US 2 Brazil 0

Always remember and never forget: there are no style points in soccer. It wasnít pretty, but it was three points and in tournament play that is all that matters. That said, for the first 60 minutes of this game it looked like Team USA mistook todayís opponent for Greece . . . or some other lower level/just starting up their program opponent against whom only minimal effort needed to be exerted. Thatís not who this was though - this was a borderline top tier team playing a very quick, technical, tactically sophisticated match and I think, all their protestations that theyíre not taking their opponents lightly aside, Team USA simply wasnít prepared for this to be a tough match. That first run down the sideline against Rampone set the tone for the first 60 minutes. Yes Rampone got there and squared around enough to knock the ball out rather than over the endline, but Brazil was the aggressor and the US defense was on its heels from that moment forward. While I agree with the commentators that, after that first play by Rampone, Team USA was doing a good job double teaming attacking Brazilians and stopping the Brazilian last touch, I canít give the defense an unequivocal thumbs up because of the ineptitude that followed that stop. Stopping the ball is step one for a defender - at the collegiate level, youíre a great defender if you can stop that ball - this is the US National Team however, and deciding what to do with the ball and executing that decision after the stop is made is vital, and the defense looked very poor making that touch after the stop for just about the whole game. For all the talk of the US vets and experience, they looked frazzled, confused and like they lost their composure from that first run at Rampone forward. The midfield rightfully took a lot of abuse from the commentators, but the problem with US possession started with that backline. At this level you simply can not turn the ball over on every single clearance, and you canít blindly hit the ball forward and say "whew, I stopped that one." Just a lack of composure by the defense on that count all game long. It just seemed they werenít prepared for today to be a challenge - they have got to sharpen up.

As for the midfield, I donít even know what was going on there - yes, the defenseís panicky/poor clearances/passing were part of their problem but that doesnít excuse not supporting the front runners the few times they had opportunities, not winning balls in the midfield, as poor decisions passing as the defenders were making and poor execution on set pieces. I canít really say anything more about this because three of the four starting midfielders were so invisible for the first half and had so few touches that thereís simply nothing else to talk about.

As for the forwards - my issue was a strategic one, not anything they were individually doing per se. I donít understand why the forwards were applying zero pressure to the Brazilian defense - once it became apparent that Brazil was methodically swinging that ball around the backline until they saw a way through the midfield, the forwards should have been pressuring - if for no other reason than to take Brazil out of their rhythm and make them rush a bit. Itís a fairly young Brazil team and instead of trying to disrupt them, Team USA let them stand there, hold the ball, swing it around with absolutely no interference - they let the Brazilians pick their spots and didnít force any action - again, I have to wonder exactly who Team USA thought they were playing. If you give the very technical Brazilians all that time to methodically pick their way through the US midfield and defense then theyíre going to take advantage. If the young Brazilians had been a tad more composed on their final touch, there might have been a very different result in this one. As for concerns about wearing Mia and Abby out - theyíre two of the fittest players on the team by all accounts and the next opponent is Australia - they can sit then (and Abby will sit then).

All right - all that griping aside, it wasnít the end of the world, it was a win and Team USA did wake up for the last 30 minutes of the game so it all worked out. Iím sure this will be a lesson taken and theyíll look sharper and more prepared for the next one. Maybe this was simply the result of having Greece as the first opponent - lulled Team USA into a false sense of security. Although, one would think that 8-0 Germany result against China would have lit a fire under them and eliminated any possibility of a lackadaisical performance.

Formation (back-front, right left)

GK - Scurry; Def - Rampone, Fawcett, Reddick, Markgraf; DMid - Boxx; Mid - Foudy, Lilly; AMid - Wagner; Fwd - Hamm, Wambach (they switched constantly, this is where they were at kickoff though). Tarpley in for Wagner, OíReilly in for Lilly, Foudy moved left and I honestly couldnít tell where everyone else was at that point. As was pointed out during the telecast, Team USA had switched to a three front at that point (shortly after Tarpley came in actually), but there were four players who were at times playing forward at that point - camera never pulled back far enough to see who slipped back into the midfield. Mitts in for Reddick, Rampone moved to the left wing, Markgraf moved inside.

Players

I donít have a ton to say about individuals in this one. My overall comments kind of cover it all, so Iíll try not to be to repetitive.

Scurry - Yell at Ďem Bri, YELL. Thatís what I kept saying to her after every save and/or knuckleheaded turnover. Minus the miscommunication with Joy that was almost really scary, and one bad goal kick, I thought she had a strong outing. Made some good saves and must have been real nice to the woodwork pregame because the post and the crossbar helped her out mightily in this one. Not much else to say - while she made some nice stops and cut off some angles, on some of the Braziliansí most dangerous chances it wasnít anything she did, it was simply their flubs.

