US 2 Canada 1
A game that asked the age old question: If a goal gets scored in the fog, yet none of the fans could see it, does it really count? It did, but darned if I could tell anyone what happened there . . . Crazy conditions in which to play a championship match and conditions that favored the long ball style of the Canadians rather than the possessional, keep the ball on the ground and pound it through the midfield style of the United States. Ultimately, though, the US handled the long balls fairly well, turned in as organized a defensive performance as weíve seen in quite some time and gave themselves an opportunity to win the game. The only knock on Team USA in this one, is a failure to adjust their style of play to the field conditions. I love her, you know I do, but exactly how many times did Kristine Lilly want to try to pass the ball on the ground through that puddle anyway - youíd think once it got hung up there a couple of times she would have started chipping it over, but she seemed pretty determined to drive it right through, or even better dribble it through - ball just died every single time. And she wasnít the only one, in fact, at about the 60th-70th minute Foudy chipped one over the puddle and I cheered as loudly as I did the whole game. On a more serious note regarding the failure to adjust the style of play, I have to wonder why in the world Milbrett came out and Parlow stayed in the game if they were going to keep playing the ball on the ground. As soon as I saw that sub I thought for sure we were going to be treated to watching all the creative ways nine players could try to hit Cindy Parlow in the head with the pass but it just didnít happen. They continued to pound away on the ground, CP continued to have a pretty useless match and the biggest spark plug on the team was on the bench. Yes, the US would have been really really short had CP come out, but if theyíre not going to play the ball in the air to try to bypass the soggy field anyway (and if CP is having a subpar outing and doing very little ball winning - doing very little of anything actually), then why does height matter. OK - thatís my little gripe for the game. All that said - it is just a little gripe, I thought they handled the weather very well, they kept their shape both offensively and defensively and while it would have been nice for them to have shown a bit of versatility and adjusted to the conditions a bit, they managed to eke one out by staying true to their game plan and style and I guess that lack of panic and managing to maintain their composure in adverse conditions is pretty valuable too.
Formation: 4-4-2, back-front, right-left
GK: Scurry; D: Sobrero, Fawcett, Chastain, Reddick; DMid: Foudy; Mid: Roberts, Lilly; AMid: Wagner; F: Parlow, Milbrett. Subs: Hamm in for Milbrett, Fair in for Roberts.
Scurry - Well - finally found a use for those awful yellow uniforms - it was the only thing I could see through the fog late in the first half. Bri was solid in goal, she actually had to make a few stops in this one. Her punts look OK - I know they go far, but I prefer the flatter driven balls a keeper like Siri can deliver rather than the high floating balls Bri delivers - why do I have this preference? The US is so dang short - they donít have anyone in the midfield whoís going to win most of those or be able to flick them and CP doesnít track back and do it. A flatter driven ball is more likely to catch a defense off guard and likely to lead to a quicker counter attack. As for goal kicks, again, theyíre not bad, but if our tallest ball winner in the midfield is 5í6" if she stands up real straight, I think theyíre begging for trouble by not having someone take those who can boot the ball more than 30-35 yards - every goal kick she took fell at least 10 yards short of the midfield stripe - later in the game, they were even shorter . . . and watching how hard she stares at that ball before she takes those she really does not look terribly confident taking them. I have no idea when Bri lost all confidence in her kicking game, but she has - it was never a strength but she never looked afraid of the ball taking those kicks either. Easy fix? Have someone else take goal kicks. Carla used to take them more often than not, I see Nonen take them all the time with Atlanta and even in the past year with the Nats, Iíve seen one of the defenders take them after Bri muffs or underhits one or two. Just let someone else take those - very easy problem to solve. Overall though, nice game from Bri. As for the goal - I really couldnít see what happened, but there were a couple of touches before it wound up in the net, so I guess she was just leaning the wrong way and had to try to stop it with her foot - and then boom it was in. Nice use of a set piece to close the half by Canada.
