US 5 Nigeria 0

A beautiful night at the Linc thatís for sure. A nice solid win that the US seemed to be able to coast right in to without too too much exertion - definitely a nice way to spend the evening and a good excuse to play hooky from work. As for the game itself - well, not as pretty a win or as well played as the game against Sweden, but if you can get a 5 goal win against a pretty good team in a game where your passes arenít connecting and your offense isnít flowing then your team is in pretty good shape. And thatís where Team USA is right now - a five goal win and minus Mia Hamm, who again had an outstanding outing, no one on the field played her best soccer (good soccer for most of the players, but not as good for most as against Sweden). Iím really at a loss here - as the US seemed to have a little bit of trouble getting in a flow in the first half, Iím having a little bit of trouble getting a feeling for the game in the aftermath. I donít really have a ton of comments on the players in this one - for the most part a solid outing by the individuals even if at times they were having some issues playing as a team.

Formation - 4-4-2, back-front, right-left

GK - Scurry; Def - Bivens, Fawcett, Sobrero, Reddick; DMid - Boxx; Mid - Foudy, Lilly; AMid - Wagner; F - Parlow, Hamm. Start of the second half, Cat and Kate switched; Wambach in for Wagner, Mia appears to slip back to the attacking mid - if they did officially switch to a 4-3-3, then Mia was playing withdrawn, but it didnít look like they switched (I was sitting way too close to the field to tell for sure though - Mia did look like she was behind the big girls and later behind Abby and Tiff, though). Milbrett in for Parlow; Roberts in for Boxx, Foudy slipped into the defensive midfield position and Roberts played on the right.

Players

Scurry - A nice outing but not a very busy one. Made some nice saves/stops, definitely in command of her box. Offside calls pretty much offset any ugliness coming her way. Not much to say. I did note that she took a couple of very nice goal kicks in this one, so that was good. Some nice punts . . . Uhhhh, really, I got nothiní. Solid outing, may every game be as uneventful for her as this one was.

Bivens - She definitely improved as the game went on, but at the outset, she looked just as inexperienced as she is. Boxx has spoiled us I think and set the bar impossibly high, but Bivens just looked a little shaky and nervous out there to me. She had one really horrible turnover in the US defensive third - I think she intended to leave the ball off for someone, but no one was there and it went right to a Nigerian who had a great chance at goal. Itís the kind of turnover Pearce had against Mexico and I assume such careless plays are at least part of the reason Pearce found the bench in this one. Another reason I assume Bivens was in there was to get a bit more attacking down the flanks out of the back - the midfielders were not playing wide most of this one and they really needed the defensive wings to run forward to spread the field a bit. It really didnít seem to happen too much though and is probably one of the reasons why the center of the field was so congested for a lot of the game. Defensively, it just didnít seem Bivens was inspiring lots of confidence from her teammates. Mia was back covering her at times, Joy was with her, Kate all the way across the field at times . . . Just a little shaky. By the end of the game though she looked less so - quite solid by the time they finished. And as always, she was a very hard tackling presence on the field. Against Nigeria, that might have been what Team USA was going for - there were a couple of nice plays where I think she was making a point. I think Iíll just chalk this one up to being her First WWC/Nerves game and look for improvement in the next one. Like I said, she wasnít bad, just a little shaky and not playing with the confidence defensively or attacking out of the back with which she generally plays. A good game for her to get some experience and shake off those jitters though - interesting to see who April goes with in the next one.

Fawcett - The offside call was very fortunate for Ms. Fawcett.  Woooo,  she got smoked on the first goal called back for Nigeria. Not often you see someone sprint by Joy on a dead run like that. Other than that, a relatively quiet night. There were some other attacks down the middle, she and Kate, and in the second half, Cat, dealt with most of it relatively well. Nigeria was having a bit of trouble with that final touch in the attacking third and a lot of the game by both teams was played in the midfield, so not the busiest night for the US defenders. As for offensively, most of the switching of the fields was done out of the back, Kate was swinging the ball around on the backline a lot rather than putting it forward herself, so Joy made some nice service up top (as did Kylie) and put the ball on the ground to the midfielders nicely. Not much more to say - solid and relatively uneventful outing.

