US 2 Sweden 2

STOP . . . TAKING . . . SHOTS . . . FROM . . . 40 . . . YARDS . . . OUT.  STOP TAKING SHOTS FROM 40 YARDS OUT!!!!  AUGH!!!!  It has disturbed me the entire World Cup how the TV commentators have so commonly praised this phenomenon.  This is not a high percentage shot in the women’s game, period.  A chip shot when the offense has pulled the keeper out is a different animal entirely.  That’s a smart move.  But putting the ball 20 yards over goal from 30-40 yards out time and time again is panicky, it shows a lack of sophistication, it shows that Carli Lloyd is not a good distributor of the ball and with O’Reilly out and Boxx doing nothing to help, she should have been pulled for Lori Lindsey at the half.  And the lack of tactical sophistication wasn’t just coming from the middle of the field, it was coming from the right flank as well.  Rapinoe is a high energy player, no doubt.  And she’s not as fast as Heather O’Reilly, that’s clear as well.  But that’s not where Team USA missed O’Reilly most.  Not just speed, but speed of play.  The inability to see the game developing and make quick decisions, the lack of tactical sophistication – Rapinoe just made silly decision after silly decision, the times in which she made a decision at all.  This is why she works better as the high energy sub.  Somewhere along the way, her tactics weren’t developed, or she just can’t implement them at the pace required at the international level.  The long passes that weren’t connecting, the silly shots from 30 yards out and the lack of productive off ball runs really shined a light on that.  I actually agree with a lot of the comments said during the telecast but what I found disappointing is that no one mentioned that the absence of O’Reilly tactically was huge. 

As for the defense, it’s almost like piling on to go into detail on this, but honestly, is anyone surprised.  This defense lacks speed.  We know that.  And they’re not going to get faster before Brazil, so they need to let everyone play where they have been successful.  Right now, that’s not happening.  LePeilbet is not an outside back, she’s a central defender.  It has been messing with her head the entire tournament and it should not have continued after the first game.  At the very least, they need to do what the Freedom used to do when they had 2 speedy defenders and 2 slow ones – alternate speed, slow, speed, slow and everyone is covered.  Or, get a defensive midfielder who can sit on top of the defense and help out.  Watching this game, I don’t know that’s Shannon Boxx anymore and looking at the entire roster, I worry not just for the rest of this tournament, but for the Olympics in 2012 as well, because the team’s next great defensive midfielder isn’t in Germany right now. 

OK – my thoughts are a little scattered.  I’m annoyed at the lack of urgency as the minutes ticked away.  Watching the forward leave the ball off for a defender to come make the throw in when there are 40 seconds left just shows the complete lack of savvy of this roster.  Heather O’Reilly would have taken the dang throw in and saved 30 seconds.  When you have less than 5 minutes left, play faster girls, play FASTER.  It’s very frustrating to see this team not doing the little things right. And that’s about it by way of preliminary comments.  The game wasn’t awful.  After the Swede’s second goal, the US had the run of play in the first and they held the ball well to start the second.  I’m just left with an uneasy feeling watching this group though.  They felt less like a team and more like a collection of All Stars just playing together for the month. 

FORMATION

4-4-2 (back-front, left-right): GK – Solo; Def – LePeilbet, Buehler, Rampone, Krieger; Mid – Cheney, Boxx, Lloyd, Rapinoe; Fwd – Rodriguez, Wambach.   Morgan in for Rodriguez, Cox in for LePeilbet and O’Hara in for Rapinoe. 

PLAYERS

Solo – Neither goal was her fault.  She almost made an impossible save on the penalty and there’s no predicting a deflection like that on the free kick.  I thought she made a brilliant save in the early going.   The Swedish forward got completely behind the defense for the first of what wound up being all too many times, and Solo made a quick stop with her feet.  Not many keepers in the women’s game are skilled enough with their feet to make a quick stop like that.  And that’s about all I’ve got.  As often as Sweden was getting behind the US defense and as many potentially scary situations the US got themselves into, Sweden wasn’t putting a lot on frame and wasn’t pulling that trigger fast enough.  And the phantom offside calls helped a bit as well.

