US 3 England 0

I’m not sure I was watching the same game as the announcers in this one.  But for a team that completely outplayed the US, according to our play by play guy, England sure didn’t look dangerous, did they?  This is where I think people go a little crazy with “the beautiful game” stuff.  Yeah, the US needs to possess the ball more, no question – but to say England had the better game because they had more possession in this one completely ignores what was actually happening on the pitch.  I hate to agree with Tony DiCicco because his insipid and facile commentary has been driving me insane the entire tournament, but I agree completely with his comment about England . . . yeah, they were possessing the ball, but look where they were possessing the ball.  Deep in their own end and in the midfield.  They didn’t just fail on the last touch, they failed on the touch that would have been the one before the last touch – they didn’t look composed or dangerous in the US third the entire game.  Possess all you want in the midfield, but if you can’t advance the ball and do something with that possession in front of the other team’s goal then what good is it?  It’s what used to drive me nuts about the Washington Freedom back in the day, and I can only imagine the English fans’ frustration with it in this one. 

I thought the US looked solid.  I’m glad they got some goals under their belts and were connecting some passes in the second half because after that little scoring slew, they all looked like they stood a little taller . . . .and passing, shooting, defending, scoring, all seems a little easier when you can stand tall.  Hopefully, the goals and rhythm they found in the second half will carry on to the next one.  As for US possessing the ball, well, it would be nice if the coach would take some responsibility for this instead of letting his players twist in the wind.  Look at the starting lineups he’s employed – this is not a midfield that’s going to possess the ball.  This is not a lineup that lends itself to a built up 6, 7, 8 pass attack.  There is no experienced attacking midfielder on the pitch whose role it is to strategically and tactically set play.  Without that type of engine player, play is going to necessarily be more direct, scoring chances will be more opportunistic than orchestrated, and individual players will be relied upon to take on defenders.  This is a coaching decision, not a failure of the players.  Yes, the players can do better possessing the ball and making smarter decisions with the ball, no question, I am completely on board with that.  But if you’re looking for “the beautiful game” look at Brazil. Team USA’s starting lineup is simply not built to or coached to play that way.

All that said, there are no style points in soccer and Team USA, as they have their entire history, just keeps finding ways to win.  Team USA scored some very opportunistic goals in this one, they looked very strong defensively and they are improving on the ball as the tournament progresses.  Team USA has never done it prettily, they didn’t at the 2004 Olympics, they certainly didn’t in the 1999 World Cup which is what so many people are so hot to talk about. So let’s dial back all the possession talk a little bit.  Let’s talk a bit more about how the lineup the coach actually puts out there is capable of playing and winning, and not so much about how it could all be more “beautiful.” 

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

GK – Solo; Def – Rampone, Markgraf, Whitehill (the two central backs switched sides at times), Lopez; Midfield – Boxx, Chalupny, Osborne, with Chalupny playing up; Fwd – O’Reilly, Wambach, Lilly.  Lloyd in for Boxx, Kai in for Wambach . . . and I realize this isn’t little league, but if you’re going to wait that late to make subs, why not let someone who hasn’t played yet on the pitch.  I mean, less than 10 minutes left, up 3-0, would it have killed them to let someone new play?

Players:

Solo – Hope’s having a great tournament.  She’s got great range, makes good decisions, not afraid to come off her line, great with her feet . . . she’s got everything you want a keeper to have. I have nothing else.  Another impressive outing. 

Rampone – She’s having an outstanding tournament.  For all Julie’s talk of how US defenders aren’t getting forward into the attack, I have to recommend a review of group play – against Nigeria and especially against Sweden, Rampone was actually quite active in the US attack.  And against North Korea she was marking – her getting forward wasn’t part of the game plan in that one.  I’m not quite sure where that particular criticism was coming from.  She made some nice runs forward in this one as well and was very active defending in the midfield.  The whole US team was defending well and setting a fairly high line.  Again, for all the talk of English possession in this one, that possession really wasn’t happening deep in the US end.  I thought she and Kate teamed up and defended well together on those occasions when England did break through.  I thought she turned on the ball well in this one and saved a couple of corners.  To me that just showed more composure/confidence on the ball and that’s something we saw with the entire team.  Yet another strong outing for Rampone.  She’s already done more than enough to make the all tournament team, and I’ll be quite disappointed if she’s not rewarded thusly.

