US 5 Mexico 0
Now this was more of a game. While itís still an opponent that the US can handle easily, itís a team that requires the US to actually run its offense at close to normal speed and a team that pressures the ball enough so that the US doesnít have a decade to make a decision on the field. I thought the speed of play at the start of this one was much much better than against Costa Rica. The finishing is an issue - the US has got to get more efficient, but at the same time, the one having the most trouble finishing also happened to dominate the field (Wambach). So yeah, a series of expletives was being directed at my TV with each of those misses (Lil got some from me too), but thereís no denying that for the first 35 minutes of this game Abby Wambach dominated the field. Thatís what she needs to do . . . that, and of course, finish. Watching Team USA over the years though, I canít help but think that at times they play down to their opponent. They have so many chances in some of these games that the sense of urgency around goal they need to finish those chances just isnít there. Itís like they know theyíre going to get 25-30 shots, so theyíll put some stupid shots toward goal. April was talking about a lack of focus and that ties into the finishing, Iím sure. And, well, OK - focus - now let me ask: does anyone honestly think that on September 21, focus is going to be an issue? And Iíll go on record with this right now, if it is an issue, if these 20 women canít get focused for the World Cup, these 20 women coached by a woman for whom the whole "USA mentality" thing seems to be religion - if this group canít get "focused" for the World Cup? then you know what, they donít deserve to win - someone hungrier than that should have the trophy . . . That said, I donít think "focus" will be an issue when the games that count come, I really donít. This was a fairly solid outing - I think they know what they need to concentrate on: stupid turnovers and finishing. And this all gets back to the focus issue . . . Anyway - an entertaining first half to watch, the quality of combination play in the second half deteriorated a bit, but some individuals certainly had their moments. Theyíre almost there - just tighten up the defense a bit, be a bit less careless with the ball, make more of their chances . . . I have a feeling when those chances are a tad more scarce, theyíll be treated more carefully.
Formation (4-3-3, back-front, right-left)
GK: Scurry; D: Pearce, Fawcett, Chastain, Sobrero; M: Foudy, Boxx, Lilly; F: Hamm, Wambach, Parlow. Bivens and Reddick in for Pearce and Sobrero; Wagner in for Foudy, Roberts in for Boxx, Hucles in for Lilly, Milbrett in for Parlow; Siri in for Scurry.
Scurry - well, not much to say on her game. Made some easy stops, as she should. Team USA is remaining consistent and not using goalkeeper kicking at all when sheís in there - itís going to be tough to counter quickly, especially if the defense makes as many turnovers as they did today, but thatís what you give up when you go with Bri. And Iím glad sheís fine, but uhhh, if this is something that happens whenever she falls just right, Iím thinkiní Siri needs to stay warmed up on that sideline all game every game . . .
Pearce - wow - wow wow wow . . . A couple of really horrendous turnovers there eh? I tell ya, she and Kate couldnít have found the bench fast enough for me in this one. Not a terribly impressive outing from either one of them. To be fair, Pearce was getting forward nicely in spots and providing some nice support to the offense, but those turnovers were huge. Those were the kind of turnovers that lose games for teams. Under little pressure, she just booted the ball right to an attacking player with no defenders behind her . . . twice. Iíve been a huge Pearce supporter during her comeback, but if she canít get her head in the game better than that, letís put the kids in the game - Reddick doesnít have Pearceís athleticism and Slaton seems that she might be a little bit hobbled, but theyíre not going to lose a game for you like turnovers like that are likely to. Once made my head hurt, some other careless turnovers with Joy and/or Brandi behind her had me reaching for the Advil, but to give the ball away twice when you are the last defender back, and in such low pressure circumstances is definitely a matter of concern. Iím sure weíll see her in the WWC, maybe in the opener, but I expect these stupid, stupid turnovers to be a thing of the past. And if theyíre not, I'd have a very quick hook on her. They simply canít do the junk on the backline they did today against a better opponent.
Fawcett - the only starting defender who gets a "rock solid" rating in this one. She defends balls in the air so well - I know I always harp on it but she uses her head so well defensively. Itís tough to get behind Team USAís backline by going over it. Her teammates definitely had her scrambling and on her heels a bit with all the turnovers thatís for sure and I think she maintained her composure and handled it well. This whole unit has got to tighten up though. I guess this is what has concerned me about Team USAís schedule this year - they didnít throw in any tough opponents over the summer - not a one. I just hope the defense hasnít gotten complacent and they remember what itís like to play in a contested game. This game will have served its purpose if it hammers that message home to the defenders.
