US 1 Brazil 0
Tiff, Tiffeny, TIFFENY - YOU WERE WIDE OPEN - YOU WERE OPENER THAN THE OPENEST PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF OPEN PEOPLE HAS EVER BEEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ARGH!!!!!!! OK - just had to get that out of my system before I got started here. While there wasnít much scoring and there werenít an abundance of shots that actually had a chance of going in, this was a fairly entertaining and action packed match. Itís always fun watching Brazil and Team USA going toe to toe, although it isnít quite as good a time without Mac and Brandi out there - those two like to tangle with the Brazilians a bit and thatís always good for some laughs. All we got in this one was a little half shove from Lil on the girl who leveled her and some angry glares from Mia - well, some angry glares and one marvelous slide tackle. As for more pertinent issues: Team USAís defense and defense through the midfield was stifling - there were only a couple of instances where Brazilian attackers got behind the backline. The defenders were playing a very aggressive restraining line and doing a good job catching Brazil offside. As for the offense, well, they certainly had their chances but in the first half I thought they werenít creating nearly enough. They were back to the very one dimensional play we saw early in the year - minus Lilís play (and she had to create for herself every single opportunity she got - not a lot of passes going anywhere but through the center of the field in the first half of this one) and that beautiful pass from Aly to CP in about the 4th minute or so, it was all short passes on the ground through the center of the field and folks trying to dribble into the goal mouth. That simply doesnít work when the midfield was as packed with players as this one was. I understand thatís the style they want to play - they want to play "attractive" soccer - but if you donít mix at least some direct play in there then your offense is one dimensional, predictable and as we have seen time and time again, highly ineffective. The good news is in the second half I thought they struck a nice balance. And they ultimately did get the game winner courtesy of the most "direct" style player on the field, jumping up, winning a ball and heading it toward goal and Tiff taking the misclear and smashing it in. Iím not a big fan of just taking any old stupid shot in the world - but a lot of times Team USA doesnít even take the half chance because they just think thereís a better chance two steps closer to goal . . . and at the International level, once they take those two extra steps itís just too late. All that said though - both Lil and Tiff had gimme goals and this game should have been 3-0 so maybe Iím quibbling a bit. For the most part, they played a strong game - thereís room for improvement, but this was an enjoyable one to watch and thinking about it, Iím hopeful about the WWC and anxiously awaiting its arrival.
Formation - (4-4-2, back-front, right-left)
GK - Scurry; D - Sobrero, Fawcett, Reddick, Pearce; DMid - Roberts; Mid - Foudy, Lilly; AMid - Wagner; F - Hamm, Parlow (they switched sides every 5-10 minutes). Slaton in for Sobrero, Pearce moves to the right wing, Slaton is on the left wing. Hucles in for Roberts, Foudy moves to the defensive midfield, Hucles is on the right. Milbrett in for Parlow. Wambach in for Wagner and Hamm moves to the attacking midfield (although she was playing even with Tiff and Abby quite a bit - those three were just kind of shifting and rotating as circumstances dictated). Tarpley in for Foudy, Hucles moves to the defensive midfield and Tarpley is the third player in that right midfield spot on the night.
Scurry - Nice save Bri - two of them. The stop on the Katia shot and the stop where she carried it over the endline were both beauts. I guess the one ball in front of goal she stopped but didnít keep her hands on had the potential to be an ugly one and probably should have been a Brazilian goal. But overall it was a rock solid performance and I think goalkeeping is fine for Team USA. No disastrous kicks in the run of play, the goal kicks fall under the category "good enough" and the reflexes and reactions are top notch. Itís apparent Bri has won the goalkeeping contest (as this is the second time Siri was supposed to split a game with Bri and April simply didnít play her) and I think that will be just fine.
Sobrero - I canít really put my finger on it, but this wasnít just a stellar Kate performance. It wasnít just that she failed to get forward and provide meaningful support to the attack, it was her defending too. She seemed less than sure footed for much of the match, slipping on one very notable occasion and letting a defender behind her completely unmarked. She seemed to be a step off most of the match. A little flat footed. I couldnít tell whether she was just a little slow making her reads or what was going on but she really didnít seem to be where she should be much of the day - it seemed she was playing in slow motion a bit. Like I said, I canít really put my finger on it, but she didnít look right in this one - looked a bit more bumbling than a world class defender should look.