Sobrero - very very active game for Kate. Solid as could be defensively, using her speed well, part of a very organized effort handling the Canadian long balls, moving into the midfield and winning the balls Canada tried playing on the ground. Just a typically wonderful defensive effort from Kate. The right side of the field was actually the far more active one in the first half and Kate provided some nice offensive support as well. Her passes are still not quite getting to where they need to as well as Catís do, but Kate looks more comfortable and confident going forward and getting involved in the offense every time we see her. To see her looking less awkward, Iíll take the turnovers and incomplete passes at this point. She is steadily improving offensively on the wing, and thatís all I ask. Great game from Kate, sheíll work herself into being a great wing player yet . . . .
Fawcett - In the last one I mentioned that Joyís head needed to be ready to defend and when she jumped for that first Canadian long ball in the second minute and completely misjudged it and missed I was mildly worried we were in for a long night. I should know better - that was the only ball she missed the whole game. She was the backstop in the air she needed to be. I also touched on this a second ago, but this was as organized a defensive performance as weíve seen from Team USA since . . . maybe . . . the good captain retired. Brandi and Joy are working so well together in the central defense and they are so organized in the back that there is always help for each other and for the wings - that organization and help defense pretty much make up for whatever lack of athleticism there arguably is back there. So nice game from Joy. The central D is clicking nicely.
Chastain - most of what I wrote about Joy, just copy and put here. I was very skeptical of the idea of Brandi Chastain, Central Defender, but I have to say, after seeing them last night - it really really works. They were so organized on defense it was fun to watch. Because of a lack of communication and organization over the past couple of years, Team USA has had a heck of a time with teams that play over the top - there is always a mad scramble of who is going to try to cover who and they have just looked a mess at times - not in this one, however. Her wheels arenít what they used to be, and I, like many others, am holding my breath as to whether Brandiís legs and feet are going to hold up for another year, but I tell ya, sheís not shy about taking control of that backline - and seeing as we havenít seen even one attempt at some sort of scissor kick from her the entire tournament, I have to venture a guess that maybe she likes being the stable one in charge as much as she likes some of the showy stuff weíre more accustomed to seeing. Whatever it is, itís working and the defense, as a whole, looks good with her in the center of the field. Nice game.
Reddick - 40 yards - she just cracked an unstoppable shot from 40 yards out - my goodness - yes Iím watching the ACC tournament. And just to bring it back to the Nats, I remember Michelle Akers questioning Catís fitness and Wendy has hinted about the kidís dedication and Iím sitting here watching Cat Reddick clearly outplay every single other player on the field less than 24 hours after playing 90+ minutes in the Gold Cup tournament final, a tournament in which she played every single minute, if Iím not mistaken . . . and Iím thinking all questioning of Catís maturity or dedication or mentality needs to stop. The more I see of this kid, the more impressed I am. She was solid defensively and her service out of the back is excellent. That ball she put to Tiff on her breakaway in the 3d or 4th minute was beautiful. She sees the field incredibly well and not only can serve the ball with power but with tremendous accuracy as well. A leg like hers has been missing since Carla retired and itís nice to see this kind of weapon back with the National Team. It just adds another dimension to the offense and sheís quite good at putting it to playersí chests and feet which is where most of Team USAís players prefer to get the ball. Great stuff from Cat, I am not only impressed as heck as what Iíve seen from her with the Nats but also watching her in the ACC final today showed sheís made of some pretty tough and pretty special stuff.
Foudy - Even in the rain, even with the field wet and soggy and the ball just dying all over the place, Foudy is in control of her field. She is just so methodical trying to poke holes through a packed midfield. Just a rhythmic back and forth and back and forth until she sees a hole through. Defensively she was fairly solid. I do like having a slightly larger body than Roberts or Fair in the defensive midfield, especially looking at the Roberts foul-a-thon we were treated to in this one while she was playing wide right. She was good at winning balls on the ground, I would like to see some more in the air, but the footing was bad all over in this one. Not a lot of people were winning balls in the air in the midfield for either team. Overall a solid outing - I continue to like Foudy in the defensive midfield in the diamond formation.
