US 3 Canada 1
They came out and they played hard. For me, that was the big test for this US team in this game, the character test. And they passed with flying colors. From the opening kick they showed that they were going to play as aggressively on offense as they have all tournament, and that was great to see. They went out with as strong a performance as they could muster and showed that they are the players and professionals we knew they were. It wasnít perfect, it wasnít even pretty at times, but it was a hard fought match, with lots of attacking by both teams in the first half and it was a good way to end the tournament. One of the things Team USAís attack lacked in the game against Germany was abundantly present in this one, and thatís flank play. Christie Pearce worked that right flank attacking out of the back from the start. At times the US defense and midfield werenít covering well for her on those attacks and the communication certainly could have been better, but against a team with a stronger midfield like Germany, Iím sure they would have picked their spots instead of going full throttle forward on just about every possession. In this one, when Pearce moved forward either Foudy or Boxx needed to slip back and it just wasnít happening - one player getting caught too far forward is one thing, two or three all at the same time? Iíve got to assume thatís a communication breakdown somewhere - especially since there was a good deal of bunching on defense at times in the first half as well. Often there were three players running to the ball and no one back in case the ball got through. Thatís how Canada scored, three players on the ball, no one back to cover the player who slipped through. Playing a 4 back, that shouldnít happen unless somewhere, someoneís not talking and/or listening. All that said, for most of the match not a lot other than Kara Lang looked dangerous for Canada so the defense played at a level that weíll just have to call "good enough." As for the offense, certainly used the whole field better than they did against Germany, held possession much better than they did against Germany, but they really didnít seem to create a significantly higher number of realistic chances in this one than against Germany. They just finished three of them in this game. Thatís the way it goes sometimes. Nice performance from Team USA, they finished it out well.
Formation - 4-4-2, back-front, right-left
GK - Scurry; Def - Pearce, Fawcett, Sobrero, Reddick (Cat and Kate switched at about the 40th minute mark, but Cat was on the wing from the opening kickoff); DMid - Boxx; Mid - Foudy, Lilly; AMid (as much a withdrawn forward as a midfielder as she plays it) - Hamm; F - Parlow, Wambach and they switched quite a bit. Milbrett in for Parlow; Bivens in for Foudy; MacMillan in for Sobrero, she comes in at right midfield, Bivens moves to right back, Pearce goes to fill in for Kate (I think, thatís what it looked like on TV anyway).
Scurry - Made some very impressive early stops. Kara Lang was a handful in the early going and during that time the defense and defensive midfielders werenít terribly organized, but Bri came through when they needed her too. As for the goal, 1 v. 1 with Christine Sinclair, that goal was scored on the defense, not on Bri. Her mobility seemed a tad limited for about the 10-15 minutes after she went down, but honestly, I donít think it would have mattered. Sinclair not scoring in that situation would have been shocking, once she got by the defense and Boxx it was to be expected. As for the rest of it, Canada kind of ran out of gas and Bri had little to do. I kept waiting for something happened to see how Briís hip/leg/whatever was and Canada simply didnít give her anything to look at so I never found out. So, after the Sinclair score, a fairly quiet game for Bri. Solid outing though - nice finish to a strong tournament.