Fawcett - Rock solid defending. Was doing the central defenderís and the defensive midfielderís job offensively. A very strong outing for Joy. Defensively what struck me in this one is something Iíve mentioned a time or two before: this woman is excellent with her head. She is probably better defending with her head than anyone Iíve ever seen - she never misses, she never misjudges, she always wins the ball and manages to clear it or put it forward. It seems like such a little thing but about midway through the second half I saw that Pebbles Flintstone ponytail bobbing up there and thought to myself, she has cleared every dang ball out of there all day long . . . True, one of those balls she put over the endline, but maybe she was just too wide open on that one. Every contested ball, she just jumped a little higher, wanted it a little more and she got there first. Offensively she was switching fields and putting the ball to Foudy, Aly, Lil or the forwards. Most attacks started with Joy. Very active game for Joy and yet another in a 15 year string of strong performances. Nice to be consistent.
Reddick - Ahhh, she provided my favorite moment of this one. Brazilian up the left sideline - dribbling up a storm, pulling all sorts of fancy little moves, Catís just bent over staring at the ball, I thought the Brazilian was about to blow by her and she goes for it and stole that ball right from her. Absolutely brilliant move. Sadly, she turned it over on the next pass, but it was a brilliant and unexpected strip of the Brazilian. And the fun thing about fancy little plays is when they are actually fundamentally sound as well - the primary thing Cat was out there on that sideline doing was holding up the Brazilian so the defense could get back - she held up the attacker for a good long time so if the attacker got by her, Joy and the gang had her back . . . the strip was just a bonus and a whole lot of fun. As for the rest of the game - I thought she was solid. Wasnít connecting on a ton of passes offensively, but on the defensive end I think there was some question how she would handle a fast, technical team and I thought she did very well. I continue to think Team USAís 6 defender rotation is excellent and that Iíd feel comfortable with any one of them at any one of the 4 defensive positions. Nice to see a youngster playing so well, playing with such confidence and playing like a seasoned vet.
Pearce - I donít really have a lot here. Defensively I thought she was solid. Not too much seemed to be happening on her side of the field - after Pretinha went out Katia seemed to be trying to squeeze between Kate and Joy and on occasion testing the youngster (Cat). Part of it simply might have been that the Brazilians couldnít get by the defensive juggernaut in the midfield that was Kristine Lilly so Pearce didnít have a ton to do defensively. In the first half I thought the support on the wing to the middies was lacking at best, so I guess in that aspect her first half was a tad disappointing. She did get forward a couple of times but she and Lil really didnít wind up with the ball a lot in the first half unless they won it themselves - and like I just said, Lil was mopping up just about everything that came her way and moving forward with it. Second half I thought the support from the wing defenders was a bit better and the ball was being distributed a bit more evenly over the field rather than just being booted up the middle on the ground. Overall though - it was a fairly solid outing. I think quick, technical teams are the hardest for Team USAís defense and they acquitted themselves well in this one.
Roberts - Ya know - we hear how nice a young woman she is every time we have a telecast - and I know how hard she works and that she has found a nice niche in the WUSA. However, I have to ask, how many times are we going to backtrack and try the Tiff Roberts in the defensive midfield thing? Weíve gone down this road and the offense never fails to be stagnant when she's in that role and she is unable to make any kind of defensive impression on the game because sheís too small and not strong enough to defend at this level without fouling. And she canít complete a pass in the center of the field to save her life. Now she can hold her own and contribute from the right midfield spot but her game is always a glaring weak spot when sheís in the defensive midfield. Honestly, theyíve solved this problem - they had Foudy in the defensive midfield, they had CP on the right and Roberts and/or Hucles were great subs wherever they were needed in the midfield - exactly why are they backtracking on this. Why are they trying something that has consistently not worked instead of building on something that has? By about 15 minutes in Foudy wasnít even looking at TR to pass - she put it right back to Joy every single time. And Joy didnít advance the ball through TR - bypassed her and gave it back to Jules, Lil, Aly or the forwards almost every single time. This was a wasted opportunity to see how the midfield alignment of Foudy, Parlow, Lil and Wagner would work against a top level opponent - theyíve seen the TR, Foudy, Lil, Wagner lineup and it has always been disappointing - why they didnít want to test what has been the most dynamic arrangement this year, I have no idea. Itís not like Tiffeny Milbrett was cooling her heels on the bench or anything . . . OK - enough of that. Her game wasnít "bad" per se - she didnít screw up horribly and she didnít make me want to pull my hair out, but the defensive midfielder should make more of an impact on the game than she makes. In my opinion - she really doesnít have what it takes to play this position at the International level - consistently, over the last year or so, Team USAís offensive speed of play has been at its most dull and plodding when sheís been on the field and consistently over the last year, it takes about 15-20 minutes for her teammates to stop passing to her and completely shut her out of the offense when sheís in the defensive midfield. Enough - letís build on what worked - sheís been a strong sub, provides great support on the right, letís put her back to it and give Team USA 90 minutes to score some goals rather than 45.
