US 2 Sweden 0
Well that was better – a much more characteristic performance. It wasn’t perfect and the first 15-20 minutes looked like a hangover from the North Korea game, but it was both a win and a performance they can build on. The defense looked much more relaxed. Even during the ragged start, they looked far more capable, poised and organized than they looked against North Korea. The communication looked much improved too – many many instances of Markgraf, Rampone and Whitehill very obviously gesturing to the keeper and to the other defenders/midfielders. There was no evidence of this kind of communication in the last one. They were simply playing a much more traditional defense in this one and it was all executed much more smoothly. Even the lack of speed on the left was handled very well. Neither Cat nor Lopez has a lot of speed, but they’re both very fundamental defenders who read the game very well. Even though Lopez got smoked a couple of times, her positioning was excellent and no one was able to completely turn the corner on her.
Offensively, the possession and ball movement the first 15-20 minutes were terrible. It gradually got better and better as the half wore on and by halftime, the US was dominating. The passing can still improve and the midfield is still playing way too deep/tentatively in the early going such that there weren’t numbers forward at the outset (I’m still hoarse from yelling at the TV about that). As for the lineup adjustments, I wanted to hate Boxx being out, but Osborne held her own defensively. She doesn’t have the tactical acumen or passing ability of Boxx, but she did a rock solid job. That adjustment wound up working acceptably well. The adjustment that I still don’t understand, is benching one of the most dynamic offensive players in the world in Heather O’Reilly. I know I was calling for Tarpley in the last one, but not at the expense of Heather O’Reilly. They went into this game with the knowledge that goal differential would very likely play a significant role in this group. With that being the case, I don’t know why you would choose to start the game without Heather O’Reilly on the pitch. She’s the kind of player you rearrange everything to accommodate. I hope I’m Chicken Little here and only scoring two goals against an opponent who looked ready to give up a whole lot more doesn’t come back to haunt them. Luckily North Korea left a whole lot of goals on the table as well when they decided to pull back and essentially not play on offense for the last 35-40 minutes of their game, so they remain even. I guess I’m still a little nervous because Nigeria’s better than they were – I don’t know how many goals the US going to be able to put up against them.
All right – not that much by way of preliminary comments in this one. No real gripes, other than Heather O not starting. US won, US played better, entertaining match . . . all in all, a good morning to be a US soccer fan.
Formation – (4-3-3, back-front, right-left): GK – Solo; Def – Rampone, Markgraf, Whitehill, Lopez; Mid – Chalupny, Osborne, Lloyd with Osborne withdrawn; Fwd – Tarpley, Wambach, Lilly. Boxx in for Lloyd and both Osborne and Boxx played back with Chalupny playing up in support of the forward line. O’Reilly in for Tarpley.
Solo – Rock solid performance. She wasn’t required to make as many spectacular saves as she made in the last one, but she made some very good stops on those set pieces early on. The US defense on set pieces concerned me a little in this one, but Hope ultimately managed to get to everything that slipped through. I don’t have much else. I thought she was making good decisions, showed good range, and was good with her feet.
Rampone – I thought she was solid on defense. She and Kate are carrying the speed on the backline and they use it well. But what I really loved about her game in this one, was how she was getting forward into the attack. She was making those overlapping runs up the right side and taking balls that a midfielder would leave off for her the entire game. The US got some nice chances off those runs and I’m not sure the Swedes were expecting her to be as aggressive offensively as she was. The only thing she did in this game that almost made my head explode was that header back to Hope in the middle of traffic. She owes Lopez dinner for mopping that one up for her. Overall, though, she played this one with a lot of speed and a tremendous workrate and it was a nice outing. She’s having an awfully nice World Cup so far.