Roberts - solid outing - very active on the right side and she provided some nice support for the offense. Hereís my thing though - you know when Milburn (who has improved throughout the tourneys . . . címon, sheís gotten a little better) said that Roberts plays bigger than her size - well, no, she tries to play bigger than her size . . . unfortunately she just doesnít get there. As I mentioned in the last one, if Roberts canít play defense against players larger than herself without fouling then they need to get her off the field. I even mentioned a hypothetical scenario in which she would give up a free kick in a dangerous spot if she kept playing like that. Well - what did we see happen last night - Tiffany Roberts, not strong enough to stop a player without fouling and she gave up a free kick right at the top of the box. Itís dangerous, we see it continually, I think theyíre playing with fire - if sheís not going to get to the point that sheís freakishly strong like Lilly (she can push a player 20 pounds heavier and 6 inches taller than she is off the ball without fouling, TR can not - thatís the difference), then I donít think thereís a place for her on the field against even middle tier opponents - defense is what she does, and if she canít effectively defend then whatís the point? Itís hard not to admire the toughness she shows challenging the bigger players and oooo and ahhhhh when she takes them down. However, after seeing it game after game after game, and seeing how sheís unable to make those challenges without fouling, then youíve got to ask whether her benefits outweigh her downside and exactly why youíre bending over backward to try to find a spot for her on the team. All that said, she had one of the better outings sheís had on the right, but I donít think her style of game translates well to the International level where the average player she faces is bigger, faster, stronger and playing faster than the average player in the WUSA.
Lilly - She was lost in a fog in the first half . . . both figuratively and literally. Pretty quiet first half for Lil - donít know if I noticed her at all until the fog got really really heavy (they seemed to go to her a lot when the fog rolled in). Except for the assist on Tiffís goal, of course. And that was vintage Kristine Lilly, running up the left side (not quite out wide on the flank, but running up the left centralish/left flankish part of the field) and she put the perfect ball right in front of the goal and boom - goal by Tiffeny Milbrett. Beautiful play - she makes it look so easy and we see it so often from her that we take it for granted - but itís not easy to do what she does. If it was, then everyone would do it. Much more active in the second half, although she really was making me crazy with that puddle - how many times, how many times? If the ball gets stuck in the puddle in the 50th minute, itís going to get just as stuck in the 55th - why in the puddle, why in the puddle???? Over the puddle, Lil, over the puddle . . . Overall, solid outing - whole team was working hard in this one and playing a fairly nice and disciplined match. Good stuff.
Wagner - You just canít pass any better than that - you just canít. Itís a part of the game people never really talk about unless the players turn the ball over too much, but the way Aly passes is just amazing. There was one beautiful ball to CP in the early going - Aly didnít just see her and get it to her from 20-30 yards away - she put that ball square on CPís chest - there is no way in the world anyone but CP could even think about getting or challenging for that ball. Itís just perfect. And of course, there was the ball on the game winner - thatís not just about seeing the field and being accurate, thatís knowing your teammates, what they can get to and what they can do with the ball once they get there. Mia loves to pull keepers out and then chip them (saw it more than a couple of times with the Freedom last season), Aly gave her the perfect ball to do just that. To see the field that well, and be so accurate is just an incredible attribute for a midfielder to have. With Julie running things from very deep in the midfield, youíve got Aly able to be quite a bit more aggressive in the attacking half of the field. She can be more aggressive both with her passing and with her own game offensively. Had a couple of shots again in this one that were good chances at goal. And she does track back and help out with ball winning in the midfield as well. Yet another nice outing from Aly all the way around - not that I think there was a really huge question on this point beforehand, but I think Aly managed to solidify her spot on this team during the Gold Cup. A very strong tournament and Iím sure she left a very nice impression on the coaching staff going into what I assume is at least one or two month break from the Nats.