Foudy - The offense was being run through Foudy in this one. Because she was right she often used Joy to switch fields but she had a firm handle on the game. Sheís been doiní it for the better part of a decade with the Nats and Aly Wagner notwithstanding, thatís not going to change while Foudyís on the field. The problem with Foudy running the show while sheís on the right is that Lil really kinda gets shut out of the offense. Yes, Lil had a ton of touches in this one, but dang, she went back, stripped a Brazilian and had to earn every single touch she had in the first half. This is one of the many reasons I think this team works better with Foudy in the DMid. Sheís going to be the one running the show, you might as well put her somewhere where she can see the whole field and spread the ball all over the place instead of constantly trying to cram it up the middle. You put her in the center, a little behind the offense and she can see where the holes are. Put her right and right central, sheís calling the offense without being able to make those reads. And you can afford to have her behind the offense because thereís Aly Wagner and that Kristine Lilly person wandering around to provide that link up top (to make either the assist or the pass before the assist). And you put Cindy Parlow at that right midfield spot and she can push that ball forward in an effective fashion as well. As it is now though - the player who is behind the offense and who should be able to see the holes, is the player who canít do anything productive offensively from that position and who more or less gets shut out by her teammates (whether intentionally or not, thatís what was happening - TR was right in front of Jules wide open a couple of times and Foudy just looked right through her and scanned the field for Joy and passed back to Ms. Fawcett). OK - seems I am definitely on a defensive middie kick today - Iíve been on it since the mid 90s though and I ainít gettiní off it until Team USA gets a good one (Akers was on her last legs by 1996 - those last legs lasted awhile, but theyíve known theyíve needed to groom a defensive middie for almost a decade yet havenít gotten it done - I could write a tome on how theyíve hidden their heads in the sand on this issue over the last 10 years, but Iíll spare you). As for Foudyís game - it was solid - not great, but she was fine. She was definitely in control of the field, although she wasnít controlling the field from the best possible spot (see above) and was playing solid defense. As usual on set pieces she made some nice runs and got on that far post a time or two although nothing was really made of it. Had some other nice runs up the right but thatís not really Julieís game. She is the puppet master, especially at this point in her career and taking into account how this team has looked with Foudy at the DMid the past few games out, I thought the first 45 minutes were pretty much wasted. Itís always the first switch in the second half when she doesnít start there, so again, I donít understand why she didnít just start there in this one. This game was the test - it was the last chance before the WWC to play a strong opponent and they didnít test what worked against the scrubs, but instead went back to what didnít work earlier in the year. I just donít get it.
Lilly - Hardest working woman in show business. Dang, what a game. I thought her workrate defensively in the midfield was phenomenal. She wasnít getting a lot of support from . . . well . . . anyone . . . offensively, minus maybe Mia and later Tiff, but she sure did have a lot of nice chances and nice runs into the box and up the left sideline. And how did she get all those chances if the support wasnít there? By working her butt off, stripping the ball, muscling the Brazilians off of balls, stepping into passing lanes and getting to every free ball within 10 yards of her. Anyone whining about not having enough touches or "my teammates donít pass to me" should pull out this tape - Lil doesnít whine - Lil wants the ball, Lil goes and gets the ball - period. I love to watch it. That said I have to give another ARGH for her missed goal as well. Only because Tiffís missed gimme goal was sooooo ridiculous, is my opening match report lament not directed at Lilís miss. Since when canít Lil cut that angle from the left side - man, she smashed that thing, didnít even come close . . . didnít even come close to coming close. I think it hurt more because of the great game she was having - she deserved to net one. Anyway - great game offensively and defensively - Iíve got nothiní else.