LePeilbet – Honestly, I don’t know what more to say here.  I can only point out she’s playing out of position so many times.  She was much more aggressive getting up the flank today and was connecting more passes than she has in the past.  A pretty high price was paid for that though, as she’s not fast enough to recover when the ball is turned over while she’s on a foray forward.  The deflection? Come on, that’s just bad luck.  She didn’t do anything wrong there.  Buehler not clearing that ball out when she had the chance, and then compounding it by pulling the player who got by her down for a foul that close to goal was the problem on that one.  The penalty, though, is another story.  It was another goal caused by the lack of speed on the backline.  The attacker got behind LePeilbet, and LePeilbet pulled her down in the box.  Speed is an issue – makes me wonder what exactly Tina Ellertson did to get taken out of the mix.  There’s not even an option on the bench to go to so I’m assuming she’ll be playing in the next one.   Maybe they’ll move Rampone out next to her . . . or the defensive midfielder will decide to actually play aggressively and sit on top of the defense so that the attack won’t be unleashed on the defense unabated quite as much as they were in this one.

Buehler – She was defending well with her head early.  She has a knack for that.  She isn’t as quick to clear a ball as I’d like.  If you are going to play it on the ground, always know where the midfielder is and get the ball to her quickly.  If you are going to hit a long ball (which was done all too often in this one) take the kick quickly and decisively.  Don’t stand on the ball until all passing lanes are closed and you turn it over or hit a really bad clearance.  Especially if you don’t have the speed to recover if the ball is lost.  Usually, she manages to play well enough such that the lack of speed isn’t too noticeable.  This was not the case this evening.  Sauerbrunn isn’t any faster, but she can read the game and see what’s coming at her as well as anyone playing today.  If they’re going to get killed on speed anyway, I’m kind of curious why she hasn’t gotten a chance.  No, I don’t expect her to at this point, but it wouldn’t have been a horrible thing for the US to see against Colombia or in this one.  Anyway – not an awful outing, just an awful result on one of the plays on which she got beat. 

Rampone – Her night was way too quiet.  Ten minutes in and I was wondering if she was even out there.  True, teams are running away from Rampone and Krieger and picking on the left side of the defense, but she is the only speed in the center of the field.  All the way up the line until you get to Rodriguez, she’s the only speed.  She needed to be more aware of her teammates, she needed to see that they were struggling a bit, and she needed to cover.  I get that Oqvist is faster than the players who had been starting for Sweden and this attack was coming at them a little faster than expected, but she’s the captain, she’s been on the National Team 13+ years and she had to be aware this kid was sitting on Sweden’s bench and what it was going to mean with her in the starting lineup.  I will also mention the offside trap here.  It was working horribly.  Live by the trap, die by the trap and without the speed to recover when the whistle doesn’t blow, they look like they’re going to die by it.  Disappointing outing by the entire defense, they weren’t helping as much as they should, they weren’t anticipating as much as they should and they weren’t as organized as they should have been.  I always put that on the organizer of the defense, so despite her having a better individual game than either Buehler or LePeilbet, this is where all my yapping goes.  She’s going to have to be brilliant against Brazil. 

Krieger – My only complaint about her game?  When it was all going wrong for her comrades on the backline, where was she?  She can run circles around either LePeilbet or Buehler and other teams don’t run at her.  If that’s the case, have a chat with the midfielder in front of you and go make a beeline for the center of the field when the other team is attacking.  She’s got to see the angles, she’s got to see the plays developing, she’s got to know how to help if she’s going to be an elite wing back.  Especially since I don’t see a whole lot of fantastically athletic wings in the pipeline so she very well might be the only real speed back there going forward into the future.  When Rampone retires, it’s all her.  I do have some hope – she’s defending a whole lot better in this World Cup than she did during her brief tour with the Freedom, so maybe it’s coming.  The US needs a highly developed defender brain here because she has the physical talents to be a game changer. 

