Norway 3 USA 2
This was truly a beautiful game. The only thing wrong with it was the result . . . and even that didn't seem to matter so much - I'm still trying to figure out why, but somehow it didn't. I think maybe because it was simply the game I wanted to see - a tremendous, dominating offensive performance from Team USA, a solid effort from the backline and a Norwegian team prepared for both, that didn't give up, that played stellar defense in the mouth of the goal, and that patiently and ruthlessly waited for the mistakes that, as it became apparent in the opening moments of the game, would come. The game was just great - as has been stated just about everywhere, it is so rare for a Final in any sport to actually be well played and a good representation of the sport at its best, and this game was definitely that . . . so I guess I'm just having a tough time being too upset about this one.
Well - I think I've been having trouble making myself sit down to write this last game report because most everything has been said and said well and I don't really have much to add. In addition, I don't know how much I want to pick this one apart or how analytically I was actually watching it - it was an incredible game, the effort and work rates were there from every single player on the field - which was a pleasant, if mild surprise considering how weary they looked the last two games. However, mistakes were made and Norway was incredibly efficient in capitalizing on them and patient and professional in waiting for them . . . this was a game that the US had at least half a dozen chances to put away, but an incredible and very experienced goalkeeper, with an assist from her captain, simply had a tremendous game. So I guess I'll go about this as I usually do - I hope none of my comments are construed as "placing blame" anywhere, because that is certainly not my intent - as far as I'm concerned there's no blame to be placed: Team USA went out, played this game to win in an extremely aggressive attacking style, left it all out on the field and there's really nothing more we could have asked of them - and as a fan, I am as proud of them in this defeat as I have ever been of any victory.
Formation - 4-4-2, back to front, right to left
Pearce, Fawcett, Sobrero, Chastain
MacMillan, Fair, Foudy, Lilly
Parlow in for Mac - I must confess that I didn't really notice whether Mia moved back on the flank or whether we switched to a 4-3-3 - but since Mia was basically running all over the dang field at that point, I imagine what ultimately wound up happening was somewhere in between . . . I was so stressed out at that point, I think much of the nuance was lost on me - this really was a nerve-wracking game to watch without knowing the score.
Mullinix - actually, this is probably why I have taken so long to get this thing out - I don't know what to say here. This is a 22 year old kid - and I think, at the most inopportune time she finally realized it . . . as someone said to me last night, maybe the moment finally caught up to her. I think I'm going to solve my problem by not getting into this too much. She's young, indecision was a problem in the game and moments of what appeared to be complete and total communication breakdown on the backline probably made her a bit more nervous and jumpy than it should have. All that said, there's a whole lot that has to go wrong before it comes down to the keeper . . . the only one you can tag solely Siri with is the Espeseth goal on the corner. And of the Norwegian goals, that was the only good shot and the only one that should have scored. Yes, her inexperience and indecision were definitely a huge part of the other two Norwegian scores - but so was miscommunication on the backline and a ball that while maybe not living up to the title of "misclear" is surely not what Joy would have like to have done with it. And yes, it was a very makable save on the Mellgren goal, and the collision in front of the goal with Joy that let the second goal slip in was partially her responsibility, but she had some help back there. Well - I'm going to stop this now - everyone's got an opinion on this one and I'm not going to resolve anything for anyone. All I know, is that the kid got them that far, she had a solid tournament and she's had a hell of a year - she's got a great future and even though this is a huge one to have to chalk up to experience and move on, I hope that's precisely what she does.
Pearce - great game - probably the best offensive performance she had the entire tournament. She was racing up the right flank all night long - often bypassing Mac and serving it straight to Mia or in to Fair. And she almost won that thing for the US in ET. Sometimes I think she doesn't have a grasp on how much better she's gotten over the course of the year . . . when she made it through the midfield and found herself up top with the ball, she just looked surprised - that gave the defense enough time to get back and adjust. As for her defense - I thought she was solid on that front too - the only thing she wasn't doing that I noted she had been earlier in the tourney was slipping into the goal behind Siri when Siri went out. I get the feeling that may have been part of the communication problems and Siri's indecision more than anything Christie was doing - she was on her way back there when the Joy-Siri collision occurred. So overall, great game for Pearce and tremendous tourney and year for her - watching Pearce play last fall I was quite skeptical about her future with the team but she has most certainly turned me into a believer. I think Team USA has a very strong right back for years to come.