Pearce - In the early going in the first half, she was the difference. Flying down that right flank providing fantastic support to the offense. This kind of flank play is what was missing from the Germany match. Yes, the defense wasnít nearly as solid as it was against Germany, but they would never have been this aggressive against Germany. Pearce would have picked her spots as she did against Norway. This was it though - the way Parlow was playing, with this kind of support behind her, it surely would have been good for 3 or 4 more real chances at least - maybe it would have opened up the midfield a bit and they wouldnít have been under so much pressure early on (and therefore would have been able to hold possession a bit better and not been so rushed). Would they have finished any of the additional chances? Would added possession have mattered? Would they have covered for Pearce on those runs better than they did in this game or would Prinz/Meinert have burned them on a counter? Weíll never know, but I think we werenít even a full minute into the game before I started to get a little sad that we didnít get a chance to find out. Anyway - in this one, it appeared Pearce was given free license to just attack, attack, attack. Team USA seemed content to contain Latham and Sinclair and dare Lang to beat them, so Pearce was free to attack with reckless abandon. Like I mentioned earlier, a little bit of communication so folks would fall back on defense for her would have been nice, but Iím not even sure that was a lack of communication or Team USA making a conscious decision that they could handle whatever Canada threw at them and they wanted to finish this game with a very aggressive offensive performance and were just going to give up on defense what they did. I imagine it was probably a little bit of everything - a little bit of miscommunication, a little bit of strategy, a little bit of not being terribly concerned about the Canadian midfield . . . probably a little bit of everything and they got caught disorganized and too far forward at times. After the Canadian goal, though, the US defense tightened up quite a bit, Pearce and Boxx and Foudy and Joy all seemed to be communicating a bit better as to who should be where and Canada never looked real dangerous after that. Maybe they just needed a reality check that they shouldnít take the Canadian attack so lightly and the goal provided that. Anyway - great first half for Pearce on offense, tightened up on defense toward the end of the first half and was solid for the second. Nice finish for Pearce.
Fawcett - Well - her first 30 minutes or so in this one wonít go down as the best of her career, but after that point, they tightened up and she had a nice game. In the early going though, Joy was one of the ones getting beat, the defenders and defensive midfielders were playing on top of each other, the spacing/shape was very poor and they seemed not to be communicating or covering for each other at all. Like I said, after that first Canadian goal was scored the defense woke up and looked a bit more like they should but in the early going, they were a mess. As for her individual play, well, she got beat a couple of times, and was one of the three who got beat on the goal. The rest of her game was fine though, still winning balls in the air, putting them up to the midfield - the defenders were pretty composed passing up through the midfield in this one - and by the end, she looked like she usually does. But the rough start pretty firmly establishes this of her roughest game of the tournament. She sets a high bar - sheís been outstanding throughout most of the tournament so the solid performance she had in this one is a slight step down.
Sobrero - I do not know what the problem is with Joy and Kate in the center together, it makes my head hurt trying to figure it out, but coverage wasnít good, they were playing on top of each other and itís like theyíre not communicating at all when theyíre out there in the center together. And itís a shame because Cat is a better option on the left wing, she was getting forward well, providing a bit of support to the attack and playing relatively good defense, but there is no denying that as a unit the defense looked better when Cat was in the center of the field. As for Kateís individual game - while she was playing centrally, you can just read Joyís section - Kate was getting beat just as much as and in the same fashion as Joy in the early going - it was happening because they just didnít look like they knew who was covering who and what part of the field. As for her play out left, strong defensively, but providing nothing on offense. They were moving up the right and through the center of the field for most of this one though, but once you put Kate out wide, you donít even have a little bit of hope of stretching the other teamís defense. Anyway - wound up being a solid outing for Kate and the whole defense, but as a unit, they just didnít look nearly as good in the early going as they did throughout most of the tournament. I really donít have much else - donít know why she had to come out, but Kate is generally one of the fitter players on the team if Iím not mistaken, so she must have gotten hit at some point and not recovered from it really well. Anyway - minus the first 30 of this game, Kate had a great tournament defensively. Before too much longer, sheíll be the wily old vet on the defense, so I hope she works on developing some organizational/leadership skills before that happens - or at least that sheíll be able to combine in the center better with Cat than she does with Joy.
