US 3 N.Korea 0
Mission accomplished. Team USA won their group, rested the folks who needed to be rested and got out of the game without any injuries. For the folks in Columbus, Iím real sorry you guys didnít get to see Mia play, but after watching Steffi Jones go down Saturday in a game in which the outcome was never in question, I have to agree with the decision not to play her. It was a waste for Steffi to go down against Argentina, and once the US had this one well at hand, there was no reason to risk it. Especially since this game gave us the opportunity to see that without question, the US looks far far better with Mia on the field than off and she will be a necessity rather than a luxury as the US moves deeper in this tournament.
This game was a nice "feel good" outing all the way around - from Mac coming in and making the most of her set pieces, to Roberts getting to run around for 90 minutes, to Cat getting her first two goals of the tournament, to Briís gravity defying saves there at the end - feel good, ayup, thatís what this was all about (can you feel me about to rain on everyoneís parade - hey, you had to know I would) . . . . All the nice happy feelings aside though, this was easily the worst performance of the tournament so far. "Worst" is relative mind you, so as a stand alone game, this was definitely a good outing. Had it been a friendly, might even call it a strong outing. Nice individual performances all the way around, but as a team, the spacing was not great either offensively or defensively (a little bit of bunching, especially on the offensive end), way too much was being unleashed on the defenders unabated, a few too many sloppy turnovers by the defenders and defensive midfield in the US half of the field, the offensive shape wasnít great at times and the passing in the attacking third was not very sharp. Nice to get a three goal win in game where there were so many turnovers and the opposition looked more threatening in the run of play at times than Team USA did, but I think they need to tighten it up and get back to the soccer they played in the opener as they move on in this tournament. As for the quarters - Norway shouldnít be a problem - unless Norway is just in Team USAís head, they really shouldnít be a problem. The Norwegian defense really struggled in the two games I saw (I missed the thrashing of S. Korea) and I think some of Team USAís more technical players (Hamm, Parlow) are going to be able to run right at and through them just like the Brazilians did (and the French would have if their midfield was even mediocre) and Team USAís opportunistic finishers (add Abby and Lil to the mix) should be ready for misclears and rebounds because those young defenders will have several. Anyway, nice win, nice to get some folks who are a little hobbled some playing time, and nice individual moments all over the field. It was an enjoyable game and after watching how casual both Germany and Brazil were in their game 3s yesterday, I was pleased to see Team USA come out and play hard rather than backing into the quarters as it appeared the other folks who had their groups all wrapped up did.
Formation - 4-4-2, back-front, right-left
GK - Scurry; Def - Pearce, Fawcett, Reddick, Sobrero; DMid - Roberts; Mid - Bivens, Lilly; AMid - Wagner; F - Wambach, Milbrett (thatís what the TV said, but at the very outset, Abby lined up on the left - they switched almost immediately, and went back and forth the whole game). Foudy in for Lilly, played in the DMid, Bivens moved left, Roberts moved right. MacMillan in for Wambach, Slaton in for Sobrero.
Scurry - She was having such a nice uneventful day . . . Right up until the end there. You know, it never fails, whenever you go into a defensive shell and start killing time, then the other team kills your keeper - if you donít keep the other teamís defense honest by continuing to play, they will devote additional numbers to the attack and thatís what happened here - the clock was in the 63rd minute when I noted that Foudy was swinging the ball around wasting time, and I just shook my head - 27 minutes is way too much time to try and kill. Bri held up well though. Got up high for some great stops and something I noted that is a definite improvement for her, she took a couple of quick kicks under pressure that were very strong and well taken. While kicking has never been a strength of hers, it had gotten especially frightful the past couple of years - to see her make strong kicks in the run of play like that, in my mind, negates the only real negative there is having her out there. So that was good to see. Nice game - Team USA had arranged a fairly quiet day for her until about the last half hour - hopefully in the next one, theyíll give her all 90 off.
