US 3 France 1

There are no style points in soccer – that’s always the mantra with the US, isn’t it?  You can maintain possession and look absolutely brilliant for a full 90, but if you don’t put it in the back of the net more than the other team, you don’t win.  And that’s what happened to France.  They maintained possession beautifully through the middle third and even into the attacking third, but that link into the box, just wasn’t as sharp and didn’t come as quickly as it needed to at times for the French to capitalize.  Part of the reason the French didn’t have a ton of realistic chances even though they possessed so well is that the US defense had a very nice afternoon.  Part of it was just some bad luck.  Bompastor’s screamer off the post could have scored, I think Abily had some near misses as did Thiney.  The US defense was right on the French attack’s shoulder often enough to change shots, cut angles and take pace off the shots.

As for why the French were maintaining possession and controlling the game so much? Is it too flip for me to say: because the US wasn’t?  I don’t know how else to put it though – the first 10-15 minutes, the US was aggressively attacking, holding the ball in the attacking end and creating some chances.  After the first goal, the US seemed to back off a little.  They weren’t playing as aggressively on offensive and the ball was in the air more.  The best way to combat the French midfield and wing backs is to simply put them on their heels with your own attack. That didn’t happen for a pretty long stretch though.  The ball was getting turned over, the midfield was playing deep defending rather than mounting much of an organized attack and for the middle 55-60 minutes of the game, the French were in control.  The numbers for the US seemed to be deep in the defense so the French weren’t stopped until they’d already gotten into the US third.  And with a potent offensive team like France, that’s living life on a razor thin edge.  A bit nerve wracking for the nice Team USA fans, but honestly, not an atypical performance. 

All in all – the final score made this game look a tad lopsided and it certainly wasn’t.  The French play such a beautiful and entertaining style, it was satisfying to see them have so much success in this tournament.  Ultimately though, all the beautiful play has to lead to something and they were missing that final pass and/or touch a little too often in this one.

FORMATION

4-4-2 – back-front, left-right: GK – Solo; Def- LePeilbet, Rampone, Sauerbrunn, Krieger; Mid – Cheney, Lloyd, Boxx (with Boxx withdrawn), O’Reilly; Fwd – Wambach, Rodriguez.  Morgan in for Rodriguez, Rapinoe in for Lloyd (she plays on the left, Cheney moves central), Heath in for O’Reilly.

PLAYERS

Solo – I just watched her throw herself under the bus in her post-game interview.  It wasn’t that bad, Hope, really.  We are so spoiled with our goalkeeper here in the US if this is what’s considered a bad performance.  Yeah – the goal wasn’t her most decisive moment, but honestly, that was just a great strike by Bompastor, great run into the box by Thiney and Hope decided to play for the Thiney flick.  Thiney let the ball sail through though and it found home in the upper corner.  Whoever left Bompastor as wide open as she was to take that shot in the first place is as responsible as anyone for that strike.  As for the rest of her game – maybe not quite as sharp and decisive coming out for balls as she has been, but she sure did stretch and make some really nice saves high.  Her kicking was fine, as usual, despite the reported pregame hamstring tweak.  That looks like it wasn’t much of anything.  One really scary turnover on a careless attempted pass to a defender right in front of goal, but besides that, it was a pretty nice Solo performance.  She’s allowed to read one wrong every now and again – especially a tricky one. 

LePeilbet – She’s a great defender, she was going to figure out the defensive side of things on the wing.  I’m never going to be fully on board with her on the wing, but she did a good job defensively again.  She’s definitely improved as the tournament has progressed.  The double teams have helped, the fact that she’s not trying to do too much has helped as well.  Don’t go for the ball, just stay between the attacker and the goal and wait for the double team.  She doesn’t provide as much support to the offense as you’d optimally like that wing back to provide, but she’s gone from shaky to solid in just a few games, so she definitely gets kudos for that.  The defense needs to stay organized and she needs to keep playing with confidence in the next one. 

