US 7 Russia 1

Well, I was at this one so it's a bit of a different perspective than usual. I briefly contemplated watching the tape and then doing my game report and even popped it in, but after watching about 70 seconds I turned it off . . . I like my memory of the game as I saw it, so the post will just be a bit more nebulous than usual and at times focused on some odd things that I was watching at the game. I notice that I don't pick up on quite as much detail when I go to the games - but on the other hand, you really get the whole story of the game and not just what the cameras decide to show you. And if you're sitting close enough to hear some of the chatter on the field then all the better . . .

So that said, I'll try to bang out something coherent - I must warn you that like your average 5 year old, I'm fairly easily distracted at these games so I notice some odd things (things that make me happy, but not exactly stuff for the "serious" soccer fan).

All right - formation:

4-4-2 all night long - some of the first half we had a kind of de facto 3-4-3 happening with Lil moving up top in the middle and Brandi moving up on the flank, and I think Mac did it a little on the right with Pearce pushing forward (but not nearly as much). And sometimes Lil and Brandi would switch and Lil would go back on defense and Brandi would run around in the midfield and up top . . .

Subs - Slaton, Serlenga and Akers in at the half for Kate, Mac and Foudy - Brandi moved inside (NNNNNOOOOOOOOO) and Slaton played the left defensive wing - Akers and Serlenga came in in the middle and Fair moved out on Mac's flank. Then, CP came in for Tiff, Carla came in for Brandi (woohoo), Sara came in for Mia (a forward she ain't) and Briana Scurry came in to finish out the game.

Since just about everyone saw this one, I'll try to keep any narrative of the game to a minimum. Overall, I thought this was a nice solid performance. April mentioned when she named the team that one of the things they needed to work on was "urgency in front of goal" and I've gotta say, mission accomplished. Yes, they really should have had a few more, but 7 is a pretty nice total and several of the goals were very nice opportunistic goals - the likes of which we've had a bit of trouble capitalizing on in the very recent past so it's good to see the marked improvement there. Set pieces - I'm assuming that the new ones have not been carted out yet - I do know April wanted to hold closed practices so I'm assuming that if she wants to keep practice under wraps, she's not about to put her set pieces on ABC for the whole world to see. Did see Lil lining up for free kicks a bit - she didn't take them all (any??) but she was over there doing a run over for Mac or Mia. Lots of short corners which also makes me think we're hiding our set pieces. Throw ins looked very very good this game - that's an improvement. Slaton, Pearce and Lil especially were good with the throw ins - I think Slaton's has the potential to be as much of a weapon as Brandi's. She's pretty accurate and gets a lot of distance. The big weakness this game - play to and on the midfield flanks. I'll get into that later though - enough stream of consciousness - I'll move on.

Players:

Siri Mullinix - strong game. Came off her line fearlessly and while Kate or Carla were in there, communication with the D was good - when she came out, someone had her back. She hesitated a couple of times, but they were brief hesitations and she recovered well. One save near the edge of the box just about made my heart stop, but that's just how she plays. The kicking game - yup, I'm gonna say it for the 83,437th time - can't somebody in a US uniform . . . please . . . please . . .learn to trap the beautiful serves from our keeper. I was trying to keep track this game and I don't think we went up and got a single ball off of Siri Mullinix's foot - the Russians were having no problem with them. Why players in a US uniform are incapable of trapping or getting a head on balls from the young keeper with the brilliant kicking game is a mystery to me and an aggravation for me.

Bri - nice standing ovation for Bri. And she was in there yelling at everyone - especially on the corner (she had a point considering Russia took a quick one which is what she was screaming at everyone about) - it was fun to see her out there screaming at everybody again - field got much much louder when she and Carla got in that's for sure. But besides that, not really in there during a real meaningful part of the game. I did watch her take that goal kick - did they show it on TV - I have never seen Bri show any sign of concern or worry on any level at all - but I've got to tell you, she was taking that goal kick the way I used to take them when I was 17 years old - kind of a "please let the ball take flight" kind of a look and kick . . . if Bri plays in Sydney, one of our defenders will have to handle the kicking game, it was painful watching her line up for that one - I hope y'all were on replay and didn't see it. She still has a ways to go weight/fitnesswise too - 4 weeks, Bri, get it together.

Pearce - nice solid performance. Moving up nicely, nice throw ins, and nice solid tough D. And since toughness and strength have been areas about which I've criticized her in the past, I've got to give a special mention here that she's not getting pushed off the ball anymore, but instead is the one doing the pushing - which I like very much. Two thumbs up for Christie.

