Thursday, August 07, 2008

ATH: US Men win, women lose

Holden on, U.S. wins 1-0
By Daniel Driscoll, Posted Thursday, August 7, 2008 3:50 AM ET

The U.S. men's Olympic soccer team grabbed a critical win in its Olympic opener, downing Japan, 1-0, on a goal by Scottish-born midfielder Stuart Holden in the second half.

The Americans were fortunate to finish the first half still locked in a scoreless draw with their Japanese counterparts, as U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan, one of the team's three overage players, was forced to make several saves in the early-going. In addition, an early driven cross by Japan's Atsuto Uchida was missed by several Japanese players positioned just a couple yards from the open net.

The Americans rebounded in the second half, showing increased vigor on the attack and utilizing the speed of flank players like Robbie Rogers to penetrate into the attacking third of the field.

Holden's goal in the 47th minute was the result of a deflected cross. The Houston Dynamo midfielder latched onto the loose ball at the top of the right side of the penalty area and drove a low shot into the lower right corner that slipped underneath Japanese keeper Shusaku Nishikawa and across the goal line.

The Americans next face the Netherlands on Aug. 10 in Tianjin in Group B play, while Japan faces Nigeria earlier that day at the same location.

Wait To Prove
By J Hutcherson

The biggest thing to come out of today's disappointing start for the US Women wasn't how badly Pia Sundhage's substitution strategy cracked under duress. It wasn't Hope Solo's almost immediate justification in not trusting her defense. It wasn't the lack of time on the ball given to Angela Hucles.

Instead, it's that the US will not have another shot at an opponent who can show them these problems unless they make the knockout round.

Japan and New Zealand should be six points to an awful US team, and certainly to one that looked sub-par. The usual suspects could perform at their usual level, and it will be just about meaningless for what's to come. Building up the next two games does nothing for the United States.

What most US fans expected was a replay of the friendly run the US has been on. Unfortunately for all involved, even in the women's game where releases and training time shouldn't be as much of an issue, friendlies and even organized competitions not leading to the Olympics or the World Cup have turned into glorified scrimmages.

No question, the US looked better in those games than any other team in the world. At the same time, that doesn't prove as much as it should and didn't setup adjustments if they lost a key member of the team.

One of the main differences between Abby Wambach and most players is not that she'll carry the team when down. Her game hasn't proven that. What she will do is insist on the ball. That offensive push was almost completely lacking for the US against Norway, and that's what produces the rebounds, corners, and freekicks that get other attacking players involved in the game.

Without that, the US Women begin to shift towards route play down one wing. A good defense will let you do that for 90 minutes while making sure they have the likely passes into the box covered. They'll also sit on an early lead to give you the illusion that your second half was better than the first.

It wasn't so much that the US lacked answers, just that they lacked the ability to implement them quickly enough to factor. At least Japan and New Zealand should be easy by comparison.

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