US 3 Nigeria 1

Glad everyone survived that one more or less intact. Goodness, size-wise it looked like the high schoolers were playing an U-10 team, didn't it? They were HUGE. I didn't remember them being THAT much bigger than the US was. Brandi and Kate were our two biggest players out there for much of the match and they were just dwarfed. So basically, everyone gets a bye from me on this one . . . if only because I watched most of the match grimacing and holding my breath as the US players were getting hacked. Big kudos for everyone for managing not to get hurt.

This was a pretty unremarkable game and I don't really have a whole lot to say (yet, still, I type). The US obviously just wanted to move through and not get injured. Kudos for getting Lil the heck outta there and I was rooting for April to get Tiff outta there too. There seems to be an unwritten law in the universe that the littlest players are the most fearless and that certainly showed - Lil, Millie and Lorrie were the smallest players out there and they definitely suffered the most and scariest hits. I wanted Lil out immediately after she went down in the US third (about 3-5 minutes before her goal). I have watched Kristine Lilly play for a long time and I have never - that I can remember at any rate - seen her down on the field like that - she always pops up and that's as close to seeing her carried off the field as I've seen. Then Millie in the second half with a foot to the sternum from the keeper - I thought she was done for the day that's for sure - at the time I didn't see she got her arm up and that's what took the blow, but I'm very glad she did. And Lorrie was similarly punished out there and I was glad to see her out wide left and out of the thick of things for the second half - ball went out there just enough to keep the Nigerian defense somewhat honest, but it got her out of harm's way. Nikki was definitely inserted with the intention of taking the brunt of a lot of those hits and dishing out a bit herself (hers was a well deserved yellow).

So basically, this write up is a little different I guess - I'll just mention a couple of things I saw about each player and not really judge any performances in any meaningful way - everyone was pretty much taken out of their game. Those quick touches by the US looked a bit panicky for much of the first half, and the first player to settle down (Lil) was quite violently taken out in the US third. But Foudy and Fair followed her lead and there was some build up to the US attack for about the last 10 minutes of the first half. After Lil went out, though, absolutely no build up to the attack at all. Tried to pop the ball through to our forwards a bit, but we really had no organized attack in the second half. As for the US defense, Nigeria was just too big and too fast. Mercy's fight for her goal was incredible. She got through 3 of our defenders (and a couple of middies as well) the last one being Kate 1 v. 1 and she just went right through Kate. I tell ya, if their Fed ever starts treating them right and lets them train someplace where people aren't shooting at them, they could be a dominant team in the world. All that's stopping them now is that they don't know how to play. They've got the individual aspects/tools down but they have no strategy out there - no offensive or defensive formation - no build up on their attack - they're entirely reliant on being superior athletes. For now, that's not going to get them too too far against top tier teams, but after some time in the WUSA . . . . Nigeria could be dangerous.

So ultimately, unremarkable game, much of which is already getting foggy - and really not a good game from which to take any lessons or to worry about individual performances too much. Basically, they wanted to get in and out of this one healthy and with a win and they did that so kudos all the way around.

Formation - back to front, right to left:

Siri

Pearce, Fawcett, Sobrero, Chastain

MacMillan, Fair, Foudy, Lilly

Hamm, Milbrett

Serlenga in for Lilly at the half, Fair moves out to the left flank; Parlow in for Hamm.

Players - and since they're too professional to say it, I'll say a collective OW on their behalf. That did not look like a fun game for them on any level at all.

Siri - that must have been interesting for her - so, do you think her heart was in her throat as she was watching Christie, Joy and Kate getting outrun - the first time a Nigerian player raced down the US right flank . . . right past Christie and then right past Joy I was just thinking stay in the net Siri, stay in the net. For the most part that's what she did. She came out a couple of times, but not as much as usual. As for the kicking game - like everyone else, she was just trying to get the ball away as quickly as possible - because most of the US team was back on defense, those balls pretty much all resulted in turnovers, but that was just a function of what they were dealing with against the superior size and speed of Nigeria, so can't really hold that against her too much.

Pearce - she gets some kudos for her tough play. Along with Brandi, and later Nikki, she was doing what she could to give some of the physical play back and protect the smaller players a bit. But it's hard to do much of that when you're chasing Nigerian front runners all night long. I also noted that she was very strong in the air this game. Got a pretty good look at that reputed 29 inch vertical jump a few times - hope to see it more. Other than that, not much to say - she did what she could against players bigger and stronger than she was - she was getting outrun, but did a decent job of keeping the players to her outside - more than a few times a Nigerian attacker would run down that right flank, get ahead of Pearce by the time she reached the endline and just not know what to do. When that player learns what to do (how many times do we see Lil do that and send a beautiful cross into the box) Nigeria will be extremely dangerous. As it was, they got some corners that way. I'm sure Pearce, along with everyone else, will be glad to see a much more familiar (and much smaller) foe on Sunday.

