Yes, New Zealand was young and overmatched, and the last time against the US got drubbed 7-1, but this morning's game was exactly what the US needed going into the quarterfinals. The Americans scored four goals by four different players, allowing none, and for the most part displayed a short control game mixed up with a few long balls that, while again coming against a relatively low-pressure defense, represents a vast improvement over the opening match against Norway.
Heather O'Reilly has been the player most consistently churning up the field with a killer workrate, showing patience when needed, aggressiveness when needed, threading crosses, finishing close as well as from distance. The distance shot came 40 seconds into the game when she caught the Kiwi keeper off her line after a goal kick and nailed the upper corner from, what, 35 yards out? Chalupa returned from the knock on the noggin suffered in the first match and put on a clinic for what attacks out of the back line should look like. Boxx turned in another solid game in the center mid, and A-Rod finally showed a deft touch to go along with her innate sense of how to time runs to beat the offside trap, converting a run off a beautiful long ball from Rampone (I think) in the second half.
Since Norway inexplicably got destroyed by Japan (two Japanese goals coming off defenders' feet a minute apart did them in), the US goes through as the first-place finisher in their group, and I understand fuck all about how the other groups shake out. I think we go against Canada in the quarters, miraculously avoiding both Brazil (o cagado) and Germany (ach scheisse) until the semis, if we make it that far. Because as good as they looked this morning, those two teams are light years beyond New Zealand. The US back line has managed to cover for each other when, say, Rampone makes an inexplicable weak pass, Cox loses her mark, Markgraf loses a footrace, or, like this morning, Beuhler flies up on the attack but is slow coming back on the counter. Mitts and Chupa have been strong on the wings, despite Mitts' one miscue this morning of attempting to beat a Kiwi forward on the dribble and losing the ball ten yards outside her own box, but they haven't faced anything like Marta or Christiane, and the center backs haven't shown enough to convince me that they will be able to reliably dispense with surgical German crosses. In either matchup I think I want Wagner in the middle with Boxx rather than Lloyd, who has been maddeningly inconsistent when it comes to finding either feet or the frame. If we do draw Canada in the quarters, I would like to see her as an early second-half sub. Precise distribution out of the middle will be the key against the big guns. Hopeful whacks aren't gonna do it.
A ver, as they say in Peru--a notoriously poor footballing country, but a good phrase.