Rampone – She certainly came to play in what is most likely her last World Cup hurrah.  Great job helping on the wing and covering a lot of territory in the center of the field.  I felt after about the first 10-15 minutes, she could have been a little more aggressive moving forward and helping defend in the midfield, but considering she had a new linemate in the central defense in this one, I can understand why the whole team might have been a little more cautious than they should have been.  I continue to like the ball she sends in on the free kicks she takes.  And that’s about it.  The French really weren’t being stopped in or by the midfield so the defense was quite busy.  I thought Rampone and Sauerbrunn handled it well.  They didn’t seem quite as organized as they were against Brazil, but they managed to make almost all the stops they needed to.  Even where the attack wasn’t completely stymied, the defense played fundamentally sound soccer and changed pace and angles of most of what the French team launched in the attacking third.

Sauerbrunn – Now that’s a debut.  Just for the record, as a Washington Freedom fan, I’ve been watching this player since her professional career started and while Cat Whitehill was getting all the press and making all-star teams, I consistently called Becky Sauerbrunn the most underrated player in WPS.  I love that she’s getting this chance and I love what she’s doing with it.  Sauerbrunn is a pretty cool customer and I didn’t think she’d have many jitters, but that she came out and didn’t look shaky at all, is a testament to her professionalism and poise.  She’s not the fastest defender you’re ever going to see, but she doesn’t get beat and doesn’t have to chase often because she reads the game so well.  She doesn’t just see what’s in front of her, she sees what’s going to happen two touches from what’s in front of her.  That’s why she makes all the right runs, takes all the right angles and is able to sweep in and make as many plays as she does – she sees it a step quicker than most other players on the pitch.  One of the headiest defenders in the game.  She is great clearing the ball and can make a long pass into the midfield.  It’s the short passing game and the offensive strategic decision making that can sometimes hold her up.  So long as she has a designated outlet and gets rid of the ball quickly, as she did most of the game (either to Rampone or up to Boxx) she can pretty seamlessly fit in.  Overall, a couple of hiccups, probably due to her inexperience at the international level/unfamiliarity with playing at this pace for a full 90, but a very strong performance.  Strong enough, that you’ve really got to think about who’s going to start the next one. 

Krieger – She has been as consistent a performer throughout the tournament as Team USA has on the roster.  She has really defended much better than I thought she was capable.  She has been getting into the attack, but also tracking back and not getting caught out of position.  That’s always been my biggest complaint with her, that she has great offensive instincts, but not so great defensive ones.  In this tournament though, she’s been rock solid.  The past couple of games she’s had more of the attack coming at her and she’s handled it well.  She defended Bompastor well most of the game – she put a body on her and stayed between Sonia and the goal.  Ran her over the sideline and to the endline a couple of times.  Sonia’s going to get loose sometimes, she’s too good not to, but Krieger kept up with her fairly well.  She’s been helping her fellow defenders more the past few games.  She’s also helping up into the midfield and shifting over into the center when necessary.  She does serve a beautiful ball in and is a technical enough player that she can run at defenses herself.  I wish that we’d seen a little more of that against the French – the best way to defend Sonia is to make her stay in the French end defending, but after the first goal, I think the entire US team was focused on their own defensive third and not getting numbers forward.  I think Team USA is set at right back for years to come.  Coming into this tournament, I didn’t really feel that way, so that speaks to how well she’s been playing.  I’m pretty stubborn, but she’s managed to change my mind. 

Cheney – Another consistent performer in this tournament.  She’s been fantastic.  She’s helped defensively, she’s been a target offensively, she’s been a distributor, she’s stretched the field and she’s had a great workrate.  She earned the starting job going in and I don’t think anyone regrets that the switch was made.  The first goal was a nice little touch by Lloyd to O’Reilly who was running wide left who put a nicely timed ball up to Cheney who slotted the ball in.  She has nice touch on her shot, she didn’t over hit the ball and placed it just right.  That touch on the ball on the finish has been a tad problematic for some of Team USA’s players at times in this tournament (there’s a tendency to crush the ball at times, even when crushing is really not the best option), but she’s had nice touch throughout.  Late in the second half, she was playing really well centrally.  She was helping to get numbers forward for the US when that had been a problem from about the middle 50-55 minutes of the game.  She has been tremendous on corners.  She sent in a perfectly weighted ball to Abby’s head for the second goal.  Strong game and if I was a betting woman, I’d say she’ll be on the all-tournament team when this is over.

