US 7 Ukraine 0
Well - I never know what to make of a game like this. On the one hand, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours: lots of attacking soccer, lots of youngsters played and played well, lots of oldsters and in-betweensters did too, a landmark moment in the history of the program that really couldnít have turned out any better if it had been scripted and a Ukrainian team just scrappy enough to keep the game moving. On the other hand, Team USAís opponent was so completely outmatched that to consider this as anything more than a glorified, televised practice session is a mistake. I donít think there are many meaningful lessons to learn here - most everyone looked fairly strong, but everyone should have looked that way. To falter in a game like this is a sign that the international level might not be the place for you. That said, it really was a fun game to watch. While I didnít think the ball movement was as good as in the first half of the last one, I thought that link/chemistry between midfielders and forwards was much much better than in the last. Everyone seemed to be playing the same game this week. In the first half, it did seem that Team USA was aware of how outmatched the Ukraine was and they played accordingly, but they came out ready to roll in the second and finished some nice chances. As finishing has been a consistent issue over the years, the efficiency in the second half was good to see . . . but at the same time, I think we have to recognize that the Ukraine was tiring and some of those chances werenít as well defended as one might expect.
And a quick note about the Ukraine - for some reason I just liked the spirit of this team. Foudy made some comments that they were bunkering, but you know, I think there might be some floating definitions of bunkering out there. For me, a bunker is everyone packed into the defensive half and packed into the box in an instant, with the occasional/obligatory run forward by a singular forward on a long ball out of the back . . . and you can tell by the way sheís running, that forward doesnít really expect to get to the ball and has absolutely no plans for it when she gets there . . . itís what we commonly see for long stretches when Iceland comes to town. However, in this game, I felt the Ukraine came out to play - thatís just how it looks when a team is outmatched. Sure, they had everyone packed in the defensive half a lot of the game, but whenever they got anything even remotely resembling possession of the ball, they threw one forward and two middies forward - three players attacking with everyone trailing whenever they got the ball for more than a pass or two - they looked like they meant it - it wasnít just an obligatory run forward, they were trying to do something. And at the end there - despite the fact half the team was cramping up, they still had folks running forward trying to make a run at goal, and smiling at every half chance. They didnít bunker in fear, they came out and gave it a go - I respect that, and feel they should get credit for the effort.
Well - all that said, it was a fun one. Iím not sure how productive these made for TV events are and I certainly would like to see them playing a more competitive team. I recognize that one of the reasons to play a team like the Ukraine is to help them develop (or redevelop) their program - but Iíd prefer to see a team like this in a Nike Cup setting (if it ever gets played again) where there will be at least a nominally competitive match forthcoming.
Formation - 3-4-3 - back-front; right-left
GK - Barnhart; Def - Mitts, Markgraf, Reddick; Mid - Boxx at DMid, Fair, Chalupny, Wagner at AMid; Fwd - Milbrett, Welsh, Lilly. Fotopolous in for Welsh; Tarpley in for Fair, Frimpong in for Mitts, at which point they switched to a 4-4-2 with Frimpong on the left wing, with Markgraf and Reddick in the central D and Chalupny playing right back. Hucles in for Boxx, Lloyd in for Wagner, OíReilly in for Milbrett.
Barnhart - Uhhhhh . . . . ummmm . . . uhhhhh . . . well I saw her at Stanford last year and I really like the way she controls her box . . . uhhhh . . . ummmm . . . hmmm . . . uhhhh . . . I got nothiní . . . .
Mitts - She made one fantastic run up the right side I recall, ran it right up the sideline, got to the endline and cut it inside. No one was making the near post run to receive it, but it was a nice effort on her part. She also had a couple of instances where she did a real good job keeping possession while she was getting mugged, but she didnít get the call. Some nice overlapping runs with Fair - they had some nice chemistry. And I really donít have much else. There really wasnít any defending to be done, and with the three back, there wasnít as much opportunity for her to get forward as she would have had in a four back. Nice, solid and fairly quiet outing.
