US 8 Scotland 2
AbbyMiaAbbyMiaAbbyMia - with some help from a Lil, a Mac interlude and even something for the Atlanta fans too - heh heh - how much fun was that? A little something for everyone. Offensively, I think we saw the diamond midfield formation working very nicely. I definitely think the US needs to put a more prolific offensive player in that attacking midfield role than Julie Foudy though - as Mia played it that position played as a withdrawn forward and I think that is how the US offense can be at its most dynamic and effective. As a playmaker, Julie is generally at least one pass before the assist, she is what creates/maintains possession and the engine that allows Mia and co. to rack up all those gaudy stats - minus set pieces (at which sheís very good in the box), sheís not at her most effective when you play her that close to goal. When Tiffeny Milbrett returns it wonít surprise me if Mia plays at the top of that diamond with Julie on the right and TR and Fair fighting it out for the defensive midfielder role. Thatís just me guessing though - there really is a lot of flexibility with this new formation. As for the defense - I donít think it was stressed enough during the telecast, I think most of us can agree that there are basically 5 players fighting for the 4 starting defensive positions and three of those players werenít in Columbus. Thatís huge. Iím not prepared to be too concerned about the US D considering either 2 or 3 of the starting defenders were elsewhere. If they were out injured, Iíd be worried (OK, so Iím a little concerned re Slaton, but honestly, if sheís got to have the same surgery Mia had, Iím counting her out for WWC 2003 anyway, I hope they find a way around it, but at this point, Iím not expecting Team USA to have her back in a terribly meaningful way in time to be an impact player in WWC 2003), but theyíre not. Theyíll be back for Nike Cup. So overall, learned a few lessons, saw a few things both good and bad, and due to very unfortunate circumstances the character of these women was once again revealed, thus reminding some of us one of the reasons why we like this team so much.
Formation (4-4-2, back-front, right-left): GK - Solo; D - Sobrero, Bryan, Chastain, Benson; M - Roberts (dmid), Fair, Lilly, Foudy (attacking mid, although she dropped back to her comfort area a bit deeper in the midfield quite often); F - Parlow, Hamm. Lindsey in for Bryan, Scurry in for Solo, Hucles in for Lilly, Wambach in for Parlow, Mitts in for Sobrero, Mac in for Foudy (moves into Miaís spot, Mia moves into Foudyís attacking mid role, but basically runs around the attacking third where ever she wants), Kluegel in for Roberts and Fair moves to the dmid and Hucles moves right. And I think thatís it.
Players - this is the kind of game where everyone should shine. This is a low level opponent (although Scotland played very well) and if players canít shine against a team like this then they have no business being on a US National Team roster. That said, I really donít have much negative to say about folks. Iím not ready to kill anyoneís National Team career over this one. Thatís not to say that there arenít things to work on, because there are, but overall a solid but understandably muted performance by all involved.
Solo - Well, she finally got a chance and she looked young. She looked real young - younger than Ashlyn Harris, young (was that kid cocky or what - sometimes she made a bad decision but she even made mistakes with the utmost confidence - definite attitude with that kid - well on her way to becoming a Beulah fave - those U-19 matches were a good time). Go out or stay in, make the decision and do it with authority. All I can do is guess that she was blaming herself for the 1st goal (not her fault, the defense got her nailed . . . twice) so she was afraid to come off her line - which is the exact wrong thing for her to do. Solo is one of those keeper/sweepers - if sheís pinned in on her line like that then itís already too late. Youíve got to figure sheíll outgrow second guessing herself like that though. The only way to develop new keepers is to get them in there and get them playing time. Hopefully she takes this as a learning experience and is better for it.
