US 2 Japan 1

This was definitely my favorite game of the tournament so far. Maybe it was simply because they brought their best effort at the outset and set a good, high workrate, fast paced tone for the game. The second half it seemed to me they were determined to sit on their lead . . . for 25 minutes. Any of you folks who used to read my Freedom match reports know just how much I love that (she says sarcastically). But to tell the truth, I think the temperature in Athens was 100+ so I canít even fault the players too much on that. They played a great first half in the face of a very strong defense (fantastic defense by Japan - both 1 v. 1 defending and organization - I couldnít have been more impressed), and they gutted it out in the second in the face of a hot afternoon and legs that are definitely more tired than I thought they would be before this tournament started. I certainly underestimated the impact of the extra game at the start of this tournament and seeing how tired Mia Hamm looked about midway through the second half in this one, I hope the coaching staff hasnít done the same thing. I guess at this point in an Olympic tournament, youíve gotta figure adrenaline will take them through to the end. One criticism and a fairly crucial one: they have got to clear the ball out of the box on set pieces better. On at least two occasions, three different defenders had a foot on the ball before it was finally cleared out - an opportunistic team that is as physically strong as Team USA (i.e., Germany) can get a foot/head/whatever in there and capitalize on those opportunities. Better organization on the set pieces and better execution of the defensive play in the box on set pieces, that was my big gripe in this one. I really donít have much else by way of preliminary comments. Iíll wrap in some general comments into the player section - my feelings coming from this one are largely positive though. Maybe it was seeing Germany play and seeing that they didnít look invincible - I think it just kind of snapped me back to reality for a second - and reminded me how insane the expectations of perfection for this team are at times.

Formation - 4-3-3 (for much of the game - off and on in the first 12 minutes it looked like they were playing their 4-4-2 , then Lilly went up to that right forward spot and stayed there, then for the last 20-25 minutes when they were sitting on their lead it looked like Lilly went back into the left midfield for much of the time, but the 4-3-3 was it for most of the day so thatís what Iíll go with), back-front, right-left

GK - Scurry; Def - Rampone, Fawcett, Markgraf, Chastain; Mid - Foudy, Tarpley, Boxx (with Tarpley playing further forward in support of the attack), F - Lilly, Wambach, Hamm. No subs.

Players

Scurry - play the whistle, always play the whistle. It looked to me like she thought there was a player offside and just stopped on the goal. I doubt she could have stopped that ball anyway, it was placed well, but she reacted very slowly to the extent she reacted at all. Besides that, Iíve got nothing. It really wasnít that eventful a day for her. Made a couple of nice stops, but Iíve got little else. One thing I have noted the past couple of games, theyíve taken her kicking game away from her. Short starts more often than not in this one and Cat taking goal kicks for most of the last one. And that is it. Solid game.

Rampone - She was very strong defensively in this one. Cut inside and made some plays, pushed forward into the midfield and made some takeaways. She was also working well on the right with both Lil and Foudy. I always like Rampone working with Lil - they find each other well. And today, Foudy and Rampone were switching well on the attack. I really donít have much here. Just a solid and a fairly uneventful outing for Rampone. I strongly believe that against Germany, the best defending defenders Team USA has need to be on the field so I sure hope her knee isnít too badly hurt.

Fawcett - I have even less on her than Rampone. There was a fairly aggravating miscommunication with Bri early - or if it wasnít a miscommunication it was a back pass that didnít have nearly enough pace on it that nearly got Bri nailed, so thatís pretty consistent. Nothing too bad happened from that though so letís hope that outcome stays consistent too. And that is it - I liked the way the central D and Rampone played today - very organized, very on top of their game.

