US 1 Canada 0
Well that was certainly much better than the last one. They were playing the formation theyíve been trying to get right for the last two+ years so of course they were much sharper offensively. But it wasnít just that, offensively they came out aggressive and attacking and ready to play. It wasnít perfect, this is a very experienced team and they should be able to handle a bunker a bit better than they did, but it was much better than the last outing and unlike the last one, this one had the feel of a tune-up match. Thatís what it should be. What I didnít like about this match? Man, the defense was awfully casual with the ball - especially in the first half. I donít know about anyone else, but there were at least 5 separate occasions where I said "wow, glad she muffed that shot," or "glad she muffed that pass." Canada was doing a heck of a job getting behind the defense and exploiting some of the very slow play that was occurring back there . . . and they only had one day of practice. Thatís got to be a concern. It just seemed to me that at times the whole team took being calm on defense one level too far - they just seemed slow to react and that they were rarely ahead of the play. The intensity they had on offense just seemed to be lacking on D. They tightened up somewhat in the second half, even though they did give up 3 excellent chances, but at least they werenít quite as casual as they were at times in the first . . . like this was just a nice little practice scrimmage and no one was watching. I have very little to say on this one - it was what it should be - nice solid tune-up match - everyone had their plusses and most everyone had a little something she needs to work on, but nothing too remarkable happened in this match. Probably the whole team will get a solid rating by the time I work through this thing. I donít know that anyone will get a better than solid rating, but at the same time, I doubt anyone gets anything worse. No one really stood out too much one way or another. Fairly entertaining one to watch though, and thatís really about all I ask of any sporting event.
Formation (back-front, right-left): GK - Luckenbill; D - Mitts, Markgraf, Reddick, Rampone; DMid - Boxx; Mid - Foudy, Lilly; AMid - Wagner; F - Wambach, Hamm. Tarpley in for Lilly; OíReilly in for Foudy and Mia moves back and Heather plays up top; Parlow in for Wambach; Hucles in for Wagner.
Luckenbill - GO BIG GREEN - gotta love the Dartmouth girl. And she got to wear a green jersey too - all the stars were aligned for her. She made some nice saves, very authoritatively came out and got that ball in a crowd on the set piece right there at the end of the game. Team USA got lucky there on a lot of Canadian shots, so she wasnít tested quite as much as she would have been had Canada had more than one practice before this one. But as it was, she owned her box, made a nice grab off the post, and she didnít make anything too much of an adventure. Nothing makes me crazier than a goalkeeper who makes the routine seem challenging - she made the routine seem routine and even made the couple of nice saves she had to make seem run of the mill. Nice solid outing. All of that said, I wish nothing but the best most excellent health for Briana Scurry . . . well, I wish that for everyone, but I especially wish it a little harder for Bri. I donít know why Iím still so uneasy. That sheís beyond inexperienced at this level might be all it is, but uneasy I am . . . uneasy and sending my best most happy healing thoughts to Briana Scurry.
Mitts - Much better. Still way too casual on some of the passing, and some of her decision making almost gave me a heart attack (turn and kick it out, Heather, the attacker is right with you and you didnít put nearly enough pace on that back pass . . . which would have been ill advised even if you had - she almost gave up a goal there - the better decision would have been to simply turn and knock it out). But this was much better - for folks who have very little experience at this level, improvement is all I ask. She was getting forward well and often but not a ton came from it - strategically/tactically, the inexperience really shows at times and decision making concerning when to be where is where you can really see it. But while she floated up and stayed up a bit too much, the effort to stay ahead of the play and get back on D was there and itís obvious it was something of which she was quite mindful - and that is a big switch from the last one. I guess any criticism I have of her game in this one is simply a result of the inexperience at the international level and just a concern about how sheís going to play against a team where her primary function is to defend, not to get forward. I worry about what happens when Team USA plays Germany, not Greece or Australia. Sheís still a defender who reacts, not one who controls the action or reads the game well enough to stay ahead of the play - against lower and middle tier teams she seems to be good enough. I think the juryís still out on how sheíll respond to a top tier team against whom sheís got to defend and defend well. Weíll find out. And I would be remiss if I didnít mention her goal - very professional and opportunistic finish. Itís nice to get that first goal out of the way - even though it was on a set piece, just getting that goose egg off her stats has got to give her some confidence offensively. Much better outing - hopefully, sheíll continue to improve each time we see her.