Markgraf - Scoring ma-CHINE!!!!!!!!!!!! You go Kate! OK, so it was an assist, not a goal, but we set fireworks off here in Beulahland any time Kate has a point of any kind. Ya know, I saw them pull Millieís 100 goal ball, they should pull Kateís assist ball too . . . she might want to keep that . . . send it to the soccer hall of fame . . . cast it in bronze . . . feature it in a monument outside of the Fedís offices . . . Hey - I kid, because I love . . . and because thereís really nothing else to say. On the defensive front, nothing was going on - Kate was fine. I noticed a few really nice ground passes up to the midfield - passes that might have been dicey a few years ago, were just very calmly and accurately executed. I think sheís going to make an excellent backbone for this defense.
Reddick - I love her free kicks - she just nails those balls right in there and gives the big girls a chance every single restart taken in the attacking half. Thatís going to be an incredible weapon for Team USA. I like the way she and Kate work together in the middle, I like the leg out of the back as much as the free kicks . . . and I donít have much else. Not a good game to watch the defenders.
Boxx - Honestly, I didnít notice her a ton. She held possession nicely, had some strong takeaways. Nice near miss on the header on the set piece in the box. The possession/ball movement in the midfield wasnít quite as nice as it was in the first half of the last one, but I donít think it had to be. There was a lot more risk taking in this one going for goal, and the forwards definitely asserted themselves more than in the last so Boxx simply didnít have as large a role. And thereís the same issue as with the defenders, there simply wasnít a lot more defensive midfielding to do than there was defending. So - Iím done . . . Solid, if uneventful, outing for Boxx.
Fair - Sheís baaaaaaaaccck . . . Honestly, it was a fairly solid outing. Iíve always said, if she must play, play her on a flank and she had some really nice runs up the right side. I still worry about that ball in, not too much productive happened with her passes in. Short passes to Aly or Boxx worked better for her than long balls in from the flank. She had some strong tackles, got mugged a couple of times yet didnít get the calls - there was a lot of that going on, actually. The ref definitely let them play. As always, my concern here was turnovers - this time it wasnít her booting the ball away so much as it was her consistent inability to receive the ball. She simply wasnít ready a couple of times, a few times she wasnít paying attention to what she was doing and she failed to trap the ball before she took off - just some sloppy play. While there was some sloppy play in the first half for everyone, I couldnít stop myself from shaking my head at her inability to receive passes - it was consistent. I was having one of those "itís always something" moments: she wasnít turning it over so much on the pass, but hey, letís cough it up on the reception . . . itís always something. While it was essentially a solid outing, I did have the same feeling I had with Fotop: I watch it, itís not awful, itís not even bad actually, but at the end of the day, I canít help but scratch my head and ask "why?"
Chalupny - Iíve got almost nothing here. Playing in front of Lilly in the last one and behind her in this one kind of seemed to be a dead zone. Lil was possessing the ball well and frequently and it kind of left Chalupny without a lot of touches - add to that the fact Aly was having a very strong outing and everyone seemed fairly focused on getting Milbrett some chances and she didnít have a ton to do. After the switch to right back she made a few runs, but I really didnít notice too much going on over there. And thatís it - with the defenders, there was just nothing to say, with Chalupny, I think I just lost her much of the game.
Wagner - Great game. The passing was outstanding - the pass on Welshís goal was just a cute little touch - Alyís very good at varying pace and tailoring it for specific situations. Do not underestimate the power/value of a good passer - I think folks are kidding themselves if they think Alyís passing talents, field vision and ability to tailor a ball to a particular recipient are easy to find elsewhere. Coaches donít slobber over her ability because theyíre stupid, itís because what she can do is rare. And because they know, that sheís not a sub, sheís not the type of player who is going to come in and be your ball of energy, sheís not the type of player who can be successful unless she has a lot of touches and up to now, even though sheís been with the team for years, she simply has not had that chance. Does this mean that Iím ready to cede the starting attacking midfield spot to her - no, of course not, I expect this to be one of the most hotly contested spots on the field for the next two years - if the fight comes down to her and Tarpley, I honestly have no clue what kind of chance Aly has - it just means that I think folks who have been writing her off because she didnít do very well playing third banana to Foudy and Lil on the midfield line are writing her off too soon. She looks better this year than she has since she was a kid trying to make the 1999 WWC team. That sheís addressing a lot of the physicality issues that I think sheís had over the last few years (did you see the slide tackle, it was a sweet slide tackle) shows sheís serious and that sheís working on her game. Sheís fit, I again saw her knocking players off the ball, I saw defenders fail to knock her off the ball and I saw her play some great creative soccer. Yeah - it was the Ukraine - but sheís playing better against this lower tier team than she has against opponents of the same ilk in the past. OK - thatís all I have to say about that - Aly was the engine in this one - thatís what she needs to do, thatís where her value is. Now, letís see if she can do it with some consistency against a tougher opponent.