Sobrero - Goodness sheís fast - sheís not a little fast, sheís insanely fast. There was one play where a Nigerian player was going full tilt and Kate caught up to her from behind and stopped the play - itís why I like Kate so much in the center of the field. That speed makes up for so much. She was helping nicely, making great individual stops and was swinging the ball around rather than passing it herself most of the night. I was testing my "she turns the ball over when she has time" theory and it held up pretty well - even when she was taking free kicks - hit Nigerians every time she tried to pass forward/advance the ball rather than passing to fellow defenders - when she was clearing the ball, taking a quick touch, it was generally a better touch. Interesting . . . I will continue to watch this . . . for no reason other than it entertains me . . . When she moved out to the wing, I didnít notice that she was getting forward in the attack a lot or really, that she was doing anything different than she was when she was central - that said, the defense did seem a bit more organized in the second half than the first, didnít it? I donít know what to make of it. Joy was definitely calling the shots out there and was quite loud (I heard her so everyone on the field must have as well). Maybe Cat just reads the game better than Kate, maybe it was a function of the whole team having better shape and holding the ball better in the second half. I have no idea - individually, Kateís game is perfect for the central D - much better than the wing, but for some reason, she and Joy just donít seem to have a ton of chemistry on the inside together. Maybe they both think the other can make the play so they donít cover, maybe they simply donít talk to each other, who knows. I canít even begin to explain it - but the D did tighten up a bit in the second half. All that said, Kate had a nice game both inside and out - and with the way Lilly, Hamm, Wambach and Parlow are playing right now, Iím not sure if they really need to worry about spreading the field a whole lot and attacking out of the back so it really doesnít matter whoís playing where until Brandi comes back.

Reddick - Ms. Reddick continues to play far beyond her years. Sheís just so calm and composed out there. I think this was a much better outing than her first. Rock solid defensively all night long. She doesnít have Kateís speed, but she manages to make play after play - she reads the game so well - sees things developing early so speed is rarely an issue. I wish theyíd use her leg a bit more during the game though - it was generally Joy or Kylie putting the ball forward or getting it to a midfielder, but Catís got a cannon - time to start developing it a bit and getting it more accurate (a la the Overbeck cannon out of the back). There was one free kick from about 45 yards out I wish theyíd let her take - put that cannon to work. This would have been a good game to let her loose a bit. As for her wing play - I have to admit I was a bit disappointed she didnít attack more - they really had no width on the field in the first half and even though sheís not the fastest of the wings, Cat is usually pretty offensive minded and is capable of serving a nice ball into the box. I just didnít see that happening a lot. I guess the speed of the Nigerians, or at least the fear of that speed, was keeping the defenders home in the first half, but it really seemed they could have opened it up a bit more - I did note that Boxx, Lilly and Hamm all at times slipped back to enable the wings to push forward, but I think they could have done that a bit more. Anyway - nice game by Cat, she continues to impress. When/if Brandi comes back, I donít know that sheís the one Iíd put on the bench.

Boxx - Iíve said it before and I can almost guarantee you I will say it again, but I LOVE the big ball winning presence in the defensive midfield. While in the first half, I think little Lil won more 50-50 balls than anyone else, Boxx still made her presence known. Last line of defense before the defenders and she manages to stop a lot before it gets back to them. There were a couple of runs at the backline where she was out of position and/or got beat, but overall this was another strong performance. Her touch still seems a tad off, but the whole team was having trouble stringing passes together (outside of their own half of the field, at any rate) so she really wasnít off any more than anyone else. I donít have much else - the midfield play really didnít just bowl me over in the first half of this one, but I really canít point to anything awful they were doing (other than the passing and not spreading wide on either side - generally when this diamond midfield is clicking offensively, they spread it wide on one side and the other side plays centrally and pushes forward to load the attacking third up - in the first half, that wasnít happening a lot - in the second half, the field leaned left for about the first half hour or so). Anyway - ultimately Boxx gets a "solid outing" and I expect to see her back in the starting lineup in the next one. Sheís been a great addition to Team USA.

Foudy - I keep going back and forth on this - whether to give another "enh" rating to Foudy or to ream her. You see, every time I rip Foudy, she comes back and has a great game so that I invariably look like an idiot. While I donít necessarily think this performance was worth ripping, that weíve had a couple of "enh" games in a row leads me to want to do something to help if I can . . . But honestly, Iíve got nothing to rip, Iím just left unimpressed and shrugging for a second game in a row - just wasnít a real active outing, wasnít passing well, defending was adequate, but nothing theyíll be singing songs about when itís all over . . . Well, thatís kind of ripping, I guess. Anyway - for the second game in a row, Foudy didnít just knock me over with her performance, not on the right, and not in the defensive midfield. She just doesnít seem real sharp to me so far this tournament - definitely hasnít been an impact player up to this point on any level or in any aspect of the game. At some point sheís going to turn it around - I have all the faith in the world in Foudyís ability to make me look stupid . . .

