US 9 Panama 0
Well my goodness - look at what happens when the opponent comes out of a bunker. This is kind of why teams play the US that way and while itís not fun to watch, itís why teams should continue to play the US in a bunker. This game (and when I say "this game," I mean "the first half" - the US so obviously shut it down so as not to run up the score in the second half - any reading on the history of the Nats and Milburn and Hopkins could have let the folks at home know that unless Panama just gave them one they couldnít resist, the US was going to stop at 9, maybe 10 - thatís what the US tries to do in these situations . . . if deMera had hit Mac in the head 10-15 minutes earlier than she did, I have no doubt the score would have been even more lopsided - I think the mercy rule gets repealed when you smack Mac in the head), anyway, this game was run through the midfield - everything that aggravated the heck out of me in the T&T game was remedied by simply running the offense through a player who is equipped to run it . . . and by inserting Tiffeny Milbrett and Aly Wagner in the starting lineup. Aly Wagner with an assist from Tiffeny Milbrett completely dictated the pace of play in this one, and that pace was frantic for the entire first half. The great thing was most of the players on the field managed to keep up with them. This report will be a stark contrast from the last one - I have very little terribly critical on anyone. I thought the team played like a team, the offense was run through the midfield, there was some incredible combination play and 10 players were acting as a unit with everyone performing her job rather than every woman for herself. Nice outing, I hope they build on it for the next one. It really does pay huge dividends to have a playmaking midfielder running the offense especially since the two playmakers the US has at its disposal are world class.
Formation: 4-3-3, back-front, right-left
GK - Beene; D - Reddick, Fawcett, Chastain, Benson; DMid - Fair (she was withdrawn - significantly withdrawn); Mid - Hucles, Wagner; F - MacMillan, Wambach, Milbrett. Roberts in for Chastain, Fair moved back on D, Roberts was in the defensive midfield but wasnít playing quite as deep as Fair was. Sobrero in for Fawcett, Foudy in for Wagner, Foudy moved into the defensive midfield (at that point, the dmid was the point from which the offense was being run) and Roberts moved up on the right, Hucles went left. The two offensive midfielders and all three forwards were rotating throughout the entire game - Mac actually wound up playing a huge part of the game left.
Beene - she had to make a few stops and she made them well. Not too stressful a day for her. She played the ball in the run of play very well in this one. No panic, several quick balls on back passes and she didnít muff any of them and actually made some very nice clearances. Solid, but largely quiet outing - I think Team USA is without question three deep at GK. And Iím continuing not to like the yellow and black uniform - somehow I feel I shouldnít be thinking John Belushi and killer bees when Iím watching the Nats play, but thatís where my mind was wandering.
Reddick - very nice and solid outing - she just looks more natural on the right to me than she does on the left. She didnít have to make many defensive plays, but she was solid enough when she had to be. A couple of nice offensive runs - nice support out of the back. She had another blast in this one, but also had a "defender shot" (as a friend of mine calls those shots that wind up 10 feet over goal) as well. Since we know Cat can blast those on goal, though, Iíll take an occasional defender shot from her - some of those are going in. Not much else - not much on any of the defenders once again. I continue to like Ms. Reddick and if the US is fortunate enough to get a full strength Danielle Slaton back before WWC 2003, then the US will have quite a formidable rotation of defenders.
Fawcett/Chastain - made a couple of nice stops in the air . . . and thatís it - the quartet of Milbrett, Wambach, MacMillan and Wagner kind of had the ball otherwise occupied while those two were in the game, and they got an early out so that they could accompany Ms. Lilly, Ms. Scurry, Ms. Parlow and Ms. Hamm on the bench for a well deserved rest. Body doesnít recover quite as quickly when youíre 30-something as it did when you were 20-something - no reason for any of them to get into the game (and I have to assume Foudy only went in to slow things down, calm things down and keep the US from running up the score).
Benson - This wasnít much of a game for evaluating defenders. Benson does really well getting into the offense, but one thing I did note in this one, I think speed of play at the International level is whatís going to hold her back at this point. And thatís to be expected as sheís not a player who has experienced the pace on this level very much. It was a good game for her to get some experience though, she flighted some nice balls in, but I also think she was on a slightly different page from much of what was going on on the field. I do like what I see from her though - pretty smart defender who gets into the attack well, and I think she brings enough to the table to stay in the mix and get some playing time at least until Slaton gets back.
