US 1 China 1
Well - that was an interesting game - I think that I saw things a little differently from just about everyone. I certainly saw things differently from the guy calling the game . . . just because the guy calling the game says how bad the US defense was every minute and a half doesn't make it so. Yes, the US had some horrible miscommunications, and defensively in the first half we had some serious problems . . . however, I don't think the crux of the problem was on the backline . . . it was in the defensive play of our midfield - the US midfield was a sieve in the first half. Can't fault the backline for anything other than communication - they smothered practically everything that got back to them - past the two much written about miscommunications Siri basically had nothing to do for most of the night. I don't see how you can fault the defense when the backline managed to put out all brush fires with relative ease (2 shots from China . . . 2). The middies on the other hand . . . where were the middies . . .
For me this game was a tale of two halves - looked like two different games. The stodgy stilted horrible 4-3-3 that the US offense sleep walked through in the first half (were Lil and Foudy even on the field . . . I saw their names in the starting lineup, but that was about it) . . . and the dynamic, exciting, let's use the entire field 3-4-3 that finally pumped some life into the US. China outplayed the US in the first half, and the US outplayed China (ever so slightly) in the second - especially in the last 25 minutes or so of the game. So I'm like a broken record, but I have to voice my hatred of the 4-3-3 one more time, and my love of the 3-4-3. Well - I'm kinda all over the place this evening - so I'll just get into my take on the Chinese goal and then the players and try to sort some of this out (and maybe make a little bit more sense).
The Chinese goal:
Ball is loose, Chinese attacker is about to strike, Kate is closing from one side, Siri is closing from the other, slight hesitation by Siri and the Chinese attacker touches the ball through and scores easily on an empty net. I have a little trouble getting all excited about this - I'm certainly not going to act like it was the end of the world and use one miscommunication to slam the entire defensive effort by the US backline as the commentator did incessantly. For me, it's as simple as this, yes, a little bit of miscommunication, and no, that shouldn't be an issue. A keeper comes off her line, she must go hard to the ball, the defender must back off - Siri's young, she thinks this needs to be a discussion - it doesn't - that's the way it should be 100% of the time and she should have just assumed Kate would back off (which she did, actually). The keeper can not hesitate EVER. But on the other hand, and why I can't get too excited about this - when you have a keeper who roams - this kind of thing is going to happen.
The part of this I find far more interesting is what was going on behind the play - that's where I think the bigger miscommunication was - or if not a miscommunication, that's where we miss having an experienced central defender back there. In her head, Joy Fawcett knows, when the keeper comes out, and the other interior defender is also out and shielded from goal by the advancing keeper, she needs to get back . . . in her head, when she thinks about it, she knows that - however, it is not instinct for her and that left an empty net. With a 4 woman defense, the sweeper off the ball has got to read that coming and get back into the net, may not be able to do anything, but at least get back there and make the attacker work for it - how many times have we seen Carla do that (or seen her screaming at the defenders off the ball to get back) - it's instinct for her, she doesn't have to think, she sees that play developing before Kate and Siri do - Joy is a right wing - Joy has been a right wing for 12 years - she doesn't see it as easily or as early. Like I say, this kind of thing is going to happen, especially with an inexperienced central defender organizing the D. I'm not too worried about this one - I think it will be a lesson learned for everyone involved and that's a good thing - better to learn now than in September.
Siri - she's young - not as forceful calling players off as she should be - miscommunication happens. Oh well - live and learn. Not a great game to judge her keeping skills because not too much got back to her. This is where I'm not understanding why everyone is slamming our backline - they managed to stop everything that got back to them - yes, we were having trouble defensively, but that problem was in the middle third and up top (turnovers and then sitting and watching as the Chinese player launched the ball to our back third), not in the back - Joy, Kate and Brandi can't stop the ball from getting to the back third, but once it gets there they can and did stop just about everything. Siri's kicking game? I think she's pulling back too much. I guess until the field players can get a handle on it she has to, but for the first time in a long long time (ever??) we have a keeper with a good kicking game, and instead of the field players adjusting to that and using it, they're making her stifle it and be more like the keeper to whom they are more accustomed. That's a little frustrating.
Brandi - I thought she looked much better than she did against Norway. She was getting to everything and was part of a swarming backline. She made one especially impressive come outta nowhere save a few yards out of the mouth of the goal in the second half that the commentator credited to Serlenga, but it was Brandi and she was everywhere she needed to be defensively for most of the night. In the first half she was getting up into the attack (such as it was) and serving in balls. That no one was doing anything with what she was serving in in the first half was not her fault. She also had a really nice give and go with Lil that a good Chinese defense managed to stifle. In the second half, like everyone else, she picked up her game a bit and teamed with Kate and Joy to comprise what I thought was a solid effort from our backline.