Milbrett - Ya know, Iíd chide the team for forcing the ball in to her so many times, but the thing is - they really didnít - they were getting her fantastic chances. It wasnít forced at all, just chance after chance after chance and Tiff couldnít net it. She eventually got one hundred on my favorite kind of shot - keeperís out so what do you do - you CHIP IT!!!!!! And she lofted it up and over and in it went. Beautifully done, on her college field, in front of friends and family. Sometimes, I want to be a sap, be a fan and enjoy the moment . . . this is one of those times - congrats Millie, thanks for this memory and for all that came before . . .
Welsh - When she went out, Foudy was making it sound like Welsh wasnít having a good game. She was instrumental in both goals though, was very active moving off the ball . . . arguably, she wasnít doing great things with possession, but no one really was early in the first half and you donít put Fotop in to improve that anyway. No - I think Ryan was just getting Fotopolous some time, and Welsh is the one who had to come off. I thought it was a solid outing. Her goal was all about having the tenacity to stay with the play - cute ball from Aly, goes off the keeper or the defender, she hurdles them both and cuts the ball in for the goal. As in the last one, it was very professionally done. And I donít know if she got the assist or not (donít have the boxscore in front of me) but she created Lilís chance as well - just a little drop off to Lil in the top left corner of the box - again, very professionally done. Sheís not as dramatic as Abby, but sheís really a very sound forward. The improved fitness is huge for her because one of the things she did well was to simply keep moving. She consistently goes on her runs and is a very creative player. Another strong outing - she seems to very quietly be upstaging everyone this year - hereís hoping it continues.
Lilly - I have nothing new to say - what I said last time? Put it here, but this time she was going at it from the forward spot for the first half. Very active outing, good possession, good passing . . . I think it was her presence on the front line that helped breach the gap between midfielders and forwards that we saw in the last one. She was combining very well with Aly in the midfield and with Tiff and Welsh up top. The call on her goal was perfect - vintage Kristine Lilly - a left footed power blast from the top left of the box - beautiful goal. And just to show she can play the pace game too, the assist on Fotopís first goal was little back heel in the box. Sheís always in the mix, sheís always in the process of creating something. Another great outing.
Fotopolous - OK - the goals were great - Danielle Fotopolous is now and has always been a very efficient finisher. She finished the Lil back heel, and she found the loose ball in the box on the set piece and she finished that one. The goals were great, I loved seeing them. What I wasnít so thrilled with was the lack of anything else. Movement off the ball was unimpressive, she didnít create well (anything?) for others, she seems to have a hitch in her step when sheís running, Iím not sure sheís been at ease enough on the field yet to run full speed onto a ball. The finishing is great . . . I donít want to detract from the goals . . . But at this level, Iím not sure that itís worth it to have a fairly one dimensional finisher prominent in the player pool - especially when there are so many more complete options out there. She did get better as the game progressed, and started to look more at ease, but despite the goals, I still gave it a shrug at the end of the day and said to myself, "OK, that wasnít bad . . . but . . . Why?"
