US 4 Norway 0
Ahhhhhh - at last . . . . now maybe everyone can stop talking about how the US can lose to Norway however many times in a row (uhhhh, Norwayís good?) and start watching and enjoying the soccer being played. As for the soccer played in this one - well, while the score is certainly one of the USís most decisive victories over a top tier opponent, it was simply a very nice outing in which a new system was being implemented and lots of players were getting some minutes under their belts - it was nothing more and nothing less than that. It was what a friendly leading up to qualifying should be. That, in the process, the US got a nice solid win against Norway and all the positive happy, psychological implications that has for a team that has lost to them for the past couple of years, makes it all the better. As always it was nice seeing the team play, there was lots to like and some, not much, that is subject to the obligatory post game ripping to shreds. So for anyone whoís interested in todayís ramblings letís get started . . . and for anyone whoís not - time to hit the back button on your browser because it only gets murkier and more dense from here.
Formation - 4-4-2 with basically one middie sitting on the defense and one middie sitting slightly withdrawn from the front line - back-front, right-left: GK - Beene; D - Sobrero, Fawcett, Chastain, Reddick; DMid - Tiffany Roberts; Mid - Foudy, Wagner; AMid (really more a withdrawn forward as it was being played much of the day) - Parlow; F - Milbrett, Wambach. Subs: MacMillan in for Wambach - Millie and CP switch - and actually I think Mac goes in on the right so Parlow just takes Abbyís spot; Mia in for Millie, CP moves back to the "midfield," Miaís on the left, Mac stays right; Scurry in for Beene; Fair in for Roberts; Hucles in for Foudy; Benson in for Sobrero, Reddick switches to the right side, Benson comes in on the left wing; Kluegel in for Parlow, Wagner slips into that attacking midfield spot and Jena comes into the midfield which is where she should always play. And everyone gets to play . . . just like when I was a kid . . . . This new formation really seemed to work well offensively although clearly folks are still trying to figure out where theyíre supposed to be. I think weíve yet to see it tested defensively because to the extent Norway seemed interested in playing at all, I think itís safe to say they packed it in shortly after the USís first goal. I also think the defensive midfielders need to figure out their role in this system because this afternoon neither one of them were doing a thing - if the ball got through the forwards and central mids, it got to the defense - TR and Fair both had a couple of clearances, but more often than not that ball got behind them without either of them so much as slowing it down or hanging the attacker up . . . but Iím getting ahead of myself - so before this becomes even more aimless Iíll move on to the players.
Beene/Scurry - not a good day to evaluate keepers at all. Neither one was tested - they each made one nice save (although the only non-infantile/good point Rob Stone made all day is that Hegeís shot was going wide - nice grab by Beene, but it wasnít on net anyway - and yes, Rob Stone is the absolutely worst play by play announcer I have ever heard - if he insists on being as unprofessional as he was in this one then he should never be allowed behind the mike again - he was insulting and infantile in his last outing and he was even worse this time - itís embarrassing and annoying - weíre not on our way to a kegger, weíre trying to watch a soccer match - ESPN, can we get a grown up calling the game please - ugh). Anyway - just had to vent on that one and since thereís absolutely nothing to say about the keepers itís as good a place for me to get that off my chest as any. Onward . . .
Sobrero - That whole defenders "not moving forward by design" works well for her. In a system where you intentionally donít want to attack from your wings, then Kate Sobrero is an awfully good wing defender. Because, as always, her defense was great . . . Iím not so sure I like that whole wing defenders not attacking thing, and Iím also not so sure thatís really how youíre always going to play this formation when all is said and done, but instead could have been a by-product of what the team was trying to work on in this game. Regardless, Kate was rock solid defensively, sent a few errant balls forward just to let us know it was Kate and she shouldnít be allowed to make any offensive decisions ever, and overall she basically had a very nice afternoon. It was great seeing her back out there - for all the talk of Mia and Bri coming back, it was just as much of a treat to see Kate back with the Nats and playing well too.