Joy - nice quiet game for Joy, which is precisely what you want for your central defender. I love that our central defenders were getting up into the attack as much as they were (nice assist from Joy) - and I always love Joy standing right in front of the keeper on corners - that's got to be distracting. As for the Russian goal - Brandi and Joy have some issues when they're in the central D together - and quite frankly, I hope that we don't see much (any) of Brandi in the central D in Sydney - for me, that solves a lot of problems. So, nice solid game from Joy and she got big hugs from the coach after the game.

Kate - simply put: everything looks much better on the backline when Kate's in there. She very efficiently fixes all mistakes from the wings, double teams out on the wings, decent service, good in the air, flew forward on the attack in quite surprising fashion and just overall had a wonderful game. In Beulah's world, Kate Sobrero never leaves the field. And in a close contest, she wins the tough girl award yet again (you won't believe who I almost gave it to . . . I'll get to that in a second). This game she won the award because she took a ball to the face that made such a gruesome cracking sound coming off of her mask that it scared the Russian player and made the whole crowd (well everyone around me) flinch and go "ooo." So what does Kate do - she nonchalantly readjusts her face and keeps on playing - go Kate.

Brandi - I really really think she wishes she was a forward . . . that one sequence where she dribbled the ball all the way up the flank . . . past an open and screaming Lil . . . then past an open and screaming Mia . . . then all the way to the endline so that she was too far forward to do anything meaningful at all made my head hurt. But, that said, she had a solid first half. Nice acrobatic/dramatic assist on the Foudy goal - kept the ball alive and placed it in front of the goal and gave someone a chance to finish (which Foudy did) - nice job. Pretty solid play defensively on the left wing - a few, probably off camera, enforcer moments that made me smile - she does get away with a lot over there - she's quite sneaky. She and Lil were trying lots of give and gos - Brandi did plenty of gos all on her own and Lil sat back defensively for a bit. And when Lil pushed up top and to the center of the field, Brandi moved up on the midfield flank and served in a few nice balls - but the balls weren't getting to the left flank any more when she was on it than when Lil was, so not just a ton of action over there for her. Second half - Brandi's not a central defender and I don't want to see her there at a meaningful time in a meaningful game . . . ever . . . we all saw what happened - 'nuff said.

Slaton - I thought she had just a wonderful game. Yes, the ball was chipped over her head that eventually scored - but there were three other defenders back there and all three of them got beat - can't tag her with that one. Other than that one play, she was great - lots of speed, toughness and poise - hard to believe she's just barely 20 years old. And offensively, she was very aggressively pushing forward and doing good things once she got there - her assist was just a beautiful serve. And she was very responsive to the captain - Carla was talking to her a lot when she got in - it can only build her confidence to have someone in there reading things for her and building her up. Good stuff from the youngster.

OK - sound the trumpets - Captain Carla Overbeck - woohoo (for those of you who don't know - I'm as silly a fan of Carla as I am of Lil - they're my two): First, let me say - I was prepared just to be happy to see her play and was expecting very little. So I have to say that I was extremely pleasantly surprised. She looked much better than the last time I saw her (May 8 v. Canada). She looked just like Carla actually, which surprised me a bit. She even moved up in the attack on set pieces which was fun. She was great in the air too and didn't look noticeably slower to me. If we can get her to play at this level for at least 45 minutes a game in Sydney I think we're in good shape. And the thing that makes her so important - the voice . . . she's got that defense on a string - when she came in I was focusing on her for a bit and there is a fairly constant droning of instructions from her pulling everyone forward and back the entire time she was in there - having her in the game frees everyone else up to stop thinking/worrying about everything and just play - she's doing the thinking and constantly letting everyone know where they need to be and what they need to be doing and where they need to be doing it - there is a definite snap to attention when she's in there - I have never seen a team where it mattered so much who the captain is, but on this one, for better or worse, it does - and there is no question that Carla is their leader and win or lose - it will be with Carla at the helm. Again, 45 minutes a game from her, 90 from Kate and I think we'll be fine in the back (solid play from everyone else, of course, but I think 45 from Carla and 90 from Kate will get us solid play from everyone else).

Favorite moment of the game - since it was a Carla moment I'll put it in right here . . . a few minutes into the second half I just happened to glance over at the US bench right as Carla was getting ready to start warming up to come in - as she got up, all the players on the bench started cheering for her . . . she smiled, ran by them with high fives for everyone and went to go warm up (to the cheers of the fans behind the bench) - it was just a really nice moment . . . I get sappy when I'm in attendance . . . I'll get back to it, apologies, but I must take a moment every now and then to be a shameless fan :-)

OK - where am I - midfielders . . .