Joy - well, I could make the similar comments for just about all of the defenders. They were all on their heels trying to survive this one and none of them wanted to keep the ball for more than an instant. That led to some misclears and some ill-advised passes of the hot potato variety and Joy was not immune to that. However, considering what they were up against, I thought that they were fairly well organized. Everyone stayed back and swarmed and you could see them adjusting their strategy once the realization set in that they just weren't going to be able to outrun the Nigerians (keep them to the outside and fill up the box - it worked fairly well except on Mercy's goal . . . and even then the strategy worked, Mercy was just too good and managed to get by Pearce, Joy and then Kate - first time I've seen that). She was also strong in the air - which was somewhat surprising considering how much taller the Nigerians were. Solid night.

Kate - see Joy. Like I said, I don't have a whole bunch on this one - it really was a game just to get through. She had a good workrate and was helping out where she could. As for the showdown with Mercy - well, she can't win all of those I guess, and since this is the first one where she's gone toe to toe with the attacker and not made the save that I can recall, can't get too upset about it. Mercy's goal seemed to be all about Mercy doing everything right - because our defense really didn't make a mistake there - sometimes the player you're up against is just too good, so hats off to Mercy for that. As for Kate - some scary panicky misclears but nothing that really stood out more than anyone else. Ultimately, Nigeria only netted one so despite the fact it wasn't pretty, the defense really did do a heck of a job in the face of a much bigger, stronger, faster side. Usually we only have to deal with one, either the opponent is bigger or they're faster - Nigeria is the only opponent against which we have to deal with both and I thought they adjusted fairly well and had a solid, albeit ugly performance.

Brandi - aahhhhhh - Brandi the enforcer. She was definitely giving back as good as she got. And as the savvy veteran she was doing what she could to try to get the US some calls - her staying on the ground after the cleat to her calf was an example. As where Lil and Millie went down and stayed down because it was just too painful to get up, Brandi stayed down to make a point to the ref - she had her sock down and was jawing at the ref by the time she got over there trying to get herself and her teammates some calls. Now that's the Brandi I like to see. And Brandi had the jets on this game as well. I was impressed and a little surprised with how fast she got back the few times she pushed forward. Nigeria must have been too, because they didn't seem to be attacking to the US left too too much. As for her goal - typical Brandi - she doesn't just score a goal, no that's too ordinary. She comes barreling through the box unmarked, takes flight and scores on a midair volley fresh off the head of Julie Foudy. Very nice.

Mac - BOOMING free kick from Shannon Mac and GOAL!!!!! Very nice. I have to say, though, what's the point of setting a wall if you're going to duck. While there is no amount of money that would make me stick my head in front of a Shannon Mac free kick, I just don't understand the point of the wall if the whole team is going to duck (maybe Julie ducking confused them) - that ball could easily have been blocked - it was very very low. But I guess Shannon Mac's foot is just that scary. They'd have been better off not setting a wall at all so at least Cheijine could seen what was coming at her. All that said - it sure was pretty wasn't it? The US scoring directly off a free kick has been an all too rare sight in recent years so this was good to see. I'm all for Mac taking more of those. As for the rest of her game - she had some nice crosses, but nothing too remarkable. As with the rest of the team, she spent much of the night on her heels defending and was guilty of some panic passing. As I said earlier, there really was very little build up in the US attack once Lil went out, and some of the calm which she brought at the end of the first half left the game with her as well, so the ball wasn't really finding its way out to either flank in the attack very often. So ultimately, great goal, solid night, good help on D and I'm glad she survived with what didn't appear to be too many bumps and bruises.

Fair - scrambled around on D quite a bit. Was the perpetrator of some panic passing for about the first 25-30 minutes, just like everyone else. Along with Foudy and Lil was one of the first players to calm down a bit. While they were still one touching, they started holding it a little bit longer and making better decisions. And along with Millie and Lil, took the most punishment of anyone on the field and she just kept bouncing up (actually, I think she stayed down a bit longer than usual a time or two - the little players were getting killed in this one). And she was trying to give some back - she had one slide tackle in about the 30th minute or so that had me cheering. And for no other reason than concern for her safety, I was very relieved to see her pushed out on Lil's left flank and I was very glad that there wasn't much going on out there. The punishment she took in the first half was probably enough for April to see so she yanked Lil and stuck Fair on the left (where I don't think she's played at all this year) out of the thick of things. Again, I think one of the big goals in this one was to get out in one piece and she managed to do that so kudos there. Solid performance, but as I said, not much flank play in the second half, or much of a build up or an organized attack so her role was minimized a bit. Good workrate, solid D and some good hard/tough play - but not a lot more to say than that.