Lilly - Vintage Kristine Lilly - I tell ya, for the Lilly fans out there, she is certainly giving us a little something in these games to take with us. Abby Wambachís goal was vintage Kristine Lilly. How many times have we seen it, dozens? Hundreds? And have we ever seen it executed any better than that? The run down the left, getting a step on the defender sheís got running with her right as she gets to the endline, has just enough space to turn it and serve a beautiful ball into the box and Ka-BOOM - GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!! I love it. This one was picture perfect - weíve seen it time and time again, everyone knows exactly what sheís going to do yet she does it so well, it works anyway. Brilliant goal, and it was about 90% Lil. As for the rest of her game - well, in the first half, her passes werenít really connecting any better than the other midfieldersí passes in the offensive half of the field, but she was an incredible ball winner. At one point, she was more consistently winning airballs than the folks half a foot taller than she is. In the second half, her all around game picked up a bit - I thought the whole team tightened up a bit in the second. She was spreading the field wide left a bit, and that in turn was creating more space in the center of the field. Gotta keep that defense honest or youíll be shooting into defenders all night. Combined well with Mia and Abby . . . This wasnít the spectacular outing she had against Sweden, but it was a solid effort. Team USA as a whole seems to have come ready to play for this tournament, but even if they hadnít, Lil and Mia look ready to carry them to the final. These two are ageless, and look to be making the last WWC tournament of their careers, the best WWC tournament of their careers. I canít wait to see what they have in store for us next.

Wagner - Hmmmm - donít really know what to say here. I didnít get much of a feeling for Alyís game. At the top of that diamond itís really her game to dictate and she really didnít in this one. The way Mia and Lil are playing though, itís hard for anyone other than those two to shape this offense. That said, sheís got to insert herself into the proceedings a bit more. There was one absolutely brilliant pass that just highlighted why all of us folks who make such a fuss over Aly, make that fuss - Nigeriaís #14 (Cheijine, I believe - whoever it was consistently impressed the heck out of me during this game - if they start the WUSA up again, someone seriously needs to think about giving her a job), anyway, #14 intercepted the pass, but it was just a perfect shot going right to Mia . . . Would have hit her perfectly in stride had the Nigerian defender not made such a pretty play. I guess the thing that concerns me so much about Alyís game is that that play stood out so much as what Alyís supposed to be doing rather than what she is actually doing - at the top of that diamond, she should have a touch on the ball on at least half of the teamís possessions - if sheís really clicking, the percentage is more like 2/3 of the possessions. During her time in these games I just havenít noticed sheís been that big a part of the offense though and it just doesnít play to her strengths if sheís not. Iíd still like to see her in there with Abby some, but at this point in the tournament, she seems to be primarily defending. She has had some nice moments, her defending looks like itís improved - a bit more physical and tougher than what weíve seen at times in the past, but sheís just not making the impact I thought/hoped she would. I hope she gets some more time against N. Korea - like Foudy, I get the feeling Alyís impact game is coming, we just havenít seen it yet.

Parlow - Nice game. She saw the ref was giving Team USA the calls so she fell often and fell with a flourish. She was absorbing some contact, but definitely making sure she got the calls as well. Thought she was a bit more active in this one than against Sweden. Pressuring a bit more, making her runs a bit more consistently and winning a good number of balls up top. Her goal was great. Mia served the perfect corner, CP barely had to get off her feet and just finished it. Well done - itís the way they draw those corners up and so far, sheís 2 for 2. Sheís so dangerous around the goal, I wish theyíd put the ball up to her a bit more instead of playing to her feet so much - when they do that she has a tendency to dribble into oblivion, but ultimately in this one, she had a strong outing and did a lot of nice things in the attacking third. I hope both big girls are out there to start the next one - theyíve really gotten to where they work very well together - they bring very different qualities to the field, and when theyíre both out there the opposition canít focus on one quite so much. CP took a lot of punishment in the first and Abby took a lot in the second - divide and conquer the defense like they did against Sweden - have them in there together, theyíre not going to be able to devote so many people to them - or if they do, Lilly and Hamm and the gang will have some time and space and Team USA can beat Ďem that way. Anyway - nice outing for CP.