Markgraf - I have very little. I think everyone on the backline had a moment that made my heart stop - with Mitts it was the ill advised back pass to Luckenbill, with Kate it was the pass to the Canadian with no one back. Again, just way too casual - the ball wasnít intercepted, it was passed directly to a red shirt - thatís simply the result of not playing with your head up and not paying attention to what youíre doing. I didnít think the defense was terribly organized at times - Canadians got free behind the D a bit too often - and the help defense wasnít what it usually is. They were swinging the ball around fairly well, but it did seem like it was all moving a little more slowly than it should. They were organized enough to catch Canada off sides a few times so there were some nice moments. Just all seemed to be moving a little too slowly to me, and it all seemed to be about individual defending rather than about the defense acting as a unit. It seemed that Team USA got a little too lucky on some muffed shots for me to feel too too good about what we saw from the defense in this one. Solid individual effort though - a couple of painful flubs, but fairly solid overall.
Reddick - I have almost nothing. All of the Kate comments apply here . . . I would have liked to see her take that free kick from the top of the box that Mia put to the right of the goal - Cat can net those . . . with all the shots from distance that were taken, sheís (and maybe Lil) really the only one for whom thatís a real good shot. Thatís about it - Iíd like the whole defensive unit to look a bit sharper and less like this was an intrasquad scrimmage, but I donít have anything to direct at Cat specifically.
Rampone - Same comments I had for the other defenders. Thought she did well on the left - she and Lil did some nice switching early on. I guess my Rampone-specific complaint is the same one Iíve had for the last 4 years. She defends and looks great, she makes passes in the defensive third and looks fine, she goes into the midfield, still looking good, still connecting passes and then she gets into the attacking third and acts like sheís never been there before. I remember commenting on this in the 2000 Olympic final - how she made a fantastic run forward in extra time, cut into the middle and looked like she was surprised to find herself there. Well, 4 years later and sheís one of the veterans on the team and at times she still looks surprised to get herself into a position where she can go for goal or where sheís one pass away from goal. For someone like Mitts, I donít even mention it, itís the inexperience factor and Iím happy to see her get forward and contribute in a constructive fashion at all - the rest will come with time. For Rampone - itís frustrating - she should have more poise on offense then she showed in this one - sometimes sheís got that poise, and sometimes she doesnít and kicks the ball over the goal under very little pressure instead of serving a nice ball into the box - and I realize sheís a right footed player on the left side and itís hard for her to cut that angle on the cross, but thatís where poise/being a veteran comes in, if you canít cut the angle as sharply as you could from the right, simply make the pass a step or two early, donít run it all the way up to the endline, know your abilities and get it done. Iíve seen her play on the left and make that pass, itís not an ability/capability issue. Sheís a veteran of the team, sheís got to exhibit more confidence and poise on the ball when she gets forward than she showed in this one. Overall, though, a fairly solid outing. She just needs to start acting like sheís been there before - because she has . . . and sheís been pretty darn good too.
Boxx - Quiet but solid outing. I think weíre getting to the point where I just take her and her performance for granted. Sheís out there winning balls, swinging the ball around, serving as a nice bridge between the middies and the defense - you almost donít notice sheís doing it then you start to focus and you notice all the take aways, intercepted passes, 50-50 balls that you hadnít been noticing. All that said, my casual on the ball comments that I hurled at the defense are being tossed in her direction as well - you canít break a bunker when your defense and defensive midfield holds onto the ball as long as it did. 3, 4, 5 passes in the defensive half of the field? They not only let 10 players get back on defense, they let them set up and watch for a pass or two and very little of what team USA sent forward surprised them. Canada had numbers back and the US telegraphed every pass - itís tough to break through when youíre playing that slowly out of the back/defensive midfield. And thatís about it - nice solid Boxx outing and looking at the roster, I think Iíll send my best most happy healing thoughts to her as well - there isnít a backup defensive middie on the roster at all, is there.
Foudy - I thought she had a nice game. She was winning balls, had a great workrate and at times was completely running the offense. All attacks went through her when she and Lil switched sides and she asserted herself throughout. Did a nice job peppering the ball around the offense, she and Mia were working well. And thatís about all Iíve got. As long as sheís on the field, if sheís playing well, the ball will go through her. I donít know where that leaves Aly (more on this in a sec), but thatís the way it works - when she asserts herself sheís the link to Lil and the forwards and sheís for whom Boxx and the defenders look. She asserted herself for the middle 20-25 minutes of the first half and helped get Team USA some nice opportunities. Sheís been real hit or miss with me for the past couple of years and this was a hit. Solid game.