Parlow - I did not enjoy her game at all. Parlow is either wonderful or she is painfully useless out there - this was a useless game for her. I know sheís not going to score every game, no one scores every game, but to not make any contributions at all is frustrating to watch. It is especially frustrating because with the roster the US had, you really couldnít take her out. If for no other reason than it is ridiculous that for CP and CP alone, there are no repercussions for bad outings in which the workrate and fitness are questionable, Abby Wambach, or someone like her, needs to be on this roster. It truly blows my mind that a player as big as she is can be so invisible and such a non factor in the game - and it truly blows my mind even more, that year after year folks just make excuses for her poor workrate and fitness rather than trying something novel and bringing someone onto the team who can legitimately challenge her. Frankly, looking at how the nice, hard, swift kick in the rear effectively works for so many other players, maybe it would be nice if CP received one. Sorry so harsh, but it wasnít just this game - itís frustrating that at this level thereís a player who "has" to stay on the field despite limited contributions and obviously tiring, simply because of her size. And again, Iíd like to point out - they werenít even using that size. I kept waiting for them to play it over the top to her and they just didnít. What exactly was the point of keeping her out there when she was obviously gassed and struggling.
Milbrett - Nice outing. She was very active up top and going back into the midfield and winning balls. She had a couple of breakaways that could have been goals - she finds those seams as well as anyone. And that goal - no settle, no hesitation, just took that ball right out of the air and smashed it into the back of the net. Contrast what she did versus what Monica Gonzalez did in a similar situation in the Mexico-Costa Rica match. Monica took a very quick settling tap, and even that was too much and she didnít get the shot off. Tiff just ripped it out of the air, and smashed it home. So many players are looking for that perfect situation and perfect shot, but Tiff takes the situation sheís handed and creates her own perfection. Good stuff. At first, I wasnít necessarily surprised Mia came in for her at the start of the second half, but when I saw that they werenít playing it in the air to CP, I was wondering exactly why it was Tiff who got pulled.
Hamm - She certainly does have a sense for the dramatic moment, huh? Sheíd been quiet up to that point, but if you need a tournament winning goal, well, sheís a pretty good place to look for it. She loves chipping those keepers, too. Draw the keeper out, just pop it over her and into an empty net. Just a very smart, savvy, veteran move. Very professional goal. As for the rest of it - she was very active up top - I didnít think she was finding the seams quite as well as Tiff had been. She was pressuring the ball well and made some turnovers - Mia is always in there winning more than her share of balls through very active, high pressure defense. Solid outing for Mia and since Hopkins was talking about the demise of Mia Hamm (a tired song Iím so sick of hearing itís unbelievable) I cheered extra hard that she was the one who knocked the game winner in.
Fair - there were turnovers, there are always turnovers, but overall a fairly solid outing. A bit more of the offense was out left in the second half, so she didnít have just a ton to do, but she played some nice defense and sent some nice balls in. I think I lost her again - I must admit, I was obsessing a bit on everyone trying to dribble and pass through that puddle in the second half . . . I think I was getting way too big a kick out of everyone trying to magically get through that puddle with the ball . . . just wasnít gonna happen. Anyway - thatís all I have - she didnít make my head hurt, and since I am extra sensitive to the Fair gaffe, she must have had a decent night.
Well - that is it - Gold Cup is officially a memory. I think we learned a lot from what we saw from players and we learned a lot from the absence of one especially large player who wasnít on the roster for most of this one. By and large I thought what we saw was encouraging and now I anxiously await seeing how what theyíve been working on against the CONCACAF opponents and the second and lower tier Nike Cup opponents translates against tougher competition. Itís been fun.
PS - if Jordan Kellgren isnít one of the best keepers in college soccer then . . . . uh . . . well . . . . I donít know what, but sheís dang good (Iíve moved on to the SEC tournament final - just a soccer filled day in Beulahland).
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