half, that she couldnít sustain it and make a game of it is just disappointing. I really donít have any other words for it. Glad we netted one while she was "on" but if the window for "on" is going to be that short, then some serious evaluation needs to be done as to exactly what sheís going to be able to do at this level. I love Aly, I first saw her in 1999 and have been on the bandwagon ever since, but this isnít the best she can do, and I donít even have any kind of clue as to whatís going on here. Are there shackles from the bench? does she not assert herself for fear of stepping on toes? Is she just that worried about screwing up that itís paralyzing her at times? I donít know. I have no clue. All I know is whatís going on in games and over the last year, year and a half, itís been rare that sheís been able to string more than 10-15 good minutes together and thatís just . . . well . . . disappointing.
MacMillan - You know, part of the National Team since 1996 and she still canít make the simplest reads - Kristine Lilly coming up the left about 10-15 yards out of the box, both forwards have space, folks are moving forward, the whole Japanese defense is moving back bracing for whatís about to happen - OK class, weíve seen this 5000 times, whatís Lil gonna do - sheís going to put the nice ball through big big hole and Mac didnít see it, Mac just stood there, Mac didnít go on her run - this was one of the best chances of the game, Lil served the ball right into space, right into space into which a forward with even a rudimentary grasp on game tactics would have run. Hard shot, set piece specialist - every single year I wait for there to be more, every single year I wait and it just never materialized. And she takes one hard shot and everyone forgets that she doesnít play much defense, she's not much of a ball winner, she doesn't hold the ball well, she doesnít take on defenders as she should, she doesnít create for herself or others and she wastes plenty of opportunities because she really never has adapted to the speed of play at the international level and just doesnít see whatís coming so much of the time - but sheíll take one hard shot or one set piece and everyone ignores all that - and in the past, it was worth it for the most part - she's had some seriously timely finishes - now though? I really donít think it is - because all those areas of weakness seem to be drowning out the strength. And weíve seen two (Welsh and Chalupny), arguably three (add in OíReilly although it might be too early for her - a whole lot of running without a lot of direction in her few Nat Team outings) offensive players who bring a whole lot more to the table than she does at this point. Enough sentimentality, the vets who seem to still regard her as the little sister (sheís pushing 30, sheís not so little anymore) need to deal with it. Weíve had sentimental picks on the last two rosters (2000 Olys and 2003 WWC) and in 2003, they wound up with a very short bench because of it. Again, letís learn from the past and not go down this road again.
Parlow - Run Forrest, RUN!!!!! Címon, I canít be the only one thinking that as she was chasing down that ball that wound up rolling over the left sideline. Ya know - I have nothing too technical here - just an observation: watching her makes me wonder if she really wants to be a soccer player. I realize sheís long and lopey and sheís working harder than it looks like she is, but honestly, she just doesnít look like she wants to be doing this for a living. No one plays with less passion and with less energy than sheís brought the last few games. Sheís a heck of a talent, no denying that, I donít know if there is a more efficient finisher in front of goal than Cindy Parlow can be when sheís on. I just watch her and find myself wondering why? Why is she doing this? Enh - I donít know - just a thought. I have nothing else - a completely uninspiring performance that had me chanting for Welsh. I tell ya - maybe if Parlow had to face being replaced as often as Rampone does sheíd perform with more urgency - maybe the thing to threaten CP with isnít the starting spot (she seems to be perfectly OK with losing that), but is instead a spot on the roster itself. At some point, she should have been left off - not for medical purposes, not because she requested it, but leave her off a roster for which she was 100% - see if it could light a fire under her. I guess the ship has sailed on doing that this year, but it would be nice if they could find a way to get her fired up.
All right - thankfully I am done. What an ugly game and what an ugly resulting match report. Sorry folks, you were warned though. For future reference: when I start numbering and bolding things, itís not good news. I really donít have much in closing. And letís face it, itís just one friendly and we all know this team is much better than this and they tend not to come out in major international tourneys and play this uninspired. I just donít know that this team is preparing in a constructive fashion - again. Weíve seen this before, it didnít work and itís frustrating that theyíre going down this road again. Just like last year with the late and very significant roster additions, itís almost like theyíre playing hide the ball - like they think oh boy, if we can just surprise the opposition in Athens, weíll have it made. Well - you know what, thereís something I learned very young sitting and watching my father diagramming football play after football play, listening to the long rambling explanations going through player by player and pointing out exactly who is going to go where and why, and how to tell by the tilt of their shoulders whatís going to happen next . . . and what I learned, as my eyes were glazing over, is that you donít win in sports by surprising the other guys - you win by preparing, you win by practicing, you win by working harder, you win by incessant repetition, you win through single minded focus - you put all that together and the result is that you win by being better. Surprising the other guy, having this wonderful bag oí tricks from which to assemble a mish mash of soccer, I just donít think thatís the answer. Hopefully, theyíll regain some focus for the last three friendlies and theyíll be used more constructively - and hopefully, the next time, theyíll just be better.