Markgraf – Solid performance. She really seemed to be taking charge in the back at times. Very clearly calling players off balls for the keeper and gesturing wildly to try and keep things organized. I think the defense regrouped very well in this one. All that they were doing poorly in the last one, they seem to have rectified by about 20-25 minutes into this one. She also defended well in the air. At times I think Sweden forgot that Team USA plays Canada a lot. If there’s one thing that Team USA is very experienced and adept at defending, it’s the long ball. Those long balls in looking for the Swedish forwards, played right to a US strength. Kate didn’t get too much into the attack, but some of her distance passes were actually connecting in this one, and she showed some poise calmly turning the ball around at times and starting the offense on the ground. Just a much more poised and calm performance all the way around.
Lopez – I thought she had a very nice game today. She doesn’t seem to carry a lot of speed and that does concern me a lot more on the flank than it does in the middle, but she’s got great fundamentals and she knows when she’s been beat. She just stays to the inside so that she’s always between the player and the goal. No panicking or silly fouls in those instances, just good, solid fundamental play. She defended very well with her feet in this one too – some very smooth takeaways, and she generally makes good decisions when turning those balls upfield. The clearances were much better and much smarter today. Solid outing.
Chalupny – I thought she had a much better game in this one. I’m still not sold on her and Lloyd in a three woman midfield together. Tactically, I just don’t think either one of them is ready to make good decisions and US possession and that last pass suffers because of it. That said, it was better. She was supporting the forwards a little bit better and the US was keeping the ball in the Swedish end for good chunks of time. As always she was very active and had a great workrate. That workrate was on display on the PK call. She followed that play all the way up so when the GK misread the ball, she was right there to capitalize. The PK call was the right one, the defender played her, not the ball and her effort led to the US going up 1-0. It also seemed like she was in the passing lanes making some more defensive plays in this one than the last. Overall a solid outing. Her speed and workrate will come in handy against Nigeria.
Osborne – I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t thrilled with this decision at the outset. But Osborne played a very strong defensive game. She was in the passing lanes, made some brilliant and timely slide tackles in the early going while the US was still finding its way, she was good in the air, and made some very smooth takeaways. I don’t think she provides the offensive decision making to the match that Boxx does when Boxx is on her game (switching fields and the like), so I don’t know if the US will ever have just a beautiful, technical, strings of 6 or 7 passes kind of a match when she’s the starter, but the US has never needed to do that to be effective. And the team was very effective with her out there today. She supported the defense well, she didn’t make silly turnovers offensively and managed to successfully get the ball to someone else more often than not. I wanted to hate the decision to play her, but I didn’t. I’m pretty stubborn, so that by itself is a sign that she had a really good game.
Lloyd – She was better in this one. The ball left the ground on occasion so it was more her kind of match. She had a really nice chance right in front of goal that she got too far under. She still looks a little overwhelmed to me though. I’d like her better out there with a more experienced attacking midfielder. Someone who views her more as another target than as the one who’s supposed to be spreading the ball around. Here’s the thing, Foudy was never the most athletic or flashiest player on the pitch, but she was the engine that kept things humming. Aly Wagner is the same kind of player. Team USA doesn’t seem to value this kind of player anymore and I think they have far less possession and get far fewer chances because they don’t. When Boxx is on her game, she performs this function somewhat, but it just wasn’t happening a lot today. There’s no one pulling the strings on offense and keeping the car running. There’s not a lot of shape on offense. There are just a lot of players running at goal trying to use superior 1 v. 1 talent to make some plays. This is why I harp on the fact that Lil is the one who is creating EVERYTHING that scores . . . all the creativity is happening up top by the same person – this has got to be a concern for someone other than me. Someone’s going to have to figure out how to create some goals for others at some point. You can’t just rely on personalities to do it without help game in and game out. You need someone in the midfield who can see 3-4 passes into the future such that the first pass gets made to start a concerted, team based attack. Lloyd, I think, misses that engine player more than anyone. She’s not going to create goals for herself, she’s more of a target player when she’s in the offensive third. I’d like to see her out there with a more creative force in the midfield. She’s a tremendous finisher from the midfield, I just don’t think she’s had much of a chance to show that yet.