Markgraf – The whole defense was rock solid today.  Kate’s still got her wheels – those wheels came in handy on a couple of plays.  She ran in for the double team very quickly and she very efficiently made up for mistakes on those rare occasions when a defender actually got beat in this one.  I kind of liked it when she and Cat switched sides – I like to have some speed playing next to Lopez and I like to have Cat surrounded by speed.  In the last game it seemed that with Cat and Lopez playing on the same side that left flank was getting picked on a bit.  Kate and Cat switching at times made that more difficult to do.  I think Kate is one of those players who misses having a midfielder in her face calling for the ball though.  The accuracy of her passes over distance has never been terribly consistent and it’s the only knock I have on her today.  That and the ball she booted over the goal.  But she’s a central defender and her job is to defend.  She did that very well today.  She’s going to have to be just as on top of her game against Brazil.

Whitehill – Now, she can pass the ball over distance and into the box.  Great long ball on Lil’s goal.  Sometimes you’ve got to take a chance – she was just trying to float one into the box for a forward to run onto and boom, goal keeper’s out, goal keeper misjudges it, goal keeper’s standing there with her hands on her head watching Team USA go up 3-nil.  Nicely done.  She was solid in the central defense.  She was playing a very high line – pushed up into the midfield for much of the game.  Made some nice takeaways, nice double teams . . . just a solid defensive performance.  I’ve always said about central defenders, that if I don’t have a lot to say about their defensive performance, than they’ve had a nice night.  That’s a position that largely only gets noticed when they screw up – no major screw ups in this one.  They’re going to have to get ready to play a bit deeper and be on their heels a little bit more in the next, assuming Brazil gets through.  Solid game.

Lopez – She’s gets tough points for that knock to the head and coming right back in.  I pick on her speed a little bit, but she is so fundamentally sound that attempts by the opposition to pick on her lack of speed don’t yield much.  She faces the sideline, doesn’t try for the silly pick and keeps players to her outside.  Yeah, attackers got by her a couple of times in this one, but no one managed to completely turn the corner on her.  If she was stupid about it, played too close, went for the steal, they’d shoot right by her.  She knows her own game though and for someone this young coming onto the National Team for her first major tournament, that she stays so composed and plays within herself speaks volumes about her maturity and confidence out there.  It says to me that she’s going to be on that left side for a long long time.  She’s a nice addition to the backline and had yet another solid performance today.  Assuming it’s Brazil next, it’s going to be a challenge, but I expect her to turn the Brazilians to her outside and cut off all good angles at goal like she did against the speedier sides in group play.  

Boxx – Glad she got that goal – I think she needed it.  That goal showed a little bit of everything from her.  Nice defensive takeaway, then without hesitation, nice solid shot at goal.  That she took such a quick strike prevented the defense from getting set and prevented the goalkeeper from making any adjustment.  Great stuff from her.  She was defending well in this one and getting a bit more into the attack.  She’s still not setting the play offensively like she can do when she’s at her best, but she was playing significantly higher than she did in group play.  She was in the English half of the field more often than not and her presence deep in the English end is at least part of the reason the US possession looked a bit better today.  If the US is going to have any chance of dictating play rather than chasing Brazil for 90 minutes in the next one, Boxx is going to have to be the one to step up and take charge.  She can do it, she has done it before and maybe scoring a goal and having a solid outing is all she needed to recover from that North Korea game and get her legs back under her.  That North Korea game really threw the whole team off . . . here’s hoping that today’s game throws the whole team back on. 