Reddick - Solid outing but like Kate and Joy, it was a slow start. They were having a tough time in the center of the field, and Lang was running right and right central (Canadaís right, USís left) and was pretty much having her way with the US defense. They seemed intent on stopping Sinclair and Latham and daring Lang to beat them - she couldnít. Sinclair is the one who eventually broke through. Anyway Cat had a fairly solid outing - she played great once she was in the center of the field - she and Joy work very well together - like I said earlier, I have no clue why she and Joy can make things pop in the center of the field, but Joy and Kate had more keystone cop moments in the first 30 of this one than theyíve probably had in the past 3 years combined. Kate took a couple of kicks out of the back that should only be taken by Cat - while sometimes a long ball is nice to try and get a quick counter, if you canít connect that ball with the forward or a flank middie, then itís a wasted possession. I disagree with Tony, I donít think the occasional ball out of the back is a bad idea, and Tony didnít either when he coached, Carla and Akers from the defensive midfield served quick balls like Kate attempted all the time. Carla had a remarkably accurate cannon of a leg out of the back. The problem in this one was simply in the execution - Kateís never been very good with those balls. Cat can execute those balls though. Thus if somethingís going to be launched, the defense needs to swing it around quickly and let her tee it up. Overall though, a fairly solid outing, and like the rest of the defense, her game after the opening 30 was much stronger. Breakout tournament from Ms. Reddick - assuming good health, sheíll be a stalwart on this backline for years to come.
Boxx - Very nice game. It is so easy to forget that this World Cup was her international debut. And it is so easy to forget that two players who wound up being integral pieces of the US starting lineup (Boxx and Wambach), really never had a chance to get played in with the starters before being tossed into the fire of the World Cup. Now theyíve got 10 months to more fully integrate Boxx into the tactics and strategy this team employs - Team USA has a true defensive midfielder now for the first time in a long time and now theyíll have time to adjust their game plan to use her, and everyone else, most effectively. In this one though, I thought she was part of the communication issues with the backline and fellow middies - the problem wasnít that she was too aggressively going into the attack, itís that she and Pearce picked the same moments to move forward and no one fell back or shifted over to compensate. Honestly, I just donít know how much was a communication problem or how much they simply werenít worried about Canadaís attack. If Lang doesnít have a career game, well, a career half, there really wasnít anything to be worried about. Minus the sequence they scored on, the midfield was predictably quiet, and Sinclair and Latham were covered - so why not throw everyone forward and finish this tournament with a flourish rather than playing it too safe. Her passing was a touch off at times - again, I didnít think the idea of the two balls she flighted forward was bad, it was the execution that was lacking. Quick counters complement a possession oriented ground attack very nicely and you can often catch a team on their heels. Youíve got to be able to find your target with those though - either out to Lil on the flank or a big girl up top and Boxx just couldnít get the ball up there. As for her patience holding the ball - well, for all Tonyís griping during the telecast, it was a grand total of two balls she tried to go over the top with, he needs to relax a little. Other than those two balls, she held possession, patiently played the ball to Foudy, Lil or Mia generally found the seams and had more good touches than bad. Defensively, after they worked out their early game issues, I thought she was winning the ball all over the field and in the second half was cleaning up the space right in front of the backline very well. After Canadaís goal, we saw very little from them that was dangerous, very little that got behind Boxx at all. As weíve seen so often from her in this tournament, she is very good at recognizing areas in which she needs to improve during a game and making that improvement/adjustment before the game ends. Itís a very smart and composed player who can recognize and make adjustments like that while the game is going on. Anyway - fantastic tournament from Boxx - she played like a seasoned pro throughout and made the adjustment to the international level as fluidly and impressively as any player Iíve ever seen.
Foudy - Much better outing than against Germany. It wasnít fantastic, and I donít think sheíll be pleased with her individual tournament when she looks back on it, but this was better. She was helping to control possession through the midfield. Held the ball well, had some nice takeaways. I think she was part of the early communication problem defensively though - someone needed to fill in for Boxx and Pearce and usually, youíll see Foudy slip back (or Lil if itís going on on her side of the field) but it really wasnít happening in this one. Maybe they just thought theyíd win everything back in the midfield and really were that unconcerned with Canadaís attack, but Iíve got to think someone just missed an assignment somewhere for a few of those. She had some nice runs into the box, made a nuisance of herself at times . . . all sorts of positives that we couldnít talk about in her game against Germany, so I was happy to see her having a solid outing here. Well, now that weíve wrapped this sucker up I must say that at the end of WWC 2003, Iím taken back to the end of WWC 1999 with Foudy - she didnít have a good tournament then either. I donít think many of you paid much attention to me then, but I was pretty much sticking a fork in her career at that point . . . and then a crazy thing happened - in 2000, she had what was probably the best year of her career. So I watched this, and yeah, I guess maybe Iíve got a fork in hand . . . but I guess Iím a little reluctant to stick it in her career at this point because I donít think Iím prepared to underestimate her again. On the other hand, Iím not putting the fork down either . . . weíll see, but Iím certainly rooting for her to have a rebound in 2004 like the one she had in 2000. Anyway, solid game, nice that she finished it out with one of her better performances of the tournament.