Tarpley – Well, that’s certainly not what I would have done to get her in there. She’s perfectly capable of playing in the midfield and being on the pitch at the same time as Heather O’Reilly and I’m not sure why we didn’t see that today. I’d like to see Team USA with it’s best players on the field and with Heather O on the bench, that’s not what we saw. That said, Tarpley was solid enough. Made some nice runs forward, going back into the midfield to make some takeaways, made good decisions. Nothing too much stood out other than the fact she was fairly active on both sides of the ball and was the pass before the assist on Abby’s second goal (one of her takeaways and she managed to get it to Lil – nicely done). I think I was more focused on who she was in for, to be quite honest. It shouldn’t be either/or. They’re both outstanding players and not sure why there’s not enough room on the field for them both.
Wambach – What’s left to say. Great on offense, great on defense, great wining balls, great PK, great everything. I’ve run out of superlatives for Abby. And what I found hilarious, is that with all the talk of Abby diving, I think she was on the pitch a grand total of 1 time in this game. Soooo far inside of Sweden’s head before the game even started – I LOVE it. While I am out of new ways to praise her, I do have to mention her second goal. That was just outstanding. Collected the pass, chested it down to herself, and then volleyed in a perfect strike. Just a brilliant goal. So much composure on the ball – a world class finisher.
Lilly – I know she has always done the moon balls, but dang, how many is she going to put over the goal. And yes, the balls 30 feet over goal drive me completely insane at this level. These players shouldn’t be doing that (Lloyd was the other one with the moon balls in this one, I think Chalupny managed not to sky one) – it’s just a completely wasted possession and they all know better than to get so far under the ball. One of Lil’s wasn’t even that rushed – she was right in front of goal, she had a little space and a little time, there was no reason for it. OK – that’s my little diatribe on that. Lilly had a typical game – great workrate, very active on offense and once again, she’s the one who created the goal in the run of play. Great distance pass to Abby in the box and Abby took it from there. 123 year old Kristine Lilly remains the only US player to create a goal in the run of play this tournament . . . glad she didn’t retire.
Boxx – A shaky first couple of touches, then a much better and hopefully confidence building performance from Boxx. She was in the passing lanes, winning balls in the air, and made some very smooth takeaways. I didn’t note that she was asserting herself too much offensively or was switching fields much like she usually does, but her defensive game was much improved over the last one. She still doesn’t look like she’s moving as well as she usually does and I’m left wondering if her knee might be stiffening up on her a little bit. I’ll be interested to see who’s starting in the next one.
O’Reilly – She never really seemed to get in the flow of things. She had some nice runs at goal, nothing as dangerous as I was expecting. I really don’t have much here. The US wasn’t sitting on their lead late in the second half, but the attacks were much more of the opportunistic variety than a full out attack. She did some very smart time wasting near the end. Very nice footwork and very good decision-making to do it. And that’s about it. I’m sure she’ll have be out there against Nigeria. There’s no way anyone could keep that fast and dynamic of an attacking personality on the bench against a team like Nigeria.
And that is that. A fun game, a good win, an improved performance while at the same time, it kind of feels good knowing that the US hasn’t played its best game yet. I’ve been watching the Nigeria-North Korea game while I’ve been writing this and I don’t think Nigeria’s going to be the “easy” game it’s been in the past. True, North Korea seemed content to sit on their two goal lead and really didn’t even appear to try to get another one for the last 35-40 minutes, but the fact remains, that the team that gave us fits, was unable to score a goal in the run of play against the Nigerian defense. This is not the same Nigeria – this is an organized, disciplined team that plays together much better than they have in the past. I think they still need work on that last pass (that is, they need to make a last pass and stop shooting from 20-25 yards out) but their defending is pretty strong. Point being, I think Nigeria’s going to give Team USA a game so the next one could be another exciting end to end, crazy, attacking match. Here’s hoping it’s a fun one.