Joy - In the opening moments of the game, Joy and Kate collided and I sat forward on my sofa, put my hands to my mouth and very quietly said "oh good god, talk to each other, please talk to each other." And then Kate and Brandi collided, and then a ball fell between Joy and Kate who for just a brief moment stood looking at one another . . . and I knew if there was going to be a problem, it wouldn't be individual defending, which as always in this tournament was outstanding, it would be communication . . . No doubt at this point, Joy plays center back better than even a healthy Carla could - but she simply doesn't bring the authoritative, calming and commanding presence to the backline that Carla does and she doesn't have 14 years of reading the game from the central defender position that Carla does. In a game where nerves were apparent and with a youngster in goal, they desperately needed someone to perform that role. At times Joy has done that brilliantly, and at times it seems they're either not talking to each other or not listening to each other and unfortunately, repeatedly during this game the latter appeared to be occurring. For the second Norwegian goal, there's no way to know exactly what occurred, but obviously there was a communication breakdown somewhere - either someone didn't call someone off, or someone didn't listen when they were called off - if one of them had stepped back, that ball would/could have been easily cleared/saved by either one - that's not a ball that should have scored. As for the game winner - well, like I said, I was snapped at last night when I called it a misclear but I did get a concession that Joy probably didn't get her head on that one the way she wanted to. Like I said at the outset - 3 mistakes, 3 goals. Besides those moments, Joy had a solid game. The defense was not as strong as it has been throughout the tourney, but each time they've been faced with long ball this year, it hasn't been pretty but they've managed to handle it reasonably well through superior speed and organization - twas not to be this game though. To sum up: Individual defending - stellar as always; organization and communication on the backline - a little shaky. All of that said - Joy had a an absolutely brilliant tournament, an incredible year and I maintain that woman is positively ageless. She's unquestionably first runner up for player of the year.
Kate - great individual defending once again. All of the communication issues I just discussed apply here too. She was more active offensively than usual - she made several runs straight up the center of the field - especially late in the game trying to get the game tying goal. There was some scary passing going on between her and Brandi in the back third in front of the goal which really didn't result in much but did indicate that the decision making back there wasn't quite as sharp as they've spoiled us into expecting. There wasn't quite as much double teaming defensively as we've seen, but that could be strategic - with the ball being played in the air so much it's not as crucial - and long ball does throw them and puts them on their heels a bit. We're still missing a strong kicking game off the backline - that will definitely be something to work on - but she was very good at playing the ball to Foudy through the center or to Pearce wide right so it didn't hurt them too much. Ultimately, the defense was solid - Norway had very few chances, they were just very efficient with the ones they did have. Great tournament and great year for Kate - she's another one who will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of the US defense for years to come.
Brandi - much more active offensively than she's been in the entire tournament. She and Lil and Tiff were working give and gos all night long. She was serving good balls forward and helping in the attack - even the long throw ins were going a bit better than they have been. Defensively she was solid - again, some scary lackadaisical passes in the back third in front of the goal, but nothing too egregious. She's one that I think got a little gassed toward the end of the game though - once Mellgren went in, it appeared that she was running straight at Brandi and straight by Brandi. Not a lot to say here - basically I want to get off the defenders, so I'll go with a solid game for Brandi both defensively and offensively. But, I can't move on without mentioning her post game interview - Ms. Chastain articulated her feelings about the game, her teammates, and the silver medal with such grace and class that my respect for her has most certainly grown. As I'm sitting here watching American athletes behaving very badly in victory, I can't help but be proud of the way the USWNT, starting with Brandi and Tiff's interview, comported themselves in defeat.