Lilly - A solid outing. She made some nice runs forward, won some balls, made some nice takeaways, combined/switched well with the wing defenders. Nothing that remarkable. Some of the decisionmaking on offense wasnít great. I disagree with Wendy, I donít care how many balls Swiatek gets to (she had a nice game didnít she?), you have got to keep sending balls through to break a bunker - eventually, she will miss one, but a relentless onslaught, and a little bit of variance in the attack is a good way to break through. Passing the ball around 6 times in the defensive half of the field (switching the point of the attack isnít that constructive if you do it at a plodding pace and on every possession - that is called a passing drill, not a productive game day strategy and is one of the reasons why this looked more like a practice scrimmage than a competitive match to me) and never ever making a quick counter simply isnít going to get it done. Anyway - I guess Iím mentioning this here because 1) I had nothing else to say re Lil and 2) as one of the vets on the team and one of the folks who pulls the strings on offense, sheís one of the ones who needed to put that ball through some. There were plenty of instances where the defense wasnít "8 yards from goal" as Wendy overstated it - the defense wasnít always that deep - and itís by strategically feeling your way through the game and finding those holes or seams in the defense that you can break a bunker and is exactly what Aly was trying to do at the start of the second. Which leads us nicely to . . .
Wagner - Ya know, I must have said to myself half a dozen times "I like the thought of that." The execution wasnít always there, but I liked the thought of a lot of what she was doing at the outset and then again for the last 6-7 minutes of the first half and then again for the first part of the second half. Like I said, that Swiatek was getting to those through balls doesnít bother me - itís a bunker - the attack is outnumbered, passing lanes will be limited and paths to goal will rarely be clear. So Swiatek getting to those balls really doesnít bother me - waiting too long to send the ball through or taking ill advised long distance shots does. Thatís where they were impatient on offense (I agreed whole-heartedly with April's "one more pass" directive after the 2d or 3d of those long distance shots in a row), those long distance shots - in my opinion those were the wasted possessions, not the through balls that Swiatek got to first. Anyway - Iím rambling. What it came down to for me with Aly and what itís come down to with Aly for the last couple of years watching her go hot and cold the way she does is simply this: I donít think the field is big enough for her and Foudy. Julie Foudy is not exactly a traditional flank midfielder, she is a playmaker - she needs to have a lot of touches on the ball to be effective and she must be dictating play . . . Aly is the exact same way. Foudy really asserted herself through the middle 20-25 minutes of the first half, and not so coincidentally this was when Aly receded. I noticed it and mentioned it privately after watching SD play last year, and itís a feeling thatís never left - while they do have very different skill sets and Aly is a much more proficient offensive player in the attacking third, they both serve the same function on a team and need a whole lot of touches to perform well. Iíll put the prediction out there now - when Julie Foudy retires, Aly Wagner will reemerge as the player everyone predicted sheíd be. As for now? I honestly donít know where that leaves things - Aly showed some good things strategically/tactically in this one, but she also receded and was invisible for huge stretches, got stripped and showed some limitations possessing the ball i.e., she got muscled off the ball. The ball was going from the defense to Foudy/Lilly and then to the forwards and for significant stretches Aly was being completely bypassed and during that time she contributed very little. When Foudyís out there with her, maybe itís just as simple as her needing to get out of the playmaking mindset and just worry about crashing into the box and/or getting behind the D and becoming more of a target/withdrawn forward. I honestly donít know what the answer here is or whether they can both be productive out there at the same time. What I have seen over the past couple of years is that theyíre just way too similar in the way theyíre going about things and unless one of them switches up her mindset a bit when theyíre both on the field, one of them is going to be marginalized. Anyway - that was a lot of babbling about that - as has become the norm, solid for stretches, invisible at other times. Showed us a lot of glimpses of good things during those solid stretches, but the execution was just a little off. Not a bad outing, just another up and down outing. Maybe consistency from Aly is simply a few retirements away.
Hamm - How much do I love Angry Mia!!! She was yapping and yelling and cursing from the start - on a day when the defense looked like it was on a practice run, Mia definitely brought everything she had. I think she wasnít necessarily getting the ball where she wanted, and it almost seemed that the goal was for her to get behind the D rather than actually scoring and winning the game (didnít Aprilís interview give that impression). Anyway - very active outing, her workrate remains unmatched, and with Tiff Milbrett gone, her dedication to being caught on camera cursing up a storm is unrivaled. Nice solid effort from Mia, just need to work on the finishing a bit - hereís hoping she listens to my shouts of CHIP IT in the next one.