Mac - BOOMING cross from Mac on the right flank to Millie and GOAL. I do love the booming crosses from Mac. Other than that, though, pretty quiet night on the flanks - not a bad game, just not a lot happening out there. The ball was not being served out wide at all in the first half. Christie was bringing it up a bit and she and Mac tried to work something a few times - nothing too too thrilling though. So, solid, but unremarkable outing for Mac. It's tough to really talk about her game when the ball wasn't getting out wide - just underscores the importance of Julie Foudy having a good game distributing the ball - when she doesn't, our flank play is almost non-existent.

Fair - not gonna rail on her this evening. I actually thought (gasp) she had a pretty good game. Thought she had a strong defensive game . . . still think her size (or lack thereof) is a killer, but she was pretty scrappy. And she is my runner up for tough girl of the game - she took a couple of wicked hits out there - one especially in the second half I think, where you could hear the hit, ref failed to blow the whistle (of course) and Lorrie just jumped right up and kept on playing . . . gotta respect that - toughness is always a good way to get on my good side. That said, still too many giveaways - I know that's just a thing with her, always has been and always will be, but I still hate it. Not as many giveaways as usual though, so that was good, and she actually made some decent serves out to Lil on the left (pinched in on the left, but Fair managed to hit her so that was good). Once she moved out on the wing though, she all but disappeared - not her fault though, as I've said a few times, balls weren't getting wide. Still helping out on D - and I guess Michelle managed to swing the ball wide right a bit. Overall - decent outing by Fair.

Foudy - first, nice goal - like I said at the outset, we scored some very nice opportunistic goals - this was one of them. These are the kind of goals we need to get - putting the ball in front of the goal and someone finding a way to get it in the back of the net. Jules managed to do it - two thumbs up. Defensively, she was very solid - worked hard and looked good. Pushing forward and handling her own game - again, very busy and looked good. However, Jules is the quarterback - it is her responsibility to get the ball wide - to spread the field, spread the D and get the flanks involved and the opposing defenders confused. Thus, just like I praise her when flank play is good, I've got to ding her when it's bad - and flank play - especially on the left flank (I'm getting there - she's next) is crucial to the US's success. Something to work on in the next 4 weeks. So solid individual effort for Jules, however, much room for improvement distribution-wise.

Lilly - the monkey is no longer sitting on her back - it is inside her head. She didn't look right to me from the moment she stepped on the field. I was watching her warming up - they do a drill where they shoot on goal - they have one ball which they shoot and then Ellis rolls a second one and they shoot that one really quickly thereafter. Lil not only missed all but 2 of her warmup shots, but she was missing terribly - either crushing them 5 feet over the goal or sending slow rollers straight to the keeper - so she looked really frustrated before this one even started. That said, she really didn't have a bad game - just not up to Lilly standards - she had a game comparable to Fair - for Fair that's a solid game - for Lil to have all those turnovers and make several bad decisions however is something that I don't think any of us are accustomed to seeing. It needs to stop - they need to get her a goal because it's a head thing now - it's gotta be. Mia and Jules need to do for Lil what Jules and Lil did for Mia in the Trinidad and Tobago game - just keep feeding her the ball until she scores . . . it's ridiculous. She can't go into the Olympics with this hanging over her - the press is going to start harping on it and it's going to get out of control just like it does with Mia. Unlike Mia, however, it's been 15 games since Lil has even had an assist. However, it really wasn't that bad - on two of the goals she was the touch before the assist - the perfect throw in to Mia who assisted on Tiff's goal and I'm pretty sure she made the pass to Tiff on her assist on Mia's goal. And she played solid D, and did the little things people tend not to notice - the dummy runs, the give and gos, orchestrating some of the offense even when she's off the ball, etc., etc. So she's doing good things and when she had the captain's band she was the most vocal player out there (from where I was sitting at any rate), but she looks frustrated and I think it's worth it in the closed door match tomorrow for them to be thinking about getting Lil a score. So, ultimately, a decent game, but not terribly Lilly-like. I must add, at the end of the game Lil was sitting and stretching and Hacker was sitting with her talking to her . . . now I know they were probably just there chit chatting, but I hope the conversation continues . . .

