Breakers 3 Freedom 1

So, I’m driving to the game out in the wilds of Maryland and a rock hits and cracks my windshield.  Sadly, this was the highlight of my evening.  This was my first in person look at the Freedom this year and there’s a lot to see that really doesn’t come through on TV.  First, Abby doesn’t look right.  She looks slower, she’s not getting up off the ground like she used to, she’s taking abuse but giving almost none and her on field demeanor is completely changed.  She’s incredibly frustrated and it shows. Second, and I’ll admit I’m probably the last one to notice this, but the Freedom are playing with two defensive midfielders.  Both Sawa and Lindsey are playing withdrawn and they are always together.  One or both will get forward and it’s like a little switch goes off and they stop running, turn around and go back.  It is aggravating.  This is a far far better league, and teams are far more offensively sophisticated than anything we saw in the WUSA, and the Freedom seem to be pulling out old tactics to try and combat it.  It’s not going to work.  It’s why almost no one jumped on that 4-2-2-2 bandwagon 6 years ago.  It’s just too hard to score when you’re outnumbered every time your offense gets into the attacking third of the field.  So Abby is getting destroyed with very physical double teams, DeVanna is easily defended because she can’t time her runs right to save her life, Long just looks confused and Bompastor is running all over the place trying to figure out how in the world to spring herself free because Sawa and Lindsey are too far back to get her the ball.  Not a good night in Freedomland. 


Just maintaining possession isn’t enough.  The team with the ball for the most minutes doesn’t win the game.  You must be able to make something of that possession or it’s just eating clock.  Man, is it just me or does this sound like a National Team match report circa 2001-02. 


Regarding the Breakers.  DiCicco gets kudos from me on the Alex Scott trade. I thought she was tremendous in this game.  They’re playing what looks like a 4-3-3.  At times it plays like a 4-5-1, but that might be because they switch so much that they really don’t keep their offensive shape very well.  Their five offensive personalities pretty much just rotate positions at will.  It’s a very free flowing offense with five players forward and creating for each other.  This is a coach who trusts his offensive players to play.  Basically, Moore sits on top of the defense and the other midfielders and forwards move forward.  I’d like to see a bit more possession from them, and a bit more orchestration, but you know, that’s never been what we’ve seen from DiCicco’s teams.  We’ve seen great personality players, great wing play, and a little speedster to whom everyone can put balls through.   That’s exactly what this team is.  This Boston team is better than I thought they’d be, but at the same time, the Freedom probably made them look a little better than they actually are. 




Freedom (4-2-2-2, back-front, right-left): GK – Scurry; D – Janss, Whitehill, Sauerbrunn, Singer; DMid – Sawa, Lindsey; Mid – Long, Bompastor; F – DeVanna, Wambach.  Gilbeau in for Janss, Moros in for Long, Zimmeck in for DeVanna.


Breakers (4-3-3, I think, back-front, right-left): GK- Luckenbill; D – Scott, LePeilbet, Weber, Mitts; M – Smith Moore, Hucles, with Moore withdrawn and playing right on top of the defense; F – Rodriguez, Schmedes, Lilly.  All of this is estimated. The positions of Schmedes, Smith, Lilly and Hucles were all very fluid the entire game.  Bishop in for Moore, Latham in for Rodriguez, and Tomecka in for Schmedes to preserve the lead.


Freedom Players


Scurry – Horrible decision.  She ran all the way out to the top of the box, there were at least 3-4 players from each team in the general vicinity, there was no way on earth she was going to get to that ball.  And when she got there, the ball still wasn’t playable, so she played the player and deservedly got called for the foul and the Breakers got a PK.  She’s a stay at home keeper, I have no idea why she ever makes decisions like this.  When she was in her prime she rarely did and never under circumstances like this.  The second goal was savable, it was on her post, it was within her reach, her reflexes and reactions just aren’t what they used to be.  Third goal was just a beauty.  Hats off to Hucles, it was a great shot.  This is getting painful to watch because if you look at Scurry, especially when the ball is on the other end, it’s clear that she knows.  She knows she can’t do what she used to and she knows that she’s more problem than solution.


Janss – Here’s the problem with live games – she was on the other side of the field in the first half and didn’t play in the second.  I have almost nothing on her.  The way the Freedom play though, she is the one and only player wide right.  Long plays centrally and on the same side with Bompastor in this 4-2-2-2 formation.  Bompastor did switch with DeVanna a little bit and got some play wide right, but for most of the first half, Janss was an island unto herself over there.  Not much happened, but she did get herself into the Breaker half of the field.  Because they’re usually playing a faster side, I imagine the Freedom are going to try and stay compact so spreading wide to Janss wasn’t a primary option.