Cheney – The commentator jinxed her early.  Spoke about what an efficient finisher she is.  You knew things were going off the rails at that point.  She did have some nice chances early.  Put one on frame, put a couple high and one just barely wide.  She remains a bright spot.  She did double back and try to help defensively.  She turned a nice ball in the box and booted it out over the sideline on a play where the attacker got behind LePeilbet.  She’s good in the air, she doesn’t avoid contact and she has a pretty good feel for where she is on the field at all times.  She was involved in some of the improved possession at the end of the first half and at times was combining well with teammates.  She seems to play with significantly more sophistication than Rapinoe and I imagine that as much as anything is why she’s been in the starting lineup the entire tournament.  Not a bad outing, but I wish she’d finished one or two of those chances she had early.

Boxx – What was that . . . Why was so much unleashed on the center of that defense.  Why was she avoiding contact, away from the play, not winning balls in the air and just playing so completely uncharacteristic a first half that I was wondering if maybe some random stranger was wearing a Shannon Boxx suit.  The center of the US midfield was not good in this one.  Boxx was missing passes, failing to step into passing lanes, and not tackling.  She was hovering around play, but not really engaging in it.  To her credit, she came out much more aggressively in the second half.  She made a couple of tackles and did manage to make some noise offensively.  But ultimately, what the defensive midfielder has got to do is slow down the attack before it gets to the defense, especially this defense, and she just didn’t get the job done in this one.  If she doesn’t play much much better defensively against Brazil, I’m not sure the US can advance.

Lloyd – She has taken my voice – I have been screaming at her to stop shooting from so far out for 90 straight minutes.  Just terrible decision making on her part.  There was one play where the ball was touched by 4 players, just beautiful passing, the ball got left off for her about 40 yards out and the forward took off expecting to get the ball fed back to her and boom, Lloyd puts it 30 yards over goal.  Ridiculous.  This is the World Cup and she’s a world class midfielder and this is what she decides to do with the ball over and over and over again.  I would have benched her and put Lindsey in the second or third time it happened.  As a general rule, I like Lloyd – I acknowledge she’s not really a classic distributing attacking midfielder, but realize she brings her own plusses to the game.  But without O’Reilly in there, and with the game Boxx was having, there was absolutely no one making consistently good decisions regarding distribution of the ball and she needed to have a seat. 

Rapinoe – She brings a lot of energy to the pitch, but her lack of tactical sophistication was a killer in this one.  She doesn’t know where to pass the ball, she takes too long to decide and she’s not accurate when she gets around to pulling the trigger.  Her uncontrolled energy is much more effective when she’s able to just run at defenses with no regard to shape or combining with her teammates.  Today they needed her  to play a disciplined match and I think she crumbled a bit.  It wasn’t just her lack of speed, it was a lack of touch (too many passes were way too heavy), and a lack of reading the offense/communicating with her forwards.  She is perpetual motion – she’s always trying to do something, and I respect that.  It’s just so unfocused and in a game where no one was particularly sharp as far as combining with teammates was concerned, she was more liability out there than benefit.  Especially since she was taking ridiculous shots from distance that weren’t anywhere near being on target just like Lloyd.  The composure and calm that both Tarpley and O’Reilly bring to the pitch were sorely missed today.  Rapinoe just doesn’t bring the same thing.  Intangibles are important – they have a very real impact on quite tangible behavior. 

Rodriguez – She’s another one I think was having some tactical issues today.  She wasn’t getting on the end of balls.  She wasn’t making the right runs at the right angles at the right times.  It was very frustrating to consistently see her about 5 yards from where she should have been and seeing the angle she was taking and knowing it was wrong.  I guess to some extent it’s a communication issue and part of it is probably that the team did not spend enough time together in the run up to the WWC.  On the other hand, some of it is just instinct, tactical knowledge and making off ball runs every single time.  She just seems to start her runs too late way too often.  All that said, I’m not sure what she did to get pulled at the half.  Her best 10 minutes of the match were the last 10 minutes of the first half.  She was running up the sideline, connecting some passes and even made some better timed runs up the middle into the box.  The she gets pulled.  I would have rather seen Lloyd get pulled for Lindsey at that point and give her 10-15 minutes to connect with Rodriguez before putting Morgan in and then letting Lindsey try to connect with her.  The Brazilian backline is suspect.  If someone can put some balls through to Rodriguez and if they spend the next 3 days working on their timing, she can do some damage.  So, not the best outing, but the last 10 minutes she played weren’t bad and leave me a little hopeful.

