Archive | January, 2008

The Most Improved Team You’ve Never Heard Of

Posted on 28 January 2008 by Merrill

U.S. Women win Four Nations cup,
show promise under Sundhage.
by Merrill Ring

January 21, 2008 (ASN) – The story is not that the U.S. Women’s National Team won its third consecutive Four Nations championship – the competition was somewhat weaker this time than it typically is. Old opponent Canada was whacked worse than it ever has by the U.S. 4-0. Finland, the team with the least standing in the tournament, fell 4-1. And China, the Steel Roses, who needed a win to take the championship, stayed in a defensive shell instead but still ended up on the short end of a 1-0 score.

And the story isn’t, as the media has played it, that Hope Solo

Goalkeeper Hope Solo was not the story.
© Jonathan Larsen/Diadem Images

returned to be the team’s first choice goal-keeper after her outburst at the World Cup and its consequences. That story should have been put to sleep when Greg Ryan was not rehired as the team’s coach, partly because of his poor decision making in the goal-keeper controversy but even more importantly because the U.S. simply was not competitive in portions of their matches, especially in the Brazil semi-final. It was completely expected, given her abilities, given the coaching failure and given that she was properly apologetic and contrite, that she would be reinstated in the goal. Solo played in two of the three matches and kept clean sheets in both.

It is important, though not the central story line, that a very young U.S. team played so well on both offense and defense.

They gave up only one goal with a back line lacking its normal centers of gravity. Kate Markgraf had stayed home recuperating. Cat Whitehill made the trip but was injured just before the first match and did not play a minute. That left Christie Rampone to be the leader in the back. While having some experience in central defense, she had never played the role of organizer before — she did an outstanding job. The single goal allowed seems to have involved a misjudgment of a spinning ball by Briana Scurry.

Moreover, Rampone had an inexperienced defensive crew to lead. Her partners in the center, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger, had zero caps before the tournament. Tobin Heath, a 19-year-old first-time player played left back in one of the matches. Lori Chalupny and Stephanie (Lopez) Cox filled the outside spots.

Then there was the attack; the nine goals scored were three more than the U.S. had ever scored in the tournament. They had five different scorers — not one of whom was Abby Wambach or Kristine Lilly. Six of the goals came from midfielders, three from a pair of very young forwards, Lauren Cheney and Amy Rodriguez. The U.S. took 49 shots in the three games and put 27 of them on goal.

Sundhage shifted from Ryan’s 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 — although in the second half of the China match she went to a 4-3-3 to get another body forward to break the bunker.

2008 Four Nations
Tournament Champions

One of the hopeful signs was that Wambach was not expected to carry the load. She did end up with two assists but the attacking was spread around – and without Lilly there it had to be younger players who did the attacking.

Amy Rodriquez got two goals and an assist. Her ability to run at people appears to have made a big difference.

But the choicest bit was Heather O’Reilly. Originally touted as the next Mia Hamm, under Greg Ryan it seemed that she was not only not going to live up to that hype but was going to have a dull future. Sundhage shifted her to right midfield for the tournament, a place she hadn’t played before – recall that Mia started out in 1991 as the right mid – and she responded with her old energy. She was such a threat the entire tournament that she ended up winning the tourney MVP award.

In short, there are signs that Sundhage is changing the talent, changing the system, getting more attacking style from the players while maintaining a strong defensive organization.

Of course, the outcome won’t be known until next several months are finished. Back home, Sundhage has promised a large and significant camp in February. The trip to the Algarve Cup comes up in early March, followed shortly by Olympic qualifying in April in Mexico and then, qualifying successful, the Olympics in August. Loyal fans are waiting to see whether the North Korea and Brazil failures of the World Cup can be put behind them.

Tournament Attacking Stats










Shots On Goal






Merrill Ring can be reached at
© Ring/Cyber Soccer Associates, LLC 2007

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Red Bulls Draft Defense-ively

Posted on 18 January 2008 by Nathaniel E. Baker

The New York Red Bulls selected two Ohio-born defenders with their first two picks in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. Dublin, Ohio native Eric Brunner was taken with the second pick in the second round (16th overall) and Huber Heights, Ohio-native Luke Sassano was drafted out of the University of California with the fourth pick of the third round (32nd overall).

Brunner is a central defender who is listed at 6’4. He played four years in college, the first at the University of Maryland. The soon-to-be 22-year old was OSU’s captain this year and even scored six goals in 26 starts. He’s apparently pretty dangerous on set pieces; Mike Lewis just informed me he scored four times off corners last season. This implies he is good in the air, which is an area where this team has been particularly deficient, especially defensively (as for offensively, think about this kid and Jozy together on corners). Jeff Agoos said he had Brunner “rated right up there” with the best defenders in the draft and that he could start this year. Apparently the team was surprised Brunner was still around and had considered trading up to take him. As a side note: Brunner has never been to New York City (or even New Jersey).

As for Sassano, he is a pretty big kid in his own right (6’1, 170) and like Brunner was captain of his college team. He played in midfield his freshman and sophomore year. Not sure what Red Bulls’ plans are for him. He’s not here in Baltimore.

Neither is David Roth, the team’s third and final pick from Northwestern University. Roth (no, his middle name is not Lee) is a midfielder who was a prolific goalscorer in four years as a starter for the Wildcats: 81 goals in 83 games. The St. Louis native was a second team all America this season.

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