US 1 Brazil 0

Brazil without Marta, Daniela and Cristiane . . . club commitments . . . . riiiiiight.  But it was an interesting game nonetheless.  The US didnít look quite as sharp as Iíd hoped, but they were working hard and had the right idea a lot of the time, even if execution was a little off.  The most consistent problem with execution in the first half was the bunching.  At times I felt like we were watching the 6 year olds playing in a clump on the offensive end.  There was one very notable sequence where the entire play developed left central and Carli Lloyd sent a nice pass out wide right, into acres and acres of open space and there was absolutely no one there to run onto the ball.  Where was everyone?  In a clump in the center of the field trailing the play.  Theyíre too good and width is too important to this system for that to be happening in the penultimate game before the Olympics.  Fortunately, it was just a half of extreme bunching.  But even in the second half, when they were getting wide, the entire field did shift to that side.  As exposed as the US defense is in this system, if theyíre not playing wide and forcing the opposition to stretch in a similar fashion, then itís just not going to work.  Because US play on offense was so concentrated in the center or on one side of the field, Brazil could similarly concentrate its personnel in the middle and if an attacking player got by the first midfielder or forward trying to make a play, she got to the backline unfettered. Itís a risky defensive scheme, especially since the US has been playing with that defensive midfielder right on top of the defense for the last eight years. If they want it to work on defense, they need to execute better on offense and keep those counter attacks to a minimum.

The offense was also killing the defense in this one with turnovers.  Protect the ball, get a little more force behind the short passes so they donít just dribble in the general direction of their targets and put the kibosh on the long passing.  Cat Whitehill is the only one who could connect on those long passes and there were numerous wasted possessions and subsequent counter attacks in this one because of over and under passing over distance. 

OK Ė thereís more I could go on about, but Iíll take care of it in the player section.  I know I havenít mentioned the elephant in the room, but thatís because I havenít watched the July 16th game yet.  Iíll cover it there (well, might mention it a little bit in the player section, but will mostly cover it in a subsequent match report).  It all changes now though Ė itís huge, and this team is going to have to clear up itís careless touches/turnovers, pay more attention to their defensive and offensive shape and just all around look and play sharper.  Not a bad outing, but they definitely need to tighten things up in Beijing.

Formation (4-4-2, back-front, right-left):  GK Ė Solo; D Ė Mitts, Rampone, Markgraf, Chalupny; M Ė OíReilly, Lloyd, Boxx, Tarpley; F Ė Kai, Wambach.  Barnhart in for Solo; Hucles in for Tarpley; Cox in for Mitts; Heath in for OíReilly, Rodriguez in for Kai, Buehler in for Markgraf, Wagner in for Boxx.

Players

Solo Ė Not much to say here.  As much space as the Brazilians had in the midfield and as often as they got to the backline unchallenged, the defense managed to swoop in and make last minute plays or the Brazilians just completely muffed shots.  Thus, Hope wasnít tested.  She made one really nice punch on a corner kick, but other than that, a quiet outing. 

Barnhart Ė She wasnít particularly tested either.  Brazilians muffed a lot shots in the second half.  The only comment I have here is that she seemed really panicky on her kicks in the run of play.  From what Iíve seen of her in the past, she is much more composed on the ball than she was in this one, but there were several balls she quickly put out over the sideline deep in the US end.  She needs to play smarter than that with her feet at this level and I know sheís capable of it. 

Mitts Ė She looked gassed the whole time she was out there.  Sheís usually one of the fittest players on the team so maybe it was the altitude but she was sucking wind early.  In addition, her touch on the ball wasnít very good.  Her short passes had no pace, and her longer passes were a little short, all of which led to turnovers and quick counterattacks Ė and because she was usually in the midfield when these turnovers happened, the counterattacks were unleashed on 2-3 defenders with no other help.  In addition, her decision-making on when to attack and when to defend wasnít stellar.  Too often youíd look wide right during an attack and there wasnít a Heather in sight.  Either they were clumping in the middle or . . . well, I donít know where the heck they were sometimes, but they werenít running forward with the play.  This was just a subpar and fairly uncharacteristic outing for her.  She generally does have to use her speed to make up for some mistakes, Iím accustomed to that which is why I generally talk about how she chases plays.  But this was more. She wasnít even playing as strong or as tough as usual.  This formation requires fast defenders, so she will be very important in Beijing.  I havenít watched the July 16th game yet, so Iím still hopeful that all of these issues are altitude related and Iím going to move on.

Rampone Ė I donít have much here.  She had a typically solid game.  The defense managed things very well when the ball got back to the US defensive third.  The problem is that no one but Abby was challenging in the midfield or up top.  Once the ball got back to the defense, though, they managed to swoop in and make plays.  Rampone did a good job of this.  She had a couple of nice 1 v. 1 takeaways, escorted attackers over the endline a few times and booted a couple of balls over the endline herself (which is not optimal, but considering the speed and frequency with which Brazilians were running through the midfield, sometimes that was the only choice).  Solid game.

