Game #1 - USA 3 v Greece 0 - August 11, 2004
We played our best line-up given Joy Fawcett’s healthy return to our starting 11 and a match-up with Brazil right around the corner. This Greece game was about getting use to the Olympic pressures, climate and opponents. We played with a good rhythm; tremendous possession and every player received several touches on the ball. I know many would like us to have won 10-0, but realistically Greece didn’t attempt to attack, which translated into 11 players behind the ball 100 percent of the time. The performance, on the whole, was outstanding and perhaps one of our best ever against a ‘bunker’ defense. The game-winning goal came from our flank play, end line service (Hamm) and outstanding finishing (Boxx).
USA Line up & System: 4 – 4 – 2 (High Pressure) Greece Line up & System: 4 – 5 – 1
Game #2 - USA 2 v Brazil 0 - August 14, 2004
Early on in this game we found ourselves in a position every coach has been in (weathering a storm), but rarely seen against the US women. Brazil were brilliant in the first half, taking our players by surprise in terms of their passion, possession and attacking flare. At the half, we talked about being a team that could respond to moments of domination or even being down a goal – a topic we’ve discussed since losing to Germany in WWC ’03. Just before the half we switched from a low to high-pressure game, the result was several interceptions in their defensive 1/3 and several subsequent chances around their penalty box. At the half, we switched from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 to jump-start our approach to being under pressure and to put a greater emphasis on playing in Brazil’s end. The result was a turn of events that put us in a position to dominate Brazil in the second half. It should be noted that Brazil started in their traditional 3-4-3 and were forced to switch to a 4-3-3 when we switched our system at the half. The game-winning goal came from a penetrative speed dribble by Foudy who played a perfect final pass inside the penalty box. Wambach was fouled and Hamm finished the ensuing PK. Additionally, Wambach put the game away off a tremendous run with the ball, cutting inside two Brazilian defenders and then brilliantly finishing her chance. Certainly, this was a game of two very different halves. Brazil owned the first and we dominated the second winning 2-0.
USA Line up & System: 4 – 4 – 2 (Low Pressure) Brazil Line up & System: 3 - 4 – 3
4 – 3 – 3 (High Pressure)
Game #3 - USA 1 v Australia 1 - August 17, 2004
Having already secured advancement, yet not knowing whom our quarter-final match up would be against, we had to play this game within the game. In doing so, we played to win if ‘possible,’ and knew a tie would also ‘suffice.’ This strategy is one that the US WNT doesn’t like or respect. We want to win every game, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Regardless, the tactical thing to do is to be smart. In order to win Gold we were likely going to have to play more games than any other team, which translates into the potential for more fatigue, more injury and more card accumulation. Additionally, we had the oldest team in the tournament with an average age of 27.5 years, so winning was secondary to advancing without cards, injuries or to too much fatigue.
We started a ‘mixed 11’ and stayed committed to making 3 substitutions. Everything was going well until (and unfortunately), we let the game get out of control late in the second half and Australia tied it up. On hindsight, I believe we coaches should have dropped the team into a low-pressure system with 15-20 minutes remaining. The reason we didn’t was because in the previous game against Brazil, low pressure meant ‘no pressure.’ As it was, with 10 minutes left in our game we went from playing Sweden to Nigeria to China to Mexico and once all the games were over, our quarter-final opponent became Japan. The goal against was scored as a result of poor marking in the box (Foudy), and the game-winning goal came from an outstanding early service (Foudy) to Lilly crashing the far post and finishing first time.
USA Line Up & System: 4 – 4 – 2 (High Pressure) Australia Line up & System: 4 – 5 – 1
Quarterfinals - USA 2 v Japan 1 - August 20, 2004
Going into the tournament, I knew the quarter-final match would be critical because we would face an opponent from the other two groups. I also knew we had the potential to match up against a team entering the game with a tremendous amount of rest. In our final group game against Australia, we rested Pearce 90 minutes, Wambach sat out because she had to serve a 1 game suspension for card accumulation, and we substituted out Hamm and Foudy with 20minutes remaining…all in an effort to minimize fatigue in the quarter-finals. We also made two changes in our starting line up to optimize our chemistry on the field starting games and to maximize our player’s strengths in the middle of this increasingly athletic tournament. We started Brandi Chastain in place of Catherine Reddick to bring a composure and chemistry to the team entering games. And, we knew Catherine would respond positively on and off the field, as she always has (and did in the two over-times games to come). Additionally, we started Lindsay Tarpley to give us a more athletic and dangerous attacking center midfielder against the Japanese midfield.
As it turned out, we entered the game with 2 days rest to Japan’s 5 days, yet rallied to advance to the semi-finals. Japan is one of the most improved teams in the world. They are technically efficient all over the field and this technical prowess allows them to tactically pick apart teams. I’ve watched them closely over the last 10 years, and I can tell you they have all the ingredients to be successful at the world level. The game was played largely in the midfield as both teams played the same system, and perhaps a bit cautious and respectful of one another. We pressured Japan in a 3 front (4-3-3) in an effort to disrupt their composure and confidence on the ball in one of the biggest games of their young careers. This paid off, as we put together our best performance in the tournament so far. We made zero substitutions during the game because of the 4 changes made to our line-up before the game and a tight game. The game-winning goal came off an aggressive trap on their defensive set piece. Boxx was disciplined in her timing and run to receive the ball on sides, while Wambach followed closely and put away the 4 v 1 goal.