Fawcett - solid day - I donít have a lot - the defensive middie wasnít really stopping lots of balls so Chastain and Fawcett had to be on their toes a bit but there really were no problems. She looked far more solid and composed back there than sheís been with the Spirit this season so it was reassuring to see her have a nice afternoon. There was one nice play where she and Kate switched and Joy did get forward for a nice run, and that was good to see as well - and why I think once the team learns this diamond formation, those outside backs will have the green light to move forward a bit more than they did in this one - with essentially a 5th defender in the form of that defensive mid, I just canít see why the wing defenders wonít be picking their spots and moving forward when Team USA gets this thing working. Like I said at the outset - this one was definitely a very early step in the learning process of this formation - the next time we see Team USA Iím sure a few more pieces of the strategy will be implemented and weíll be able to see bit by bit how this whole thing evolves.
Brandi - Brandi Chastain, central defender . . . heh heh - whoíd a thunk it. But, ya know, it kinda worked - takes the organizational responsibility away from Joy (I donít think Joy has ever really been comfortable with it) and gives Team USA a nice physical force in the center of the field. It really kind of takes Brandi back to what was the bread and butter of her career before she got all famous. Brandi was such a defensive force on the field because she was such a big physical presence out there. In this one, she used that physical presence like she did in the olden days (minus a lot of the fouling) - she was a great stopper in this one and was very disciplined and good with the double teams. She and Joy both were swarming in the central D - actually moved the restraining line forward to the middle third of the field and were heading off most trouble while it was still in the middle third of the field on many many occasions. Strong performance today - managed to keep any and all showy tendencies to dead ball situations (was that a post-whistle bicycle kick I saw from Ms. Chastain on the edge of my TV screen - she just canít stop herself). Weíre still not getting any useful service off our backline like we did in the Carla days, but the US seemed quite a bit more organized on D (in the first half before all the subs) than theyíve seemed against top tier teams since the good captain retired. Nice night and an interesting wrench to throw into the defensive works.
Reddick - I continue to like this kid and all she brings to the field. She plays with a lot of maturity for one so young. Sheís solid defensively and has good instincts streaking up the flank - sheís not the fastest wing youíll ever see but her instincts and smarts seem to make up for it . . . and if that shot really is as hard as the announcers said it is, then she could be a very nice and surprising offensive weapon out of the back indeed. In this one it seemed there was a leash on the outside backs in the first half, but I think once that leash comes off, and youíve got Slaton on the left and Reddick on the right - well, thatís a nice little defense to have. Once that defensive midfielder figures out what the heck to do in this formation, I canít imagine why in the world the outside backs wonít, in turn, and in spots, very aggressively attack - I think we saw it already in the second half of this one actually. Reddick made one very nice second half run - seemed to shock the heck out of everyone but just couldnít thread the pass through to Parlow at the end (thought was good with the pass - you like to see the unselfishness, but if sheís really got a shot like Wendy was saying, then she should have just boomed it - the box was awash in red jerseys - she probably would have had a better chance against the keeper). Anyway - nice solid outing and since Akers mentioned fitness issues with her in a previous telecast, it was good to see she seemed to have no trouble going a full 90.
Roberts - she wasnít bad, but she wasnít terribly effective either. Like I said earlier, if the ball got past Abby (who was coming back and helping defensively beautifully), Julie and Aly then it got through to the defense - so exactly what was TR supposed to be doing. Was she marking someone? When Hege moved forward, TR was pretty ineffective trying to stop her so I donít know if thatís what her role was. It was hard to figure out because she simply wasnít on the TV screen enough for me to see where the heck she was and what the heck she was doing. It was usually a combination of Foudy, Aly and two of the 4 defenders making the defensive stops (with Abby and then, later, Mac helping out some for good measure) but TR really didnít seem to be anywhere near the ball for more than a handful of times the entire game. Interesting - one of the limitations of watching from home is that I have no idea what she was doing - so I really have no idea whether she was playing poorly or was productively occupied elsewhere. Regardless, it really does concern me that the ball got back to the defense without going through the defensive midfielder as often as it did so I guess for TRís performance today, Iíll just score it a skeptical question mark and leave it at that.
