US 1 Brazil 0
It wasn't pretty but they won. There are no style points in soccer though, so they can just move on and put this one behind them. However, that this is the second game in a row that I'm essentially saying that, does concern me a little bit. They appear to be playing not to lose more than playing to win. The ball distribution to the flanks and up top was just not happening as it should have. That we had only 4 shots against a very inexperienced Brazilian defense (especially since Maicon, essentially an offensive player, started and Monica was on the bench) is a bit disappointing. Maybe they're tired, maybe they're still licking their wounds from the Nigeria game, but they need to put the bumps and bruises out of their minds and get the adrenaline flowing for Norway. The last time they met the US offense was extremely dynamic and that was instrumental in breaking Norway's collective back. The best way to beat Norway is to score early - in recent years, they do not play well from behind in major tournaments. If you let them stay in the game, however, then it's anyone's guess who comes out on top. Pettersen and Mellgren are so dangerous, all it takes is one touch from either one of them to change the game and I sure don't want the US to leave it to that. Maybe being in Sydney will get the adrenaline flowing again for all involved and the last game really will be the best game. And regardless of who you're rooting for, I think that's basically what US, Norwegian and all soccer fans want to see - a good, hard fought match, worthy of an international stage and an Olympic Final.
This is another one I don't have too much constructive to say. Our offense looks flat and we didn't have numbers up. Luckily, our defense, both from the backline and from our midfield, remains outstanding - and was aided by some indecisiveness by Brazilian frontrunners . . . I still can't believe that Pretinha (I'm pretty sure it was Pretinha) passed that ball inside after she beat Christie Pearce and was one on one against Siri - I was strongly rooting for the US and I was screaming at her for that - she even had time for a couple of more touches - she could have just taken it in and fired from point blank range - she really could have/should have put that one in. There were more than a few decisions like that where the Brazilians just did the US a favor. It had me a bit baffled - maybe they didn't like the angles they would have had to settle for, but if you sit back and wait for a perfect shot, you'll never get anything off. Oh well - enough trying to figure out why Brazil was so hesitant to shoot when they were wide open - back to the US.
Formation back to front, right to left:
Pearce, Fawcett, Sobrero, Chastain
MacMillan, Fair, Foudy, Lilly (the NBC graphic had Fair and Foudy switched but to be honest I was trying to figure out where the heck Foudy was for much of this one, so I didn't notice whether April actually switched them around or whether the graphic was wrong)
Parlow in for Mac with about 11-12 minutes left - Mia moved back to Mac's flank (and sent a BOOMING Shannon MacMillan cross into the box moments after moving out there - must be something about playing over there . . .)
Players - Just a few comments on everyone, but be warned in advance - I have nothing really earth shattering to say about anything or anyone today:
Siri - well I didn't think she looked nearly as shaky as Amy did. At one point I just wanted her to get off of Siri's case - no, she didn't catch those balls, but she punched them hard enough to clear them out of the box and out of danger. And her save in the second half was most definitely a high quality save of the game saving variety so hats off for that. I thought she played a solid game and did all that anyone could reasonably expect from her. As for her kicking game - it looked very strong this game, however there was rarely anyone forward to receive it. Siri seemed much less rushed than the last game though, and hopefully, the US will have some numbers up next game and can do more with it.
Pearce - she got really lucky that the Brazilians were taking so long to decide what to do in this one because she got beat down the right side several times - the Brazilian attackers would just stop and let her catch up though. I just didn't understand it - they gave Pearce all sorts of time to get back and Mac and Joy all sorts of time to come help. Would have been a whole different game if they'd have just fired some balls into the box . . . I guess that's where being so young kills you, although, even a lot of the young players for them were in the WWC last year so I don't even know if that's a good explanation for it. As for positives for Pearce - I think I'm just noticing it more, but man, that girl skies - she really gets up there and I would like to see her as a target player on set pieces - she went up for one ball against a player about her same height and she just looked about a foot higher off the ground. Solid night, but like most of the offense, she looks a little gassed - hopefully the whole team will rest up when they hit Sydney. The article on the game at the CNN site quotes Akers as saying they looked "flat" and "tired" so maybe now that she's arrived in Australia she'll light a fire under them.