Markgraf - ya know, when I see a game like this from her, I wonder about how highly regarded she would be if her foray into wing defending had never occurred. She had a great game in the central defense today. She had one strip that was absolutely textbook. She reads the game better from the central D, she serves the ball better and more productively from the central D, she defends 1 v. 1 more confidently in the central D and she can use her speed better for double teams more effectively/efficiently from the central D - she is, very simply, a central defender and it kills me that sheís ever been anything else (and very likely will be something else again as soon as Monday). As good as she is in the central D, as tremendously as she came on in 1999-2000 in that role when she first got to the team, I have never understood why she was the one who got shifted around. She should have been the anchor, she should have been the foundation upon which the defense was built the last 4 years, but instead she was forced into another role, one in which she still looks uncomfortable as often as not. I do not understand it, I have never understood it and itís games like this one where she looks so at home, so confident and where she makes so many plays that just make me shake my head at the whole situation. OK - enough of that - I guess I rambled on there because I really have nothing here other than great game . . . so I had to vent for a sec.

Chastain - Iíll confess I was expecting disaster. I am very glad thatís not what happened. It was a very solid offensive performance. She was getting forward very well and fairly productively. Thatís not a surprise though. Itís on defense that I was worried and was a tad relieved. She wasnít great on defense, but she didnít give up much that Kate couldnít handle. There were some problems though. The high kick near the endline is indicative of those problems. Usually when you see a kick like that itís lazy - I donít think Brandiís lazy though. I just think she got beat and beat badly and the only way she felt she could keep that attacker from turning the corner on her right there was to take a swipe at the ball - she couldnít get her body around, she couldnít hold the attacker up, she couldnít do anything because she couldnít even catch up enough to put a body on her. Troubling - if sheís out there against Germany, they will attack at her, repeatedly and relentlessly and if a high kick (which should have been carded) is her response, it could be a real long day. But as this one played out, it was a better outing than I thought it was going to be.

Foudy - I think the formation switch helped her. The territory for which she was responsible defensively shrunk to almost nothing - she still made plenty of defensive plays, more than in previous games, actually, itís simply that she didnít seem to have sole responsibility anywhere. Rampone was pushing forward aggressively making defensive plays on the right and up into the midfield, Boxx was there to help in the center of the midfield, with three forwards and a very energetic Tarpley, one of the attacking players could fall back - basically, it looked like Foudyís running was cut down which in turn gave her more freedom to take a chance and make some plays (both defensive and offensive). She could move forward through the middle of the field and orchestrate things because her territory was covered defensively, and she could fall back and help clog the middle of the field/step into and break up passing lanes because there were 4 attacking players playing very aggressively so for the first time in quite awhile getting numbers forward supporting the front runners wasnít an issue. She could go about her business and pick her spots without leaving glaring holes defensively or a thin attack offensively. She was kind of a wild card in this set up and she made the most of it through good possession, passing the ball through the midfield and by winning her share of balls. Much better and more active performance from Foudy.

Tarpley - She remains a bundle of energy . . . .and it paid big dividends on Lillyís goal. So often the past few years one of the big criticisms of this team has been getting numbers forward in the attack, filling in behind the front runners and being aggressive/relentless going at goal - well Tarpley is all of those things. Lilís goal was created by players not giving up on a shot, Lil put the ball in, instead of assuming the GK was going to get it, she charged toward goal, Abby also kept going in the box serving as a distraction and then there was Tarpley, going after the ball, right in the GKís face, kept the GK busy while Lil took that loose ball and stuck it in the back of the net. Sheís a great aggressive presence on the field - she ratchets up the energy level and supports the forwards while at the same time she wins enough balls in the midfield so that sheís not a liability on the defensive side of things. Nice game - itís going to be fun watching her develop from role player to star over the next few years.

Boxx - very good game defensively and winning balls. All the little things she does and seemed to be missing somewhat against Brazil were back. She had a couple of turnovers that were a little aggravating but she was largely back to herself and had a strong game. She and Foudy teamed well in the middle of the field and Foudy took some offensive responsibility away from her. This freed her up to help on D a bit more and to concentrate on ball winning. Nice job on the goal - nice getting to the ball and good composure in front of goal. Her angle wasnít the best so she calmly passed it to Abby - very heads up and unselfish play. And thatís all Iíve got - solid game.