Foudy - I think it is for the midfielders that this formation switch is most difficult. Frankly, no one who played in the DMid or central mid had a particularly strong game. There seemed to be a lot of trying to figure out where to go and where everyone else was - the only combination play that was consistently fluid was that between Parlow, Abby and Tiff Milbrett (hereinafter the player referred to as "Tiff") - the rest of it seemed to be a feeling out process. And that feeling out process is unquestionably most difficult on the playmakers. So Foudy and Aly didnít look at their best in this one but they definitely had their moments. Foudy was quite strong as a ball winner in the middle third of the field. She was helping out defensively and essentially performing the role that I was expecting TR to perform. As usual on set pieces Foudy positioned herself very well and was wide open - too bad she muffed that shot on the corner from Aly. I really donít have a lot - most of the action was going on with whoever was in that triangle (forwards and the attacking mid-withdrawn forward - you can call it what you want, but as CP played it, and she played it best, that attacking mid was a lot more like a withdrawn forward, especially when you take into account how seamlessly Abby, Tiff and CP were switching with each other). The next time they take this formation out for a spin, I expect these central mids will have found a way to be more involved in the attack. In this one, their role seemed defensive and to be ball winners and Foudy performed that role very well.
Wagner - As you can probably guess from the preceding blurb, this was not my favorite Aly outing. Again, I think it was more a function of the new formation than anything else. Like Foudy, she was very strong defensively through the midfield. But in the first half, I have little else. Hereís the thing though - and why TR gets a "skeptical question mark" while Aly gets a "not my favorite performance, but sheís still starting on my WWC í03 team": even when sheís not at her best, you can still see it there, you can see that sheís a special player who manages to find a way to help and by the end of the game sheís found a way to improve. I saw nothing from TR all game long - from Aly, I could see the wheels spinning and she was still managing to do good things, albeit of the small and subtle variety. And that corner kick was simply one of the best Iíve seen. You know the one - the one Aly boomed perfectly to a wide open Julie Foudy on the back post - the one that landed right on Julieís foot . . . unfortunately the one on which Jules muffed the shot, but thereís no denying the pinpoint precision and beauty of that corner kick. Aly was pretty consistent with her corners all game, actually - very solid. In the second half, when CP went out and Aly took that attacking mid role (when she played it, it did look more like an attacking mid - she was the conduit as where CP was clearly the target), the whole offense seemed to perk up a bit. There wasnít just a tremendous amount of organization or productive combination play but about 60 minutes in or so Team USA kind of seemed to get a shot of adrenaline. A lot of that seemed to be due to Aly moving forward and of course that Hamm woman was roaming around causing trouble as well. So overall, not just a blazing "can you believe that Aly Wagner" kind of performance, but a solid workmanlike afternoon where in my opinion, Ms. Wagner managed to further solidify her position on the WWC í03 team.
Cindy Parlow - As much as I hate to say it because I hate the Beat as much as the next non-Beat fan, but Cindy Parlow has been playing as well as Iíve ever seen her play the last month or so. Her game against the Freedom here in DC was positively dominating - she is so amazingly technical - I think because of her size people lose that but next to Mia and Tiff, thereís no one in the US better with the ball at her feet. And in this one, it was more of the same. She was seeing the field very well, switching and combining with Tiff and Abby beautifully and showing a really nice nose (head) for the back of the net. As Iíve mentioned a couple of times already, she really wasnít playing attacking mid so much as she was a withdrawn forward - while that is pretty much semantics, it is worth noting that Abby was actually slipping back, winning balls, distributing and playing more defense throughout the mid than CP was. Whatever it was it worked - that switching and interchangability is what makes an offense less predictable and more dangerous. Strong, entertaining and very enjoyable outing from CP - I like throwing two six footers at the opposition - itís fun.