Boxx – She came out in the first 10 minutes and was very aggressive.  She was making tackles and getting forward.  After the US scored, the whole team seemed to retreat a little and the French gained control of the game.  She was still in there trying to get in passing lanes and make tackles but she just wasn’t that effective.  I think that the US was outnumbered in the midfield made her job really hard and she was turning the ball over more than usual.  Like the rest of the team, though, her game really picked up for about the last 20-25 minutes.  All the passing got much sharper after the French goal, Rapinoe’s entry and Cheney moving to the center of the field.  When the US ratcheted up the offense, I think it took the pressure off Boxx and she was able to play her game a little more.  A solid performance, with the caveat that she needs to watch the turnovers.  Possess the ball – the whole team needs to calm down when they have a lead and just possess a little more.  It’s easier to control the ball than play on their heels chasing the other team for 50 minutes. 

Lloyd – She had a nice opening 10.  That little touch pass to O’Reilly that led to Cheney’s goal was beautiful.  After the goal though, I thought she was playing way too deep in the midfield.  There were rarely numbers forward and the timing on through balls to Rodriguez was not good.  She was fairly active but a lot of the play was around the midfield line and not moving forward.  I think she’d be better if Team USA had that engine type player on the field rather than Team USA relying on her to be that player.  She just doesn’t set play that well over long stretches of time.  She’s better when she’s staying forward and being the link to the forwards/scoring goals rather than being responsible for distributing and possessing the ball in the midfield.  And I am still getting frustrated with the long distance shots.  There was one instance where she had Abby right over her left shoulder running forward calling for the ball, and she was oblivious and put the ball toward goal from 30+ yards out instead of making the pass.  She needs to play with her head up more.  If she can’t do that, Team USA might think about swapping her with Cheney.  Cheney plays with her head on a swivel and generally makes better decisions.  Overall, she was instrumental in setting up the first goal, but then seemed to get derailed a bit.  She’s got all the talent in the world, I’d just like to see her decision making sharpen up in the next one.

O’Reilly – Beautiful assist on the Cheney goal.  The timing on those nice little balls to players running at the defense has been a little off for a lot of the tournament, but Heather O got it done.  I guess my disappointment with her game in this one is that we didn’t see more of it.  For about 55 minutes after the goal, she just completely fell off the page.  She’s who really needed to run the ball right at Bompastor to try to take her off her offensive game a bit.  It just didn’t happen that much until late in the second half.  I know she was back helping on defense, but I’d rather she concentrate on maintaining possession in the attacking half of the field than running back to help on defense because the other team has the ball.  She’s probably got the best soccer brain in the midfield, so even though she’s playing wide, I’d like to see her take more responsibility for setting play on offense.  Team USA plays so well when she does.  During the last half of the second half, it seemed like she was taking on the defense much more.  The entire US side got more aggressive and she was part of that.  And that’s about it.  Despite the assist, I felt this was a quiet outing for her.  Here’s hoping she makes a whole lot of noise in the next one.

Wambach – Gee – she doesn’t have any sense of the moment does she?  Heh heh – she likes the dramatic finish, no doubt.  She can be quiet for 50-60 minutes, getting hammered in the midfield, spending more time picking herself up off the turf than making runs forward, looking frustrated as heck and then. . . and then . . . the US gets a corner and BOOM, she puts a perfect header in the back of the net and Team USA is off and running.  Such an incredible weapon on set pieces.  If the person taking the kick gets it to her, she puts it on frame as often as not.  It doesn’t matter if the other team possesses the ball more when your team has a finisher like this.  She just needs one shot.  And after that shot, everything in her game picked up.  She was pushing the defensive restraining line, she was making runs through and finished up strong.   Throughout the entire match, she was having a solid outing, I just felt she was playing too deep in the midfield at times.  She was defending fairly well throughout the midfield and she is always as key defending on corners as she is scoring on them.  Overall, solid outing with a spectacular finish.  The midfield definitely needs to work on getting her the ball more consistently throughout the entire game.  These dramatic finishes are fun and all, but let’s not rely on them every time out. 