Chastain - Well a fairly solid game, unfortunately, I think she thought the game was only 87 minutes long today. A Pearce-like turnover came very close to putting a goal on the board for Mexico right there toward the end. She got caught too far forward at times in this one and left Joy chasing after folks she let through. Again, I get Aprilís focus point, and maybe Iím taking a Pollyana approach to this, but I just donít think these mental lapses are going to be an issue against Sweden. I believe this team is made of sterner stuff than that - they know this game doesnít count and unfortunately played like it at times. Anyway - Brandi needs to tighten up her D a bit and not leave Joy hanginí out to dry as much, but since her switch to the center, sheís shown a willingness to stay home on D when necessary so I donít think this will be an issue against Sweden . . . at least I hope it wonít be.
Sobrero - Itís like the last 2 years didnít happen - she was more inept offensively than I have ever seen her. She was inept to the point of being a liability out there. If she canít at least not hurt the team when she pushes forward, then she needs to be on the bench. While Abby and secondarily Lil received the most abuse from the broadcasters over the finishing, Sobrero probably had the most half hearted, I-know-thereís-no-way-Iím-going-to-score strikes of the afternoon. She had two of them - itís not that she missed that bothers me, itís that she takes those "shots" knowing they donít have a chance - you can read it off her body language. Itís a waste - one time she was wide open from the left, had a beautiful angle. The other time she was in the box in front of goal - my thought was "gosh I wish that was Cat" - I knew she was going to miss too. She simply has zero confidence when she pushes up offensively and it shows. She doesnít combine well with Lil and her passing wasnít very good - just seemed to be a huge leap backward for her offensively. Honestly, the switch from central defender to wing defender with Kate has been a long arduous road and one that I am constantly scratching my head over - Kate is wonderful at defending, sheís got tremendous speed and athleticism, has good size and reads the game well enough to get where she needs to be - however, putting her on the wing is just a waste. Her offense and passing are so sketchy at times that it impacts the entirety of her game and canít be good for her confidence. I donít even know what to think here - sheís never fantastic offensively, but sheís not usually this bad either - was it just a "focus" thing, or is this enough to put Cat into the starting lineup . . . It will be interesting to see how this plays out. As for my take, taking into consideration the defensive personnel at Aprilís disposal and what we've seen in games for the last couple of years: for me, Kate Sobrero is a central defender, either I play her there, or I donít play her.
OK - done eviscerating the defense - really didnít intend to. I just got done telling someone how I thought this was a pretty good outing, actually. And I believe that - sharpness was a lot of the issue in this one but I guess I came down a little harder on Kate because I donít know that itís "focus" with her. I think itís been 2 years theyíve been trying to convert her to a wing defender and today, she was all the way back to square one - itís really more a misusing Kate issue than it is an issue with Kate. Weíll see though - against Sweden, even the wings are going to have to stay home and defend most of the time. On the other hand, on the rare occasions they do have the opportunity to fly down that flank and cross a ball into the middle, I kind of want a player capable of serving up a good ball making that run. We shall see . . .
Foudy - very nice game. While the finishing was a bit lacking, there was no shortage of chances, thatís for sure. Foudy had a ton of touches and was responsible for creating a lot of those chances. The corner for the goal she took wasnít the prettiest Iíve ever seen, but it skipped right to Boxx who put it home. The assist on Abbyís goal was just what Julie does - plays with her head up, looking for the open player - well done. Not much to say - just a rock solid afternoon for the captain.
Boxx - aahhhh, I do enjoy having a true defensive middie in there. Big, can distribute, can use her body to shield players off the ball while she calmly makes the pass - you just get extra time when youíve got a player like Boxx in the game - Abbyís the same way up top - they can hold the ball effortlessly. Great ball winning ability - I expect it in the air with Boxx, but she wins the ball from the smaller technical players as well - sheís technical enough herself to make the strip. As for her goal - just very opportunistic and professional. Defenses are going to be keying in on Abby, CP, Joy and Chastain on these set pieces so it wonít surprise me if she can pop herself open in the box in the WWC as well. Her transition to the international level has been a smooth one so far - I expect weíll see her quite a bit in the WWC - hereís hoping she has a nice couple of weeks in practice.