USA Line Up & System: 4 – 3 – 3 (High Pressure) Japan Line Up & System: 4 – 4 –2
Semifinals - USA 2 v Germany 1 (OT) - August 23, 2004
The US team dominated the 2003 Women’s World Cup champions in the 2004 Olympic semi-final game. A key concern entering the contest was the need to prevent Germany from penetrating behind the US back line with their star forward, Birgit Prinz, and their renowned ability to make the high percentage ‘final’ pass. We decided to play in a 4-4-2 with a low restraining line of confrontation, thus reducing the space behind the US defense, and allowing Germany to only possess the ball in their half of the field. This tactic stymied the German attack throughout the match. The Germans were held to just 2 shots on goal in 120+ minutes of play and Prinz was limited to zero shots on goal.
In the attack, the US created numerical superiority by playing in a tight diamond formation in midfield, and a wide and high shape at the back, encouraging our backs to contribute to the attack, against Germany’s classic ‘flat’ shape in the midfield and at the back. These subtle differences in shape helped us possess the ball better throughout the game and create numerous dangerous scoring opportunities. The German defense cracked under the pressure when Kristine Lilly finished a one-time shot inside the box on a combination from Abby Wambach, just before the half.
Adjusting to the one goal deficit late in regulation, Germany pressed four and occasionally five players onto the US back line throughout the second half. Maintaining our shape, discipline, and ability to read their service options, helped limit Germany to very few chances while we were often playing numbers even at the back. Germany’s necessity to push players forward for an equalizer opened space for us to create multiple goal-scoring chances that could have put us up 2-0. However, in the 93rd minute, Germany equalized on a shot that took a deflection.
Disappointed in having given up a late goal, but not daunted, the US players took the field in over-time, confident and determined not to let the late goal shift our momentum - as we were getting better as the game wore on. As coaches, we made no adjustments in over-time. We simply reiterated the belief that if we can continue to play the same way (system and style), we know we will create more chances and we will finish one of them. Our faith in the team was rewarded with a classic flank play goal from Mia Hamm to Heather O’Reilly that sent the US into the Olympic championship game.
USA Line Up & System: 4 – 4 – 2 (Low Pressure) Germany Line Up & System: 4 – 4 – 2
Olympic Finals - USA 2 v Brazil 1 (OT) - August 26, 2004
USA won the “Gold” defeating Brazil 2-1 in OT using a classic recipe for success: organized defending in both halves of the field and exceptional finishing. The Greek Men’s National Team won the 2004 European Championship against all odds using this simple formula. The old saying that “Defense Wins Championships” proved to be true once again. The critical difference between the Greek men and the USA women is that we employ this tactic when necessary; the Greek men relied upon it as a staple.
We decided to play in a 4-3-3 for several reasons. From a defending perspective, the 4-3-3 allowed us to pressure Brazil further up the field, which helped disrupt their possession style of play, allowing us to win more balls in their defensive half and forced them to initiate attacks further from our goal. Additionally, with us playing 3 up top, Brazil had to remove one forward off their front line.
From an attacking standpoint, three forwards allowed us to keep more attackers forward, create width up top, and apply more offensive pressure against Brazil in the biggest game of their lives. Playing in a 4-3-3 forced Brazil to alter their system. Their high pressure 3-4-3 had stymied most of their opponents including a very talented Sweden team in the semi-final game. Brazil’s adjustment to our three forwards reduced their ability to play high pressure with only three midfielders, while providing our players more time and space in which to play. This paid off when Lindsay Tarpley ran at the Brazilian defense and hammered a shot from outside the box to put us in the lead 1 – 0 in the first half.
After Brazil scored the tying goal late in the second half, we switched to a 4-4-2 in order to stabilize defensively. The adjustment helped us stay organized, compact and defend with more numbers, absorbing Brazil’s chances without exposing ourselves to another goal. Entering the second overtime, we decided to return to a 4-3-3, so that our players could put all of their mental and physical energy into a final effort to create chances in Brazil’s defensive half – a “go for it” mentality. We were rewarded when our pressing led to a corner kick. Kristine Lilly’s perfect far post service, a surprise to no one on the USA side, led to Abby Wambach’s heading home the game winner against Brazil, and put the US Women back where they belong – on top of the women’s game.
Playing in two systems was critical to our success in the Olympic finals. In a 4-3-3, we were able to press, win balls and play in the Brazilian half of the field. Playing in a 4-4-2, allowed us to defensively “hold the fort” when the momentum shifted. Switching back into a 4-3-3 in overtime enabled us to pressure and win a corner kick that led to our team to be crowned, 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist.
*It should be noted, that a system is only as good as the players playing it, and, that no system ever won a game – players win games! We share these thoughts on our tactical adjustments during the Olympic finals for coaches to evaluate and consider.
USA Line Up & System: 4 – 3 – 3 (High Pressure) Brazil Line Up & System: 4– 3 – 3
4 – 4 – 2 (Low Pressure)
4 – 5 – 1 (last 10 minutes)