Lilly - What a goal! Whoooo - she just ripped that sucker. Ball into Abby, Abby doesnít quite get to it and has a couple of defenders on top of her, one of whom deflects the ball out, it falls to Lil and BOOM - goal. Beautiful shot, solidly struck, well placed, world class goal. Nice that a "vet" is the one who opened the scoring. As for the rest of her game, very active offensively and defensively, unlike on the right, I thought she was falling back and covering for Cat fairly well when Cat moved forward - admittedly, it wasnít an issue nearly as much on the left as on the right. Did notice she had an endline run, it was a bit too far ahead of her, but there was one - I still think they didnít swing the ball out wide to her enough. She was cutting inside and doing quite a bit of damage there though. One issue I had with her game - she was getting dispossessed a lot in this one - itís not often you see Kristine Lilly getting bounced off the ball, but it happened quite a bit in this one. Maybe a little bit of fatigue there. Everyone seemed a little less able to absorb the hits in this one though - from the younger players (Abby, CP, Kate) to the older. I guess you donít have the adrenaline to carry you through in the consolation match that you would have had in a final. Everything probably hurts a little bit more. Overall, a nice outing on both sides of the ball - Lil just keeps chugging along.
Hamm - Very active game - she was everywhere making Canadian defenders chase her all over the field. She was distributing the ball nicely, creating nice opportunities, took some nice set pieces and looked as good as she did in group play. And her corner to Boxx was perfect. For the Freedom, Abby was always that back post runner (heck, the Freedom generally had 2-3 of their trees running at that back post) - Miaís accustomed to serving that ball but I donít know that Iíve seen it more perfectly delivered than on that corner to Boxxís head. Seeing Germany squander 20-something corner kicks against Sweden, just makes me value Miaís set pieces even more. Mia really appeared to be at the top of her game in this one and determined from the opening kick that she wasnít going out of this tournament, or off of this stage, quietly. And she didnít - great game, great workrate, great passing/distributing the ball, great outing all the way around.
Parlow - My goodness, girl got her clock cleaned, didnít she? After she took that ball to the face from Swiatek (which was what, less than 5 minutes after she got the worst of a collision with Abby and a Canadian defender), I figured Cindy needed to have a seat - I just looked at her, chuckled and thought to myself, "I think Cindyís had enough." First you get hit in the head by Abby, then you take one in the face from the goalkeeper . . . yeah, time to sit down. She lasted about 10-12 minutes after that, but she completely fell off the page - she looked a little loopy to me still and I am glad someone on the bench was watching, saw the loopiness and got her out of there. Before the collision with Abby though, CP seemed well on her way to another strong outing. Workrate was definitely there, she was tracking back into the midfield and winning balls, made some nice passes inside to Abby once again showing how well these two big girls work together. Strong tournament from Parlow - itís a shame she got her bell rung so early in this one - it would have been fun to get a full 45-50 minutes from her and let her go out on a strong note.