Fair - Oh, help me, please . . . it pains me a little every time I have to say this . . . but I thought she was just fine in this one. Aly had a strangle hold on the offense, so Fairís responsibilities were simply to stop the ball, win the ball, and get it to the blond girl - and she did a good job at all of that. She was sitting right on top of that defensive line playing very deep in this one, but she was solid enough. When she moved back on defense, she continued to have as solid an outing as can be. Had a couple of moments where she showed great speed which was only remarkable in that it is a contrast in the style of play weíve been seeing in that left central defender spot for the last several outings. Overall nice solid game and other than my ongoing concerns about playing such tiny players right up the middle of the field, I have nothing but thumbs up and praise for Ms. Fair in this one.
Hucles - Like Benson I thought Hucles had some really nice moments, but I also thought she was having some trouble with the pace of the game in the first half. She had some chances in the first half, but she was just a step slower than the big 4 (Mac, Millie, Abby and Aly) and they left her behind a little bit. And also like Benson, there is no way for her to get better at this without giving her time on the field - so it was a very useful outing by way of getting her some experience and some playing time. Keep in mind that although the opponent was Panama, the pace of this game was very very fast in the first half. Aly and Millie made it that way, Mac and Abby were able to go with the flow and basically kept up by riding their wave, but itís not easy to play that fast if youíre not accustomed to seeing things moving like that. In the second half, Hucles is the only I can say really looked better - players like Abby and Mac looked just as good as they did in the first half, but Hucles looked a little stronger when the game was a little less frenetic. I continue to think Angela is playing well enough to stay in the mix and could wind up a very nice bench player on the road to WWC 2003.
Wagner - If Tiff hadnít been so phenomenal, Aly would easily have been my player of the game - but itís a sad fact, forwards get all the love, especially forwards who score five goals in a game and who get stretchered off the field. So Aly will have to be the runner up and Iíll gush for a few extra minutes. Well - as Iím thinking of where to start, I realize Iíve already gushed quite a bit - so get ready for a bit of redundancy. I donít think thereís any question that all talk of Aly Wagner, Future of the National Team, needs to stop, because sheís clearly ready to be part of the now. She plays what is arguably the most difficult position on the field with the poise, confidence and savvy of a seasoned veteran. The offense clicks and plays at a pace comparable to that when Foudy and Lilly are out there controlling those things. She is in complete control of the field, she is aware of who is keeping up and who is not and by 10-15 minutes in those who arenít keeping up are bypassed or used as end targets. She has tremendous chemistry with the front line, especially with Milbrett and Wambach, she wins balls in the midfield, she can play it on the ground through the middle, or launch the long distance precision passes over the top that land on the foot of the tiniest little striker who goes in for goals. Basically, in this one, she showed she can do it all, she can control the team, she can control the pace of the game and she is without question a ready for prime time player. And just to add to all that, she shoots with both feet. Aly had a couple of strong scoring chances and one was left footed. Watching Mac having to change feet and missing a couple of opportunities because of it, I really appreciated seeing Aly, Abby, and Tiff shooting with both feet. So overall, a fantastic outing, she showed tremendous field awareness on all those assists she had, she showed tremendous chemistry with Tiff on all those assists she had (not a bad little player with whom to have chemistry), and as always, I canít wait to see more from her. It has been an absolute pleasure watching her develop from the 19 year old kid with a whole lot of promise I first saw in 1999 to the burgeoning young superstar midfielder that we see today. Good stuff.