Pearce - I take full responsibility - I was thinking to myself how great she was playing and there hadnít been one stupid turnover and boom, she booted it right to a Korean player deep in the US end. I jinxed her and I apologize. And no, every little turnover doesnít bother me - Iíd have to kick everyone off the field if it did, what bothers me are careless touches deep in the US defensive third that go right to an attacker with one or no defenders back. Sometimes a pass is intercepted and thereís not much you can do about that, but sometimes defenders are careless and arenít thinking - and itís the careless giveaway that makes my head hurt because they are 100% avoidable. Nothing nearly as egregious as against Mexico though, and that turnover aside, Pearce really did have a nice game. I thought this was the strongest outing sheís had in awhile. She was fairly solid defensively and for the first time this tournament weíve seen some nice offensive support down the flank from a wing defender. Abbyís goal for instance (Iím pretending the PK didnít happen and that the beautiful goal counted - what the heck was that call? What happened there? that was just ridiculous so Iím going to snap my fingers, blink my eyes and poof . . . never happened) - all about Pearce flying down the flank, getting the ball to Bivens who sent a nice ball in to Abby and goal. Terrific - itís what I think the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield where the midfielders all play fairly centrally needs and itís whatís been lacking. She was consistently getting forward and making good decisions, she worked well with both Bivens and Roberts. Overall, nice game. Interesting to see who gets the start on the right against Norway.
Fawcett - Another solid outing for Joy. She and Cat seem to work very well in the middle of the field together. Defending against airballs on set pieces was a bit of a problem throughout the game though and if the US is going to go with a height-challenged lineup, Joy, who is probably as good in the air defensively as anyone, probably needs to step up a bit . . . but I didnít notice that she was the one getting beat on those balls. I really donít have a lot here. Nothing real remarkable here either good or bad. As for how sheís handling the organizational responsibilities - well, I donít know whether it was a lack of organization that led to a lot of the Korean chances or the height challenged line-up but something on D needs to tighten up. With Brandi out, it falls to Joy - individually she can cover, she can double team, she can make her own plays, but she has also got to take over the organization responsibilities as well - think back to 2000 - breakdowns in defensive organization (organization through the midfield and back to the defenders), that was their undoing. Brandi was the solution for that - and fair or not, now it falls to Joy. Anyway - solid Joy outing - donít have much else to say.
Reddick - Keeps getting stronger and stronger as the tournament progresses. She defended in the air very well. Boxx was cleaning up a lot of the more direct balls coming through the middle of the field in the first two games, and Joy generally gets the rest, but in this one I noticed Cat was defending very well in the air. Sheís still getting beat in the foot races at times, but she knows not to come in too close to the attackers lest they blow by her. What happened against Korea though, is that when sheíd back off so they wouldnít blow by her, they were able to pop some headers and pop some shots toward goal. Sheís learning though and I like that she makes whatever decision sheís going to make quickly and confidently - sheís not tentative at all. I do have to mention her turnover though - I keep railing on Pearce for it, so I have to mention that Cat had some really hare-brained giveaways deep in the US half of the field - everyone, especially the defenders, who are the last or the second to last players back, have simply got to be more careful with the ball than they were in this one. It was like they were having a fire sale on soccer balls in this one: "For sale - one soccer ball, FIFA logo, ready to be smashed at nice unsuspecting goal keeper - weíll leave it off right at the top of the box, North Korean buyers only" . . . Got a little frustrating. As for the rest of Catís game - well, it was all of the "feel good" variety. Many happy moments for Cat. Her goal on Alyís corner was an extremely opportunistic and professional goal. Nice corner kick from Aly, Foudy pops it toward goal, it goes a little wide and Cat made that far post run just like Iím sure they do it in practice and she just kind of blocks it into the goal with her hip/stomach. Good stuff - itís why you always always always go on your runs . . . even if it looks like the good captain is going to pop it in herself - you never know when that ballís going to sail a little wide so you have to assume it always will. Good stuff. As for Catís other goal - a nice lofted ball from Mac and Cat went up and got it, hit it sharply and popped it in. Great stuff and the celebration was fun and genuine. So - overall, very solid outing, sheís doing very well in her first WWC especially considering she was kind of thrust into a starring role without a lot of warning. Just needs to tighten up a bit on the passing, probably play a tad deeper and watch the skies for those direct balls and I think sheíll be fine against Norway.
