US 3 Sweden 2

Welcome to the magical fantastical world of head-butt-free soccer!  After a month of watching the World Cup, it’s nice to have a women’s match to come home to – took a few minutes to get accustomed to it, still not sure if they were a tad sluggish in the first half or whether it was just me not making that adjustment, but all in all, a fairly enjoyable match.  It wasn’t the most brilliantly played 90 minutes I’ve ever seen, but there were some very nice individual performances.  And we got a nice long look at some young players and at how some folks have been developing. 

While I thought the US had some nice individual play, that everyone but the forwards were having so much trouble playing together concerned me a bit.  It’s probably just that residency/practice is simply no substitute for games.  For instance, individually, the US had some nice defender performances, but the defense as a unit looked a tad ragged – they just looked like they haven’t played together in months and months.  And residency aside, I guess they haven’t.  I felt the same regarding the midfield combining with the forwards.  They just didn’t look real familiar with each other.  The forwards looked good as a unit though.  When everyone made their runs and filled the box, great things happened.  Both goals scored in the run of play had at least 3 touches in and around the box – very good stuff. 

Anyway, nothing too remarkable in this one.  It was just nice to see the team play again.

Formation - 4-3-3 - back-front; right-left

GK – Solo; Def – Mitts, Frimpong, Whitehill (I’m never going to get use to this one), Rampone (proof being that I’m still not use to this one); Mid – Wagner, Osborne, Lloyd (with Osborne playing withdrawn and Wagner and Lloyd playing pinched in); F – O’Reilly, Wambach, Lilly.  LePeilbet in for Frimpong, Kai in for Heather O, Tarpley in for Wagner, Chalupny in for Mitts

Players

Solo – What a freakish goal that second one was.  A really nice goal, but freakish nonetheless.  There really wasn’t a lot Hope could do about that.  Yeah, she was sitting on the near post, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  Maybe Jules needs to readjust after watching the World Cup for a month too, but a 5’8”, 5’9” female keeper wasn’t going to get that ball no matter where she’d been standing (unless she’d been prescient and sitting on the back post and could have made a running stab at it . . . but why in the world would she have been doing that?).  Anyway, wasn’t really much of a remarkable game for Hope one way or the other.  It wasn’t the steadfast unshakable performance we saw in the friendlies last year, but then again, this is better competition than we saw the US play last year (keeping in mind we only saw the domestic games last year).  I look forward to seeing her in the next couple of games  . . . . well, against Canada, at any rate.  I assume the GK is going to have a quiet game against Ireland.    

Mitts – Quiet game.  Defensively, she was fine individually, but it seemed that there are trust issues on the back line or they’re just not familiar with each other.  Her pinching in on what wound up being a really great Swedish chance just looked like she was going in to help out – but both central defenders were right there patrolling their area and doing just fine – so she came in, clumping around the ball like the little kids do and left her whole wing open and Sweden took advantage.  Communication issue, trust issue, familiarity issue, whatever – it needs to be worked out because there were dozens little issues of folks running up each other’s backs, clumping and simply not being in position throughout this one.  Offensively, the defense just didn’t get involved at all.  I think Frimpong and Cat made more runs forward than the wings did.  Like I said at the outset, I really don’t have a lot of gripes about individual play on defense, but as a unit, they need to tighten up, keep their shape, support the other lines and just get their stuff together . . . it’s a team sport – hopefully by the next one the defense will play a bit more like they recognize that.  All that said, Mitts was OK, just very quiet.

Frimpong – Oh what a difference 9 months makes – dang she looked good defensively.  She was mopping a ton of balls up, had some beautiful strips and exuded a fair amount of confidence up the center of the field.  And she caused me to actually shout at the TV – “ooooo, you’re wicked fast!”  In case you haven’t gathered it, I’m way too old to be using a phrase like “wicked fast” so she really must be flying to cause me to lose myself like that.  I really don’t have much else – if this game is any indication, she’s perfectly capable of patrolling the central defense – wings need to catch some tape of this one, see that she’s got it covered and that they can stay spread wide and push up on offense.  It will be interesting to see what Ryan does here when/if Kate returns to the team. 