Whitehill – I thought she had a pretty quiet game.  The defense made some nice, right in the nick of time saves in the first half, but it really seemed like Sauerbrunn was leading the charge, not Whitehill.  The defenders were really doing well until the PK though.  I just think this team gets demoralized fairly easily. There really seems to be a lack of leadership out there.  There is no one pulling them together telling them it’s all OK when things go wrong.  I don’t know if Cat should be doing that or not, but she is one of the allocated players, she’s one of the US National Team players and she was very much a leader when she was in college.  Her kicking game remains a strength.  She’s putting the ball out there, but Wambach’s having some trouble getting on the end of it, as are the midfielders.  Sawa and Lindsey are playing too deep and Bompastor and Long aren’t going up for it.  Gabarra is really having a tough time figuring out how to effectively use the players who weren’t part of the W-League Freedom organization and he doesn’t seem willing to change anything in his system to accommodate the fact that this is a different league and he’s got different and arguably better talent to coach.


Sauerbrunn – My Freedom player of the match.  They could easily have gone down 2-0 in the first half but for some really nice header saves by Sauerbrunn.  Her workrate is high, she reads the game well, she is quick with a double team and she helps keep this defense very organized.  She’s got a decent leg and her clearances are consistent and non-panicky. Whitehill really does most of the kicking from the backline though, so I’m not sure I have a great handle on how effective her kicks out of the back could be.  And my number one favorite thing I saw from her in this one?  After the Breakers third goal, the Freedom players pretty much packed it in.  Trotting, no sense of urgency, no rushing trying to get more goals.  Except for Sauerbrunn – Sauerbrunn was still running hard to the ball, playing tough defense and no slumped shoulders.  Whitehill is the name on defense, Sauerbrunn is the best defender.  I would like to see her get a National Team call up.  I’d be interested to see what she could bring at this point. 


Singer – She really handles faster players well.  Schmedes kept running right at her and she managed to push her outside and to the endline every time.  Watching it, you really expect players to get by her and send a ball in or to turn inside on her and take the ball in.  She uses her body well to stay between the ball and the goal and very effectively pushes players outside.  She’s just fundamentally very sound and could write a book on how to defend speedier players. She’s making some runs forward, but ultimately, I don’t think using the width of the field is really in the Freedom’s game plan.  Her job remains to defend and I think she’s fairly effective at it.


Sawa – I watch the way she’s being used and I wonder if the coaching staff has watched a single match she’s played since the WUSA.  She’s not the same player she was.  She’s now one of the best attacking midfielders and most dynamic offensive players in the world.  It pains me to watch what’s going on here.  She gets forward, sees Lindsey is still back, stops on a dime and goes back to play alongside her.  She passes forward and instead of following the play, pushing further forward, she turns around and runs back.  You can see her instincts, she wants to run forward, she tries to run forward, but she’s also a really coachable player and she turns around and goes back because that’s where she thinks she’s supposed to be playing.  It is frustrating.  And I’d like to point out, the best attack the entire game for the Freedom was when Sawa and Lindsey got forward.  Sawa banged the ball off the cross bar (that had to have had some crazy spin on it, I thought it was going 5 feet over goal but the bottom dropped out at the end and it hit the crossbar), she and Lindsey both stayed forward, Moros got the ball and Lindsey sent it home with a beautiful strike.  Most effective sequence in the attacking third of the day and Sawa and Lindsey were instrumental.  I just don’t understand why this organization is so determined not to use its best players in the positions in which they play best.  I realize we’re only three games in and I’m probably sounding the alarm way too early.  But it’s clear this organization is wedded to the past, that was made apparent with the initial, inexplicable allocation selection (when starting a new sports league in a horrible economy, you don't sacrifice one of your top three player selections to take a player who won't play in the league this year - bad soccer decision, horrid business one).  I just don’t think they’re going to be successful playing and making personnel decisions like this. 


And that is my tirade for the day, watered down in ways you don't even want to know.  Prove me wrong Jimmy G.  I will happily eat my words.  Prove me wrong . . .