Lilly - Iíd comment on the finishing, but ya know - itís just Lil. She always has one or two just wide and one or two over the goal. No gimmes that really hurt though - for all the harping on Abby and Lil, they certainly didnít have any wide open gimmes like Milbrett had a couple of games ago. Very active game for Lil - was pushed inside for much of the outing - so much so that it looked like she was in an attacking central middie kind of role at times. She and Boxx were switching at times - it was more Boxx falling back and toward the left (yet still fairly central) rather than spreading all the way out on the flank. As usual, I like the chemistry between Lil and Mia . . . Not nearly as much flying down that left sideline as we usually see, but I think this was in large part to the inept offensive play of Kate right behind her than anything. If theyíre going to put Kate behind her, theyíre not going to be able to spread the field left like it sounds like April wanted them to. Thatís a coaching decision though, nothing Lil or anyone else can do about it when youíve got Kate back there - even on a good day for Kate offensively, she simply doesnít have the accuracy or instincts Cat, Brandi, Joy, Slaton or Pearce have on the flank. Just a typical Lilly outing though - I really donít have much else.
Mia - Well - the first 35 minutes belonged to Abby - she so completely dominated the offense in the early going that I think Mia got lost at times. If Abby can take some attention away from Mia in the WWC, then that alone is a reason to have her in there. If they give Mia some space, even a little bit of space, she will find a way. Thatís a little bit of what I think we saw in the second half. Abbyís play demanded some attention from the D, so that left Mia in single coverage at times. If Team USA had been connecting their passes a bit more in the second half, Mia probably would have gotten one in the run of play. Solid 90 minutes - picked things up in the second half, but unfortunately, thatís when the combination play and organization got a little more sketchy.
Wambach - Say what you will about the finishing, she dominated the first 35 minutes of this game. Had a ton of touches, had a ton of real chances, created a few chances for teammates - just missed some shots. Itís rare that a Team USA forward so dominates a game like this - especially a forward not named Hamm or Milbrett. I liked this outing much better than the outing against Costa Rica. I thought Abby was doing almost everything they need her to do - a great performance despite being fairly inefficient. Finishing will come - I didnít think her misses were quite the gimmes Wendy was acting like they were, she had folks on her and around her on those shots. Granted, she definitely should have made more than she did, but I think she deserves at least some credit for creating the chances she did - for a lot of other players weíre not talking about the finishing because they simply wouldnít have gotten the chances she got. As for set pieces - on the one hand it seems curious to me that they rarely seem to go to her on these things, but they seem to be skipping over CP as well so maybe theyíre just playing hide the ball with their real set pieces and weíll see the big girls get more involved in these plays when the games that count start. Overall, strong outing, just need to work on that finishing.
Parlow - Run CP, RUN!!!!!!!!!! Heh heh - anyone else screaming at her as she made that loooong run down the left flank? Now, I know sheís fit enough to do that, but it did seem she fell off the page for about 10-15 minutes after that. She made another long run and she just looked done to me. I realize sheís not completely done at these moments, part of it is just the long lopey way she has about her but goodness, 45 minutes - April should tell her before the start of the game "45 minutes" and just use her up and sub her out. All that said, I thought she had a solid first half. She and Abby were combining much better in this one than the last, CP showed her dribbling skills (although she also showed her propensity for wanting to dribble into goal that annoys me so much - there was one instance where she dribbled and dribbled and had both Abby and Mia to her right waiting for her to slot a pass in), and her ability to strip the ball defensively as well. Donít really have a lot here. I like her game before she runs out of steam - I just think that because she seems to have about 45 minutes of steam in her, they need to tell her sheís playing a half from the start so she doesnít hold anything in reserve (i.e., so she doesnít disappear from the game for 5-10 minute stretches). I expect sheíll be a starter in the WWC, weíll see how long she can go and the damage she causes while sheís in there.
Siri - not much to say - I think she should have gotten permission to punish Brandi in any way she saw fit if Mexico had scored there in the 88th minute after Brandi passed to the wrong team, but other than that a quiet game. The strategy out of the back is definitely different when itís a Bri game v. a Siri game. Everything starts with short passes on the ground when Bri is in there - no kicking allowed. Siri did the same thing her first couple of touches, then finally started shooing the field players away - different keeper, different game plan. I do think Team USA misses out by not having a keeper with a strong kicking game in there . . . youíve got Boxx, Wambach and Parlow in there - all those missed quick counter attack opportunities . . . makes me a little sad . . .