Chalupny – Love that workrate.  She’s everywhere all the time.  She provided some nice support to the attack.  She was helping out on defense, she was very disruptive throughout the midfield.  My only issue is that I’m not sure she’s being used correctly.  Yes, I know I always clamor for her to be used offensively . . . but like I’ve mentioned previously, I think she’d be more effective offensively if there was a true attacking central midfielder out on the pitch with her.  At this point in her career, Chalupny’s simply not capable of setting the table for the forwards.  Like Lloyd she’s more an end user than a table setter – while Lloyd is a target player, Chalupny is a player who’s going to take a defender on 1 v. 1 on her way to the goal.  Neither one of them is a possession based player who is going to be a cog in a patient built up attack.  So – I love her individual game, she was strong defensively, she was taking on defenders and her workrate was outstanding.  I’m just not sure I love that the US isn’t really playing through it’s midfield right now.

Osborne – She played a great defensive game today.  Kelly Smith was completely neutralized and Osborne is largely responsible for that.  She’s got a great workrate, reads the passing lanes well and manages to win her share of 50-50 balls.  She’s become a rock solid defensive midfielder.  Like Chalupny, I’d like her even better if she was out there with a true central attacking midfielder.  She doesn’t always make the best decisions with the ball but I’ve found that when she has someone to dump the ball off to, she’s always quite accurate/efficient in doing so.  Overall though, very strong outing – she does what she does very well.   

O’Reilly – I don’t have a ton here.  She was very active on offense, had a good workrate.  There were times I was screaming for numbers in the box and wondering where she was, but there were other times when I was watching her run 70 yards to help on defense.  A lot of running around in this one.  I thought all the forwards were pressuring the defense well – that’s something I don’t recall seeing as much in group play.  She had a couple of nice chances and along with Chalupny did a good job getting Team USA some corners.  She’s another player I think would benefit from having Tarpley or Wagner playing in the midfield though.  There really doesn’t seem to be anyone trying to get the ball to Heather’s feet like you’d want to see.  She’s as dynamic a player as there is on the US roster, I’d like to see a midfielder putting the ball to her more often and getting her some more touches rather than booting everything up to Abby and/or taking on defenders themselves.  Solid outing – they’re certainly going to need her speed and athleticism in the next one (apologies to Australia for assuming the next one is against Brazil . . . but come on, who’s not making that assumption . . . and who, among Team USA fans, wouldn’t love it if the Australians proved us wrong).

Wambach – I have nothing else to say.  Abby was Abby – she was active on offense, like Heather she was pressuring the defense quite a bit, she was helping on defense and she was creating chances for herself and her fellow forwards.  She was occupying 1-2 defenders at all times which gave some other US players a little bit of space.  And her goal was just like they draw them up.  She was standing near the top of the box, Lilly booted that corner toward the far post and Abby ran right onto it, and headed it right in. That was simply perfection.  Everyone can keep on talking about how Kelly Smith is the best player in the tournament, but you know what?  I think I’d like to keep Abby on my team if that’s OK with everyone.  Great game . . . I don’t know what else there is to say.

Lilly – THAT’S why you follow every play and run out every ball.  THAT’s what makes Kristine Lilly who she is.  Very opportunistic goal . . . very opportunistic goal that many many many teams don’t score because no one is following what looked to be an easy save for the goalkeeper all the way to the end.  THAT’s playing the right way and THAT’s why Kristine Lilly is the player I’d most encourage little kids playing the game to emulate.  And THAT’S all I have to say about THAT.

Lloyd – Why, at that point, don’t you let someone else play?   I noticed she won a nice challenge in the midfield and turned the ball upfield all in one nice smooth motion . . . that was a really nice play.  But it was mop up time – there’s really not a whole lot to say about 10 minutes in mop up time.

Kai – Uhhhhhhh . . . well . . . . ummm . . . uhhh . . . .she looked ferocious when she came on and was yelling at everyone . . . very good encouraging her teammates . . . uhhhh . . . ummmmm . . .uhhhh . . .  yeah, that’s it.

All right – fun match, nice to see the US score some good goals and it was really nice to see how they reacted to scoring those goals.  I think they needed this one: a good solid win.  Because despite JP’s the sky is falling commentary that just wouldn’t stop, that’s exactly what this game was, a good solid win.  Here’s hoping the long wait before they hit the pitch again doesn’t do anything to stifle the momentum they gained in this match. 

 

Beulah