Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sports Corner: Well, That's a Problem

Hmmm. The US women's soccer team opened their Olympic run with a 2-0 loss to Norway, and when I say "opened" I mean "really really opened," as in "at least they waited for the ref to start the game before giving up two quick goals."


The first came at 1:07 off a Norway cross from the left side. Hope Solo went to punch the ball away but collided with Lori Chalupny, which resulted in Solo missing the ball but making good contact with Chupa's head. The ball, happy to have escaped a beating at Solo's hands, went off the Norwegian attacker's noggin and skipped into the goal, whistling all the way. Opinion is divided as to where the fault lies for that one, but I'm inclined to say, meh, these things happen. Solo came off her line and made a play for the ball, Chupa went up to try to get a head on it. Maybe Solo should have broken earlier or called the defender off more vociferously, but whatever. It happens. It just sucks when it happens before sleepy viewers quite have it straight which way each team is going.

The second one hurt. Kate Markgraf attempted a back pass that turned into a beautiful through ball to the Norwegian attacker she didn't see behind her, and that was pretty much it. Solo, left hung out to dry, covered the near post like she was supposed to and was beaten high and away by the kind of nice finish you expect to see at the international level. This was at 4;46, more or less, and that was it.

The US was rattled and took quite a while to settle down. Defensively, Markgraf looks like a liability. Love Kate, but aside from a solid shot from outside the arc late in the second half, her game didn't have much to recommend it. Heather Mitts--sit down if you aren't already, because I never expected to hear this from me--was hands down the best US back. She has been nothing less than solid since returning from her ACL injury and has turned into a good attacking back as well. The central midfield was weak. Apparently this is my day to bust on aging Domers, so here we go. Love Boxxy, but she was awful today. Her first touch was rusty, her passes rarely found US feet, she biffed two open chances in the box, and she was hacking Norwegians at a rate that left me surprised to see the Swiss Miss, referee Nicole Petignat, keep her card in her pocket. On the outside, Heather O'Reilly was the most effective attacking player the US had on the field, showing an eagerness to take on defenders one-on-one and fight for every ball. Lindsay Tarpley was off her game, sending way too many crosses and through balls to spaces that didn't have a US player within 20 yards. Tash Kai was too random in the first half; interestingly, as she started to fatigue in the second half, she did a far better job of showing patience on the ball and finding open teammates in front of the goal rather than whacking at the ball mindlessly.

Not that there weren't bright spots, or at least a few sequences that gave me hope that the team is finally moving beyond the one-dimensional long-ball attack of the Ryan era. Ball movement as a whole was not great, with too much panic showing through in the first half. They settled a bit in the second and managed to link a few passes and play possession for brief spurts, which created a handful of scoring chances late. The magic final pass is still elusive, for the most part, and when it was there the finishes were mostly lacking.

Substitution patterns continue to mystify me. Bringing Rodriguez on in the second half was a no-brainer, but for Tarpley? I expected to see her come in for the ineffective Boxx, with Hucles moving back to the midfield. I would very much like to see the young, speedy players all on the field at the same time, A-Rod, Tarp, and HAO all at once, just to see what happens. Chastain wants to see Aly Wagner start at center mid in the next match. She's getting up there in years and hasn't had much playing time recently due to injury, so who knows if her legendary distribution skills are still there? There has to be another answer. Brazil and Germany looked monstrous in their game today.

I don't mind crawling out of bed at the crack of dark if they play well, but the match today was hardly even worth tivoing.

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