Markgraf Ė Not much here either.  I noticed Rampone and Chalupny making those last minute plays a bit more than Kate, but she did close in on double teams in the box quite nicely.  Defenders were taking short passes forward and Kate managed to connect on some of those nicely.  And I really donít have much else other than I hope that mask is off her face for Beijing.  She didnít look entirely comfortable wearing it.

Chalupny Ė Sheís just a good soccer player.  My favorite play of hers in this one, the play in the box, attacker right in front of goal and she runs in at just the right diagonal to boot the ball over the endline just in the nick of time.  Beautiful play.  In this system, her speed and instincts on the backline are crucial.  There werenít quite as many problems on the left side as the right with bunching in this one, but I would like to see her keep the shape and stay wide a bit better than was happening.  She was following plays up the middle and losing a bit of shape in the first half.  But thatís quibbling.  She had one of the stronger games in this one.

Cox Ė The lack of speed hurts in this system. I like Coxís game a lot, but without a defensive midfielder slowing down everything that comes through the midfield, Cox is going to struggle.  And if sheís struggling and chasing on defense, sheís not getting involved on offense.  Sheís got a beautiful cross and can be a very dangerous weapon in the attack, but against a team like Brazil, Iím just not sure it matters. Against a team thatís not just fast individually, but plays fast as well, sheís going to have to very selectively pick her spots to get forward because she just doesnít have the speed to make up for any mistakes or miscalculations.  So, her game wasnít that bad, but I do have my concerns about her being on the field when Team USA plays against speedy, fluid attacks.

Buehler Ė Iíve got nothiní.  Saw her help out on the wing a little, saw her running around the center of the field, but thatís about it.  Wasnít in long enough for me to have much of an opinion.

OíReilly Ė Bunching, youíre bunching!!!!!  Stay wide Heather.  And thatís about it for my comments for her.  They missed some opportunities because players werenít where they should have been.  One really egregious pass into space where a Heather should have been, but it was kind of a theme for the day on the right side.  They were working hard, just not working hard about keeping some offensive shape.  That said, very early on she had a fantastic run up the right side, just to the right of the box and made a tremendous pass of the endline.  I thought she was headed for a great game after that run, but she kind of disappeared on offense after that.  I did spot her making some nice defensive plays up the right sideline so she and Mitts were communicating some about covering defensively.  Didnít see the overlapping run because like Iíve said about a dozen times already, they just didnít have much offensive shape, but there must have been some because OíReilly was back playing defense a few times while Mitts was nowhere in sight.  And thatís about it Ė she fell off the radar a bit after a strong first five minutes.  Iím curious to find out how she played on the 16th.

Boxx Ė She was one of two players on the entire team who was actually challenging the ball.  Yeah, in this system thereís a lot of space, but thereís even more space if you donít even challenge the ball in the first place.  And itís not like players were stepping back to keep Brazilian attackers in front of them, they were stepping off and stepping out of the way just unleashing everything on the defense.  No clue what they were thinking, Iím sure thatís not how theyíve been playing while theyíve been racking up all these wins against quality opponents, but itís how they played today.  I think Boxx and Wambach had the only hard challenges not in the US defensive third the whole game (OK, maybe an exaggeration, but not much of one).  Someone other than Boxx is going to have to make defensive plays in the attacking and middle thirds of the field if this team is going to do well in Beijing.  Brazil was without its most dynamic offensive players and they still marched up the center of the field with no problem Ė thatís simply not acceptable.  Backed off and stepped aside then followed the play Ė I just donít know what they were trying to do.  OK Ė rant over Ė donít know why I put it here since Boxx did make some nice challenges and did win a few balls.  My issue with Boxx, well, itís not my issue with her so much as itís her in this system.  Sheís just not going to be as important as she was Ė the position sheís playing is just not as important as it was.  That said, this was a solid performance from her.  She was switching the field nicely.  She did win some balls, both in the air and on the ground.  She made some nice runs forward.  Needs to work on her timing with Lloyd about whoís going back to help on defense, but honestly, if someone, anyone, playing in the midfield was challenging the ball, Iím not sure this would have been as huge an issue as it was in this game.  And thatís it, solid outing, Iím just at a loss about what some of the midfielders were thinking when they were letting Brazilians march up the field without even making an attempt to do anything with them.

Lloyd Ė I am a huge Carli Lloyd fan.  Sheís probably in my top 5 US players Iíd want to build my professional franchise around.  That said, this was not my most favorite Carli Lloyd outing.  Like so many US players, I thought her touch on the ball was off.  Like everyone else, short passes had no pace and long passes were short.  And the turnovers, goodness the turnovers.  She had several where she just mistouched the ball, put it right to a Brazilian player who was then unleashed on the defense.  Had Marta or Cristiane been on the field and been the recipients of those turnovers, this game could have had a very different result.  She just canít be that careless with the ball.  In addition, her free kicks really shine a spotlight on exactly where Team USA is going to miss Cat Whitehill most.  I thought the free kicks and corners were underwhelming.  Seeing that everyoneís passing was a little off, Iím wondering if that wasnít an altitude issue.  Iíll be looking for sharper passing once theyíre a tad closer to sea level.  She did have some nice moments.  She sent some really nice passes out wide and into space.  That there was no one there to receive them wasnít her fault and the thought was often a good one.  And thatís about it Ė this game really wasnít as bad as the player section is making it sound.  Just a little lackluster Ė and I guess that lackluster aspect is why I have so many gripes about individual performances.  Nothing was awful, or even bad, it was all just a little off.

