If At First, Second & Third You Don’t Succeed, Call In Lauren Cheney

Editors’s Note: Maura Gladys is a former–reformed :>–ESPN writer trialing for the The Shin Guardian. Please use the comment section to let us know what you’d like to hear about the women’s national team as they prepare for World Cup 2011.

Abby Wambach hoists up Lauren Cheney after her strike at the death.

It’s hard to believe that one team can not score in as many ways as the U.S. Women’s National Team did today in their send-off match against Mexico at Red Bull Arena.

Wide right.

Wide left.

Too high.

Side netting.

Decent look but not enough on the shot. Header right at the goalkeeper. Shot on an open goal that’s cleared by a splaying defender. In the end–the very, very, end–it was the one way that the U.S. did score that mattered as the U.S. squeaked by Mexico 1-0 courtesy of a a brilliant Lauren Cheney strike in the 92nd minute.

The overarching narrative of the match was that of a frustrated United States team that lacked absolutely any semblance of finishing against a less-than-great Mexico side led by a brave 16-year-old goalkeeper who shut down almost every U.S. attempt.

The U.S. started the match aggressively, winning nearly every ball on the ground and in the air.

The ladies completely dominating first-half possession.

It took Mexico until stoppage time of the first half to string together a series of five passes. But as the U.S. attack pushed forward into the second half, they failed to find the back of the net. Part of this is because of the wonderful play of 16-year-old Mexican goalkeeper Ceci Santiago. It may sound like excessive praise, but seriously, the kid played fearlessly. She turned away the likes of Lloyd, Rapinoe, Rodriguez and Wambach and didn’t even flinch.

Ice water. Veins

As the misses mounted, so did the United States’ frustration. Almost every charge into the box became frantic. Defenders were diving and sliding with abandon and every U.S. player was ready to tee up.

Then, the 92nd minute, Lauren Cheney had had enough. She collected the ball just to the right of the penalty area, about 40 yards out, took one dribble to the right, lowered her head and let loose. Pow. Sweet spot. Upper corner. It was a strike so fundamentally beautiful, so graceful and easy, it was as if it didn’t belong in a game full of poor touches and frustrating misses.

Overall, the U.S. still had the look of a work-in-progress squad.

Wambach and Rodriguez looked much improved coupling up front. They found each other quicker and easier than in previous matches and appear to be syncing up just at the right time.

The other oft-discussed partnership of Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd in the central midfield struggled again. Boxx was relatively quiet all game. Lloyd looked much better in the second half, ripping shots, getting involved in the penalty area and taking one of the United States’ best opportunities, a low strike in the 70th minute. However, very little of the United States’ offense was built up through the middle and the two lacked the cohesion needed to construct a strong, organized central build up.

Mexico did little to challenge the U.S. defensively, something that is a little concerning. It’d be much better to see a young, slightly shaky defense challenged now, to give them something to work with in training, rather than having nothing to go off of. Although, Amy LePeilbet had a strong offensive showing at left back, often pushing up, overlapping and combining well with Megan Rapinoe, a promising display of energy for someone who is fighting for a starting position. One disclaimer though. Because Mexico was playing basically a bunker defense with only one striker, LePeilbet could afford to push up without the consequence of getting caught out of position, a factor that might have influenced her play.

Heather Mitts makes the trip...

Heather Mitts came on at right back for Ali Kreiger at half time, in what was essentially a 45-minute tryout. Mitts is recovering from a hamstring injury she picked up before the U.S.’s first match against Japan on May 14, and despite some concernts, Sundhage decided Sunday evening that Mitts, not a youngster like Whitney Engen would book their ticket to Germany.

Mitts looked good, not great today, although she didn’t get many chances. The one time she was challenged, in the 79th minute against Monica Ocampo, she got beat and let Ocampo slip in behind her. However, as she chased into the penalty area she had the patience to lay off hacking at the striker and potentially cost the U.S. a penalty kick. That one play basically represents the player that Sundhage has with Mitts. She’s a veteran with a semi-gimpy leg who could potentially get burned by speedy attackers but whose veteran experience (World Cup or not) could pay off for the U.S.