Milbrett - What is there to say . . . Well deserved player of the game and since Iíve been watching all those NY games on my dish, Iíve got to say Iím happy for her. Sheís had that post-Olys stunned, vacant stare for the last few NY games and it was nice to see her have a nice happy successful day on the pitch. It is pretty amazing to just step back and take stock of what a complete player she has become - clearly one of the best in the world and just as clearly the best the US has to offer. She sees the field beautifully, plays with her head up, sends beautiful balls into the box, and taking on players 1 v. 1 and simply outrunning players 1 v. 1 sheís as close to unstoppable as there is out there. Great stuff - she never fails to entertain and amaze.
Abby Wambach - I just have to say, if Rob Stone thinks not scoring renders a player "ineffective" then his understanding of the game is far more simplistic than even mine is and it is just one more reason why he should be banned from all future telecasts - no, Abby didnít score, but she had a very solid outing. The combination play between Abby, CP and Tiff was the best we saw the whole game. I believe the sequence leading to CPís second goal (if Iím remembering when it was correctly - whenever it was Wendy was fussing over how great those three combined) was started by Abby forcing a turnover in the midfield and those three winding through the defense and resulting in Tiff putting the ball on CPís head. Well done. While she was playing great defense and winning balls in the midfield, if there was a complaint, it may have been that she was doing that a little too much - specifically, that she was playing too deep. Wendy seemed obsessed with players staying in their spots during the telecast which I assume came from what April had discussed with her. Learning a new formation thatís understandable - learning to play new roles. Ultimately though, movement will have to become more free flowing, wing defenders will have to move forward and the players will need the freedom to play - if not then the offense and defense will become stagnant and predictable and highly unsuccessful (pull out some Freedom tapes from last year if you donít believe me). Point being, I think Abby, CP and Tiff were getting that already and with some tweaking, hopefully, this was a glimpse of what the whole field will look like when everyone figures out what her role is. And I would be remiss if I didnít point out that the only time Norway looked even a little dangerous in this one was right after Abby went out. When CP moved up into Abbyís forward spot neither she nor Tiff were slipping back and clogging the middle defensively like Abby had been doing - and Hege got free and back to the defense more than a couple of times. A rock solid performance and in my opinion Abby should get another call up.
Mac - the streakiness continues - she was hot for 8 games or so and now sheís not - definitely detecting a pattern here - the same pattern Iíve been detecting for the last 4 or 5 years. Ya know, formations with two forwards just donít work well for her at the National Team level - werenít they playing a 3 front while she was on her scoring tear? She was pretty invisible and was another forward playing too deep for much of the day. Iíve got to wonder if her injury was still bothering her. That she wasnít taking corners makes me think it might be. She pretty much gets a bye from me on this one. A quiet night and Iím going to attribute that at least in part to her not having a ton of soccer under her belt the last 4-6 weeks and probably not being 100%.
Fair - well - she was better than Roberts . . . At least she was around the ball on occasion - actually, she was winning some balls - still, more often than not, if the ball got past that central level of mids it got to the defense. These miniature defensive midfielders are just a bad idea. TR has a nice niche with Carolina, Fair kind of does with Philly, although she coughs that ball up with alarming regularity even at the WUSA level (a phenomenon we were once again treated to in this game), but I just donít know that it translates to the International level. If Norway had actually mounted an attack I have to wonder how big an impact the ineffectiveness of the defensive midfielders in this one would have had. It really did look like the US was playing with 10 players at times in the first half. All this talk of Fair being a good header for one so small and TR being pound for pound the toughest player out there is all well and good, but frankly, as Birgit Prinz is mowing over those tiny little folks, pound for pound, it really doesnít matter what the heck they are because theyíll be laying on the field wondering just what happened to that bus that hit them. Defensive midfield at the international level is a big girlís position . . . the 2000 Olys taught us that - despite a very strong workrate from Fair, she was just too small and teams were attacking up the US middle at will. With these tiny little turnover prone players all thatís slowing down opposing attacks before they hit the central D I think the US is just setting themselves up for disaster . . . just a thought . . . I could be wrong . . . I have been before . . .