Tarpley Ė I donít have a whole lot here.  The left side had a little more shape/width than the right, but Tarpley was still collapsed into the center of the field way too much.  She wasnít spreading the ball around quite as well as Boxx and Lloyd were and I didnít notice her connecting particularly well with the forwards in front of her.  Just a quiet outing from Tarpley.  Sheís one of the players I expect to step up in a huge way now that Abby is out for the Games.

Hucles Ė She was very active.  I think sheís going to be a good spark player off the bench in the midfield in Beijing.  She was connecting well with other midfielders and forwards . . . well, at least on a few plays. She wasnít keeping width that well, but I thought she was a bit more constructive when she went inside than the flank midfielders had been in the first half.  The clumping simply wasnít as bad in the second half so thatís probably why her forays looked better timed and more useful than a lot of what went on in the first half.  Overall a solid outing. I thought the offense played a little bit better in the second half so I donít have a lot of the same complaints about the subs that I had about the starters. 

Heath Ė This was a really really interesting pick for the Olympic team.  Appears to be a developmental pick and Iím not sure how great an idea that is on an 18 woman roster.  I really didnít see anything too special about her in this one.  Usually when the 20 year olds make the team, thereís a wow factor.  There was with just about all those from the recent past including fellow youngsters Amy Rodriguez and now Lauren Cheney.  I didnít see anything like that in this one.  Then again, she really wasnít in very much so Iíll withhold judgment.  What I did like about her is the confidence with which she played.  Junior player on the team and she was out there barking at other players and she didnít look intimidated at all.  That alone makes me want to see more of her . . . but maybe letís just wait until after the Olympics for that additional playing time. 

Wagner Ė Iíve got nothing.  She really wasnít in there long enough to make much of an impression.  I will say this Ė with Abby gone, I think Aly could become a lot more important.  Seeing that Lloyd was having some trouble connecting some passes in this one, a scenario where Team USA needs to manufacture goals in the second half might be an ideal spot of Aly.  I know I generally donít like Aly as a sub because sheís not really a ďsparkĒ player, but I think she can facilitate the spark players.  Those through balls will be a lot more important now that the big target player up top is gone, and Aly could be key in attempts to get late game scores.  We shall see.

Kai Ė She had one fantastic play off the endline early in the game.  She really is showing herself to be a far more skilled player than she did during the previous regime and sheís really playing with her head up looking for her teammates a lot more than she used to.  That said, other than that one play, she kind of disappeared for long stretches of time.  Youíd see Abby running like a madwoman pressuring the ball in the offensive third and Kai would be nowhere in sight.  Iím sure she was somewhere working hard, but her workrate up top paled in comparison to Abby.  The midfielders werenít the only ones letting Brazilian attackers get all the way through the midfield unchecked, Kai wasnít doing much to pressure defenders either Ė thus, Brazil was able to hold the ball and just patiently send some attacks up the middle of the field.

Wambach Ė OK Ė itís moot now so Iím not going to go on about Abby.  This was just a typical Abby outing, she was pressuring the defense, she was winning balls in the air, she was making nice 1 v. 1 moves, she was helping out on defense very well . . . she was just having a very nice, typically Abby game.  I think a lot of the passing was short in this one so her teammates werenít combining with her as well as usual.  Even her cross on the goal was a little short, but the thought was good and the defender flubbed the play and she managed to create a fantastic Rodriguez goal.  And thatís it, one of the best players on the planet, her injury in the game on the 16th is awful for her and Team USA will undoubtedly miss her.  Iíll talk about this more when I get around to watching the July 16th game. 

Rodriguez Ė That was a beautiful strike.  Just one timed it, a hard, solid, perfectly placed shot.  Thatís how a finisher finishes.  I thought she had a great workrate, was very active, combined fairly well with the midfield and showed no fear taking on defenders.  I never fail to be impressed with this young woman when I see her play and I think she could be the one who makes the horrible injuries Team USA has sustained this summer OK.  Weíll see, but I actually feel good about the prospect of her having a large role in Beijing.  And I really hope that Fox Sports West has a lot of USC games on the schedule next year because watching her play is definitely a treat. 

And that is it.  Iím not sure how thrilled I am with the decision to play one of the two sendoff games at such a high altitude.  The stadium was fantastic, they had a great crowd, but the ball travels differently at altitude than it does at sea level and I donít know why youíd want to screw up everyoneís touch the second to last game before a major tournament.  Everyoneís passes were short and without pace, it wasnít just a couple of people, the altitude had to have impacted things, itís just physics.  All that said, everyone was working hard and despite the fact they played a lackluster game they still managed to gut out a win, they found some spots to improve and they found some spots where they were successful.  Not a bad outing, just not as crisp and polished an outing as I would have liked to see and which I hope the game on the 16th, which all of you have undoubtedly watched already even if I havenít, was.

Beulah