Either US women's national soccer team coach Greg Ryan is masterfully concealing his side's strengths prior to the quarterfinal matchup with England, or he's in over his head. This has been a very frustrating World Cup to watch as an American fan, given the promising buildup of a team finally throwing off the Heinrich shackles and playing with joy, passion, and creativity. What have they delivered? Flat, dull perfomances just over the bare minimum necessary to advance. Thank god for Sweden's sudden rediscovery of their chops against North Korea this morning, or we might have faced Germany in the knockout round.
Lori Chalupny's weak ball on frame 55 seconds into the match deflected off a Nigerian defender and past keeper Precious Dede for the US' only goal on a typhoon-drenched field. The US spent the remaining 92:05 of the game playing better than they had in their two previous matches, but demonstrating a maddening inability to create chances on goal that did not involve set pieces or long crosses to Abby Wambach's battered noggin. Ryan stubbornly stuck with the starting lineup from the Sweden match, keeping Carli Lloyd in at a wing midfield position over Lindsay Tarpley. After Julie Foudy spent most of the game commenting that the Americans have used only 13 players in the Cup so far, raising spectres of exhausted players making mental mistakes or being run into the ground, Ryan did make three second-half subs, bringing Osbourne for Lloyd, Ellertson for Rampone, and Tarpley, mercifully, for Lilly.
I do not understand the reluctance to have Tarpley and O'Reilly on the field at the same time, nor the persistence of keeping Lloyd in the lineup when she failed to take a single shot from distance--from anywhere, actually--given that her only real edge over the other midfielders on the roster is her cannon of a leg. Considering the wet, treacherous conditions for the goalkeepers, the reluctance to put the ball on the goal (or inability to get free long enough to shoot) was really, really bad decisionmaking.
But even worse in the bad decisions department was Wambach trying to hold the ball in the corner as time wound down. Nigeria had already shown their complete lack of concern for committing hard fouls throughout the game, hacking Wambach and, especially, Chalupny more than enough times for the referee to have considered a card for persistent infringement. Foudy, again, was screaming about how stupid it is to stand still with the ball when you know the other team is going to come flying in, and how it greatly increases the chances for injury. So here's Abby with a bad toe and 11 stitches in her head, clearly dragging from three full games on wet, heavy fields, holding the ball in the corner, and sure enough, the Nigerian defender says fuck this shit and whacks her. Wambach goes down and the ball goes out for a US throw. Wambach back up, gets the ball, and inexplicably holds it in the corner again. Foudy is apoplectic, in a controlled sort of way, but unable to hide her disbelief. The Nigerian defender says how fucking stupid are you, anyway and whacks her again. This time Wambach goes down holding a twisted knee as the ball goes out for a US corner. Wambach gets up, takes it short to Chalupny, who gives it back to Wambach, and she... turns her back on the field again to... hold ... the ball... in the corner. And gets hit again. I assume she did eventually get up, because on the third one there I simply got up and walked away.
It's ridiculous. They have to play smarter than this if they don't want to embarrass themselves against England. Think the midfield that started today will be able to do anything but give Kelly Smith the opportunity to bust one awesome move and then be off to the races? Hell, it's essentially a 4-6-0 anyway since the forwards were having to track back so far to see the ball. Start Lilly, Tarpley, Boxx, and Chalupny there and stick HAO and Wambach up top, if Wambach can still move after today.
"Squandered" is such an ugly word.