Wambach – I actually thought she had a decent outing.  She was doing what she could with what was coming at her.  She was making off ball runs and was getting on the end of passes.  The US had the ball in the air way too much, but that’s not a bad thing for her individual game.  I don’t think the team is at their best when that’s the tactic, but Abby was pulling those balls down.  Nothing really dangerous was happening with those balls because she was passing to people who were shooting from 40 yards out or were paralyzed trying to decide what to do next out wide.  But Abby was involved in the some of the positive possessions the US had.  Like I said, the end of the first and the start of the second really weren’t that bad for the US.  Nice to see her get a goal.  Great corner from Cheney and in for the score.  Makes me wonder why they didn’t just send through ball after through ball for Morgan to run onto to let her get corner after corner.  Collect the ball, run to the endline, hit it off a defender, over and over again.  Don’t even try to turn it and send a ball in, just get the corner.  And that’s about it – all the talk of Abby’s heel – I guarantee you it won’t stop her and she’s not thinking about it.  She’s fine, and hopefully, she’ll make a huge impact in the next one.

Morgan – I kind of said all I need to in Abby’s section.  I wish she’d run at the defense more and gotten some corners.  Part of the problem was that she simply wasn’t getting the service.  Minus some pockets of time, the whole team was putting the ball in the air way too much.  That’s not beneficial to her.  She was running onto some balls though, just not working her way far enough forward.  Her touches weren’t quite as sharp as I had hoped and honestly, as Rodriguez was heating up at the end of the first half, I was a tad disappointed with what I saw from Morgan.   Especially since after only about 25 minutes or so, she wasn’t pressuring the ball as much as I would have liked.  That’s the thing about Rapinoe as a sub, she pressures from the second she gets in there until the final whistle blows – I would have liked to have seen a little of that toward the end of this one when they should have been scrambling a little bit harder for that equalizer. 

Cox – I wish I liked this better, I really really do.  She’s just not an improvement over LePeilbet though.  Those beautiful crosses she provides, didn’t even see one in this game.  She is the more experienced wing, but at least as slow footed and didn’t seem to be tackling much or playing very physically.  Like I said after the first game, I just don’t think there’s a good option on this wing.  Marta will eat her alive if she’s in there against Brazil.  Interesting to see what they decide to do next on this wing, if anything. 

O’Hara – Just not ready for primetime yet.  She slipped twice and made turnovers right when she got in the game.  Not exactly the most confident start.  She did calm down a bit after that and had a really really nice chance to score one in the late going.  A solid shot on a nice pass from Cheney, just inches too wide.  Probably would have been a better decision to put Lindsey in and see if she could get something to Morgan’s feet instead of putting the uninitiated on the pitch when the team is scrambling for a goal, but not a bad first outing.  I don’t expect to see her again this tournament. 

And that’s about it.  As usual after a game like this, a lot more negative than it needed to be.  Really, they were a PK away from a tie.  It’s just not going to be pretty or look nice with this defense.  I’d love it if they stopped relying so much on getting the offside call and just stay back and play good defense.  Brazil is a heck of a lot faster in the attack than Sweden and they can’t rely on the ref to bail them out on every play.  I realize the defense is messy, but honestly, what I saw, or didn’t see, in the US attack is what concerned me more today.  O’Reilly is vital.  No one in the midfield took command today – everyone was in her own little world trying to score her own little goal and the longer the game went on without them doing that, the more ridiculous the fashion in which they were individually trying to get one in the back of the net.  When they stopped putting the ball 20 yards over goal, they looked good and got some chances.  When they didn’t, they looked a lot younger than they are, and like a team that’s unlikely to advance.  Interesting to see which team shows up for the quarters.  If Heather O is on the pitch, and after Shannon Boxx sees the tape of this one and is appropriately mortified by her first half, I’m guessing Team USA shows up at their best and makes a game of it.  As always, I’m looking forward to the next one.

Beulah