Rampone - That first play said a lot to me - first, Team USA simply canít cover the Brazilians 1 v. 1, Rampone canít, anyway. But at the same time, it confirmed for me why I want her on the field so much - she didnít kick the ball over the endline. Later in the match, you saw Cat kick it over the endline, last year, we saw Bivens kick it over the endline, but Rampone got beat, chased, got far enough ahead of the play to square around and not give up a corner. Thatís experience, thatís composure, thatís what you need from a defender. The talk of attacking out of the back is all well and good, but ultimately, it is most important for defenders to be able to defend. Rampone can and of Team USAís right back candidates, sheís the best at defending that they have. That said, this wasnít even close to her best performance - not the best decisions offensively, got caught on her heels a couple of times defensively, but ultimately, the double teams were good and they contained quite a bit up the US right side - the biggest problem seemed to be left central in this one for Team USA. Relatively solid outing - with an emphasis on relatively - I donít know that this one is going to go in anyoneís scrapbook as "the greatest game I ever played" so itís all relative.

Fawcett - I have very little. What Iíve said about the defense as a whole applies here. She had some very timely double teams with Rampone right and Kate in the middle (donít ask me where Cat was on some of those). Giving the ball away too much, not using her head passing out of the back and not clearing the ball well far too often. And the miscommunication - Iíve just come to expect it from her to be honest. Very timely miscommunications have been her nemesis in big games since Carla O retired - hopefully this was it - this was the big screw up and we wonít have another. Iíd certainly rather have it here than in the semis, or dare I say it - oh what the heck, Iím feeling optimistic - the finals. Anyway - like Rampone, not a brilliant outing, but the actual defending and stopping the ball was solid enough - itís everything else that she was supposed to be doing that wasnít as sharp as it could have been.

Reddick - not her most shining moment. Did even one clearance/pass find a red jersey? OK, maybe one . . . but not much more than that. For the first time in a long time, Cat Reddick just looked young . . . very very young. She lost her poise, she looked relieved to make a stop and lost her poise on the ensuing pass/clearance - kicking the ball out, kicking the ball over the endline, not using that leg of hers in a productive way, but instead just blindly smashing the ball forward (inevitably to a Brazilian) - she looked young and panicked and no one calmed her down (maybe because they were all panicked - thatís the way it looked at times). For 2-3 years Iíve almost expected to see a game like this from her but after all this time I thought maybe sheíd just skip the whole growing pains thing. I guess not. She wasnít awful today, she did make some nice plays and ultimately, nothing scored. But she looked like a kid right out of college . . . while technically that is exactly what she is, she has only very rarely played like that so it was a bit of a surprise. She needs to take a deep breath, remember that sheís played against players a lot faster than she is before and start fresh in the next one. In my opinion, putting Brandi in isnít an option, sheís looked just this side of awful the last couple of times sheís played. So the issue is whether they want to go with Mitts against Australia, but she made some painful rookie mistakes in this one too so it might be a little short sighted to cut Catís legs/confidence out from under her like that. We shall see - Australia lineup should be interesting - itís already going to have to be modified, so it will be interesting to see just how much modification occurs. Anyway - probably one of my least favorite Cat Reddick performances ever - she can play better than that - she might just need someone to remind her of that.

Markgraf - Iím sure she was having the same passing/clearance issues everyone else was, but for me, she was the brightest spot on the defense. She covered a ton of ground and made a lot of plays. Strong double teaming, strong 1 v. 1, strong inside and out. As for getting into the attack - well the attack wasnít getting into the attack so I canít fault the defenders for failing to get forward. The turnovers by the defenders were costly, but Kateís overall performance did seem to be the strongest on the backline today. Nice game - it wonít break my heart to see her in the central D in the next one if thatís the way April decides to go - her assist in the last one was a ton of fun, but if sheís central, she can cover more ground more quickly and thatís probably the most valuable thing she has to provide.

Boxx - Calling her a midfielder in this one is misleading. She was a fifth defender for most of the first half. That as much as anything might be what was wrong with the rest of the US midfield. Man, she has become so vital so fast on this team - circumstance changes her role in this one and absolutely no one fills the void - thatís the ball winning/changing the point of the attack/possessing the ball in the midfield void. While she was helping the defense, absolutely no one filled in for her. Foudy and Lil have over 30 years of National Team experience between them, Boxx playing extra deep and helping on D shouldnít have marginalized the entire midfield quite like it did. Anyway - she made some nice defensive plays, was turning the ball over a bit too much as the defenders did and wasnít doing all the things she usually does. Not a great performance, but with the attack coming like it was I think she was back doing what she felt she needed to do. Once Brazil established itself as the aggressor, Team USA was really on its heels and it seemed that they couldnít figure a way out. After the PK and the Tarpley sub, they were far more aggressive and looked like themselves again, but the first 60 minutes of this one it just looked like they were all playing deep and couldnít dig their way out so that they could establish their own game.