Foudy - Not a good game in which to judge her performance (or anyone's for that matter). Like I've said several times already - not much of a build up in the US attack - to the extent the US had an attack, minus the last 10-15 minutes of the first half, it was a lot of players taking on Nigerian defenders rather than any kind of an organized offense. The quick one touch passing was a bit too quick and the ball wasn't getting through to our forwards much, or getting out to the flank. But like I said, she was one of the players who settled down a bit and we got some decent chances toward the end of the first half. Lil coming out of the game kind of took the wind out of that particular sail though. Foudy was getting hit a lot, but seemed to have some common sense and was bracing for impact a bit and expecting the hit. She's another one I was quite relieved to see emerge from the game more or less intact. As for the goal - excellent heading - Mia found her perfectly and she just headed it back across the face of the goal and Brandi did the rest. Lots of good stuff has been happening off of Foudy's head as of late and I love the great use we've been making of our set pieces. In recent years, wasting those opportunities has been a huge problem, but this tourney, the US has made very efficient use of its set pieces.

Lil - I still half expect to read about a hip pointer in the paper - I really thought they were going to call out the stretcher for her on that hit she took. And I really can't recall ever seeing her down on the field like that - she didn't just slap the Nigerian player's hand away, she slapped the ref away and completely ignored her teammates trying to help her up. She just wanted a minute for the pain to go away. I was very happy April got her out. There are some players who will pull back a bit and/or change their game a bit so that they don't get killed out there - Lil is not one of those players so I'm glad April had the good sense to pull her off the field before she had to be carried off. Millie is the same type of player and I wanted her out of there as well - Mia has some sense and is a bit better at avoiding the hit but I guess because she's Mia she has a brighter target painted on her back so it's just as well she got outta there. As for the goal - I'm very glad she scored one in the normal flow of the game - it's been awhile. But can I just say that with all of the spectacular misses, the screamers that have been spectacularly saved, the rockets off the frame of the goal (including the one off the crossbar in the early minutes of this game) and the misses a foot wide or high, for this little extraordinarily savable roller to be the one that finds net cracked me up a bit. But a goal's a goal and she did cut a nice angle on it and considering the size of the player barreling toward her it was mildly impressive she held her ground and got anything off. So basically, decent game, she seemed to be a calming influence on her teammates and I am VERY relieved she got out in one piece.

Mia - an absolutely beautiful corner kick from Mia on the goal - that couldn't have possibly found its target (Foudy on the far post) any more perfectly. Good stuff from Mia. I do like it when the set pieces go well. As for the rest of her game - well quick one touch passing really doesn't do just a whole lot for Mia, a player who is at her best with the ball at her feet. It would have been insane to have Mia taking on players regularly in this one, they would have killed her. As far as her being a target player - well, the midfield wasn't having much success getting the ball up to her. Like I said - for about 10 minutes at the end of the first half, it looked like that problem was solved, but then Lil came out, Mercy scored her goal and the US just looked like they wanted to get out of this one with the win and no injuries. The lack of an organized, built up attack kills the forwards in a 4-4-2 and Mia just didn't have enough touches on the ball. Glad she got out - and I hope the Brazilians have been reading all the silly US press questioning Ms. Hamm and give her some space . . . just a little . . . actually, if they'd just double team her instead of triple teaming her, I think she could get a little something going. Like I said last post, the number of defenders Mia constantly takes with her, no matter where on the field she goes, does so much in the way of giving Millie and the flanks the space they need to make things happen. I'm still looking for a Mia Hamm break out game, and I'm counting on it happening Sunday.

Millie - I can't even talk about her game - all I've got in my head is that cleat to the chest she took. That was as scary a hit as I've seen and I didn't think she was getting up. I saw a picture taken during training in Canberra and her arm is wrapped - some damage was definitely done. But, since Millie doesn't play soccer on her hands, I assume it's nothing to be too concerned about. Overall, she had a great workrate was trying to take defenders on a bit and suffering some scary blows, but like Mia, the ball was not being played through to Millie a whole lot so there's not a tremendous amount to say here. I look for a strong game against Brazil from both of our front runners. I think it will be a relief to be playing a team Team USA is tall enough to look in the eye and I think everyone will benefit from that.

Serlenga - she entered the game with enforcing in mind and I applaud her toughness and the hits she was dishing out. Pretty much on her heels defensively the whole time she was in - not really distributing the ball or helping to build the attack at all. But then again, in the second half, no one was. Not just a huge impression made - she helped out on defense and came out very physically, but we really missed Lil's calm and tactical contributions when she went out and it's not really fair to expect the youngsters (Fair and Serlenga) to bring those intangibles to the field in her absence.

Parlow - honestly, I have no recollection of even a single thing she did out there - I don't know how much attention I was still paying at that point :-) Sorry - she's who I lost this game. I look forward to the continuation of the CP v. Monica Deathmatch in the Brazil game, though.

Ultimately, this wasn't a remarkable game. Concerning the US, I really don't think anyone should take too much from this one - they just wanted to make it out alive and with a win. Concerning Nigeria, I think a lot should be taken from this one - quite simply, if they ever get the training opportunities they deserve and learn how to strategically play this game, they will have the opportunity to be dominant. It's very possible that the WUSA winds up helping Team Nigeria more than Team USA - at least at the outset.

Beulah