Rodriguez – She just seems to be about 2-3 feet away from where she should be on just about every play.  Not taking the right angles, not timing runs just right, every pass to her seems just a little long, just a little short or just a little wide.  One example was on that great attempt at goal by Abby when Rampone made that fantastic run up the right side.  Abby’s header glanced off something and fell right near the far post.  Rodriguez was running right at the far post on that ball, instead of staying on her line on her off ball run, she cut inside and ran toward Abby – if she’d just stayed on her line she would have had a great chance to score that.  Spacing and timing still seem to be problems with her.  Watching Morgan come in and how well timed her runs are, that she tends to be in exactly the right spot to receive balls makes me think the timing problem is more A-Rod’s and less her midfielders’.  She is such a great talent though – I love watching her run at defenses, I’d just like to see her get to a whole lot more balls than she does.  I’d like to see that timing and spacing get much much better. 

Morgan – I like this kid’s game very much.  She’s at her best running through seams in the defense.  Her teammates just have to find her.  She is very good at getting on the end of through balls.  As I said in Rodriguez’s section, she times her runs very well.  Her goal was a product of this.  Rapinoe put her through, she got on the end of it and put the ball in the back of the net.  I like that she didn’t over hit the ball, but instead just slotted it in.  Nice speedy player to bring in off the bench to put defenses on their heels.  Her entry into the game helped change the US pace and helped the US mount a far more aggressive attack than they had previously.  She’s a superstar of the future and a nice solid contributor off the bench in the now.

Rapinoe – Here’s my thing with all the talk of her earning her way into the starting lineup – why?  Come on, Team USA lost the one game she started.  And before all you Pilots fans storm my house, I’m not saying it’s because she started that Team USA lost to Sweden.  But you’ve got to wonder if part of the reason they lost that one is that they didn’t have her to bring in off the bench.  She is such a wonderful change of pace player and she’s really the only one on the team who can bring to the field in the second half what she does.  Having her come in, with all that energy, to run at defenses and completely change the pace of the US attack is invaluable, and in two straight games it has completely re-energized the US attack right when they needed it.  I still think her decision making is a little slow and her passes not always weighted as well as they could be – there was one play where both Morgan and Wambach were on a run, right at the defensive line and she just held the ball too long and both had to double back and to stay onside.  At the same time, within this game, she showed improvement on that count.  The ball that Morgan scored on was a perfectly weighted ball through.  So Rapinoe is capable – we just need to see it a little more often.  She’s definitely provided service when Team USA has needed it though.  I’m hoping we see her as a second half sub in the next one – not because she can’t handle starting, but because Team USA needs her to be a sub. 

Heath – I hate to pick, she was hardly in there.  But her one notable touch may have been the dumbest thing I saw all day.  A few minutes left, the entire US team is just trying to hold the ball in the French end and what does she do?  They pass it to her and she sends a slow roller to the French GK from 30+ yards out.  Um, yeah – turn the ball over to the player who can actually pick it up and kick it 60+ yards all the way down the field.  She’s not nearly as young as she plays.  And because I’m still feeling good about the win, I’ll leave it at that. 

And that is that.  Another great win.  Sure the French dominated possession, but can we just stipulate that that’s going to happen before the game starts so the TV commentators can hammer at something else during the match.  More often than not this is how it is.  The other team possesses the ball more, but Team USA wins.  The US has gotten better holding the ball over the years, but they’re not going to be as good as Brazil on that count, they’re not going to be as good as the strong European teams and news flash for Sunday, they’re not going to be as good holding the ball as Japan.  That said, they tend to win most games they play so they’re doing something right.  It might not be pretty, but it’s exciting, winning soccer.  With apologies to Japan and their fans, because I really have enjoyed watching Team Japan during the tournament, here’s hoping for another US win in the next one!

Beulah