Tarpley - She was fairly active, making some nice runs. And I canít even fake anything else. . . I lost her even worse than Chalupny - maybe it was some weird mental block against young Tar Heels. And in the interest of full disclosure, I should also probably mention, since this match report is delayed about a week, this begins the part of the match report that wasnít finished within a couple of days of the game - I finished Fotop Tuesday night and havenít looked at it since (it is now Friday, sadly, the real job interfered with my sports watching/writing this week - whatíre you gonna do). To the extent any of this is useful or has value, it gets less so from this point on (itís just the folks who played less than a half . . . I usually fail them terribly anyway).
Frimpong - I wanted so much to love and adore every single touch she made - I wanted so much for something spectacular to happen for this young woman. There is no NCAA womenís player that I saw last year who impressed me more or who was singularly more dominating than Tina Frimpong. That indescribable "it" I talk about sometimes? this is a player who has it - who oozes it. And because there is no league, and because she was not a featured youth star, there is no place for her to develop that "it" further. So she has to take that "it" and figure out how to use it on the backline - which means learning a new position and not using her tremendous 1 v. 1/take on ability in the same fashion to which she is accustomed. Now, I certainly think she could make the change, and this wasnít a bad start in that direction, but I just donít know if thereís time with as few games as theyíre playing. Maybe she needs to hook up with a W-League team on the condition that she plays on the wing on the backline to develop some instincts/ability to read the game from that position. She looked OK getting forward and had some very nice dynamic moments while she was up in the midfield, but that she just has no instincts about where she should be at times is painfully obvious, even against the Ukraine. I think this young woman could be a remarkable weapon if she can learn to play the position . . . However, I also think Iíd rather see her getting the time at forward thatís being given to Danielle Fotopolous, because looking at the forwards not named OíReilly, Wambach or Welsh, from what Iíve seen of Frimpong, sheíd be able to compete with any one of them. But Ryan has other plans and I guess all anyone rooting for this kid can hope for is that heíll give it enough time to figure out if this switch even has a chance at working.
Hucles - Well - she was solid. If thereís an instruction manual on how to play in the defensive midfield, I think she followed it fairly well. All the right moves and decisions were there . . . but seeing her hovering around a ball or not quite getting a 50-50 ball with an overpowering dominance really, really, REALLY made me appreciate Boxx. Itís so easy to take Boxx for granted, but seeing Hucles in the role, seeing Hucles doing everything in just a fine fashion, as well as she could have, shines a light on just how good Boxx is in the defensive midfield, how incredibly dominant she is. So I guess Huclesís solid yet uneventful outing served a purpose for me in this one - it made me appreciate Boxx a bit more - even Boxx on an average day is a dominant force on the field like no other in the US player pool.
Lloyd - she had some nice moments - she had some moments I genuinely enjoyed. She played the attacking midfield very aggressively, dispossessed several Ukrainian players, doesnít shy from contact (and isnít shy about initiating contact) . . . And thatís about it. I know at the time I was watching I had a couple of instances I wanted to talk about - just examples of the general comments I made, but alas, a week later, I can not remember them . . . You were warned. Anyway - even a week later, I can recall that I enjoyed the performance and was left wanting to see more.
OíReilly - Hereís the thing with Heather O sitting on the bench - itís like going to the rodeo - you have the bull in a chute, itís relatively calm while the cowboy is situating himself on top, occasionally heíll bang against the side of the chute but heíll calm down . . . Then the gate opens and boom, heís off, heís twisting and turning and running around like a maniac and thatís kind of what Heather reminded me of in this one. You have her in the chute for 80 minutes and then you put her in there, unleashed on a tiring defense and she was off and running around like a maniac. Unlike efforts where I knock her for running around without a lot of direction, I thought she was quite directed in this one - and it was straight ahead toward goal. She was going on all the right runs, good movement off the ball and thatís why she was in position to score on Kateís ball. Nice outing for Heather. We know what sheís got to offer, and assuming good health, I think you can pretty much put her name in ink for the WWC í07 team, so the Heather O fans going to have to be patient while Ryan tries out some other folks and she sits a bit more than we might like. A strong, albeit very brief performance.
And that is that. It was a good game to get some bubble players some significant time. It was a good afternoon for one of the greatest players in the history of the program to hit a milestone goal. Thoroughly enjoyable outing and as always, I look forward to the next one.