Hamm - Outstanding . . . Simply outstanding. Miaís all about winning this thing, there is no doubt in my mind, she wants another championship medal for what must be a rather sizable trophy case. Defensively, offensively, passing, finishing, set pieces, run of play, you name it, sheís doing it and doing it well. Yeah, watching her goal, I figured she was going for CP who was making a far post run, but dang, that hard, that power, from that far out - it was a remarkable kick no matter what she intended to do with it. Honestly, Iíve got nothing else to say about her game - her play speaks for itself. Mia has been dominant so far, sheís making it look effortless, and from the way sheís playing, Iíll be surprised if she comes off the pitch at all this tournament. Maybe if they get a lead against N.Korea theyíll rest her, but sheís doing everything for Team USA right now and isnít showing even the slightest signs of slowing down or that she needs a break. Fantastic game, she and Lil have set the bar for Team USA so far, Lil took the lead with Mia in a co-starring role against Sweden and they just reversed roles in this one with Mia taking the lead. I canít wait to see what happens next.

Wambach - First thing she does when she gets on the pitch? earns a corner kick for Team USA - the corner kick on which Cindy Parlow scored - uhhh, yeah, this is what you call an impact player. Just her presence out there changes the entire game. The offense picked up a bit in the second half, passes all over the field were connecting a little bit better (it wasnít great, but better than in the first half) and Team USA was able to get the ball out of the midfield and keep it up top a bit better. The reasons for this seemed to be that Mia was doing a bit better at the top of the diamond midfield than Aly had been (or better as a withdrawn forward - whichever she technically was), that Lilís game tightened up a bit, Roberts came in for some nice minutes on the right, that everyoneís passing tightened up a bit and that Abby Wambach came into the game, held the ball up top and attracted more defenders than she probably should have. Sheís not really doing highlight reel stuff (although her goal was a great finish, it was mostly Lil - both big girls benefited from beautiful serves in this one) so far, but she has been an impact player nonetheless. The field looks different when sheís not on it - and it doesnít look as good. Hereís hoping we see her at the start of the next one. The 4-3-3 against Sweden just seemed to click a bit more - Boxx was more effective and the three forward lineup of CP, Abby and Mia worked very well together. Get the best offense out there early and see if they can stick a fork in the N.Korea game early. Abby can go 90 - wanting her in there to hold the ball in the second half really shouldnít stop them from starting her so they can get a lead and possibly get some vets some rest.

Milbrett - Sheís struggling. I wish they had let her take that second PK - on the one hand, if sheíd missed, I think you could just sit her for the next 2 weeks; on the other hand, if sheíd made it, maybe it would have helped shake her out of whatever malaise it appears sheís in. Mia and Abby were at times both trying to get Tiff the ball in the closing minutes to try and get her a goal, or at least a good chance, but it just wasnít clicking. Ya know - I donít know where to go with her - obviously, Tiff is dealing with some personal issues right now (from everything sheís ever said publicly and everything Iíve ever read about her, Clive was like a father to her) and some things are bigger and more important than soccer so honestly, I have no desire to sit here and rip apart her game. Aprilís putting her in these games when the outcome is pretty much determined and watching April with her before they subbed her in, Tiff is getting all the encouragement and support from her coach that she can so Iím just going to let it go without further comment. I hope she comes out of this funk, can contribute and can find something to celebrate before this WWC ends, but to tell the truth, from what weíve seen so far, offensively, I think Team USA is going to be OK even if she doesnít.

Roberts - I thought she came in and provided some nice minutes. Nice infusion of energy. The field definitely tilted left in the second half, but she was active enough, provided some defending and made some runs through the center of the field and was better about stretching things right when Lil collapsed inside than Foudy had been. I really donít have much here - I generally lose a player and she was on the far side from where I was sitting most of the day. Other than a couple of nice runs up the middle, some nice defensive plays and noting that she was stretching the field out a little, I got nothiní. From what I can tell, it was a nice solid outing for her though. Definitely wouldnít mind seeing her get some minutes and Foudy some rest against N.Korea.

Well - thatís about it. Not much real insightful to say but I warned you at the outset I never got a feel for this game. Some games are more about being a silly fan type and for me, those games tend to come when Iím sitting in the second row and can hear the chatter on the field and on the bench. So, youíll have to give me a bye on this one . . .  I promise, Iíll pay more attention to whatís going on on the pitch in the next one . . . Iíll have to, the live and in person portion of my World Cup has come to an end (well, my US portion anyway - Iím going to go watch Germany destroy Argentina tomorrow). Anyway - fun game, nice win, and for you folks in Philly, find a reason to go to the Linc - it is a beautiful facility. As for the next one - N.Korea did not look nearly as scary against Sweden as they looked against Nigeria. Sweden was very organized and stifled all North Korean attacks before they even got started so if Team USA keeps their shape, keeps an extra eye on #10 and #7, I think theyíll be fine. I canít wait to see who steps up in the next one.

Beulah