Whew - I didn't want to do the defenders - they have had such an outstanding year and it kills me that this game will be the lasting impression - like I said, it's not that anyone played poorly, because each one of them had a strong game - it's that it appeared that communication between the members of the backline, and between the defense and the keeper is what ultimately was decisive in this one.
Well - the news gets much better from here (for the most part) because offensively the US had a stellar game - they created chance after chance and were quite aggressive - unfortunately for Team USA - as good as they were, Bente Nordby was just a little bit better.
Mac - She had some strong crosses - the one that found Foudy's head and was subsequently headed off the cross bar was a beaut. Unfortunately she didn't have enough of those. And for the second game in a row, 20-25 minutes would pass and I would realize that Mac had simply disappeared. And it wasn't that the ball wasn't going right - because it was. It was being played through Pearce, Fair and Mia - Mac just seemed not to be a part of many of the strong pushes from the right. She was going back on D when Pearce pushed forward though, maybe that was throwing her a bit. One other problem I was noticing was that Mac's speed of play was not what it should have been - she couldn't make a decision, held on to the ball way too long and let the defense get into position. She's got over 100 caps and has been in this kind of situation before, I can't figure out why she was taking so long too decide what to do. I was calling for the CP sub right about when it happened. Overall, solid yet unspectacular outing from Mac and I'm still left wondering if she's ever going to be the 90 minute personality player we hope she will - undoubtedly she's a very important role player on the team and that will most likely continue, but there have been glimpses of more and I certainly always hope for more from her.
Fair - her work rate in this one was phenomenal. She was scrambling all over the field and had some beautiful defensive takeaways. The turnovers were killing me though. I just hurt for her - she would work so hard, make the spectacular hard fought play, make a good decision and then just couldn't complete the pass . . . I don't even know where to start to solve this problem. She really does seem to be getting better and I think she knows what she should do, the ball just always gets turned over though which leaves only one player in the center of the field who can distribute and switch the field . . . . it just limits US options so much and makes the forwards work much harder than they should have to in a 4-4-2. All that said - ultimately, Fair had a strong game, a tremendous workrate and for much of the game played great defense against the Norwegian midfield.
Foudy - strong performance - the ball was getting wide and up top brilliantly and Ms. Foudy is responsible for that - like I always say, I ding her when it doesn't happen and I have to praise her when it does. In the first half she just picked apart the defense and got the ball all over the field - and she kept mixing it up to keep the Norwegian defense on its toes. She had a tremendous workrate both offensively and defensively. The header off the crossbar was great - all year long she has stepped up to give the US an offensive heading presence and she almost put the game away with it. That was just one of many chances the US had to put the game away . . . sometimes the ball just doesn't fall right. I really don't have much more to say than that - I was ready to call it a career for Foudy after 1999 (or at least diminish her role) and she came back and had an outstanding year. While I'm sure she would have preferred a different outcome (she and Carla looked more devastated than anyone), her performance in this game was a fitting finale for her year 2000.
Lilly - alone, Lil had chance after chance after chance to end this game early . . . Bente Nordby and Goril Kringen (apologies for any spelling problems on that name) came up huge - it's just that simple. There was the shot to the near post on the left side where Nordby made a great save - looked like Lil had her on her heels, but she recovered nicely. Then there was the flick out to Mia aka the ball Lil couldn't quite get to, then Mia went back in to her and she hit it with her right foot, Nordby bats it back and then she stretches out and hits it with her left and Kringen dives across the goal mouth and heads it out of danger . . . . that was just a beautiful sequence offensively, defensively, all the way around . . . minus the goal in stoppage time, that was the most exciting/impressive sequence of the game. I'm still shaking my head off of Kringen's save - that was worthy of the highlight reel, that's for sure. Lil had a great work rate both offensively and defensively. She sent in cross after cross, getting chances for herself and her teammates all night long . . . the reason why Cantor didn't think she was doing much is because he kept calling Lil, Millie (Millie's good, but she can't pass to herself Andres) - Lil was incredibly active and dominant all game long and if you watch her off the ball, you could see her pulling the strings on the attack. Tremendous performance to end a solid year.