The squad has eight days off before they leave for Austria for some pre-World Cup training and there is still a lot that needs to be improved before they can realistically call themselves a World Cup-ready team. Let’s just hope that this game was one of those “good to get it out of their system now” games, rather than a troubling sign of what’s ahead.

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by FulhamPete on 2011/06/06 at 12:02 AM

    I follow the USWNT almost as closely as I follow their brother team. Thanks for embarking on this venture. So long as you stay with TSG, you’ll have at least myself as an appreciative reader.

    I’d love to hear analysis comparing athleticism vs. skill with the US team. It seems to me the impact of title nine on American Women’s sports is such that we have encouraged the development of female athletes in team sports much more strongly than other nations. However, with soccer as a cultural entity in other countries, girls there pick up creative skills, but don’t have the strength/speed training so prevalent in the US.

    I guess my point is: The ladies look SO much stronger and faster than other teams that they don’t need to rely on superior ball skills. They’re not terrible, but I noticed MANY times in Sunday’s match when a more precise pass, or a more deft touch, would have finished the job against MEX. And, in the end, it took such a piece of skill to beat them.
    Rapinoe had her MEX RB beat numerous times only to send in a cross that wound up at the feet of the first defender in her way. Athlete, yes. Skilled outcome, no.

    I look forward to in-depth analysis of the women’s game at a level comparable to the men’s game. Thanks for the start.


    • I whole-heartedly agree with this assessment. I forgot to DVR this game, but watched the second Japan game and noticed that we’re still playing “kick the ball and hope for a bad defensive touch or play to give us opportunities” most of the time.

      Great write up Maura.


    • Posted by mgladys on 2011/06/06 at 9:50 AM

      Good point. The U.S. will be the most purely athletic squad at the World Cup. But as you said, athleticism can only get you so far. Mexico made the U.S. look better than they were with their touches yesterday. Several times, mostly in the middle, the U.S. flubbed their first touch, only to have Mexico not capitalize on the mistake, and the U.S. recovered with a speedy (re: athletic) pickup. That lack of crisp touches and finishing will definitely impact the U.S. in Germany. But, I agree with you, that it’s a systemic difference in the way that we train our female soccer players, and not something that can be addressed with just a few weeks of training.


  2. This made me laugh outloud. I totally appreciate your sense of humor, with the details of the game. Wish you were sitting on the couch next to me while I watched the game so you could have kept me laughing, from being really scared for Germany.


  3. Posted by johnapaz on 2011/06/06 at 7:18 AM

    Great analysis. I love to read about the USWNT. Any coverage of Hope Solo will get my undivided attention (slow down there, I’m a GK. My interest is mostly in her on-field play. I may or may not have an incredibly large crush on her also).

    And I’d love to see more reporting from the women’s training camp, at the World Cup and for big friendlies.

    Also, I want to hear more about these other women’s league these ladies are playing in (the one in Spain seems to be attracting the top talent from all over the world. As does the Swiss and English leagues, from what I can tell).

    I’d like to see more player profiles of the USWNT and their opponents, and their opponents coaches.

    Great reporting here. Great job TSG for finding such a skillful journalist.


  4. Posted by mud on 2011/06/06 at 8:49 AM

    I was about to have a heart attack screaming at a-rod… she was blowing it yesterday.

    I would like to see Abby and Morgan start up top together.


    • Posted by mgladys on 2011/06/06 at 9:58 AM

      Yeah A-Rod could have done way better on quite a few chances.

      Odds are, you will see Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan play together up top, it’s just a matter of how late into the game Sundhage will sub in Morgan. She definitely has an immediate impact as soon as she enters the game as a sub, a reason that supports her coming off the bench as a late-game spark. However, if A-Rod isn’t effective, it’d be worth seeing Wambach and Morgan together for more than 15 minutes.


  5. Posted by Smitty on 2011/06/06 at 1:53 PM

    I love the writing, Maura. I look forward to more! Do you blog anywhere?


    • Posted by mgladys on 2011/06/07 at 8:10 PM

      Thanks for the feedback! I also write for USA10Kit, another really great blog that’s worth checking out.


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