Wambach - She got hammered, she got hammered, she got slugged in the gut, and she got hammered some more. That was pretty much her game in this one. Like several of the teams before Canada, I thought they focused a bit too much on her, and that left some of those zippy players open. In the second half, Milbrett and Hamm really took advantage of that. Abby wasnít taking out defenders like she was against Sweden, but they were definitely keying in on her thus giving other folks a little bit more space than they probably should have had. She was winning balls, holding the ball well up top. She just seemed a little weary though - not tired per se, she was running hard and her workrate was beyond reproach, but I think three weeks of pounding may have caught up with her a bit - just a little slower to get up each time in this one. With her style of game, I imagine you wear down a bit when thereís so little recovery time. As for the final word on her tournament - she was fantastic. I donít think thereís any question she belongs, I donít think anyone in the player pool brings to the field quite what she does and now that sheís been on this stage, seen plenty of playing time and knows what to expect, I imagine sheíll only get better.
Milbrett - Now THAT is how Tiffeny Milbrett plays the game. My goodness - thatís the Millie we all know and love - welcome back Tiff. Just pushed the backline from the moment she stepped on the field - she was running at defenders all day long and was just a big bundle of energy from the start. She had so many near misses in this one I started to worry she wasnít going to net one, but then she eked one out in spectacular fashion. Pass on the restart put Tiff through, she shot, bounced off a defender, she gets her own rebound and rips it in the upper corner. Beautiful - she missed a couple of cheap ones before that but made one on a brilliant shot. Good stuff. Not a lot more on this outing than that - she finally had a most Millie like game. Rough year for Tiff, especially the last few months, and thereís no denying she had a rough tournament. She finished it out strong though and hopefully thatís a start of a trend for the future. Two more games this year, and then a couple months off and hopefully Tiff will be refreshed and ready to roll at the start of the new year and for the 7-8 month march to the Olys.
Bivens - Really didnít notice her a whole lot to be perfectly honest. Team USA was holding possession well by the time she got in and just picking their spots and looking for seams in the Canadian defense. Canada looked pretty gassed the whole second half so there wasnít a ton for Bivens to do defensively - either while she was at right midfield or back on D. Quiet outing from Kylie - I think Tiff was kind of the star of the second half in this one and if you werenít moving hummingbird fast you kind of fell off the page a bit. And thatís where Kylie was for me in this one - somewhere off the page. I think I might have just lost her a bit. As for her tournament - well, I enjoyed her game when she was in the midfield, I didnít like her so much on defense. I donít know that sheís got the skills to be a wing defender at this level - she can be solid against middle tier opponents, but against top tier teams in a World Cup setting I think the lack of athleticism mixed in with her not being as tactically sophisticated as many of her teammates really hampered her. She just didnít see what was coming at her until it was already there and she doesnít have the Kate Sobrero athleticism to make up for it. Basically, I guess the easy way to say it is that I think she struggled with the speed of play as a defender in this tournament. On the other hand, I thought she was a very nice midfield presence and definitely look for her to stay in the mix at that position. Overall, it was a solid tournament for her and with all the talk of Cat getting thrown into the fire due to Brandiís injury, I think Kylie was thrown in there even more unexpectedly - defensively at any rate. It will be interesting to see what role Kylie takes in the future.
MacMillan - She wasnít ready, she wasnít even remotely ready for this tournament - she absorbed some contact, she got back up, she was fine but she wasnít ready. They want Mac for the Olympics, and they want her for real, not as some "miracle" feel good story, so now they need to use their heads, not their hearts, let her sit for the rest of the year, rehab and hopefully by the start of the year sheíll be ready to play for real and by April or May sheíll start to look like herself. Yes she had some nice touches in this tournament and in this game, but she has no confidence in her leg right now, you could tell by how shaken she seemed to take a hit and how reluctant she was to take players on. Anyway - hereís wishing Mac success with the rest of her recovery and hereís hoping that from here on out decision makers and fans donít let their heads be clouded with media fantasies of miraculous recoveries.
Well - thatís it - thus endeth the tournament and the World Cup careers of some players who, in 20 years, weíll still be talking about as the best who ever played the game. I guess itís taken me so long to finally get this thing finished because I pretty much said all I have to say about the team and their tournament in the semifinal match report. I donít have a lot left. Iím a fan, I love this team and Iíll freely admit this wasnít the way I wanted to see it end. That said, also as a fan, Iím proud of the way they went out.