Lindsey – Had a fairly strong game.  I appreciate her game more in the stadium than I have on television.  She really is a nice tough holding midfielder.  She made a lot of takeaways, she’s a good ball winner, she even gets in the air and wins balls against taller players.  That she isn’t that tall is somewhat of a liability, but she is holding the field well enough for the Freedom to maintain possession through the midfield, so the size issue isn’t hurting too much.  She and Sawa are joined at the hip – she doubles back and looks for Sawa as much as Sawa looks for her.  Even on the forward run that resulted in the goal, they were both up there in the box.  I just don’t know why they both need to be everywhere together.  Both are quite effective players on their own.  Lindsey can handle it, let Sawa play forward.  That’s about it – fantastic goal, nice solidly struck ball across the face of the goal.  It had that nice thud that well struck balls have – knew it was going in when it left her foot.  I really though it was going to energize the team a little bit more than it did.  Solid outing.


Long – If they’re going to stick with this 4-2-2-2 and not play her as a flank midfielder where she is most effective, sit her down and let Sawa play even with Bompastor.  See, I’ll compromise, I’m letting the Freedom stick with their system, I’m just putting Sawa in Long’s slot where she can do some damage.  Long hasn’t been effective playing centrally the last two games.  She hasn’t been awful, she just looks a little out of sorts and isn’t providing much support to the attack.  This team needs to score goals . . . this team needs to get Wambach a goal . . . and I’m not sure she’s the attacking midfielder to make it happen.  Honestly, I thought Moros was more effective and more active in that position when she got in the game than Long was in the first half.  Unremarkable night, for the second game in a row, 


Bompastor – My least favorite of her outings, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.  She was wide left for awhile, and the field leaned left again.  Then, to mix things up, and because the Freedom just had absolutely no presence at all on the right side of the field offensively, Bompastor switched and looked like she was playing in DeVanna’s forward spot.  That led to quite a bit of activity on the right central side of the attack for the Freedom and they got a chance or two, but nothing sustained, in the attacking third.  Her most effective moments were running up the left sideline and sending the ball in.  Nice cross, there were times she was aiming at DeVanna, not Wambach though and those were not terribly effective attempts to finish. She’s running, she’s trying, she’s trying to spur something, she just seems to be trying to do all this on her own.  And at the risk of sounding like a broken record: let’s give her some help . . . let’s give her Sawa. 


DeVanna – She’s got to work on her timing.  She got called offside several times and it could have been more but for the fact I don’t think the far side judge knew how to make that call and didn’t raise the flag as often as she could have (the ref made the call from the field a couple of times that she missed).  She was parked up there and a step past the defender far too often.  That said, the offside calls were as much the fault of the midfielders as the forwards.  They held on to the ball way too long and hesitated when making decisions.  So when the through ball finally came, it was either too late and the flag went up, or it was a pass to no one because the forwards had to stop and/or double back to stay on.  Timing is a huge reason why this team isn’t making as much out of its possession as it should be.  And that’s about it. I still think she’s about a 45-60 minute player, but they just don’t have anyone to put in for her for that amount of time.


Wambach – She really doesn’t look right. She looks slow and she’s not getting up very well when she’s in the box. She can’t get over defenders to get the ball right now – that’s how everyone’s tall defenders are managing so well on set pieces.  She had one header she hit way wide of target.  I think part of the problem is that she’s not getting over the ball.  If she can’t get over the ball, she can’t control where it’s going.  That said, she desperately needs some help.  The Breakers decided to keep two defenders on her whenever she ventured close and she got absolutely nailed the entire game.  She’s not absorbing that abuse as well as she used to.  By the start of the second half she was slower and slower getting up.  She’s not dishing out the physical play to the degree she used to either.  That fearlessness with which she generally plays just isn’t there right now. Broken leg. I get it. She’d rather not break it again.  Seeing her play less recklessly, however, makes me realize just how much of her effectiveness is based on that fearlessness.  I think this team is constructed for her to be playing like that.  They need to rethink and readjust.  Give opposing defenses another player to defend, that will take the pressure off Abby and maybe lessen some of the physical abuse she’s absorbing.  Moving Sawa forward and giving her the ball has the potential to solve so many problems.  Anyway, not a bad outing . . . but she really doesn’t look right. 


Gilbeau – For the first 10-15 minutes she was great.  She was getting forward into the attack very aggressively.  She was getting back on defense and making plays.  She’s also a nice burst of athleticism.  That said, she completely fell off the page after about 15 minutes.  Still running around, but without much direction.  The whole team kind of collectively slouched after the second Breakers goal and there was way too much trotting going on when there should have been running after the third goal went in, and she was a trotter.  Nice start – I’d like to see her sustain that energy for an entire half the next time she gets in a game.