Wagner - Was that pass not the most beautiful thing youíve ever seen on the pitch? Wendy was so busy fawning over CP that she forgot to mention the beautiful pass. Aly hit CP from distance . . . let me rephrase . . . Aly hit CP perfectly from distance . . . nope that doesnít do it . . . a ball took flight off of Aly Wagnerís foot, flew 30-35 yards in the air and then the beauteous spinning orb alit not on Cindy Parlowís foot, but on her instep, she did not have to break stride, she did not have to think, she simply had to take just had to take the beautiful Aly Wagner pass and shoot . . . Ahhhhh, thatís about right - not quite poetic enough, but itíll do. The only thing wrong is that I canít go on about the goal that was scored - honestly, I wish CP had scored it more for Aly than for her - gotta make something of those beautiful passes - they look like nothing, she makes it look effortless, but ya know - not a lot of people can deliver balls like that. All that waxing rhapsodic over the Aly Wagner passing aside, she simply didnít have enough touches in this one. Itís tough with Foudy out there I imagine - Foudyís going to take charge - itís who she is, itís the role she plays, itís what sheís done for well over a decade - so Aly has got to find something else to do. When Foudyís deep in the midfield in the defensive mid, they split duties a bit more evenly - when Foudyís playing on the right, if sheís not passing back, sheís looking to be the playmaker herself and Aly gets a little cut out. Aly had some nice defensive play, she had some nice combination with the forwards, but ultimately, I think she does better when they mix in a bit more direct play than they did in the first half. She reads it so well, knows when and how to get who the ball, but with these short passes in traffic through the middle of the field that they seem so determined to rely upon, minus the occasional through ball, I think her best skills are wasted. Second half was a bit more active, but I thought Hucles and Milbrett and later Wambach were more responsible for the increased offensive activity than Aly was. So - a solid but quieter game than I would like to see from her.
Parlow - Well - I do prefer her in the right midfield spot at this point but since Iíve gone on ad nauseum about what I wished I had seen in the midfield in this one so Iíll just stick to the game that was played. And I thought CP looked very strong in this one and kind of wished Wendy would get off her case a bit. Through the first 40 minutes of this one Cindy Parlowís workrate was as high as Iíve seen it at the International level in quite some time. She was winning balls in the midfield, playing strong defense, going in for tackles and getting herself into position in the box. Yes, she was getting caught playing too deep some in this one, but honestly, at times, they needed the players back. TR was scaring no one in the midfield and at times, Lil, Mia and CP were all playing very deep and they were all needed in those positions. This is a problem with an undersized defensive middie against a team that really has no fear of you. But I am in danger of digressing. Iíve already mentioned CPís near miss. Wish sheíd hit that goal from Aly in the 4th or 5th minute I must say. If not for the Tiff and Lil misses that would be the one Iíd be moping about. Ya know - for what seemed to be a stagnant offense, Team USA really should have had 3 goals and could have had 4. The only knock on CP in this one is simply that she loses steam and when sheís done, there are no ifs ands or buts about it, sheís just done. I think in the 42d or 43d minutes someone got her the ball and she had a nice chance, but she slowed down significantly toward the end of the first half. Ultimately though - strong outing - hope we see her manning the right side in the next one - sheís wonderful there - great at getting into the attack, pushing into the box while at the same time being a nice physical presence in the midfield.
Hamm - She was very active and taking quite a bit of abuse thatís for sure. Those passes through the middle of the field were more often than not looking for her. But Iíve got to say, looking at the abuse she took in this one is one of the reasons why Iím not a huge fan of the style theyíre playing. The defense knows that the ball is coming up the middle of the field and going to her feet - thereís no mystery, itís what happens on half to 2/3 of their possessions - and it gets Mia absolutely killed, it allows defenders and middies to sag into the middle off the flanks and it leaves everyone with no space and shooting into defenders. Center of the field was way too crowded in the first half and the build up is so slow that Mia and Lil tend to pay the price. Theyíve got to play faster and spread the ball more if for no other reason than Mia and Lil are in their 30s now and I donít care how well conditioned they are, they shouldnít have to take the abuse they took in this one. Theyíre always going to get hit, especially Mia, but when the defense knows what the US is doing on offense (and trust me, they do, everyone does when they play like they did in the first half of this one), they can throw 2 or 3 folks at her leaving her little chance of eluding everyone. Anyway - nice game from Mia, but I imagine a bit of a more diversified offense would be appreciated.
Slaton - well, she wound up having a solid game but when she first came in . . . is it just me or did it seem she was having an awfully tough time staying on her feet? Seemed to come up limping a bit as well - she was kinda running lopsided after one of those slips. But after the first 10 minutes or so she looked a bit more stable and had a really nice game. Strong defensively and was the only wing defender on the night who was providing much support to the offense. Sheís just such a smart player and reads the game so well. She knows when to push forward, when to push in and when to fall back and defend. Very fluid player and is always moving. She seems to be close to being all the way back, although I must say, those first 10 minutes concern me a bit for her healthwise. Ultimately though, a nice game for Slaton. Have I mentioned how much I like this defense and these 6 defenders?