Scurry - OK - Iím ready for the backlash, but hereís my thing with Briana Scurry. Is she really so much better between the pipes than the other keepers in the pool that it makes it worth it to have her in there despite how terrible she is with her feet in the run of play? I donít know what camp looked like, so I have to assume that Bri was the best between the pipes or April wouldnít have named her to the roster over Siri and Beene. So, despite my agreement or disagreement with that based on what Iíve seen in the WUSA over the past couple of years, for the sake of argument, Iím willing to grant you that. But something that I think you have to grant me is that Bri is awful with her feet in the run of play and getting worse every time we see her (itís like itís in her head at this point, she didnít use to have quite this big a problem with it). Iím not talking about "not a strength" - goal kicks and punts are "not a strength" for her - playing the ball with her feet in the run of play under pressure? itís not that itís "not a strength," itís that sheís terrible - and to her credit she realizes this and minimizes the situations in which she has to do it. The one and only time she had to play the ball with her feet in the run of play in this one she served up a knuckleball that had so much movement on it Mitts really wasnít sure where it was going and that had such a spin on it, it was obvious she didnít get a whole foot on it or strike it the way she wanted to . . . and this was against Scotland . . . with very little pressure on the ball . . . So I have to ask, against top tier opponents, where the box will be flooded with Norwegians or Germans or Chinese or Brazilians and where she will be forced to play the ball with her feet under pressure at the very least 5-10 times a game . . . Is she really so much better than the other keepers that itís worth having her in there? Just by asking the question I guess you guys know where I stand on this - I have just seen too many WUSA goals get scored on counter attacks against Atlanta that started with a misclear off of Bri Scurryís foot (whether it be off the ensuing corner, free kick, throw in or whether itís a quick turnaround straight into goal - all situations that arenít created if you have a keeper who can reliably clear the ball more than 20-30 yards when under pressure) - and you amp up the speed of play at the International level and against top level opponents, I just see a disaster in the making. And I guess it worries me because the US is playing a lot more games this year, but theyíre not playing any top tier opponents - thus weíre probably not going to see this tested at all until sheís entrenched as the #1 keeper . . . or maybe even until we get to the quarter finals of the WWC. Oh well - for all my musings, but for Briís misclear, she was just fine in goal - although not terribly busy.
Sobrero - my goodness, I almost fell off the sofa, she served a beautiful ball forward up the right flank there in the second half. It was just wonderful . . . that it stands out so much though, is reminding me why I prefer Kate in the central D. Against top tier opponents though, her defense out wide will be a strength - the lack of offense up the flank is a bit disproportionately magnified against the lower level opponents. Defensively though, she was pretty solid, although there were not just bunches of help on defense in this one. The whole first half was pretty sluggish though, and as I said at the outset, understandably so, so Iím not real worried. I assume Kate will stay in the mix for a starting defender slot for WWC 2003, and if Slaton is out and Kate stays healthy, I donít think youíre going too far out on a limb if you write her name in the lineup in ink.
Bryan - where was the help? There was no help. Where was she at all on a lot of those plays? She may be the fastest player on the field, but that doesnít mean she can handle the speed of play at the International level. She simply doesnít read the game well enough or react to the game well enough to play at this level at this point. The central D is the last line of defense before you get to the keeper and frankly, Bryan was not where she needed to be as Hope was getting nailed. I realize itís Scotland, but it is a national team game, which means things develop and happen quickly and on top of that youíve got a young keeper with a grand total of 4 caps in there and Bryan was nowhere to be found at crucial moments - that simply canít happen. I said at the outset I wasnít ready to kill any National Team careers off of this game, but Iím awfully close here. I realize with Slaton very iffy the intention is to find another experienced defender to throw into the mix, but honestly, the way she read the game and played today, I donít see any benefit of having her in there over a younger defender with more upside than "sheís been there before."