Fawcett - smoothly and efficiently holding and organizing the backline. She had one incredibly beautiful takeaway in the box over on the left side - I thought for sure Siri was going to get creamed from close range and Joy enters the play and smoothly takes possession of the ball and calmly passes up to the midfield - it was just perfect. She was very strong in the air once again - I think that is one area in which her game has actually improved since she's moved inside - she wins just about everything in the air defensively. She turned the jets on in this one - great closing speed throughout. There were a few scary misclears from our defense again - I think as much as there were misclears there were just some bad decisions - dangerous passes right in front of the goal with Brazilian numbers up. I don't recall whether Joy was the perpetrator of more than one or two of these, but it was going on in the middle so I thought I'd mention it here. Overall, though, and as usual, strong performance from Joy.
Sobrero - I'm like a broken record - strong performance from Kate again. Great speed, great 1 v. 1 defending, great double teaming and helping out all over the place. Kicking game was hampered by the fact that the US rarely had numbers up, but she spent much of the night feeding the ball up to the middies, so that was good. Not much more to say than that - typical, great game from Kate.
Chastain - part of a solid performance from the US backline. There were a few instances I thought she was having some trouble with the speed of the Brazilians, but since it was Katia running at her most of the time I thought she held up well. For the most part, she was able to tie things up long enough for Kate, Joy or Lil to get back there to help out. The long throw ins were being taken today often and with absolutely no success. I'm still wondering why we take those when CP isn't in the game. Maybe if Pearce would slip over there and we treated those plays like set pieces it would make some sense, but now, throwing a ball in the air when the only target players in the general vicinity are 5'5" or less (much less) always results in a turnover and I wish Lil would just take a quick throw in to Millie's or Mia's feet and try to catch the defense off guard - we've scored more than a couple of goals that way this year. As for pushing forward on offense - Brandi had some turnovers, and wasn't passing forward down the sideline trying to pop Lil or Millie loose as much as I would have liked. It was a very nice free kick to Fair's head on Mia's goal, though. Right on target - good stuff. Ultimately, solid defensive performance; not real active offensively - basically, I'll probably say that about everyone from here on out. That's how the entire midfield played as well - good defense - wondering where the heck they were on offense.
Mac - well she came out really really strong in the first half. She was very active offensively, noticed she was trying to take on defenders a bit. She was serving some nice balls forward and to the inside and had a tremendous workrate. She was very active defensively as well. But then there was the second half. At about the 70th minute I actually wondered aloud whether Mac was still out there. She was completely invisible in the second half. When I realized she was missing in action I was quite disappointed because she really did start this game very strongly. Sometimes I still wonder if she's a 90 minute player. She tends to be really strong in halves, not in entire games. Then again, she's the kind of player from whom it just takes one touch to completely change the game, and she can't have that one touch if she's on the bench so having her in there a full 90 is probably makes some sense. She does get some very silly fouls against Brazil - I've noticed this every time they've played since last fall - they seem to be in her head a bit and she needs to get over that nonsense if she's going to be one of the leaders of this team in upcoming years - it impacts the way she plays and if that impact can't be positive (I don't think it is) then she needs to get over it. Overall, very strong first half, especially defensively, and she completely disappeared in the second.
Fair - I thought she had a solid game and I'll go as far as to say she was very strong defensively. Her header across the face of the goal that resulted in Mia's score was a very nice ball. I must say, though, that depending on the heading prowess of someone who is barely 5'2" is foolhardy (I know she's listed at 5'3", but there is no way in Hades she's that tall - she might be 5'2" if she stands up real straight, but even that's a stretch). She can do absolutely everything right - just like the textbook says - and she still loses out because the other team's middies are 6 inches taller than she is. There is no place in the scorer's column for "OK, they won the ball, but for someone as short as she is she's a great header" - lost possession is lost possession and I continue to maintain, 5'2" in the center of the midfield is absolutely killing the US. I also think it kills the US that she can't distribute the ball more effectively - because as it is, if Foudy has a substandard game as she did in this one they're just sunk. All that said, on her own merits, Fair had a good game today - she hustled on D, was great on the double team and set up the goal - also showed some toughness in both her ability to take a hit and dish them out (hers was the only deserved yellow for the US) - and it looked like she was on the verge of getting tossed at one point (you know things are out of control when it's the fairly quick tempered Millie intervening with the ref) but we went to commercial so I'm not quite sure what that was about.