Whitehill – nope, still not use to it.  Solid enough – I wish the defenders would clear the dang ball though.  It’s kind of been a theme throughout, but I think the girls have been watching too much World Cup.  Instead of clearing in traffic and when the Swedes flooded the box, they were passing in that traffic.  As all too many passes in this one were short of their mark (or into space into which no one was running), this was a bad bad idea.  I love this team, you know I do, but they don’t exactly have the precision/ball control of the Italian defense and they need to clear the dang ball when they’re in their own box with a flood of Swedes just inches away.  Julie ripped on Hope for that second goal, but I was already hoarse from yelling “clear the @#$% ball!!!” before that kick was even taken.  If it had been cleared, as no less than three players had ample opportunity to do, there’s no issue.  Anyway – I put this here not because Cat was the only one with this issue, but because she was one of many and I really have little else to say on her game.  Oh, nice goal – horribly played by the Swedish goalkeeper and never should have scored, but nice goal nonetheless.  I guess on a hot day when the starting keeper had been subbed out, it’s worth taking the shot. 

Rampone – Solid game individually.  I think most of the comments re Cat and Mitts apply here as well.  Clear the ball, stop collapsing inside, get down the line and support the offense – it all applies here as well.  I do think that the Swedes were attacking at her a bit more than on Mitts’s side of the field so I understand why she hung back a bit more.  But I just felt both wings were intent on collapsing inside and giving Tina and Cat more help than they needed – maybe it’s Boxx’s absence that had them worried.  They didn’t have that stopper right in front of them and maybe it made the whole backline a little jumpy.  Whatever it was, I think shape/organization is key moving forward, especially if they’re going to continue to play the 4-3-3.  I don’t have anything else – solid game from Rampone – as Ireland is the next opponent, I definitely look forward to seeing her flying up the sideline in the next one.

LePeilbet – Rough outing.  Really rough outing.  I am never a fan of changing central defenders in the middle of the game, but Tina was cramping (I assume it was nothing more serious than that) and had to come out.  My preference would have been to push either Rampone or Mitts inside, and put a replacement on the wing.  It’s tough to come in ice cold, completely out of the rhythm of the game and make a positive impact in the central D – sliding a player already in that rhythm who has plenty of experience playing in the central D would have been a safer choice.  That Amy LeP turned it over right outside the box on her first touch and was part of the keystone cop moment those three defenders had on the first Swedish goal kind of bears all this out.  Anyway, I wouldn’t mind seeing her get a start – she’s always played well when she’s started.  As a sub in the central D, however, I hope that’s not where she gets her next chance – it really doesn’t put her in a position to be successful.

Chalupny – I’ve got nothin’.  She wasn’t in for long and didn’t do anything noteworthy that I noticed the short time she was in there.  Glad she’s cleared to play again though – soccer players with concussion issues is not good.  Hope she’s over those issues. 

Wagner – Well – as a unit, I thought the midfield looked a tad more discombobulated than the forwards did.  I also thought that they didn’t assert themselves nearly as much as they could have.  That said, Aly did have some nice moments – a few nice passes, a few passes that would have been nice had everyone been going on their runs, and a few passes that were just a little short.  I think we can put some of this down to the heat and the resulting collective sluggishness.  There were a few instances where a forward made a run forward and no one was trailing and I was wondering where Aly was – like I said with respect to the defenders, I think there are some communication issues, rustiness, something going on that affected the way everyone was relating to each other out there.  Not a lot else to say – I hope for a more active performance from all of the midfielders in the next one – I would really like to see them assert themselves in support of the forwards and simply in maintaining possession on/control of the field. 

Osborne – Where was she?  I don’t think I noticed a thing she did until at least 30-35 minutes in.  She played very passively.  Shannon Boxx has shown the US what this position should be and how the person playing it could/should have as significant an impact on the field as anyone else out there – why this team, throughout it’s entire history has been so reluctant to devote resources/time/energy to developing youngsters to take over in this key spot is beyond my comprehension.  It goes back to the past couple of regimes taking athletes over soccer players – sometimes the best defensive mids aren’t necessarily the best athletes in the player pool – they just know how to play soccer.  I don’t know why so many defensive mids in the youth programs get tossed away as they get older – it’s like they can only have one in the program and when she gets hurt, they’re stuck.  And right now, they’re in that stuck position. Osborne looks like she’s in a bit over her head and really wasn’t making an impact on either end. Besides a couple of takeaways and quick one touch passes she really didn’t do a thing the whole game to assert herself.  All that said, it wasn’t a bad outing, just a quiet one . . . and I was just so relieved that it wasn’t a certain someone starting that I really don’t want to criticize too much.  So – let’s just call this my yearly rant against the reluctance to develop the Oakes/Dowlings/Hawkins/Tomeckas from the youth programs before they give up on it and move on with their lives.  Anyway, here’s hoping Boxx is back soon and that she plays forever.  I’m not real excited about Team USA’s options if she’s not/doesn’t.  

