U.S.-CANADA NOTES: Fans, formation sparkle; Solo, defense still learning new system; Canada content after two games with new coach
On Thursday night, Portland wrote another chapter in its legend as Soccer City, U.S.A.
In Portland Timbers and national team matches, Portland has earned a reputation for loud, boisterous crowds that can help spur the home team to victory. The 3-0 U.S. win over Canada before an announced crowd of 18,570 did nothing to dispel that notion.
'It's a great football stadium, where you get inspired when you get here,' U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. 'A fantastic crowd. You can't beat that. It's almost like a 12th player, and I'm very happy to be here. It's a great, great environment.'
The night before, the U.S. was able to watch part of an MLS match between the Timbers and the San Jose Earthquakes. But U.S. midfielder and former University of Portland star Megan Rapinoe said that sitting in the stadium did not compare to being down on the pitch.
'This is unbelievable,' Rapinoe said. 'We came here last night and saw a little bit of the Timbers game, and obviously it was electric. But being out there and feeling that and having (the fans) get into the game was just so unbelievable. Being back in one of my home towns is near and dear to me.'
• On Thursday, the U.S. played its second match with a new formation, which can be called either a 4-5-1, or, a 4-2-3-1. Offensively, the results were dazzling. The U.S. scored three goals and took 21 shots, putting 10 shots on frame.
'I'm super excited about this new system that we're playing,' Rapinoe said. 'It's fun, it's interactive. I feel like everybody is having fun, everybody is getting involved. And we've only been playing it for like a week and a half and not even really training at it that hard. So I'm pretty excited for what's to come.'
Sundhage said she was pleased with how quickly the U.S. is adapting to the formation.
'It's a good start,' she said. 'We have a long way to go to put this system together. But the energy, the attack, it was contagious. They played well.'
•• In the new system, U.S. striker Abby Wambach was able to link up beautifully with the wide midfielders. Substituting into the match in the 46th minute, Tobin Heath did a wonderful job controlling the tempo of the match on the left side. Kelley O'Hara came in and played on the right side in the 60th minute. Though she was credited with only one assist, O'Hara delivered the ball to Wambach on both of the striker's goals.
'Pia had told me when I was going in to play a little bit higher, try to be up against their line so they (the U.S. attacking players) can make some slashing runs behind,' O'Hara said.
••• Defensively, the U.S. still has a lot to learn with the new formation, specifically how to avoid counter attacks while the team is pushing its own numbers up the pitch.
'Our defense, it's different right now,' U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo said. 'There's different decision-making, different distance between our back line and our midfield. We're learning as we go.'
As captain of the defense, a lot of pressure will fall on Solo to make sure things run smoothly.
'I still have to learn it, to be honest,' she said. 'My job is to keep everything organized back there, not just with my defenders, but starting with the midfield. And we're still trying to figure out our roles defensively.
"Offensively, on the attacking side, we're entertaining, and we're getting closer to the goal and we're combining more. Now we just have to figure out the second step of that.'
Solo said she has confidence that in any formation the U.S. back line will be able to help her stop goals from being scored.
'We have the toughest defenders, the quickest, the most physical, the best on the ball,' she said. 'So no matter what the system, I know that they're going to do everything they can to keep the ball out of the back of the net.'
•••• During her time in Portland, Solo has had to field a lot of questions about her new gig on the reality TV show, 'Dancing with the Stars.'
Solo is not Kim Kardashian, though, as her 100-plus caps with the national team have proved.
Solo remained firm in keeping that line drawn on Thursday night. After answering questions about soccer, Solo was asked about the reality show. She responded that she was not going to talk about that after a match, before walking away.
The U.S. keeper did make sure that she will not leave Portland with a reputation as a prima donna. Like many of her teammates, Solo spent more than 10 minutes signing autographs and giving fans hugs.
••••• After a horrendous World Cup, Canada showed that it is getting back to the form many expected. For 1 1/2 matches of the two against the U.S., the Canadians made things an even battle on the scoreboard. The Canadians drew 1-1 with the U.S. in Kansas City, Kan., on Saturday and went into halftime Thursday with the score 0-0.
'All in all, it's a good foundation to work from,' Canada coach John Herdman said. 'First game, a draw against the States, nil-all until halftime (tonight), I'll live with that.'
After his first two matches as Canada's coach, Herdman said he was excited by the possibilities.
"I've only seen a small portion of players at the minute,' Herdman said. 'There's a lot more players who need to come across my eyes. That's exciting. I've got a good crop. There's a good core here. There are some players who are ready, under a new coach, to give it another crack and take themselves to another level.'
Canadian defender and former UP star Sophie Schmidt said Canada has a lot to build on before the 2012 London Olympics qualifiers.
'We have a strong base with our first game and more so the first half of this game,' Schmidt said. 'With a new coach, it's only been a week and a half, and his tactics for us will just continue. And we're also a little rusty. We haven't played a game since the World Cup. So we did well.'