Kate - solid effort. Past the two miscommunications can't really fault her for anything - and can't really fault her too much for those even - when the keeper comes out, she's got to come out like she means it, the defender knows that and follows the play as far as she can and then gets the heck out of the way - that's pretty much what Kate did - maybe she should have been more vocal since Siri is so young, maybe she should have backed off a little sooner, but I really can't fault Kate too much for it. The backline was swarming and playing solid D. There was an awful lot of activity in the back third for the US, but I thought for the ridiculous number of balls getting through our midfield, our backline, starting with Kate, handled it well. Like I pointed out before, that Siri had a fairly quiet night (only 2 shots from China), bears that out.
Joy - please Carla, get well soon, not just because we miss you, but so that Joy can get back on her wing. Every single thing about Joy's game improves when she gets back to the position she has played for 12 years. In the second half when we switched to a 3-4-3 you could almost see the relief emanate from her - she is nearly flawless on the right side, holds the attackers to the outside, runs down everything and basically shuts off half the field. She's a good central defender - with Carla out, I guess she's the best option we have . . . however, when you put her on the wing, she's not just good, she's the best in the world - we have got to find a way to keep her out there. We looked so much sharper in the second half. Everyone just looked more comfortable with where they were playing in the 3-4-3 and no one more so than Joy. Adequate first half - along with Kate, managed to swarm and stop most attacks. Great second half, tremendous 1 v. 1 steal at the 60-something minute on that right side, looked like Joy was beat, she comes storming in, attacker tries to cut to her inside, attacker keeps on running, Joy's got the ball . . . vintage Joy - that's where she's most effective, and if Carla can't go, I'd rather play with a 3 woman backline with a withdrawn holding middie every time out.
Pearce - well - didn't make much of an impression to be honest. I was excited she was able to inbounds the ball a couple of times without turning it over (she was having some issues a few games ago) but aside from that, my general comments re the backline apply to her as well. Don't take my wanting Joy on the right wing to be a slam on Pearce this evening, it's not. Pearce is just the one who gets caught in the numbers game when we switch to a 3-4-3.
Lilly - OK - it's no secret anywhere that she's my fave and like a nut, I spent ridiculous amounts of time and money to go to Portland to see her hit 200, so nobody take this wrong . . . but did she actually play the first half. Where the heck was she? Not a good first half for Lil at all - if she had more than a half dozen meaningful touches on the ball I'd be surprised. Part of the reason she was so quiet was that no one was spreading the ball wide - and Brandi was quite active and moving up (and Lil would switch and move back), but when her teammates can't find her, Lil's got to get herself involved - in a 4-3-3 where she has to play pinched in, that becomes part of her job. Well, that's as mean as I get when it comes to Lil, so let's talk about the second half - actually I guess about the 60-65 minute - maybe that's the time she had her alarm set for, because she certainly did wake up. Great last 25-30 minutes from her. Very active offensively and defensively. She had that one beautiful pass to Millie right up the middle that Millie just couldn't finish, she had one shot about a couple of yards wide (which the keeper got to anyhow) and she had another screamer that the keeper managed to get her hands on without too much trouble - but at least she was getting looks at goal and setting up teammates - in the first half she wasn't. Definitely a strong finish for Lil. She's another one who benefits from a 4 woman midfield - puts her out wide, she's not running up Millie's and Mia's backs anymore and spreads the defense - Lil inevitably has a marker, and she takes that defender out wide with her when we're in a 4 middie set and opens things up a bit for everyone else inside. Invisible first half, solid if unremarkable second half for Lil.
Foudy - well, she wasn't going to be perfect this year. Not a great outing - the midfield was porous - she's gotta bear some responsibility for that. The ball wasn't getting spread wide or pushed up top at all - she's gotta bear some responsibility for that too. Lots of turnovers and no offensive rhythm at all in the first half - again, gotta look to the quarterback a bit on that. Basically, I thought we had absolutely no organized offense in the first half and thought our defense in the middle third was terrible - she was part of that - no escaping it. Second half - a bit better with the distribution - the ball was getting out on the flanks a bit (although I thought Serlenga and Mac were responsible for much of that) and there were fewer turnovers - and we actually had a bit of an organized attack. In comparison to what we've been seeing from her though, it just wasn't a great Foudy game this evening.
Serlenga - usually I rip the young middie, whoever it may happen to be, but not tonight. Thought she was the strongest of the 3 middies who played the full 90. I like how physically she plays, I like that she is a realistic threat to score from the top of the box, I like that she is very vocal out there and backs away from no one, I like that she had tons of touches and manages not to turn the ball over every time down the field, I like that she's taller than 5'2" and doesn't get pushed off the ball (not that I'm making comparisons to an unnamed former Tar Heel or anything ;-) ). Not a spectacular outing, but I thought she had a solid game. She makes my Olympic team, sees playing time and remains above Fair on the depth chart.