Sobrero - Itís holding up, itís holding up - quick touches are her best, time and she turns it over - all but one restart went to the Koreans - but she had one touch where she was running full tilt down the sideline, ran onto the ball and just smacked it and it went right to a teammate - heh heh - this is really amusing the heck out of me. As for her game (instead of my silly one) rock solid defensively, and not providing a ton of support down the flank offensively. That said, I think thatís probably fine at this point - Cat needs her back there, Brandi needs/ed her back there, and with direct balls from Norway, coupled with the dazzling speed and technical game of Dagny Mellgren, I think theyíre going to have all they can handle. And for all my ragging on Kate for turning the ball over, sheís the only one of the defenders (minus Joy) who isnít making periodic knuckleheaded turnovers deep in the US third - Kate is turning the ball over a fair amount, but sheís doing it on distance kicks and in the midfield - much less dangerous than some of Catís and Pearceís balls (and against Nigeria Bivensís). And thatís about it - I expect Kate to have a busy day Wednesday and a strong game defensively and as far as sheís concerned, thatís all I could ask.
Roberts - Yeah - she works real hard, yeah, she makes some nice tackles, yeah, this was another feel good kind of storyline in the game: nice, well liked Tiffany Roberts plays 90, has a great workrate, and makes some nice plays - woohoo, go TR. But letís face it folks, the defense was not real tight, a ton more got behind the midfield than was getting back there in the previous two games and the way they were getting back there was going over the top or simply pushing their way through the middle. Sheís just too small - itís nothing sheís doing, in fact, her individual performance was strong, especially in the second half when she moved out right, but Team USA will run into the same problem they did in 2000 if they go small in the defensive midfield when it counts. Teams will ram the ball right up the middle one way or another and they will be successful. As for tracking stuff on the ground - yeah, she makes some highlight reel tackles and Iím cheering here at my house - Iím sure thereís plenty for ESPN to show - but as for run of the mill takeaways, you know, the ones that Abby and Boxx make by simply running alongside an attacking player and knocking that player off the ball - no tackle, no drama, no one hits the turf, no highlight reel, just sidling up and stepping in and shouldering off? Sheís just not strong enough. I think the fact that TR had such a nice game, really highlights that they simply need a bigger player in the defensive midfield. Weíve seen it with Boxx - weíve seen the difference it makes on the field - why in the world would Team USA ever want to go back. As for TR on the right - I love it - so much energy, decent crossing skills, and a tremendous workrate - definitely wonít mind seeing her come in out there against Norway. But as for the defensive midfield, I think they need more size - in the run of play, on set pieces, switching fields, Boxx needs to be ready to go. Anyway - strong game from Roberts, nice luxury having her on the bench so that Boxx could get the night off.
Bivens - I thought she had a much stronger game in this one than she did in the last. What kills me most about the called back Abby goal is that Bivens doesnít get to be in the boxscore and she earned the mention. She and Pearce were really working well together the entire first half and the ball to Abby was perfect. She was strong defensively, served in some nice balls offensively and again was a hard tackling presence out there. And I guess the hard tackling doesnít worry me so much when sheís in the midfield as when sheís on defense - while I like good hard plays as much as the next person, she has had a few instances where cards could have been pulled over the last couple of games and Iíd rather see that kind of foul as far away from Bri as it can be. I guess if I have a gripe itís that when the US goes with such a height challenged lineup, I would like to see Kylie be more of a ball winning presence in the midfield. I just felt Team USA wasnít winning itís share of 50-50 balls in this one - and that coupled with a whole lot more turnovers than usual, this one looked a little sloppier than it needed to look. That said, Germany and Brazil did the same thing - I guess this was a game to take a deep breath and simply get through on the way to the elimination rounds. Anyway - nice game from Kylie - interesting to see whether she or Pearce is in there against Norway. If only because Pearce is better equipped to deal with Dagny Mellgrenís speed, I think Iíd have to go with Pearce, but it wonít surprise me if Kylieís in there - and if Kylie is in there and wants to establish herself by busting some heads, well . . . just make sure to bust those heads around the midfield stripe . . . plenty of opportunity to hit some Norwegians around there . . .
