Benson's Breakdown: U.S. vs. Norway
The game started much as I expected with Norway playing very direct. This is Norway's style and is why the team has been so successful for the last fifteen years.
On the other hand, the U.S. did a very good job fighting through the first ten minutes and then settled the game down. Again, like last game, I would have liked to see the U.S. get the ball to the left and onto Kristine Lilly's feet a little bit more in the first half. I feel like most of the first half was played on the right hand side. But in the second half the team did a much better job of switching the point of attack and making Norway chase more.
The U.S. definitely had more of the possession which is to be expected but I was very surprised on the amount of scoring chances that Norway created ... very few. Dagny Mellgren did a very poor job of penetrating the U.S. defense but I think it was because the back line played outstanding and took Mellgren out of her game. I also thought that everyone did a great job of team defending. They shut down Norway quickly and with urgency which makes it difficult for the other team to attack. I don't think it was the best 90 minutes that the U.S. has put together in this World Cup but the team fought through and got the victory. This team just has so much fight and heart which is why it is so fun to watch and what makes it so successful.
Defense: Once again, the defense was solid and the backbone to this victory. Joy Fawcett's leadership was incredible and helped carry the team to the win. She always seems to be there to clean stuff up. I also thought that Christie Pearce, Kate Sobrero and Cat Reddick had great performances holding a very dangerous attack scoreless and with very few shots. Pearce also did a great job of getting into the attack and serving great balls from the byline. Overall, I think this defense is having a great tournament and I expect nothing less from them the rest of the way.
Midfield: I thought the midfield had a solid game especially Shannon Boxx. She did a great job defensively, sitting in the passing seams and picking balls off. She also won many air balls from punts, goals kicks and long balls and did a great job just playing simple and easy passes. In the first half, I think the ball was kept too much on the right side but the midfield rebounded in the second half by doing a much better job of switching the point of attack. I also thought Julie Foudy was really solid with slowing the ball down when she received it because it can get pretty crazy with the direct style that Norway plays.
Forwards: What can you say about Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm. Both of them were everywhere tonight. Mia's touch was a little off but she still had a solid game. Her work ethic on defense was unbelievable. She did a tremendous job of tracking players and making a huge impact defensively. Wambach once again was a force to be reckoned with as she was flicking balls on, getting behind the defense, and pressuring a lot defensively. I just love the tandem of Hamm and Wambach. They complement each other better then any two forwards I have seen in a long time.
This was a huge victory for the United States. Anytime you beat a Norway it is a great victory but this one is a little sweeter because the team is a step closer to a World Cup. The U.S. now must take a look at this game and improve on some little things as it goes into the semifinal. I think if the team is a little more precise with its crossing from the flanks and the final pass I see this team going all the way.
Jenny Benson, U.S. Women's National Team pool player and former Philadelphia Charge defender, is covering the Women's World Cup for ESPN Soccernet.com.