Chastain - does it matter? Really, does it? And if youíre answering yes to that, then step away from the computer, turn off the TV and go out and get yourself some perspective. Brandi was where she wanted to be today, probably where she felt she needed to be today and handled herself with the grace and class to which we, as fans, have become accustomed - that she was where she wanted to be doing what she wanted to do with people she wanted to be with, thatís what matters in this one. Undoubtedly a very difficult time for her, and this fan would simply like to send her condolences and wish her the best. As for a lot of you out there, Iíve lurked around the soccer boards long enough to know that a lot of you know Lark Chastain, especially those of you in the San Jose/Bay Area soccer community so I also send my condolences out to you - itís a terrible loss and I was very sad to hear about it. As for picking apart Brandiís game in this little inconsequential friendly against Scotland? Does it matter?
Benson - I like her very much with Philly, thatís for sure - sheís actually my favorite of the Philly backline. The way she plays reminds me of a much more famous number 6 (Brandi). And I think she came out and had a very nice solid outing. In the second half she was running up that flank nicely and sent at least one beautiful cross into the box. Fairly solid defending, although the lack of organization back there hurt her - she wasnít getting just a ton of help. But she had some nice tackles, had some nice runs and I think in the race for back up defender, she probably managed to help herself in this one. I donít know if sheíll wind up on the 2003 roster simply because I would imagine Aprilís looking for backups with a bit more versatility, but in my opinion she played well enough to stay in the mix for now.
Mitts - Well - there wasnít just a ton of defense to be played by the time she got in so I donít know if this was much of a test. Honestly, I just like Bensonís game so much more than Mittsís. I thought Mitts started the WUSA season absolutely on fire, but for the last few months has really really tailed off significantly and actually became the weakest link on that Philly backline by the time all was said and done (maybe it was the hip flexor, I have no idea). I didnít see her do anything real special in this one - Iíve got nothing to pick on, but she really didnít make an impression. I think sheíll continue to stay in the mix though, for whatever reason. I donít expect sheís going to be an impact player regardless of whether she finds herself on a roster or not.
Lindsey - Again, not just a ton of defense to be played in the second half. Had a couple of nice tackles, but thatís about all Iíve got. I am skeptical about whether she can handle the speed of play at the International level, but I like this kid a lot so it wonít surprise or disappoint me if she gets called into camp for Nike Cup so we can see for sure.
OK - middies - Iíll start with the defensive middies and work forward . . .
Roberts - ya know, hold onto your hat, get ready to fall off your seat . . . OK, are you braced and ready? I kinda liked her game today. Sheís a good ball winner, switched the field pretty well, had a couple of nice runs through the midfield trying to make things happen. Was active in the box on set pieces. A very nice outing. Yes, her size is still a concern, and will continue to be one - there were a couple of instances where she had to foul simply because the player who was running at her was too big for her to do anything else, but overall this was a nice outing. Once Foudy slips back to the right midfield spot on that diamond (where I assume sheís headed when everyoneís back with the team) sheíll add a little bit of size defensively so that should help. Definitely curious enough at this point to want to see more. At some point Alyís got to get back on the field as well, so that could push Foudy back to dmid, but weíll see happens. I think TR definitely played well enough to stay in the mix today.
Fair - there were turnovers, there will always be turnovers, but I think this was one of her better outings in recent memory as well (oops, I hope you were still braced from my TR comments, I forgot to warn you . . . maybe you should sit down, get a glass of water). Was fairly active defensively, very high workrate, made decent short passes (although her long ones were more often than not turnovers) and had a solid day. She will forever be in the mix, I have no illusions about that, but today she didnít turn any more of my hair gray so that has to be good.
Lilly - well, the tear she was on at the end of the WUSA season continues. She has looked fantastic this year. Easily the best thing on the field in the first half of the game - cracked a couple of dangerous shots that most players wouldnít have even attempted (when youíre that close and everyone is that off guard, you have got to take the shot - even a half chance in that situation is a chance). Created both first half goals and had a great workrate both offensively and defensively. I tell ya, at one point, the only US players on the screen were Lil and Mia running in tandem, pressuring the ball in the attacking third of the field - it has been a pretty long time since weíve seen that and it made me smile - I still donít think weíre ever going to see a duo quite like those two again (although I have a feeling OíReilly-Tarpley is going to try to give them a run for their money - have I mentioned how fun those U-19 matches were), so I have to take a moment to enjoy it and reminisce a bit every time I see it - especially since we wonít be seeing it too much longer. Lil to Mia - classic. Great to see Lil back with the Nats and playing so well.