Mia - I guess she got sick of hearing how she doesn't have it anymore and how she's too old and too slow blah blah blah . . . That was Mia Hamm at her best and she was remarkable all night long. Both assists were absolutely perfect - she refused to quit in the waning minutes, popped herself free on the right side and just served a ball into the box in front of the goal to give someone a chance to win it - yup, it was a little to far for Lil, but who's to say Tiff wasn't her target all along . . . the moment, put together with the shortest player on the field skying for the ball, made that one of the most incredible goals I've ever seen. And the rocket shot from 25 yards out was yet another beautiful chance the US had to take control of this one - Mia has been doing that more and more as of late and they all come so close to going in it hurts. She was helping out on D as well, but unlike the last couple of games, she wasn't getting caught back - she was helping when necessary but mostly staying forward (or at the very least in the midfield) to receive the ball. She and Lil and Millie had tremendous chemistry out there in this one - the ball was being bandied about between the three of them all night long. Basically, great game from Mia - there's nothing more she could have done in this one.
Millie - a fitting finish to an outstanding year. This was truly a breakout year for Millie - one that has seen her emerge from the shadow of Mia Hamm, and has seen her develop a far more complete game than she's had in the past. If Tiffeny Milbrett isn't named US Soccer player of the year then the award is fixed because no one else even comes close. Both goals were incredible, the workrate was tremendous, she was helping out on D, working hard not just to get herself chances, but to get the ball to Lil and Mia as well - that's the difference from years past - in those days she was the target, period - now she's as likely to pass as shoot and that makes her so much more dangerous. Brandi said it best in the post game: Tiff deserves a fri**ing standing ovation . . . . And she does - and she did everything she needed to do for Team USA to win - it just didn't happen. Overall, outstanding performance from Tiffeny Milbrett to cap off an incredible year.
CP - didn't really make much of an impact at all. Didn't really use her height to be a target in front of the goal and I was wondering where all that tough play we've seen from her this year went. She was almost as invisible when she came in as Mac was shortly before she went out. Basically, no impression was made, I don't even remember her in the game - in those waning minutes of regulation I remember Mia and Millie up top, Brandi passing up to Lil on the left, Kate sprinting up the middle and passing up to Foudy, Fair scrambling around on D in the midfield and hurriedly passing off to Foudy to get another chance, Joy and Pearce scrambling in the back pushing the ball forward . . . I have no recollection in those waning minutes of a single thing CP did or didn't do - maybe I was just focused on the players I'd been watching for 80 minutes . . . maybe not, who knows. I'm a little disappointed with CP's tournament - she was constantly the player coming in with fresh legs and she failed to provide a spark each time. Admittedly, a couple of games she was brought in to kill the clock, but her role on the team for this tourney was instant offense (kind of like Mellgren brought the minute she hit the field) and she really didn't provide that.
Well - it's late, I'm done and I really don't have many words left . . . and I still have to go back and edit this monstrosity. I guess I can't come up with any fitting words with which to end this and pay tribute to the team, because in any way that matters, the game itself says it all. These women were the pioneers - they played in empty stadiums and glorified high school fields - they won a world championship when no one cared - they have tirelessly signed autographs, mingled with fans and otherwise promoted the game when it would have been easier to go home - they have always conducted themselves off the field with both class and grace, and a great sense of fun, something all too rare in sports today. Many of these players have worked for over a decade seeking to give this sport legitimacy - and for the culmination of all this to be an incredibly played, exciting game for all the world to see at the end of a hard fought tournament in which the closeness of all the games played shows the ever increasing parity in the sport, somehow seems more a tribute to them and more fitting than anything I could ever say.
It's been fun gang,