Lilly - As Lilly-like a performance as weíve seen from her this tournament. Just a tireless workrate - as I was noticing Mia running out of steam I was marveling at Lil who just kept going and going. She was doing a good job staying forward on the attack, yet she did manage to get back defensively on the few occasions in the first half when it looked like they needed some help. She struck a nice balance and I donít think the team suffered either offensively or defensively because of any decisions she was making. Her goal was very opportunistic and precisely the kind of opportunity Team USA needs to capitalize on - it wasnít the greatest shot in the world initially, so, instead of giving up on the ball assuming it would be saved, she followed it in and made a beeline to goal - luckily a couple of her teammates were doing the same thing and the pandemonium created a chance which she very efficiently netted. Good job all the way around. Late in the second half it looked like she returned to her left midfield slot and she was working very well defensively. After Brandiís high kick incident, it looked like Lil and some other folks (Kate) were a little more mindful about what was going on up the left wing and made some nice defensive plays. Nice performance. Hopefully she had her lull/tired game against Brazil and is ready to turn it up a couple of more times.

Wambach - sheís just such a powerful presence on the field. Itís not just that sheís big and strong and becoming one of the best forwards in the world, itís that opponents think that sheís big and strong and becoming one of the best forwards in the world. Point being, opponents devote a lot of resources to big Abby, they even overplay her at times - this gives the Lils, the Tarpleys and the Foudys more room to roam. In this game I think they capitalized on that extra room to roam more than they have in the past. Japan was very good defensively in this one, but the attention Abby draws inevitably leads to others having a little bit more space and some passes get connected that might otherwise not. It was nice to have her back. Like Tarpley and Lil I thought Abby had a great energy/presence in this one, crashed the box consistently (and led to a nice result) and provided pressure on the Japanese backline. All of the forwards did a good job of that in this one - against Brazil it bothered me they let the defense bat the all around unfettered - in this one, it was high pressure from the forwards the entire first half and a good part of the second. I guess the extra forward allowed them to pressure more. She made a nice target on set pieces, although she was just a tad wide on several of her shots. And thatís about it - it didnít seem that sitting out a game destroyed her flow at all - and having a relatively rested Abby against Germany has got to be considered an unexpected plus.

Hamm - A solid game, but you know, I just canít get past how tired she looked about midway through the second half and wondering why in the world she wasnít subbed out. That card (well deserved and a good call by the ref) was typical tired and angry Mia. That JP keeps talking about how Mia doesnít get cards like that is a sign that he didnít watch the WUSA at all - when Mia gets tired/angry/annoyed, she takes some cheap shots and gets extremely argumentative and she gets cards - in season 1 she was suspended for a game because of her cards. By the 65th minute I was yelling to take her out, she never should have been in the game at that point - especially since Team USA had shut it down and was looking to kill time for the last 25 minutes - she didnít need to be in there for that. My hope is simply that there are no repercussions, i.e., that she doesnít enter the next game with dead legs. We shall see. Other than that, it wasnít that remarkable an outing one way or the other from Mia. She was one of the folks pressuring the Japanese defense most effectively . . . But honestly, Iíve gotta give it up to Lil in this one - she with an assist from Tarpley and Wambach, really seemed to be the motor of the offense for most of the game.

All right - it wasnít a perfect game, I certainly donít like shutting it down and sitting on a one goal lead for 20+ minutes, but ya know, it was an improvement over the other games theyíve played this tournament and it was simply good enough. Over the past few years, this team has become one that has played just as good and at times only as good as they need to play to move forward in a tournament. They improved on their group play in the quarters and I expect in the semis theyíll improve even more. As fans we know what this team can do, we all saw the game against China, we all saw the game in April against Brazil.  They are capable of beating Germany if they play that well. And after actually seeing Germany rather than simply staring at the box score from their game against China with my jaw agape and my eyes bugged out, I have to say, they look beatable - they look very beatable. That said, I hope both the US and Germany bring all theyíve got to the semifinal and put on a game worthy of an Olympic stage - I remember in 2000, the US had a similarly unremarkable showing in group play, but in the final against Norway they played the best game they had played all year. My only hope and expectation for this team going into the semifinal is that they do the same thing here - play their best game against their most formidable opponent. If that happens, then we should all be in for a heck of a show.

Beulah