Bivens - Well - solid while she was in there - definitely an improvement on the Pearce knuckleheadedness today. There were some passes that didnít connect, but there were no unforced turnovers in the defensive third. As for the red card - she earned it. Tom Stone ainít standing on the sideline intimidating the ref here. Red will and should be thrown when she goes in cleats up like that and the ball is long gone - there wasnít any way you could rationally make an argument she was going for the ball on that one. If she canít control the impulse to pull silly plays like that, then she needs to not play because in the WWC some random ref from Japan will pull red just as fast as Kerry Seitz did today. I expect that will be a lesson learned though - I expect not to see cheap junk like that from her again . . . Sheís too good a player - thereís no reason to resort to that kind of cheap shot.
Reddick - Definite improvement on the left side - connected some passes, much surer of herself moving forward than Kate and played solid defense. Had a nice opportunity to put one in, but booted it over goal - a friend of mine calls that a defender shot, but luckily, sheís not as susceptible to those as most defenders are. Just got a little too far under it that time - maybe Wendyís right, maybe she was just a little closer to goal than she thought she was. Sheíd have had to be waaayyy far back for that one to have gone in though. Played well when they had to switch to the three back - seemed Mexico was picking on Brandi on the left more than they were running at Cat in the late going. The only real problem they had after Kylie went out was Brandiís turnover and I think it just caught them by surprise. Solid outing - from what I saw today, I think she moved into my starting lineup - Iím guessing the starting defenders will depend a lot on these last two weeks of practice so us fan types will just have to trust the two best wings will be in there . . .
Wagner - Quite a week Ms. Wagner has had - I agree with Wendy on this one, exactly what was so urgent about making this trade that it couldnít have waited until October - I mean really - exactly why did the folks in SD and Boston feel a need to screw with the heads of two important members of Team USA at this precise time. Oh well - almost a weekís gone by, both she and Ms. Hucles had nice outings so hopefully we hear absolutely nothing further from the folks in the WUSA until the World Cup is over. Aly was doing a nice job winning balls, getting chances for herself and teammates and was being fairly disruptive. Had a real nice shot from distance that could have found the back of the net and thought it was good for her and her confidence that they let her take the third PK - and of course, nice for her hometown fans as well. Possession and combination play in the second half for Team USA were not exactly stellar, but Aly and Hucles both seemed to bring a bit of a spark. Solid outing - interesting to see whether sheís back in there against Sweden or if theyíre going to go with a bigger lineup.
Roberts - Well - I donít mind her in the defensive midfield when Team USA has the lead - they just donít seem to get the same number of real opportunities offensively when sheís playing in the defensive midfield as when sheís not though. Coincidence? Maybe . . . Iím not real convinced though. She was playing strong defense, but she just doesnít switch fields as efficiently or smoothly as Boxx does - and she canít hold off opposing players as easily as Boxx does so she doesnít have the same kind of time to make her decisions and her passes. She was solid enough in this one, but I still like her better on the right and think they need more size in the defensive midfield. Boxx has moved ahead of her on my depth chart and both Wagner and Hucles are ahead of her offensively, but sheíll be a nice versatile weapon to have on the bench if the need arises.
Hucles - she was robbed. Robbed, I tell you. Two incredible shots on goal and two incredible saves by the Mexican keeper. Sheís got a much harder shot than I realized and she places it pretty well. Great idea on both of those screamers, the keeper just came up with tremendous saves. Looked a bit better on that left side in this one than she did in the last - kinda wish they had one more game for her to acclimate herself to the left and Iíd feel better about her spelling Lil for awhile, but as it is, I imagine sheíll be able to provide some nice minutes out there if Lil needs a break. She always comes in and adds a spark and this game was no exception. There is serious SuperSub potential here - it will be interesting to see how sheís used in the WWC. I expect weíll see her often - in my world, sheís the first sub for either the right or left midfield spots.
Milbrett - I caught myself watching her in this one and just thinking - dang is she fast. Sometimes itís nice to take a moment and enjoy the simple things. She was all over the place moving a mile a minute the whole time. Had some nice chances, created a few chances. Considering sheís been away from the team she really didnít seem too discombobulated out there or like she was having any more trouble combining with folks than anyone else. Interesting to see how the forwards work out.
Well - that was it - a fairly entertaining game to watch. While I agree that they need to tighten up and focus for a full 90 heading into the WWC, itís hard not to get the feeling watching them, that theyíre tired of the meaningless friendlies and ready to get this party started. I sure hope so, at any rate. As for me, Iím definitely ready for the games that count and for some challenging opponents. Iím quite curious to see how good this team really is.