Lilly - Another strong Lilly outing. Great workrate, strong defensive presence, working well with Abby, trying to work well with Tiff (Iíll explain that in a sec), and just keeping it all together in the first half. Probably a few too many turnovers, but that was the case with everyone in this one. I really have very little here. Just another typical Lilly outing. Sheís having a tremendous tournament so far and I canít wait to see what she and that Hamm woman have in store for us next.
Wagner - The corner kick was fantastic - great ball to Foudy. Sheís incredibly accurate over distance - never fails to amaze me . . . but unfortunately whatís been amazing me in this tournament so far is how rarely we see her pop off one of those pinpoint passes. I thought for sure once she got in there with big Abby, Aly would see her target and just boot ball after ball up there but it just didnít happen. Maybe itís this 4-4-2 - maybe itís just not designed for Alyís talents, although she was playing very well in it earlier in the year. And if they do play a 4-3-3 again, and play it like they did against Sweden (which is what Iím rooting for - easily Team USAís best game so far), Alyís not going to get the chance to be the point woman - it will be Lil again. So maybe itís as simple as this just isnít Alyís time yet. And I have to make this point: Alyís game would have looked a heck of a lot better if Tiffeny Milbrett was playing better - some of Alyís missed passes/turnovers simply werenít her fault - both Aly and Abby were passing where Tiff should have been and would have been if she were playing as she usually does. Anyway - so far this hasnít been the best tournament of Alyís career, but itís all a learning experience and call me a loyal idiot, but I still think at some point, young Aly is going to come through for them . . . thereís just too much talent there not to shine through at some point . . . Ya know - US Soccer keeps jinxing these girls by making them the next faces of US Soccer, they did it with Bush, they did it with Fair (OK, she was never going to be that good, but dang, they tried to sell her to us didnít they), OíReilly has temporarily succumbed to the jinx and now Aly - maybe if she recedes into the background a bit and lets some of the less hyped folks take some of the pressure off, sheíll re-emerge as the player most of us are expecting to see. I hope she gets another chance this tournament and I hope she comes through . . .
Milbrett - Sheís not running. Why did Abby and Aly have so many turnovers? because Tiff was making all of her runs from a dead stop - she wasnít in motion, she wasnít moving, everyoneís timing was off. I donít know whatís going on here - I can understand being off, I can understand not being at the top of her fitness, I can understand not having your head in the game, but címon, at least keep moving - even if she was going off a jog, sheíd have gotten to some of those balls. Ya know - no one has been more strongly in the, "please dear god, donít play Mac" camp than me (I really donít want to see her re-pop that knee - really and truly I donít), but I tell ya - watching Tiff, and watching Mac, put Mac in, have her take set pieces and cover for her everywhere else and I think they would get more of a positive contribution than theyíve gotten from Tiff in this tournament. I love Tiffeny Milbrett, I understand that sheís got some stuff going on right now, I absolutely adore her and my position on that point has been firmly established over the years - probably only Lilly and Abby are higher on my list of favorites . . . but at this point, itís not about her. April has given her every reasonable opportunity, I watched April with her in Philly before she put her in and you can tell the coach is truly rooting for her to go in and do something good - but it comes down to this: unless sheís ready to come in and play hard and play with her head in the game for however long sheís in there, then she needs to not play. That said, I hope Tiff does something wonderful before itís all over - I imagine most Team USA fans do - and for most of us, seeing that one thing, will pretty much negate everything that happened (or didn't happen) before it.
Wambach - Another solid game from Abby. Probably a little too careless with the ball and making a few too many turnovers, but she was winning balls up top and through the midfield, pressuring the defense and often holding the ball up top all alone because she was mysteriously up there without any help far too often. Her goal was very opportunistic (the one before the PK) - great pass from Pearce to Bivens who flighted it in to Abby who popped it right into goal - gotta love the big girls right in front of goal in this tournament - both she and CP have done a heck of a job so far and will only become more important as the tournament progresses. Theyíll be busy against Norway - and I certainly hope both Abby and CP are on the pitch at the start of the next one. The Norway defense is not good, have the ground attack of Hamm and Parlow mixed in with the air game of Wambach, Lil (love those crosses) and CP (pulling double duty) and theyíll keep those defenders guessing and off balance. From what Iíve seen of Norway so far, they have trouble with technical attackers and they will have giveaways in their end and there will be rebounds/misclears - the rebounds and misclears are perfect for Abby . . . She just needs to be in the game and lurking around the goal and if CP is there doing the same thing . . . and Lil . . . and Mia . . . and even let Foudy into the box for a chance on a set piece then I think Team USA will be in good shape.