MacMillan - she scored from the left, she scored from the left!!! OK, so it was more central than left, and it was with her right foot . . . But thatís a better crack then she usually gets from over there. Iím still wondering why she plays over there at all, while she scored on that one, she had the opportunity to show just how bad with that left foot she is on that little attempted volley from Tiff and she showed how much sheís aware of her limitations in that she kept switching the ball to her right foot all game - Milburn was calling it an extra touch, which is technically correct, but she was switching feet because she canít shoot with her left and was tripping herself up. At this level thereís just not time for that . . . easy fix though, play her on the right. The most curious part of all of that was Mac taking a corner from the left side and Tiff taking them from the right - that was a real head scratcher - I donít know if Iíve ever seen Mac take a corner from the left side in a National Team uniform - and I donít think I ever want to see it again. The entire offense rotates - there were times when Tiff was playing in the middle and Abby was wide right, and thatís all well and good, but when theyíre done rotating, I think it would be to everyoneís benefit if Mac was lined up right or even centrally, and in this one, I think I spent too much time watching Mac taking an "extra touch" and missing opportunities because she has to switch that ball when sheís on the left. Other than that, it was a pretty solid Mac outing - that was an awful lot of griping when essentially I liked what I saw from Mac in this one. She is on the aforementioned upswing streak-wise. Hopefully it lasts the duration of this tournament - since her up and down swings tend to last 7-10 games, I think weíre good for the rest of Gold Cup. She was handling the speed of play pretty well, just kind of moving forward and trusting that Aly was going to keep her onside with the pass and that everyone else was running with her. I tell ya, the trust she shows in Alyís ability already should concern other WUSA teams - no matter whoís coaching the Spirit. If Mac is able to just run where she wants with the confidence that one of the sportís up and comers is right behind her and aware of every step sheís taking, that duo might be deadly. Quit messing around with Foudy and get her back in the center of that field in SD as well, and I donít know whatís going to stop them. Then again, I still canít figure out whatís been stopping them so far (cough cough coaching cough cough), so what do I know . . . But I digress - as for this game - Mac had a great outing, and as well as Aly and Tiff were combining, thatís how well I thought Mac and Abby were combining. Well, Abby was finding Mac, anyway - Mac had several opportunities to return the favor and inexplicably held onto the ball way too long and had it stripped or booted out for a goal kick - but there is some chemistry developing there. So, overall, nice game.
Wambach - Welcome to the party Abby. I know I am incredibly biased here, and I know that CP is arguably a better player than Abby (itís not an argument I would necessarily make, but I understand folks far more knowledgeable than myself might make it), but in my opinion Abby Wambach is just far more exciting to watch than CP is. Considering sheís only had limited training time during this call up I thought she was combining with her teammates incredibly well, her speed of play was fantastic, that whole one touch and then pass/shoot thing was happening and wasnít slowing down anyoneís play at all, incredible field awareness - she was able to find Aly, Mac, Tiff, Foudy or Hucles very quickly all night long . . . overall just a fantastic, dynamic outing. I think she adds an element to the field no one else on the roster does - CP is big, yes, but she plays the same style as the little players - she wants to take players on and dribble it into goal. Abbyís going to touch the ball once and then blast it somewhere (unless sheís in wide open spaces - and even then, sheís likely to take only a touch or two before she launches a cross). And she does a lot more grunt work than forwards typically do. That the team is so small is not lost on anyone - thus, it was nice to see Abby at times back in the midfield and defensive third helping to win 50-50 balls. She wins everything she goes up for. She uses her size so well - there was one instance, may have even been one of the reasons deMera was frustrated enough to smack Mac in the head, where Foudy had the ball, was kind of trapped by a Panamanian defender and Abby kind of looked over her shoulder and saw another Panamanian player trying to get around her to go help strip the ball from Foudy. So all Abby does is make her body a little wider, set her feet and just shielded that other player from the play, Foudy managed to extricate herself from the situation and keep possession of the ball. The little things count just as much as the things that wind up in the box score and it is refreshing to see Abby so willing to do them and to see that sheís aware enough of everything going on on the field, even when sheís not on the ball, such that she realizes those things need diong. Abby is just like a wall, players hit her, push her, try to move around her and sheís big, strong and wide enough to just stand there seemingly oblivious to the tiny little players trying to work their way around her. Good game on just about every level you want to take it to . . . Iím hoping there is a meaningful splitting of time between her and CP in the future - as much as a big player who is as technically proficient as CP is screws folks up, I think an athletic big girl who can play as fast as she does and use her body as well as she does can screw them up as well . . . let alone the disruptive effect of switching from one to the other mid match. Abby was much improved from the Nike Cup and maybe being left off the roster was a bit of motivation for her - her workrate in this one was outstanding - no question, she came ready to play. Great game.