Foudy - not a stellar Foudy outing. Yes, she was strong defensively, just as the entire team was. But Foudy's distribution of the ball is essential to the success of the team in the 4-4-2 - if she's not getting the ball forward, Mia and Millie have too few touches on the ball to make an impact; if she doesn't send it wide left, then Lil is completely walled off from the game. And that's precisely what happened - I'm still screaming "pass it left" and the game ended hours ago. What this game shows is something most of us already knew - Julie Foudy is essential to the success of this team . . . she's the engine that makes it all work - when she has a poor offensive performance distributing (or not distributing) the ball, the US offense is positively stagnant. I hate to put it on one player like that, but with the 4-4-2 and with the other central middie pretty much solely playing defense, that's just the way it is. I said it before the tourney started, and I'll say it again: as goes Julie Foudy, so goes the USWNT. Here's hoping she has a much better game against Norway.
Lilly - like everyone else she had a very strong defensive performance. She had a great workrate defensively. Offensively, the ball wasn't getting wide. As I've already noted it was making me crazy - why have her spread wide if you're not going to get the ball out there. When you take Lil out of the offensive flow like that, you take out Millie and Mia too - Lil sends in cross after cross off of that flank and creates chances for everyone and she simply didn't have enough offensive touches today to make an impact. While Foudy is the engine that makes it work, Lil is also very important to the offensive/strategic build up and that just didn't happen this game. So, essentially, not really a bad game from Lil, just an offensively quiet game from Lil. Watching her limping around the field at the end of the game, she's another one who I'm hoping takes the next 4 days to rest and relax and get ready for the Final. Basically, if the whole team comes out against Norway the same way they did the first time they met, they'll be in good shape and we'll be treated to a good match.
Mia - double and triple teamed and spending the whole game getting hammered and Andres still can't get off her case. I don't mind criticism of her, but at least acknowledge that she has two markers with a third defender closing at all times. It's just not fair if you don't acknowledge that and it kind of makes me wish we had a commentator who was at least passingly familiar with the women's game calling these matches (and Amy doesn't stand up to or disagree with Andres at all and you can tell from her hesitation that she doesn't always agree with him - have a spine Amy - he's wrong more often than he's right - he was vehemently calling for a yellow on CP on a tackle in which she clearly got all ball). OK - enough griping about that. Besides getting yellow cards given to half the Brazilian team Mia had a pretty quiet night. She was back helping on defense a lot - maybe she was too far back helping on defense. I like to see her do that some, but the US got caught without numbers forward all night long and part of her job in the 4-4-2 is to stay forward. As for her goal - everyone has a job, the ref's is to make the calls and the players' is to play - maybe a foul should have been called, maybe it shouldn't - fact of the matter is though, the whistle didn't blow. And if there's one thing that any athlete in any sport on any level should know and should ALWAYS do is play the whistle . . . always play the whistle. That's what Mia did and she netted a very professional goal.
Millie - relatively quiet night. Probably impacted by Foudy's quiet night more than anyone - the ball wasn't coming up from the middle much and since the ball wasn't going wide left, it wasn't going in to Tiff from the left. As usual she had a good workrate for much of the game. She's one I think could definitely benefit from some rest and I think at about the 70th minute or so, it was time for her to come out. She seemed to pretty much be done at that point. She's played well against Norway this year, though - they have trouble dealing with her speed - so I look forward to her having a great game in the Final.
CP - not really in there long enough to do much. She didn't have many meaningful touches on the ball. Seemed she was brought in to kill the clock more than anything. I would have liked to see the ball played to her head a couple of times just to get her some good touches in case she's needed against Norway.
Well - this one wasn't pretty and they did look flat. It's a shame that this was the one game on free TV. Ultimately, though, they're trying to win this tournament, and they're a step closer to that so it was a successful day, even if it won't go down in the books as one of the greatest games ever played.