Foudy - Solid outing but I donít think sheís the right player for that attacking midfield role. I think our forwards are versatile enough, and the US offense should be aggressive enough, such that one of them should be playing that position (CP or Mia once Tiff is back, pick one). Like I think Iíve said, Foudy is much more effective when she plays from deep in the midfield. Sheís much more effective as a set up person - someone who maintains possession and sets up the attack not someone on the scoring/assist end of things. She was at her most effective when she switched with Lil, fell back and was winning balls . . . Frankly, I think Lilly would be a better option at the attacking middie role than Julie was (before I decided one of our forwards should play it at some point in the second half, I had pretty much decided Lil should like she does for Boston - I think Iíve convinced myself that one of our forwards should do it though - Iíll probably change my mind again during Nike Cup). Anyway - solid, yet unremarkable outing - I expect sheíll be at right midfield or in the dmid the next time we see them.
Hucles - every single time she gets a call up I look at her and at some point say "dang, that was nice." She had several moments like that in this one. Had several chances to put a goal in, the most notable being the shot right at the keeper. Just a bit higher - chip her, the keeper was down so much in this one I just wanted them to chip her. She was very active throughout though - lots of nice runs through the midfield and into the box. Very good at getting forward, into the box and making herself a target when the ball was left (this was after Kluegel came in and she was right). Just a nice solid outing. I look forward to seeing more from her. Another one who I think managed to both stay in the mix and help herself in this one.
Kluegel - ya know, when I see a nice outing like this, I get really frustrated that theyíve got her playing defense in Boston. She was mediocre at best in the WUSA this season, but when you put her in the midfield, I really think she becomes a nice player. Sheís designed to be a flank player. Not a defender, not a central middie, a flank player. And she spread that field wide left the whole time she was in there. Did you notice the ridiculous amounts of space in the center of the field in this one. If she can continue to do that, and if we can train that defensive middie to run into that space instead of sitting on the defense the way Fair was a little over cautiously doing, then we can just push right through the middle of the field and into the box. That one play where Mia turned and passed back and there was no one there, that space was the result of spreading that field out and making defenders go wide - in the diamond formation where technically, there are no flanks, when you shift left, everyone needs to shift a bit to fill up the middle of the field and create numbers up and in the box, but they can learn that. And as usual, she was serving in nice balls from the left. She and Hucles have some nice chemistry together. With some of these WUSA teammate duos, we should have lines like in hockey to sub in - obvious some of them play together. So overall, a pretty solid outing and my gratuitous Kluegel comment (I always have one, you know I do) is that I hope Pia moves her into the midfield in Breakerland - it would help her and probably help the team (letís be honest, itís not like she was a strong defender on a bad defense, she was part of the problem - I think she could be such an asset if theyíd just get her off that backline).
Mia - MMMMMMMMMMMMMIIIIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!! Heh heh - OK OK, Iíll grow up and try to maintain some decorum . . . until I get to Abby. Nice outing - like I said, these WUSA duos are awfully nice arenít they. She and Abby were ridiculous. Mia had a nice first half - I disagree with Wendy - I thought Mia was plenty sharp. The whole team was a tad sluggish - obviously an emotional day for them all. But Mia wasnít noticeably off her game in my opinion. In the second half, everyone was just much better. I think Mia likes having Abby as a target - Abbyís a bit more of a true target player than CP - CP is actually very similar in her style of play to Mia, as where Abby is a bit more of a complementary player. Both Mia and CP are 1 v. 1 players who are very technical and skilled with the ball at their feet - because of CPís size she is of course a target, but style of play-wise I think Abby is much more the classical target player. Anyway - I think Mia enjoys Abbyís ability to get forward and open, stay forward and win balls, and because of their time together with the Freedom she is just a very natural target for her. As Mia played the attacking midfield role it was really more a withdrawn forward. Very different from how Foudy played the role - and like in the last one, I like it when they play with that attacking middie as more of a withdrawn forward - basically it just means that youíve got several players in the attacking third at all times - Mac and Mia were switching and playing together very well in this one such that one of them was almost always in the box, yet the other would be helping in the midfield allowing for the nice possession game to continue and making sure that there were enough people in the midfield to keep the US from getting too beat up there. Fantastic game all the way around. I have to agree with the pundits on this one - she looks as good right now, as sheís looked since 1997-98.
Parlow - A very nice outing - although my screams of CHIP HER CHIP HER are still reverberating around my brain. The keeper was down, why oh why didnít CP chip her? Wendyís "tried to dribble around her" explanation rang hollow - she just put the ball right to her - CP is supposed to be a world class finisher and that keeper was down so early, she has got to make a better decision with the ball than that. The whole dang team seems to have an aversion to chipping the keeper when sheís down - maybe during those finishing drills they do they need to work on some chip shots - a lot of goals in the womenís game are scored when players chip keepers - the goal is designed for men, thereís a lot of room up in those corners especially once a keeper has committed. Anyway, CP was taking on players great, there was one run up the right side and into the box that had me marveling at her footwork. Nice solid outing - needs to work on that final touch decision making a bit (a half a chance is still a chance, I think some of these players are still looking for that perfect shot at times and dribble themselves into oblivion) but overall a nice afternoon.
ABBY!!!!!! - Great game - for all the talk you always hear about how the tall girls are so good in the air, Abby is the first one since Michelle Akers for whom I feel it really holds up - I think everyone sees tall and just assumes. Abby, though, whether itís defending in the box, scoring goals, winning balls, flicking balls off the foot of the keeper, she is just dominant - maybe all the other tall girls are good in the air, and Abby is just dominant - I can go with that. In my opinion, sheís the best in the air for the US at this point though, and I donít think the competition is even a remotely close one. She also showed she has a nice little touch on the ball (the assist to Mia where she just slotted a pass between defenders off the endline) and plays with her head up and is very aware of where everyone is. I continue to think sheís one of the most dynamic young players around, she seems to be having no trouble with the faster speed of play at this level and she pressures the ball very well defensively and has a great workrate (maybe even surprisingly so). I think she had a great game and if the competition is a fair one I think sheís going to give CP a run for her money for starting big girl on this team. Theyíre both playing so well lately I have no idea or opinion on whoís going to win that contest, but itís going to be fun to watch regardless.
Mac - I feel sheís going to get caught in a numbers game again - and since she really didnít show anything today that makes me want to bench Mia or Millie, sheís going to have to get back into super sub mode. She scored a goal, and that was nice, but she really didnít make a huge impression other then that. That tends to be how her games go - if sheís taking set pieces or sitting up top then thereís always a chance that sheís going to explode for something, but she just doesnít seem to be developing into the full field, multi dimensional player that weíve been waiting for her to develop into and that so many of our other strikers are. Sheís awfully streaky though and that can turn at any time - and she has such an explosive final touch on the ball that youíve got to find room for her somewhere. I donít know, just didnít think she was nearly as impressive as many of the other offensive players today. She just doesnít create for herself and isnít as active off the ball as some of the other offensive players we saw today. Weíll see - sheíll probably score 4 goals next game - 6 years later, sheís still tough to figure out.
OK - I donít think I missed anyone. Fun second half even if the entire day was a bit muted and understated. Looking forward to Nike Cup - Iím definitely enjoying watching things develop.