Akers - loved the score - looking more and more destroyer-like every game. She's got a month left - I think she'll be ready - a good solid 45 - if we can get that . . . . And she was one of the few of our central mids who was making nice serves out to the flanks - occasionally it just seemed to dawn on her to switch the field and serve it out wide left (almost all the non-Slaton action in the second half was on the right or in the middle) which was good . Akers should have had an assist and almost killed the monkey for Lil, but right there in front of goal, Lil just didn't shoot (that more than anything is a sign of confidence issues - Lil should have crushed that by the keeper and just wouldn't pull the trigger) - she passed it back to Akers who had no angle at all. So basically, nice progress by Akers, nice distribution even if not a whole lot was made of it and nice confidence booster with the goal. And I can't move on without mentioning the intangibles she brings - she's just got more presence out there than anyone - no one even comes close. That's something that she and Carla add out there that you don't see in a box score - they both have such a commanding presence out there that it just makes everyone around them better. And with Akers, there's an intimidation factor as well. It's great to see her out there again - and I was a little sad that it's the last time I'll see her in person in a Nat Team uniform.

Serlenga - truthfully - not a huge impression made this game. She made some nice passes - played some nice D. Solid effort, but not a huge impression made - as usual, I lost track of a couple of folks this game - she's one of the ones I must have lost. I've noted in the past that she and Mac have some nice chemistry out there together and I would have liked to see it for a bit - oh well - maybe next game.

Oh good heavens, am I done yet - this is the problem with everyone playing . . .

MMMMMIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAA - ah yes, the echoes of the kids screaming are still reverberating through my brain. Nice game from Mia - angry game from Mia - between the offsides calls and the lack of fouls being called (actually, CP and Fair had more legitimate gripes on that count than Mia did) she was quite grumpy. She always plays well when angered though, so that's not such a bad thing. Another of the nice opportunistic goals - Millie hit it a touch too close to the keeper, but the keeper muffed it. Yes, the keeper had bad hands - but you know what, so does Gao Hong - it was good to see Mia take advantage - perfect positioning and she managed to steal one. Nice assist on the Milbrett goal - even on throw ins, Lil and Mia can find each other - which of course leads me to my never-ending gripe: may Mia play on the left . . . . please . . . . Overall, very active up top - offsides calls tend not to bother me that much - shows that she's playing very aggressively - I do think it was a tad excessive this game, but some days are like that. Good game from Mia.

Millie - once again, player of the game - great finishing on good balls from both Mac and Mia and nice service in from the flank on the Mia goal. Very active up top again - was being tracked by two players late in the first half (they stopped marking Lil for a bit and moved into a zone - one marker for Millie and a second player tracking them - I think Mac lost her marker too, but I didn't notice that as much . . . that was opposite side of the field from where I was). A friend of mine is already giving Millie US Soccer Player of the Year kudos and I can't really argue with it at this point - I look forward to her brining this level of play to Sydney.

Parlow - nice game - she has a nose for the back of the net as good as anyone on the team. She positions herself so well to make the most of serves from her teammates right in front of goal. Again - if April wanted them to work on a sense of urgency in front of goal, CP's listening because she was very very efficient out there. And the back heel into the net showed a little bit of flair and showmanship too, and there's nothin' wrong with that . . . so long as it works :-) Good game from Parlow - she can be an extremely dangerous weapon coming in late in the game. I've gotta add how much I like the new attitude too. Don't know if it made the broadcast, but after the hard hit by the Russian player, a Russian player came over to give CP a little pat on the shoulder or help her up and CP just jerked away from her . . . she was having none of it, girl took her out in a pretty cheap shot, and CP did not want to make friends - I see Mia's handiwork there - I like it.

Sara Whalen - she's not a forward . . . not good with the ball at her feet at all. She also had 2 balls right in front of the goal that should have been in the back of the net. The one quick pass from CP - how she wasn't ready for that pass is a mystery to me - she was right there, the keeper was facing CP - CP got a quick little pass right to Whalen's feet and Whalen was so surprised to see the ball she couldn't do a thing with it. I still say that she needs to come in on a flank - where she doesn't have to dribble in traffic and can serve in nice crosses. Not a great game from Sara, but on the other hand - she really didn't have a whole heck of a lot of time to do much so that might be a little harsh.

Well - so much for my being brief . . . . I didn't really think I'd be able to be anyway - and all 18 players did play - that's a lot of people. Anyway - fun game, good for a first tuneup, nice to see improvement in an area which April pegged as a trouble spot and great to see Captain Carla and Michelle back out there. And I'm guessing those set pieces look good too . . . I just don't think we'll be seeing them until September. Now, I hope I log on to the USSF site tomorrow to see that Lil has scored in the closed door match so that she can get on with the business of preparing for Sydney unencumbered.

Beulah