Foudy/Lilly/Wagner - Disappointing outing. I think I can count on my hands how many touches they each had in the first half. They were invisible. They were providing zero support on the few occasions the forwards got the ball, werenít winning balls, werenít going hard to balls at times, werenít making plays of any kind . . . just disappointing from all three of them. Yes, part of the problem was the long balls/misclears/bad passes out of the back but that wasnít all of it. They werenít challenging the player with the ball - Brazil was playing on the ground and connecting pass after pass after pass and wasnít being challenged - at some point I just yelled "will SOMEONE step in a passing lane - anyone? ANYONE?" Just seemed like they had no interest in going out and working hard in this one - and I donít think I have ever said that about Kristine Lilly. For the last 30 minutes Foudy looked better, she was running forward and filling the box a bit and for the short time Lil was in after the PK she looked better and more aggressive too. That said, this wasnít a good game for them. Ya know, maybe the whole team was up late watching opening ceremonies, I have no clue. What I do know is that I expect all three of these players to look better in the next one.

Hamm - Itís tough to talk about her and Abby. My big gripe was that they werenít pressuring the Brazilian defenders while they sat with the ball for about a decade - that wasnít their choice though, thatís a strategic/coaching decision. And besides that, no one could get the ball forward. The few opportunities Mia and/or Abby had were for naught in the first half because they were forward all alone. The midfield was doing very little to help them. I guess maybe Iíll just talk about the last 30 minutes then. The PK seemed to wake the whole team up and Mia, Abby and the youngsters who came in put on a good show late. Mia had some nice chances and was combining with the kids pretty well. Thatís about all Iíve got - seemed that her hitting the PK fired her up a bit, although it might have been her anger at some of the calls that were being made (I have to add, she is very fortunate not to have gotten a yellow - after the third cheapish shot she made, one probably should have been pulled). Anyway - slow first half, strong last 30. Sheís going to have to be real good in the next one.

Wambach - What did she do? They didnít show a replay. Oh well - while her sitting out the next one isnít my favorite, itís not the worst thing that could have happened. Theyíll need her more in the quarters. As for the rest of her game. Well, first half, just look at Miaís section - not much for the forwards to do. Second half, especially after her card, much better. Maybe she just canít play shackled. Did a good job earning the PK and her goal was as nice a goal as Iíve seen her score off a dribble with the ball at her feet. Great dribbling through the defense, cut into the box and then surprised the heck out of everyone by hitting it near post with her left foot. Great job, great way to take ownership of/responsibility for the game and I love to see a forward who doesnít hesitate at all going toward goal. Forwards have got to have that confidence bordering on cockiness (on the field, Iím talking on the field) in order to be successful at this level and that goal was all about a forward having no doubt about her abilities and her ability to score on the defense/GK. Good stuff. Thatís about all Iíve got - quiet first 55-60 minutes, strong last 30-35. Sheís not been a particularly streaky player at this level (what is it 17 goals in the last 18 games now? thatís consistency, not streakiness) so I donít think missing a game will impact her too much at all.

Mitts - inexperience showed. Brazilians dive, you canít make a tackle like that right at the edge of the box. Body her up and wait for the double team like Kate and Christie had been doing earlier. Canít really fault her too too much for what essentially was a good hard tackle - youíve just got to know the opponent though and youíve gotta know the Brazilian was going to go down like someone dropped an anvil on her. The experience issue really worries me about having Mitts in there. Like I said earlier - you can talk about attacking out of the back all you want, but against top tier opponents, we have absolutely no clue how Mitts is going to defend. Today she got to some plays late, and seemed to have a little bit of trouble dealing with the pace of play. Australia would not be a bad game for her to get some time. Let her work out some more kinks in case they need her once theyíre out of group play. Not a bad performance, but not a terribly reassuring one either - sheís got a lot of learning to do and I just donít know that thereís time for her to do it in this tournament. Interesting to see who starts against Australia - whether Joy gets rested or not or whether April decides to go with Kate in the middle and bench Cat. We shall see. Not a bad game though, it just worries me that the big mistake that was made was of the potentially game breaking variety.

Tarpley/OíReilly - These two are just big bundles of energy. Perpetual motion, the both of them. Tarpleyís game I think is a tad more mature/developed at this point but I thought they both brought only positives to the game. Team USA had numbers forward and was very aggressive with those two up top and roaming around the midfield. I donít have much else - I enjoyed them both very much and I hope one of them fills in for Abby and gets a full 90 against Australia.

All right - thatís about it. I was probably a little harder on the defense than I needed to be. Again, it wasnít the stopping the ball that was the problem, it was the giving the ball right back to Brazil immediately after they stopped it that was making me crazy. At this level, thatís simply not good enough. And each one of these defenders is too good to be satisfied with all the giveaways in todayís outing. Ultimately nothing got through though. I guess I wish that was based a bit more on the teamís performance than that of the crossbar and post. The last 30 minutes looked good though, so hopefully the team is on the right track - maybe they just needed a bit of a wakeup call or something to get them fired up. Whatever it was, I couldnít agree with Lori Walker more, they have got to start putting together 90 minutes - showing up for the last half hour of the game isnít going to be good enough once theyíre out of group play. Hereís hoping for a sharper outing in the next one so they roll into the quarters on a positive note.

Beulah