US 4 Norway 1

Now that’s how I thought Team USA was going to play this tournament.  I know, I know, pace of play in this one was very slow, so of course offensive and defensive shape would be improved and the US would be able to hold possession better.  But you know, the primary change I’ve been clamoring for since the tournament started was made, namely, an experienced playmaking midfielder was inserted into the lineup, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.  I really don’t have much in the way of preliminary comments for this game.  This was a strong outing for the US and like everyone else, I’m a little curious why this isn’t what we’ve seen from them the whole tournament.  But honestly, I’m exhausted from all the drama and am just going to focus on the game that was played and the player performances in it – my more critical analysis/thoughts are abundant in the last match report – this game did not change any of the opinions espoused in that one.  For this one though, it was an enjoyable match, and I’m going to try to focus on a lot of the good we saw on the pitch for Team USA today. 

Just a note:  If you’re looking for more commentary on the Hope situation, look elsewhere.  Yes, I do have some very strong opinions about what’s happened, and maybe I’ll share them some time (or maybe not).  But ya know, the whole game I was thinking to myself, “can’t you just shut up about all this and let me enjoy the match?”  So I’m going to shut up about all that and let you enjoy the player comments. 

Formation: (4-3-3, back-front, right-left)

GK – Scurry; Def – Dalmy, Rampone, Whitehill, Lopez; Midfield – Osborne, Wagner Chalupny – started with Chalupny and Osborne back and Wagner up, but very early on, Chalupny was playing very aggressively and getting forward; O’Reilly, Wambach, Lilly.  Ellerston in for Rampone, Tarpley in for Wagner; Kai in for Lilly so she could hear the cheers one last time (of course the Chinese know Kristine Lilly, JP, she’s the one who stole the 1999 WWC from them).


Scurry – A relatively solid and quiet outing.  She really wasn’t called on to do too much that was remarkable in this one.  It was the best defensive performance from the field players in the tournament.  The goal that was scored?  That’s how you score on Briana Scurry, you draw her out and you put it up.  She has always been vulnerable to the chip shot.  While that shot wasn’t technically a chip, same theory – get her off her line and go up with it.  Well placed shot.  Regarding her kicking – well, while the game was still competitive, she was letting Cat take her long kicks.  Carla Overbeck use to take goal kicks back in the day so this is nothing new.  I think if they continue to play with a playmaker in the midfield, that will be another outlet in those situations if they don’t want the defensive line to be that far back.  As for the rest of her game, she was making good decisions and didn’t make any huge mistakes.  I figure with her in goal, the US is going to give up two to good teams (and they did including the goal called back as offside) – I guess they’ll just have to score one more than that. 

Dalmy – She is an instant addition to the stable of Beulah faves.  I like her game a lot.  She’s extremely composed on the ball and she is extremely calm and smooth defending.  There is absolutely no drama, no scrambling, no panic at all in this kid.  Coming into a situation like this completely cold, and playing the way she did tells me all I need to know about her mentality as well.  For me, a perfect example of her composure on the ball was during that run up the flank, right on the endline, with the attacking player right on top of her, she doesn’t just hit it out for the corner, instead, she turns it and knocks it out up the sidelines at least 20-25 yards.  She was also very smooth defending with her feet – some tremendous takeaways, all accomplished without committing a foul.  She was also getting forward fairly well.  I think she needs to get played in with this team for those runs to be more productive, but she’s more mobile than you’d think that tall a defender would be.  I was thoroughly impressed with this calm, patient, young defender – I hope to see much more of her in the future.

Rampone – Solid game.  I’ve always thought she was solid when she had to play in the central defense.  The only problem with playing her there is that you lose what she provides offensively on the wing.  She used her speed well with double teams and she and Cat were very effective stopping just about everything coming up the center of the field.  I thought the defense played very aggressively today rather than letting the opposition dictate play.  It was nice to see them go out and defend rather than sitting on their heels waiting for the deluge to stop.  I have no clue why she went off in the second half, but whatever it was, I hope it’s not serious.  I thought she had an outstanding tournament and I hope she makes the all tournament team (I haven’t seen that list yet if it’s come out). 

Whitehill – Pretty much the same comments as Rampone.  She had a solid game, was defending the center of the field well, was helping on the wing when needed, was setting a high line/getting forward fairly well.  Definitely prefer her goal kicks to Bri’s – those kicks need to get to the midfield stripe and hers do.  As usual, she took some nice free kicks.  And she showed her nose for the net on set pieces with that second goal.  She took a good crack at that corner, hit it off the post, which left the ball sitting for Abby’s score.  Nice play.  She’s a good backbone for this defense and I look for her to be back there for years to come. 