Milbrett - What was that? That was ridiculous - itís kind of hard to believe when you see her scoring the same goal 3 different times in the first 10 minutes. Itís kind of one of those things where you rub your eyes, and shake your head like the characters do in the cartoons. Unbelievable. They must find a way to get the best players on the field all at the same time - and that means no more Tiff on the bench, no more Mia on the bench - with either Aly and/or Foudy running the offense there are definitely enough balls to go around especially since most of Team USAís players are unselfish to a fault. I donít even know what to say - she can shoot from either side and with either foot, sheís ridiculously fast and even more ridiculously quick, she is equally adept dribbling through defenses herself and at serving as a target player in the box, she makes quick decisions and combines well with anyone in the attacking third wearing the same color shirt she is. Like I said with Abby, I donít know if Tiff is necessarily the "best" player (although in her case the argument could legitimately be made) but sheís certainly on the very short list of most exciting players to watch play. Phenomenal first half and I hope the knee injury isnít too bad because these National Team games are just a heck of a lot more fun to watch when sheís on the field.
Roberts - solid outing. In the first half, she was in the defensive midfield. She got a little more involved in the offense than Fair had before her, but it was still Alyís field and TR was just playing on it. She had some very nice runs through the middle of the field and one of those runs resulted in a goal. After Milbrett started scoring all of those goals, Aly being the crux of the offense, Abby creating a fuss and with as active as Mac was, the defense was occupied and there were spaces to run through - TR made an especially well timed run right through one of those spaces and Abby got her the ball - very nice combination play on that goal. She rotates around the field very well and since there seems to be a lot of movement and rotating around the midfield, that she can follow all of it is good. She plays much looser at this level when sheís not in control of the field. She can just play her defense and pick her spots to get forward and not have to worry about the rest of it. Speed of play is generally an issue for her, but like so many of the players out there, so long as sheís not responsible for setting the pace or even maintaining the pace, she can react fast enough to kind of go with the flow. That, I think is the difference between Fair and TR versus Benson and Hucles - none of them could set this pace, but TR and Fair have a lot more experience playing at this level and know how to go with the flow a bit better - theyíll drop off the page at times, but largely they can pick their spots and make more positive contributions than negative ones. Against a middle or top tier team, I donít know if thatís necessarily the case, but in a game like this, where it was kind of Aly, Abby, Millie, Mac and the Pips, she and Fair are just fine. In the second half when she moved right, she was also solid - made some nice runs, helped maintain possession and since maintaining possession was what Team USA seemed intent on doing rather than putting more goals up, she did what she needed to do. Nice outing.
Sobrero - Very little to say here - I vaguely remember thinking "man Kateís fast" at one point, but other than that - a pretty quiet night for Kate. Thereís just not much to say about the defenders in this one.
Foudy - she just has such command out there she could enter the game and slow it down completely. It was pretty apparent to me that Team USA just wanted to get one, maybe two more, but basically that they had no desire to run up the score and embarrass the Panamanian team. Iíve seen statements from April and some of the vets saying that they pretty much stop at 9 and itís apparent thatís what they were doing here. They were trying to get one more and then go home and thatís what they did. Not much else to say other than that - Iím always impressed by Foudyís ability to control a game, even when itís slowing it down. Would have been nice if sheíd have gotten the whole night off, like some of her cohorts, but it wasnít too stressful or active a night in the second half so itís probably not that big a deal.
Well - thatís it - it was fun for the team to finally play someone who would come out to play instead of bunkering, but I think they need to get accustomed to that bunker. This is as strong an offensive team as the USA has had in quite some time and I imagine opponents are going to realize that. Team USA has had a lot of trouble playing against a bunker since Carla and Michelle left the stage because they donít A) have the incredibly good service over the top out of the back that they had when Carla played (they could just bypass the midfield and therefore break the bunker that way) and B) they donít have the incredibly strong target player in the air that Michelle was - Abby can provide that nice target and I think Foudy at the DMid, might be a nice way to try to break a bunker, and I hope theyíre ready to do that if Canada or Costa Rica decides that the bunker is the way to go in the semis. Ultimately though, this was a fun one - I think psychologically, the US needed to inflict a nice thrashing on a lower level opponent. Letís see if they manage to ride the wave of this one into the next.
US v. Mexico Match Report
US v. T&T Match Report
US v. Costa Rica Match Report
US v. Canada Match Report