Millie - overall she was pretty active up top. Running everything down and trying to create chances for herself. Almost finished a nice Lilly pass in the waning minutes (commentator seemed to think that Millie was the left footed player who made the pass, and then he couldn't figure out who took the shot . . . uhhh - think again - he was confusing Lil and Millie all night long once again - geez this guy was awful). She seemed a bit less willing to pass the ball than she has been recently. There was one play specifically where she had the ball, 2-3 defenders were between her and goal and Mia was to her right wide open - she had to have seen her, but she shot straight into the defenders instead of passing to an open Mia. On the other hand, she had one circus kind of move that was quite entertaining, kind of chipped it up over her head spun around and shot - shot right into a defender, but it was entertaining nonetheless. I don't mind the occasional hot dog move every now and then . . . so long as Mia Hamm isn't standing 10 yards to your right wide open . . . But overall, solid game from Millie. And she brought the R rating for the telecast in the 11th minute this time . . . you'd think they'd learn and quit showing closeups of her when she's muttering and walking back down the field.
CP - thought she was OK. Was playing quite physically once again - which I always like to see. She had two incredible and unquestionably clean slide tackles - with both tackles, she cleanly got the ball, popped up and made decent attacks at goal. Unfortunately she was all alone both times and had no one to pass to, but they were both really nice efforts from CP. Actually, she was quite active in the first half - she had as many good offensive touches as anyone (that's not saying much, because we didn't have a lot - but she really did have a fairly nice game considering how discombobulated our offense seemed to be in the first half).
Mia - my most vivid image of Mia this game was her grousing about the calls to the ref - repeatedly. Very very quiet first half - much more active second half. She seemed to kind of sit up top and not do a whole heck of a lot in the first half. Got much more involved in the offense and the defensive effort in the second though. Was an important part of the offensive pushes in the last 20 minutes. But, to tell the truth other than her complaining and her heads up and opportunistic goal (play the whistle . . . always play the whistle - way to stick with it Mia), not much of an impression was made.
Mac - came in for Pearce at the half - which, because of our moron commentator, took me 9 minutes to figure out - I still don't know if he realized that Pearce ever came out of that game. I saw that Mac was in, I saw Mac in the midfield, I tracked down Nikki rather quickly, saw Lil, took me about 5 minutes to find Foudy, this was becoming quite the mystery for me, then I started thinking, man Joy looks better and more comfortable this half, and then it dawned on me Joy was on the right wing and Christie was nowhere. So basically I guess all my preceding comments should have the caveat that I basically missed the first 9 minutes of the second half because I was trying to figure out who the heck Mac subbed in for. But I digress . . . Mac looked good - it's no secret how much I like her on the right flank. She wasn't sending in a whole lot of serves, but she was bringing the ball up the right side and then cutting it back and inside and allowing the offense to set up a bit further up field. I like the booming crosses though, and would have like to have seen a few more of them. She's another one who really seemed to come alive with about 25 minutes left. She was also pretty active defensively - I thought our defense in the midfield tightened up a little bit in the second half and she's at least part of the reason why - there were still some breakdowns, but it was better than the first half, that's for sure. She's another one who had a solid if unspectacular outing.
Whalen - subbed in for Parlow as a forward in the 60 something minute (I think that's when it was - it's very late and I'm getting tired so apologies if that's not when it was). I thought she was solid - again, very active up top - she seemed to be most active on the right side - seemed to be a pretty good target for Mac getting the ball up the field. Seems that she might be a viable option up top (bye-bye Welsh and Bush - see ya next year . . . and we will see them next year, I'm sure) if April is looking to stack the Olympic team with versatile players. That would give us 3 strikers and 3 middies who have considerable experience at striker (Mac, Lil, Whalen) for Sydney - considering Bush and Welsh have gotten very little playing time against top tier opponents and considering that Slaton and Serlenga have seen a lot of action, that could be the direction April's moving in. Should be interesting - no matter what April does, those last two cuts are going to be painful.
Well - I'm tired and I'm about done. Overall, the first half stunk, didn't look like the US came to play and the second half, especially the latter stages of the second half, was pretty fun to watch. I thought both teams were playing pretty good soccer in the second half . . . not great, but pretty good. As for Chinese long ball - the Chinese coach is a game player - I doubt that's what we'll see in the Olympics - he's mixing it up so we'll have no idea what in the world he'll pull out in Sydney - then again, our coach is a game player too - they got two very different looks from us tonight. That's what makes it fun though.