Scotland v United States

What we learned from the United States’ latest 3-1 win over Scotland

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A severe step back from their Saturday form was still good enough for the U.S. Women’s National Team to cruise to a 3-1 victory over Scotland, but if Tom Sermanni is looking for Christen Press-esque positives from Wednesday’s match in Nashville, the team’s new head coach will be hard pressed. A flat performance against inferior opposition left the U.S. with few lessons learned as they closed out a two-match set with Scotland.

A choppy beginning to the match saw the U.S. fail to establish any rhythm against a Scottish defense that was quick to collapse into its own end. With Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan all missing from Sermanni’s starting XI, the U.S. lacked fluidity going forward, single-touches throughout their team failing to generate any meaningful scoring chances. Without somebody willing to assume a creative presence, the U.S. had initial difficulty creating opportunities against a Scottish defense content to keep the world’s No. 1-ranked team at arm’s length.

The U.S.’s opening goal came in the 21st minute after the Scots turned off on a cross from the U.S.’s left. Megan Rapinoe, having switch flanks with Heather O’Reilly five minutes earlier, was allowed to collect the pass and wait for it to drop toward her right foot before curling a shot inside the left post with the outside of her boot. Taking advantage of a moment’s indecisiveness, the U.S. was up 1-0.

After playing out the rest of a choppy first half, the U.S. looked sharper in the second. Thanks in large part to the effort of forward Sydney Leroux, the U.S. was finally able to open up the Scottish defense. In the 51st minute, that running finally paid off when Leroux cut under defender Jennifer Beattie and onto a pass from O’Reilly before crossing for Abby Wambach. Heading home the 153rd goal of her career, Wambach gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

Thirteen minutes later Christen Press, who had just come on for Wambach, slid a 10-yard shot inside the right post to make it 3-0. For Press, it was her third-goal of the week, but with no defender within eight yards of her as she raced into the right side of the box, it was clear the Scots had finally worn down.

The scoring ended in the 81st with a consolation strike, Scottish striker Suzanne Grant one-timing a Emma Mitchell cross past Hope Solo to score in her 100th international appearance.

At 3-1, the final score ultimately mirrored Saturday night’s in Jacksonville, but the performance wasn’t as strong. Over the first half, little separated two teams who are miles apart on the international ladder.

Here are some of the other takeaways from Wednesday’s match:

source: Getty ImagesLauren Cheney, midfielder, is still a question mark – She has all the skills to be a great forward, but on a team that has Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Sydney Leroux being great is no guarantee of playing time. So Lauren Cheney, who also has the intelligence and technical quality to play in midfield, has been slowly adapting to a middle-of-the-park role since post-2011 World Cup.

On Wednesday, that learning curve was exposed. Cheney was competent and mistake-free paired with Shannon Boxx in the middle, but for a team at the U.S.’s level, being competent is not enough. One-touch passes into defense and wide to O’Reilly and Rapinoe need to be complemented by a threat going forward. When Scotland’s midfield gave her time to turn and look upfield, Cheney demurred. Until Sydney Leroux started dropping back and to take the ball high in midfield, the U.S. had no threat coming through the middle.

That lack of creativity is a problem when Carli Lloyd is in the team, too. Tonight, however, Cheney failed to show she can be an improvement.

It’s almost an unfair challenge to give somebody – asking a player so close to becoming a world-class striker to, in her mid-20s, become a world-class midfielder. And when, in the second half, Cheney was near the penalty area and put a nice touch on a ball hit out of the back, we saw that forward’s skill set still rests in her. And yet she’s being put in position to be judged against players who’ve trained most of their lives to be midfielders.

Wednesday’s was only one game, but it’s a game that’s consistent with a larger body of work. It’s still unclear Cheney is an answer in midfield.

Wide play dropped off – Sermanni changed both of his outside midfielders, electing to start Rapinoe and O’Reilly over Press and Heath. Despite Rapinoe’s goal, neither player had standout games. Aside from some nice service on dead balls, Rapinoe failed to provide a needed spark. O’Reilly was a non-factor partly do to a mid-first half switch that put her on the left side, where she was ineffective.

The trouble on the wings ended up inhibiting fullbacks Kelley O’Hara and Ali Krieger. Both defenders had strong performances on Saturday, but the combination play between them and their corresponding wingers just wasn’t there on Wednesday. O’Hara, so vital on the U.S.’s second goal in Jacksonville, was never a factor, while Krieger was kept from getting forward by a Scotland attack that tended to throw a forward at her while breaking out of their end.