Lloyd – my favorite midfielder performance.  I was excited to finally get to see her for a full 90 and she did not disappoint.  She has a great touch on the ball, she’s confident on the ball, she’s not shy about taking on defenders, was one of only two players who successfully executed a step over dribble (again, ladies, enough watching World Cup tape, let’s get back to basics).  I like her game and her whole demeanor out there – and her workrate was unequaled in this one.  She was having the same passing/communication issues a lot of the other folks were having (i.e., passes were short, passes were into space into which no one else was running), but overall I was quite impressed.  A friend of mine made a comment that he really enjoys the combo of her taking on defenders and Aly’s distribution in the central midfield and I thought that was a great point . . . and once they get to the point that the team is actually connecting on a higher percentage of their passes (and Boxx is back and the team is having an easier time possessing the ball), I look forward to seeing this in action.  Good game – it left me wanting to see more. 

Tarpley -  I thought she was pretty active – made some nice runs and helped get numbers forward.  Really didn’t leave too much of an impression other than that.  Team USA seems to have a wealth of talent at the attacking midfield/forward spots – it’s a nice problem to have.  I assume in one of the next two games she’ll get a chance to start and I’ll have more comments then. 

O’Reilly – I thought the forward unit was the best unit on the field.  They were combining well, they were filling the box/getting numbers forward and they were taking on defenders/showing nice technical ability.  Heather’s assist on that first goal is a perfect example.  Three different players touched the ball in the box on that one – when you get numbers forward good things happen – Heather made the run forward with Lilly, received the ball and put a nice little pass back to Abby who was only slightly trailing the play.  Good stuff – this group definitely looked like they’ve been playing/practicing together.  I think the heat impeded them somewhat – some of the errant passes from the midfield were due to forwards not completing runs but for the most part, Heather O was running at the D, wreaking havoc and creating opportunities.  Solid outing. 

Wambach – Pretty much all the same comments from O’Reilly apply here as well.  Her goal was the result of great combination play with her fellow forwards.  The third goal was pretty much created the same way – long throw in, header by Abby to a player in the box (Lloyd I think) that player kept the ball alive and it fell at Lilly’s foot, and boom – goal.  Three different players touched the ball in and around the box.  Good things happen, when forwards get forward.  She took a lot of contact in this one – with Boxx out I think she was pushed a little deeper in the midfield and winning balls a bit more than she’d normally be, but it was a great effort.  Great workrate, especially in the second half.  She showed some nice technical ability and my only complaint was that sequence in the first half, she was taking on defenders, completely in control, just one defender left to beat and that player was playing off her and instead of shooting she passed into traffic.  Shoot the ball Abby, SHOOT!!!!!!!!  Argh – that was a brilliant opportunity for her – she had it on her right foot, great angle, and the defender was giving her space – she’s got to shoot balls like that.  Other than that, another strong outing from Abby – exactly what we’ve come to expect.

Lilly – Great first half.  Strong workrate, was combining well with her fellow forwards, had some nice opportunities even if that final touch wasn’t what it should have been (she’d switched and was on the right for that one really weak shot she took early in the first half – she’s usually a bit better than that with her right foot, so I think it was just kind of an indecisive swat at the ball rather than a confident shot at goal – rusty from a couple of months of practice and no games I’d assume).  She created that first goal with a great run on the left on the edge of the box – great combination play by the forwards.  I thought she faded a bit in the second half – just kid of disappeared for long stretches at a time – but she managed to get forward right there at the end for the final goal, so I guess she had a little left in the tank.  I don’t have much else – after all these years, I think I’ve pretty much said all there is to say on this count. 

Kai – I really liked her energy.  She came in and was quite active, not shy about taking on defenders and along with Lloyd was the only US player who successfully completed a step over dribble. She did a good job getting forward and filling space in the box.  As with most of the subs, I don’t have a lot.  I saw enough to want to get another look though.  Maybe against Ireland. 

And that is it.  The World Cup was a fun month of soccer so I was anxious and excited to see Team USA on the pitch again.  A lot of strong individual performances and it doesn’t look like there’s anything going on with the team that a few games together won’t solve.  Hopefully, the next one features some better wing/flank play and that after being another week played in all the lines will play together and with each other as well as the forward line did.

Beulah