Foudy - I thought this was the strongest game sheís had so far. Even with Foudy at the defensive midfield though, Team USA wasnít controlling the center of the field like they do when Boxx is in there, but Foudy did provide some strong minutes - she was passing better than most of her colleagues and they managed to be a bit more organized on offense once she got in there, even if that offense wasn't terribly aggressive. She had a better workrate than she had in the first two games and just seemed to take control a bit more - maybe it was the absence of Mia and Lil (both of whom kind of took control of the field in the first two) that led her to assert herself a bit more. And the set pieces - Foudy has such a knack for being in the right place at the right time on set pieces - she did a great job with Alyís corner - she was a little bit off target, but not much and the back post runner (Cat) was right there for the goal. Great job by all involved. Anyway - solid Foudy outing, glad I have the chance to say that without reservation.
MacMillan - The true feel good story of the game. Nice to see her get in - and get back out - of this one and make a contribution. OK - I will confess, it was making me nervous as all get out having her in there, but sheís moving well, and sheís pretty adept at jumping over tackles and over the ball rather than absorbing much contact. And ya know - thatís just fine and dandy because as always, this woman can change the game with just one touch. The corner that led to the score wasnít that great, neither corner I recall her taking had a ton of power, but she followed the play, got the rebound and just lofted it right into the box and onto Catís head with a single touch and GOAL - wonderful sequence. And she almost brought down the house with that free kick - that was most well struck ball weíve seen from Mac during her return - impressive. Like I said in Tiffís section, if Tiff isnít ready to get in these games and contribute, then Iíd put Mac in expressly for set pieces, have a US player shadow her if necessary to cover her defensively and absorb any contact for her they can, but I think theyíll get more out of Mac at about 70% than theyíve been getting out of Tiff . . . Iíll sit on my sofa with my heart in my throat hoping Mac doesnít step wrong, but ya know - she doesnít seem afraid of it - if she wants in, take her at her word and put her in. Again, if Tiff was contributing at all, it wouldnít be worth it, but if thereís only 25-30 minutes left, and Mac gets one or two set pieces, the US can just bunker the rest of the game (like they were doing at times against Korea - yes sports fans, the US was playing with 9 field players behind the ball at times - this really was a bit of a sloppy game) and ride it to the semis.
Slaton - Iíve got nothiní. Iím glad they found a way to get her in the tournament and itís a shame that her knee is acting up. I have to admit, Iím kind of wondering why they took so many hobbled players into this tournament, especially since Brandi has had health issues of some sort almost the entire year this year and while you couldnít precisely predict she was going to go down like she did, it was foreseeable something might happen with her - I foresaw it, Iíve been keeping my fingers crossed that her knees and feet would hold up for the last two years so why wouldnít they take a healthy contingent of defenders, especially since they were taking Mac. Oh well - the 5 healthy defenders and the big defensive midfielder are all playing well, so hopefully this wonít be an issue . . . And I guess they do have some hope that Slaton will have a good knee day before this one is over so she can get in and contribute. Anyway - seeing her in there was yet another feel good moment for Team USA and itís just unfortunate sheís not 100% and wreaking havoc on that left wing like we know she can.
All right - probably should have benched me for this game as I am officially out of steam. And as you can probably tell, this was my least favorite of the Team USA performances so far, but it was still a solid enough outing - they just set a very high bar for themselves in the opener and I look for them to look that sharp from here on out. All the game 3s where the group winner was pretty much decided were subpar outings by those group leaders though and thatís to be expected. Itís a marathon, not a sprint, right? And I think the US came out and performed better than Germany did and remembered to finish the game unlike Brazil, so I guess it wasnít as much a matter of coasting or taking the opposition lightly as it was a matter of the first team simply not being on the field. Against Norway, Iím sure everything that was sloppy in this one will tighten up and theyíll have the offense rolling like they did against Sweden. I look for a good one.