Mixed reviews for central defenders – Sermanni also swapped out both central defenders, replacing Christie Rampone and Becky Sauerbrunn with Whitney Engen and Rachel Buehler.

Engen, making her first start for the national team, looked capable but unsteady, at one point arching her back while attempting to head a ball after being caught turning her back to the field of play. She’ll need better performances than this one if she’s going to challenge for a regular spot.

Not surprisingly, Buehler was more solid, but her tendency to get caught out of position on forays into the midfield was on display in the first half. Multiple times the veteran came out of defense to challenge for possession only to pull up short and end up trailing the play as the ball moved past her.

It’s the type of play Christie Rampone’s capable of covering for, but it’s also the opposite of what we saw from her replacement on Saturday. While Sauerbrunn was far from mistake-free in Jacksonville, she was better at making decisions on when to jump into midfield, memorably coming forward to head the ball off a throw-in out of the Scottish end in the first half.

Buehler is probably still the first choice at left-center half, but the reality of the U.S. central defense remains unchanged. The back four still depends on Christie Rampone.

Abby Wambach looked better – It still wasn’t vintage Wambach, but more active and less mistake-prone than Saturday, the FIFA World Player of the Year bounced back from a bad game in Jacksonville. Her early second half energy helped produce a goal that leaves her five short of Mia Hamm’s all-time record.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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When it comes down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clear.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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Three things we learned from Seattle Sounders’ MLS Cup triumph

Seattle Sounders players chase defender Roman Torres (29) after he scored the game-winning shootout goal to defeat the Toronto FC during shoot out MLS Cup soccer final action in Toronto on Saturday, December 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)
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MLS Cup 2016 was the most well-played game of soccer all year — far from it, in fact — but the Seattle Sounders are MLS champions for the first time in their eight-year history anyway.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS Cup coverage ]

Three thoughts on a poorly-played, but thoroughly intense 2016 finale…

A cup final, it most certainly was

The numbers of cup finals which feature brilliant, composed attacking play is hugely outweighed by the number of cup finals featuring a total lack thereof. Whether it was down to nerves, the frigid conditions in which the game was played, or a combination of the two, Saturday’s final at BMO Field was yet another example of the latter.

The telling stats: 40 fouls between the two sides (just three yellow cards shown); zero first-half shots attempted by the Sounders, and just three shots in total over 120 minutes (zero on target).

The only moment of true quality came in the 108th minute, when Stefan Frei made the best save you’ve seen all year to deny Jozy Altidore and keep the Sounders on level terms (WATCH HERE).

Michael Bradley, man of the match (until his PK)

As we’ve come to expect, Bradley was anywhere and everywhere on the field for TFC, at all the right times. With Osvaldo Alonso playing the part of warrior in the Sounders midfield, and Jonathan Osorio’s attacking prowess preferred to the defensive chops of Will Johnson alonside Bradley, it was up to the U.S. national team captain to singlehandedly track and mark Nicolas Lodeiro out of the game. He did just that, and so much more.

Then, came his penalty kick, TFC’s second, which was hit with so little pace and no more than three feet to Frei’s left for the easiest save he’d make all night.

The greatest comeback in MLS history

You’ve heard it all by now, but it doesn’t make what the Sounders did from August to December any less remarkable — from ninth place on the day Sigi Schmid was fired (two days before Lodeiro arrived), to the MLS summit in four and a half months. No team in MLS history had ever overcome a points gap that large (10) that late in the season to even qualify for the playoffs, let alone advance in said playoffs, reach MLS Cup, and lift the trophy.

Brian Schmetzer, a Seattle native and member of the Sounders family since his own playing days beginning in 1980, replaced Schmid with (presumably) the idea that he’d see out the lost season as interim head coach before making way for a big-name hire this winter. He won eight of his first 14 games as a head coach instead, led the Sounders to the four-seed in the Western Conference, and delivered to his hometown the ultimate prize on Saturday.

Watching the Portland Timbers lift MLS Cup 2015 was undoubtedly the toughest pill to swallow for anyone in Rave Green, but to end their Cascaida Cup rivals’ reign as defending champions by winning that very piece of silverware themselves … that’s a one-up that’ll last a lifetime.