Hucles - I thought she was fantastic while she was on the right. Brought a lot of energy into the game and made some great runs into the box. Box was pretty packed so they didnít make much of it, but she definitely had her moments and had her chances when she first came in. I hate to push TR further down my little depth chart but Hucles is definitely my first sub on the middle level of that midfield. She needed to show what she could do against a strong opponent and I thought she came right in, confident as could be and helped turn around what had been a stagnant, predictable offense. There was a bit of controlled chaos going on when she and Tiff first got in - both running out wide, both running into the box, both just running and running and Aly and Mia and Foudy were doing a good job working with them. Second half it was definitely a more diverse attack and Hucles was a part of that. My only disappointment was 100% not her fault because the only thing I found disappointing about her game was that she came off that right midfield spot and got a bit lost in the defensive midfield. I donít have much on her in the DMid. I thought the offensive group in the game at that point was pretty dominating and kept the ball with them and ahead of them and she didnít have just a ton to do. Overall - strong outing.
Milbrett - TIFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OK - Iím almost over it . . . wait . . .whup . . nope, not quite . . . uhhhhhaaarrrrggghhggggggrrrrrr . . . argh . . . urrr . . . uhhhh . . . OK . . . . I think Iím ready to move on. So - she was just a bundle of energy when she got in the game wasnít she? Everything looked good about Tiff but the finishing. Great workrate, combining very well with Abby, Lil and Mia, all over the place and taking every chance and half chance that came up. On the one hand the whole super sub thing is a nice luxury, on the other hand, after watching them struggle offensively in the first half and watching the defense keying in so much on Mia, Iím thinking itís a luxury Team USA simply doesnít have with Mac out - Iíd rather lose the super sub thing and give Team USA 90 good minutes to put the ball in the net instead of treading water for 45 then getting serious about attacking en masse (as opposed to the individual efforts we saw in the first half). Strong game - great goal and hopefully thus endeth the talk of the Millie scoring slump.
Wambach - I thought she had a very strong game. While the broadcast team wouldnít go off the April Heinrichs talking points long enough to mention it, Abby was definitely one of the players who came into the game and made a difference. Tiff, Hucles and Abby - there were three of them, and they brought a very welcome punch to the offense. Abby was instrumental in the game winning goal (she won and headed the ball the deflected to Tiff back into the box) and she was instrumental in creating the chance that should have been Tiffeny Milbrettís first goal. Strong outing for Abby - she had limited playing time, but she won every single ball in her general vicinity, she was immovable when Brazilians tried to smash her off the ball (my way of saying she held possession up top very nicely) and created several opportunities for her teammates and had some really nice combination play with Mia. Not that I think anyone who matters really cares, but I thought she played a great game and if I were queen of the world she would not only make the WWC team but see playing time (in my lineup, CP, Tiff and Mia are all starting and sheís the first forward off the bench and Hucles is the first offensive type middie).
Tarpley - I thought sheís another one who came into the game and provided a lot of really good energy. Sheís got great offensive instincts - cut up and in and made some great runs into the box. Provided great support up the right side and made a couple of moves out there and some passes from there that were very impressive. Physically, however, she just looks like sheís a year or two away. Sheís got to put some muscle on . . . and some weight. Against a team like Norway or Germany, theyíd knock the stuffing out of this girl. The skill is there though - no question, the skill is there - and she seems to have the soccer smarts and drive already - another year or two, hopefully, a pro body will be part of the package too.
All right - I do believe that is it. A fun game to watch despite the fact I was a bit disappointed that the starting lineup seemed to be a step backward to something we already knew wasnít going to work. There were some nice moments in that first half though and they came on strong in the second half. And of course, the defense was strong throughout. As the last game before the roster gets selected it was more than a little disappointing that the bubble players didnít get one last chance to show they deserved to be there. Makes me think the decisions have pretty much been made and were probably made quite some time ago and Aprilís just waiting to see how all the injuries shake out. Since Iíve spent ridiculous sums of money on WWC tix at two venues, I am certainly looking forward to seeing this team work out the kinks and shine in September and October. I am now officially holding my breath until the draw . . .