Moros – I thought she brought more to the field than Long did.  She has good speed in bursts, can accelerate through the midfield fairly effectively.  She was passing through the midfield nicely and receiving the ball well.  I’m just not sure she’s got the tactical capability to lead things on offense, or, to be quite honest, if the internationals and US National team players would follow her lead anyway.  But I do think she’s got the ability to be a cog in the wheel.  She got forward well and was in good position to make the most of a loose ball in the box on the Lindsey goal.  Overall a solid outing.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more of her.


Zimmeck – I continue not to get it.  Not sure why she’s the only one getting a chance to sub in up top. I have nothing else.


Breakers Players


Luckenbill – She wasn’t tested much but she’s adequate.  Not a great kicking leg, limited range and limited athletic ability. At the same time, she’s not prone to making big mistakes.  She won’t hurt them, but unlike Chicago (Jonsson) and St. Louis (Solo), they’re not going to win any games they shouldn’t either.  I think the best way to put it is “serviceable”.


Scott – My Breakers player of the match.  Tremendous game.  She gets into the attack brilliantly.  She’s got a lot of chemistry with the midfielders and forwards, has a nice cross and makes nice and on target passes through the midfield.  She defends well – she can smoothly take the ball away and she’s not afraid of contact.  She and LePeilbet work well together.  As aggressive as Scott is on offense she and LePeilbet need to be on the same page and they communicate and cover for each other nicely.  Ultimately, she was one of the most consistently aggressive players in the attack. As an added bonus, she has a workrate that is unmatched.  Great player.  I was skeptical and thought maybe DiCicco gave away too much to get her.  Now that I’ve seen her play, it’s pretty clear he made a brilliant move.


LePeilbet – As implied above, she had a solid outing.  She covered a lot of ground and the whole defense kind of shifted over toward the right when Scott made her forays forward.  They had the field well covered and the Freedom really didn’t look dangerous on offense on more than a handful of possessions.   Nice solid outing – I’ve always liked this player.  She’s just an old school central defender.


Weber – Nice big defender who was defending Abby well in the box.  She plays and looks taller than she’s listed.  The whole defense kept its shape well and was very organized.  Not much else, the central defense was just solid – they defended very well in the box.


Mitts – Mitts had the number one demoralizing, going to make sure the Freedom leave the field with no momentum at all, play of the game.  In stoppage time, the Freedom almost scored a goal – I thought that there was no question that it was going in.  A nice shot from the Freedom left, hard and low. Luckenbill was out. The Freedom were going to get out of this with their dignity intact.  And then, out of nowhere, Mitts goes streaking in front of the goal mouth and takes the ball out of the air and clears it to safety.  Unbelievable – left my jaw on the ground.  You can’t do anything but clap for a play like that.  Completely meaningless to the outcome of the game, but a brilliant play nonetheless.  Playing to the end.  Not much else, she looked good, she looked fast, she wasn’t getting into the offense quite as much as Scott did, but she was shifting and paying more centrally and defending very well. 


Moore – She was playing in a withdrawn position right on top of the defense for most of the night.  As aggressive as the defenders can be on offense, she slips back and fills in on defense, especially when the Freedom got players in the box.  Her presence in the defensive third also allowed the Breakers to crush Wambach with two players almost every trip down the field.  She’s a fairly physical player, she is very strong in the air and she is tactically sound.  As hard as it was to see the shape of the offense on this team, that’s how easy it was to see the shape defensively.  Solid outing – by hanging back and doing the dirty work, she allows the wings to get forward in the attack.


Smith – She was all over the field. Schmedes was switching with Smith a lot so she was playing in the midfield and getting forward with regularity.  I haven’t seen Smith in a few years and she’s still got great acceleration, a good workrate and she’s still a very physical forward.  She took out a few Freedom players over the course of the match.  I don’t have much else.  She had some moments where she made me hold my breath, she was wreaking havoc, but nothing that a day later strikes me as terribly memorable.  Only quibble with her game is that the PK wasn’t that well struck.  Scurry guessed right, she just didn’t stop it, but it probably could have been stopped.  Nice outing, it doesn’t look like age is catching up with her at all.