Hmmm whoís left - Iím out of order I think - I donít have much on most of the folks left so letís just finish this up real quick.
Mia - almost forgot about Mia. She just comes in and plays with such energy and such a tireless workrate that itís a joy to see even when sheís not at her sharpest. She is consistently the hardest working player on the field no matter what field it is sheís playing on. I thought she was very disruptive and was causing a lot of problems for the Norwegian defense. The combination play just wasnít there in the second half but she and Aly were in there trying toward the end and the attack really perked up for the last 25-30 minutes. As for her goal - well, Iím sure her marker thought she had something more important to do than boxing out (for lack of a better term - Iíve been watching a lot of basketball lately, sorry) the woman who has scored more goals than anyone in international womenís soccer history, but somehow, when she looks back on the tape, I think sheíll find that there really wasnít. Uhhh - they had her covered for the corner, but left her alone for the rebound. Why in the world would you ever leave Mia Hamm alone in the box before the ball has been cleared - she is one of the most opportunistic goal scorers you will ever see and they gave her a beautiful opportunity and she buried it. Well done.
Hucles - in a game where it was apparent everyone was having a little trouble figuring out where to be, Hucles failing to get someplace good was most glaring. It was unfortunate really. She should have/could have been on that back post on two separate occasions for what would have been very easy finishes but she just didnít get there. Itís probably because she got so close that it was so obvious. Unfortunate, but like I said earlier, minus the Millie-CP-Abby trio the combination play really was not there at all. Like Foudy before her, she played solid defensively and was winning balls. I think once the young players got in and were the majority of the players on the field they were pretty much trying to make some noise and that didnít lead to a real organized attack and led to some silly shots. She was involved in some of that. But on the other hand, when they got in, there was a lot of energy on the field. In what was largely a sluggish game, that was good to see. I was impressed enough in the last one to want to see more of Hucles, and this performance did nothing to change my mind. Not as good as last time, but you can see that there are skills there and I donít think you have to dig real deep to find them.
Kluegel - well, after watching Kluegel getting faked out of her shorts for goals on D with the Breakers week after week Iím just happy she got a chance to play in the midfield . . . which until someone tells her that tricky garbage she got away with in college gets her team scored on, is where she should play (no one seems to want to tell her that - folks seem to want to give those moves a cute little name and ignore the fact that she turns the ball over and gets scored on when she pulls that junk - interesting . . . very interesting). She really didnít make too much of an impression - I donít think a field without flank midfielders really plays to her strengths. Like Iíve not so subtly implied, sheís not nearly as strong technically as she thinks she is (sound fundamentals over trick plays, Jena, no one else wants to say that to you so I will - youíll never read this, and just who the heck do I think I am addressing you anyway, but I feel better for saying it nonetheless) and that gets her into a lot of trouble and causes a lot of turnovers. On a flank in the midfield the positives of her fitness, crosses, workrate and speed outweigh any negatives she brings . . . centrally or on defense, I donít know if I can say the same. Interesting to see how this develops.
Benson - solid - donít have much. I like her with Philly though, and was glad to see her get the opportunity. Donít know if weíll ever see her again at this level, but it was nice she got this chance.
I think thatís everyone. Kind of a sluggish day and it was a bit disappointing to see that Norway really didnít come to play. But on the other hand it gave the US a nice training opportunity against an opponent who, even when only mildly engaged in the proceedings, is better than most other opponents Team USA could schedule. Clock is ticking toward qualifying - glad to hear that Nike Cup is before Gold Cup so hopefully they can use that tourney to get all their little ducks in a row. As always, I had fun watching and yelling at the TV and I look forward to the next one.