Lopez – Solid outing – she bounced back well from a subpar game against Brazil. An organized defense, a calm defense that keeps its shape really helps her.  She and Cat had that right side covered – nothing too dangerous got through over there.  She was playing aggressively in the midfield and forced a lot of those turnovers before they even got in the defensive third of the field.  Her corner kicks are worth mentioning in this one too. I’ve been hot and cold with her corners this tournament – most games I’m wishing Lil would take them.  But she showed what she can do with them in this game.  Her corner on that first goal was perfect – Norway is also playing a keeper whose range ain’t what it used to be so she played that corner right into Nordby to test her.  Make the goalkeeper make the play – good thought and good execution.  Lopez shows some good instincts offensively – she was passing well through the midfield and working well with Osborne when she pushed forward.  Overall a solid outing.  The US has a nice core of young defenders assembled.  I feel good about this group moving into the future.

Ellerston – I thought this was her best defensive performance in a national team uniform.  She was rock solid – fundamentally sound.  That’s been my issue with her on defense – players have been able to turn on her, she’s bitten on fakes and she’s been too reliant on her superior speed rather than trying to read what’s coming at her.  These are typical problems when you make this kind of position switch.  But in this game, I didn’t see any of that at all.  She was good with double teams, she was prepared for all that was running at her, she wasn’t chasing much.  Familiarity with each other was probably the root of some marking problems in the box in the second half, but that was very much a cobbled together defense at that point and even with a few missed marks, they did a very good job staying as organized as they did.  Just a rock solid performance.  Norway didn’t look very dangerous in this one – the whole defense gets a hearty thumbs up for that. 

Osborne -  Solid outing.  She’s been patrolling the center of the field very effectively the entire tournament.  For all the talk of emotions and distractions and whatnot, Osborne’s actually the one who had some things to deal with and sort through.  And it looks like she did that just fine – she was just as aggressive as she always is and didn’t seem to second guess herself at all.  She was making some nice takeaways with her feet – for all the turnovers they were causing and as disruptive as they were being, the US managed to do a lot of that with their feet instead of being overly physical.  It was nice to see the US using their defensive footwork in this one.  I thought she was connecting with the forwards and the wings better in this one than she has in previous outings.  She was pushing a lot of balls out wide and connecting with teammates positioned there.  A solid outing.  A solid heir apparent for Boxx . . . and she might make that happen sooner rather than later.  The competition at that position will be interesting to watch (and no, I’m not a fan of playing them both at the same time – I think it’s way too defensive a strategy for the US where it is impossible to dictate play – it’s just too reactive and I think the US is at its best when it plays the role of the aggressor).

Wagner – Welcome to the World Cup Aly.  Nice to see a playmaker out there, eh?  Those nice one touch passes on target to a forward or fellow midfielder made me smile.  She’s just got such a beautiful touch on the ball.  You could tell her teammates aren’t used to it though – she one touched some beautiful balls into space – a year ago someone would have run onto those balls, today, far too many went for turnovers.  I think they’re just not used to playing through the midfield with a table setter right now and it’s going to take some time to get accustomed to that again.  My only complaint is kind of along those lines – and it’s that there wasn’t enough play going through Aly.  In the early going especially, she simply wasn’t getting enough touches on the ball.  A lot of play was still long balls down the flank at the outset.  As the game wore on, though, more of the game was going through the center of the field.  What she does isn’t sexy, she’s not going to wow you with her speed or 1 v. 1 moves, but what she does is control the field.  She lets Team USA dictate play, she lets Team USA control the tempo of the game and that’s what lets the Abbys and Lils, Chalupnys and O’Reillys make all the headlines and fill up the box score.  It’s why Julie Foudy was on the field for the National Team for 17 years, it’s why Aly Wagner or an Aly Wagner type (Joanna Lohman, anyone?)  should be on the field in the future. 

Chalupny – And if you put her on the field with a playmaking midfielder, she’ll shine more brightly . . . where have I heard that before . . . (OK, OK, I’ve taken the high road for most of this, let me be obnoxious for a sec).  She had a great game.  She had the playmaking responsibility taken from her and it gave her the freedom to roam the field and very aggressively support the forwards.  Give her a handful of games with Aly, and I guarantee you she would have been the one running onto those balls passed into space.  As it was in this one, she had a very high workrate, was connecting well with the forwards, made some nice defensive plays in the box (and seemed to bear the brunt of all of the Norwegians’ physical play), and managed to get some nice chances for herself and teammates.  She was a pest in the box and that peskiness led to two goals.  Just a great outing.  She had a strong tournament.  The midfield as a unit was getting bashed this tournament but I think that was more for the style of play.  But the midfielders as individuals generally had a nice tournament.  And none nicer than Chalupny.