Hucles – Her goal was easily the most impressive Boston goal in this one.  Solidly struck, well placed, quickly and decisively taken.  She generally has a quick trigger which is how she scores so many opportunistic goals when there is a bit of traffic in and around the box.  The rest of her game seemed a little quiet to me.  Her workrate was fine, she was making all sorts of off the ball runs, but the Breakers attack leaned right at times, largely because Scott was initiating a lot of the action.


Rodriguez – Man, she was taking a lot of abuse from Tony all game long.  I think maybe she doesn’t quite have a grasp on what he wants from her.  I think he’d like more movement from her, more off the ball runs, more making herself a target for through balls.  I think that’s what he was barking about when he yelled “I will sit you down”  (I missed the first half of that – Tony’s entertaining though, he’s not shy about letting his players know how he feels).  She’s the only one of the five offensive starters who wasn’t switching much which made her the most predictable of the 5 starting offensive players.  I knew exactly where she was every minute she was in the game.  One of Tony’s shouted instructions was for her to run inside.  Singer was standing right there and heard the instruction and stopped the attack, but I think Tony just wanted more and maybe more creative off the ball movement from her.   So anyway, I think it was a rough night for the rookie.


Schmedes – She was the unknown on this team for me and you know, I really liked what I saw from her.  She has good speed, she makes a ton of runs, she stays forward well.  When I said earlier that the formation looked at a 4-5-1 at times, Schmedes was the 1.  I think she was making a lot of the types of runs DiCicco would have liked to see Rodriguez making.  Just a lot of motion.  With all the other far more famous personality players on this team, her most valuable attribute might simply be that she’s active enough to occupy a defender.  Defenses can’t cheat off of her to double team Smith the way they can cheat off basically any Freedom player to double and triple team Abby.  Not a game that showed up in the box score, but a nice outing nonetheless.  I look forward to seeing more from this player. 


Lilly – You know, I want to say she looks old and decrepit and I can’t believe she’s still out there, but honestly, she looks just like Kristine Lilly.  She’s still perpetual motion out on the pitch, she’s still pulling the strings on the attack, she’s still got speed in bursts (even if she doesn’t quite have the breakaway ability she used to have).  She still is playing the exact same game at just about the same level she always has.  She was very active off the ball.  I think that’s key for this Breakers team.  They’re not terribly organized on the attack, but they are always in motion.  Players are always switching and they manage to keep decent spacing.  They’re just hard to defend.  I thought this team was going to skew old, but they really do look more experienced than ancient. 


Bishop – I lose at least one every game.  She was it.  I can’t even make anything up.  I got nothin’.


Latham – I saw her on the bench before she came in and I turned to the people sitting next to me and said “that’s trouble.”  I had a feeling she was going to be a problem and sure enough, she came in and headed one home.  She just had that look about her – a lean and hungry look.  She came in with a purpose.  That confidence just oozes off her, even when she’s standing next to the fourth official waiting to get into the game.  The goal wasn’t even that great – it was a nice header, but not that well placed or hard hit.  She just has that belief she’s going to score every time she touches the ball – she’s got that attitude that drives opponents completely nuts (OK, the opposition tends to hate her a little. . . .just a little).  So mission accomplished, she scored a goal and she ticked me off – that’s pretty much been her role where ever she’s played.  And soon, she’ll be bringing her special brand of happiness to a stadium near you.  And yes, Breakers and Team Canada fans, I wish the Freedom had one of her waiting on its bench for a second half call too.


Tomecka – Maggie Tomecka!  Yay!!!!  She was always one of my favorites when she was in college.  Brought in at the end of this one to preserve the lead.  I’ve really got nothing here, just wanted to take a fan moment and express how happy I was to see her on the pitch again.  I still think she can make some noise in this league once she gets played in.  That is all.


OK – that was probably a little harsher on the Freedom than it needed to be.  This just looks like the National Team at the start of this decade, when they held the ball the entire game, took 20+ shots and struggled mightily to score goals when they needed them.  This system is way too defensive for this league and the one player who could possibly make this unworkable system work, is playing out of position.  And the goalkeeper situation is difficult at best.  How’s Gabarra going to bench the US National Team hero . . . and if he does, will McLeod get a fair shake or will she constantly be compared to the Scurry of years past rather than the Scurry of today?  I’m concerned for the Freedom.  I’m concerned that this is going to be a really long season.  All that said, there’s still a kidlike fan in me that says I’m just fretting, the grownups know what they’re doing and it’s all going to work out.  I think I’ve still got another couple of weeks of that in me, so let’s go with it.  At this point, the belief in how very very wrong I can be about these things, is what keeps me looking forward to the next one.