U.S. lacked cutting edge against Mexico
Ball possession is great, but it's nothing without some ruthless finishing.
That was the takeaway from the U.S.'s final World Cup warm-up match against Mexico, one in which the U.S. was practically camped out in the visitors' half for the entire match, yet was forced to work hard for a 1-0 victory. Too hard in fact. And if not for Lauren Cheney's long-range wonder goal in the second minute of second-half stoppage time, the U.S. would have walked off the field stewing over a highly disappointing result.
Given what transpired over the first 91 minutes, the U.S. might still feel that way when it views the game tape. The U.S. midfield imposed its will from the outset, with Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd seeing plenty of the ball. The movement of forwards Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez also caused the visitors all kinds of problems.
Yet the ease with which the U.S. breached the attacking third of the field made its inability to score all the more maddening. Part of the team's struggles had to do with some crossing that was just off the mark. The heroic play of Mexico's defense can't be discounted either, with 16-year-old Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago producing a string of excellent saves. This included a stop of a Lloyd piledriver in the 70th minute that had the U.S. players shaking their heads in disbelief.
But the most telling statistic of the first half was that only two of 17 U.S. shots were on frame. Rodriguez's failure to hit the target in the 37th minute after some clever buildup play from Heather O'Reilly and Lloyd typified the team's struggles in front of goal.
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And the effect this had on the team's psyche was evident as the game progressed. The U.S. began to take more risks and show less patience in attack. As a result, Mexico began to see more opportunities on the counterattack, and while the hosts weren't punished on this occasion, it raises the question of whether the U.S. will be able to convert chances at a high enough percentage to claim the World Cup trophy.
Granted, not every team will bunker in against the U.S. like Mexico did on this day, but that's all the more reason for the U.S. to be concerned with its conversion rate. Against the best teams, the Americans may only get a few looks at goal all game, and they'll need to make them count. Historically, Wambach hasn't struggled in this area, as shown by her record of 118 goals in 156 international appearances. Yet goals will have to come from somewhere. On this day, Cheney came to the Americans' rescue. Sundhage & Co. will no doubt hope that the U.S. will be more clinical once the tournament begins.
Player ratings (1-10, 5 = average)
GK Hope Solo, 6 -- Was rarely tested, but on the few occasions she was forced into action, she was solid in her handling.
D Amy LePeilbet, 5.5 -- No complaints about her defending, as she held down her side well. With Rapinoe moving infield, LePeilbet had ample opportunity to get forward, but struggled with her crosses.
D Rachael Buehler, 7 -- Did all that was required to shut the Mexican attack down. With the U.S. owning the ball, her concentration needed to be sharp, and aside from one mistake in the second half, it was.
D Christie Rampone, 6.5 -- Showed a smidgen of rust in terms of her distribution, but otherwise delivered an effective and composed display. Organized the defense well.
D Ali Krieger, 6 -- Linked up well with O'Reilly, although her crosses could have been a bit more precise. Was relatively untroubled defensively.
M Megan Rapinoe, 6.5 -- Tucked into the middle with good effect, and made good decisions on when to apply defensive pressure. A bit hit-and-miss with her set piece deliveries, and her sharpness eroded a little in the second half, but overall she helped the U.S. dominate possession.
M Shannon Boxx, 5.5 -- Showed better positional discipline than in previous warm-up games, but was somewhat inconsistent with her passing. She heated up as the game went on and nearly scored with a bullet header in the first half.
M Carli Lloyd, 7 -- Her distribution was nearly flawless for the first hour, and she unsettled the Mexico defense with her diagonal runs. On another day, she might have had three assists. Alas, Lloyd was guilty of squandering her share of chances, as well.
M Heather O'Reilly, 6.5 -- Had success with her ability to take opponents on, and she set up Boxx with a great cross in the first half. She looks to be heading into the World Cup at near peak form.
F Abby Wambach, 5 -- Her work rate and movement off the ball was fine, but her finishing and some of her decision-making in the box was not sharp.
F Amy Rodriguez, 4 -- Worked hard, but needs to be sharper in front of goal. Her inability to hit the target after being set up by Lloyd in the first half was the most egregious of her misses.
D Heather Mitts, 5 -- Got forward to good effect and delivered some telling crosses into the box. But was easily beaten during one Mexico counter, calling into question whether her dodgy hamstring will impact her play in Germany. It was good enough for Sundhage, who said afterward Mitts is going to the World Cup.
D Stephanie Cox, 5.5 -- Got in more advanced positions than LePeilbet, but didn't have much more success with her crosses into the box.
M/F Lauren Cheney, 7 -- Had more of an impact once she dropped back to midfield, and she delivered some telling passes. Of course, her howitzer of a finish was top notch.
M Lori Lindsay, 6 -- Kept the attack ticking over after coming on for Boxx.
F Alex Morgan, 6 -- Didn't take long for her to get involved, and some clever touches allowed her to get some looks at goal. But like most of her teammates, she couldn't get her shots on frame.
D Becky Sauerbrunn, NR -- Late cameo for the U.S. defender.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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