O’Reilly – Now that’s the way Heather O’Reilly is supposed to play.  She did a tremendous job earning corner kicks today.  She used her 1 v. 1 ability, she was combining with teammates and she was going back into the midfield to get the ball herself.  Everything that she was criticized for in the last one, she did well in this one.  Again, the presence of a playmaking midfielder passing to the forwards’ feet helps her game tremendously.  Glad she got to net one there near the end.  That was largely Tarpley’s hard work that got that goal, but Heather O was right there to finish it and make all of Tarp’s hard work pay off.  Strong outing – easily O’Reilly’s best of the tournament.

Wambach – As with all the other forwards, I’m sure she was pretty happy to see Aly in the game and then to see Tarp come in in that playmaking midfield role.  With the playmaker in the game, the defense can’t double and triple team Abby because the offense isn’t as predictable as it’s been most of the tournament.  With someone passing and controlling the offense, everyone’s involved, when everyone’s involved, Abby has a little bit of space and takes much less physical abuse.  Her goals were very opportunistic strikes off set pieces.  She was there to mop up balls sent in by teammates on both occasions.  She’s very efficient in front of goal.  Like O’Reilly, Abby was also going back into the midfield to get the ball at times.  Not just to get the ball and go 1 v. 1 or boot it blindly forward, but to constructively start the attack.  Sometimes I think that kind of play is contagious – Aly was doing it, Heather was doing it, Lil was doing it, so Abby went back and did it too.  Solid game from Abby.  They really need to work to make sure everyone’s involved in the offense in the future, not only are they taking years off Abby’s career with this boot it up to her on every possession strategy, but the fact everyone knows that’s the US’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd option makes everything the US is trying to do far too predictable and easy to defend.  In this game, the US was peppering the ball to everyone, that gives Abby some space to breathe.

Lilly – Again, same comments as O’Reilly, but instead of earning corners, Lil was taking cracks at goal.  She had several good chances in this one and was as active and energized as she was all tournament.  Combining well with others, going into the midfield and getting the ball, great workrate.  The whole forward unit looked great in this one.  Like Heather, I wish Lil had been running onto some of those balls into space from Aly, but I guess they’re not thinking like that anymore.  There were a couple where Aly put the ball into space and Lil was already trotting back on defense.  Keep your head up and be aware.  But aside from that, I really don’t have much in the way of criticism.  It was a solid outing on which to end her World Cup career. 

Tarpley – Oh, so she CAN play in the midfield.  I see . . . (I said “trying” to take the high road, “trying” being the operative word there).  Anyway – she’s not quite the table setter Aly is, but she’s a more prolific offensive player and quite a bit more athletic.  So when she’s in the playmaking midfield role, it’s not so much the one touch passing and patient possession play Aly creates, but she is very adept at creating for the forwards and at connecting the forwards with the rest of the team.  I think either one of them in that attacking midfield role would have helped the US offense throughout this tournament.  The either/or fiction we’d been fed with Tarpley and O’Reilly looks foolish in hindsight.  They combined very well for that fourth goal.  Tarpley came in with a very high workrate.  She was relentless on Nordby to create O’Reilly’s goal.  She was combining with the forwards and midfielders well, and created chances for herself and teammates.  I wish we’d seen more of her in this tournament – she brings a great energy on the field.  And she is very calm on the ball, even when people are flying at her – the matchup against Brazil would have been a great game for her to have gotten some time. 

Kai – That sub was so Lil could get a cheer.  I’ve got nothing here.   

Well – that is it. Glad they closed on a high note even if it was the only game all tournament where they actually played up to their potential.  And playing to their potential is the point.  A great coach is one who can get his or her team to out perform its talent level.  A poor coach is one whose team consistently doesn’t play to its potential.  Team USA consistently underperformed this tournament.  US Soccer is going to do what it’s going to do, I don’t have any illusions about that.  But all the histrionics about Hope Solo’s comments aside, it’s two simple facts that need to be reviewed at the end of this:  1) This team was not prepared to play this tournament; and 2) this team was in residency for two years.  The Fed needs to put aside all the silliness that followed the semifinal match and look at those two very simple facts. I don’t know how they can be satisfied with the direction of the women’s program if they just distill it down to that.