Wambach - Every time we see her she just gets better and better with the ball at her feet. She made some runs through the midfield and into the attack that were very impressive. Thinking about it, the performance from the offense wasnít that bad in this one - obviously everything seems better in this one because of how poorly they played in the last, but minus occasional issues with the decisionmaking the attacking players put on a pretty good show. That said, I have to mention my issue with Abbyís decision making in this one. Sheís a world class finisher, when sheís got a clear path to goal sheís got to make a better decision than kicking it right at the keeper - she had three quarters of the goal wide open on that one shot from the left she pounded right to Swiatek. She should have gone far post on that one - I would rather see her miss it 3 feet wide than see her take the shot right at the keeper that has zero chance of going in. The better she gets, the higher expectations are - sheís becoming one of the elite forwards in the world, she needs to show more poise and better decision making in a situation where the keeper has committed and sheís got a net thatís more than half open. Other than that, it was just a nice solid Abby outing. Mia stood out a bit more in this one, but I think when the decision not to try and go over the bunker got made, it limited her touches a bit. Also when Miaís got that lean and hungry look, Foudy and Lil are going to go to her a bit more and that ensuing Mia to Abby pass just wasnít terribly effective in this one. Anyway - a pretty solid outing - she wasnít going to score in every game this year.
Parlow - As much energy as Iíve seen from her in a few games. I thought she played well in this one, was very active and was doing a good job getting behind the defense. She is so opportunistic and efficient in front of goal when sheís on and but for a fantastic double save by Swiatek sheíd have netted one here. Stronger workrate than weíve seen from her in a while, nice timing on her runs . . . thatís about all Iíve got. Swiatek definitely stole one from her or the increased effort/workrate would have been rewarded. Maybe knowing she was only playing for a limited time caused her to go full tilt, but it was good to see the effort from her nonetheless.
Tarpley/OíReilly - Iím grouping them because I have the same basic comments about them both. Just a great energy. I love what they brought to the field in this one - it wasnít just the workrate (which was great) it was watching the kids yapping and yelling at anyone whoíd listen. There was one instance where OíReilly was just barking at someone (they might have been setting up for a corner) and it made me smile. I know no one is listening to her but it shows confidence, it shows that these kids know they belong here and theyíre not intimidated at all. Both players did a great job running at the defense and you really need high energy/high workrate players against a bunker because if you net one in the run of play itís probably because a defender got caught on her heels or leaning wrong or somehow being caught by surprise such that the offense finds a seam. With those two whirling around in the second half, I thought they might be able to steal another one. Anyway - I guess I just came away from this one enjoying the attitude they both have: the confidence and tactical ability that Tarpley exudes and the slightly temperamental, get-me-the-ball thing Heather O has going - all the best forwards have that, they all spend a lot of time yapping for the ball and are ticked when they donít get it. Itís what an elite forward is supposed to be.
Hucles - I have nothing, nada, zip. I saw she was there, I saw she was crashing into the box so Team USA had some numbers forward, I remember nothing else. Sorry - it was near the end of the game, Iíd already started focusing on other people and other game time plot lines. Thatís why soccerís so fun to dissect, so many players to watch, everyone focuses on something and someone a little different.
All right - thatís it. Nothing too much to say about this one. Had the look and feel of a practice scrimmage to me. Passing drills and individual defending seemed to rule the day on defense, and while offensively they showed a lot more life than they did in the last one, it seemed that they were just trying to get behind the D but not real worried about what they were going to do once they got there. Anyway - fairly entertaining match and I leave this one more concerned about the defense than anything I saw on offense. They just donít play as a unit and some of the decision making going on back there is a little scary. Sometimes I feel the energy level/effort of this team mirrors the opponent. And itís not that the Canadians werenít trying in this one, they were and their effort was great (have I mentioned a time or two how many times they got behind the US defense), itís that theyíre not an Olympic team and have had only had one practice in the last 3 or 4 months - watching this game I couldnít help but feel Team USA was aware of that and the defense came into the game a little more casually than they should have. That said, this is just how this team has treated friendlies over the last few years, yet they always bring it in the tourneys. Itís not my favorite way to prepare, but itís what they do and who they are, so I donít even know how much we can take from these friendlies. Team USA tends to show a different look and put forth a completely different effort when the games count. I expect it to happen again and am not going to get too caught up in these preparation games - it might not be until the group games begin that we get a true feeling of what this team is capable.