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Well wasn’t that fun.  If you want to know what this means to the US hopes of advancing, scroll down…

The US once again let up an early goal and then doubled the fun by succumbing to the counter attack just before the half.

The US was outplayed in the first half; Slovenia had more ideas, was stringing passes together better, and overall just looked like the better team.  The American’s one good chance was agonizingly close but then they got caught napping on the break and all of the sudden they were staring likely elimination in the face.

The second half was a totally different tale.  Landon Donovan started things off inside of 3 minutes with a beautiful, composed, and powerful finish.  He was aggressive in getting the ball in his own half and combining well with Bradley to help the US get forward.  His free kicks have been excellent throughout this tournament and it is only a matter of time before they finish one (although they kind of already have).

The Slovenians proceeded to totally fall apart and despite a few combinations along around the box, they seemed to disappear completely from the middle of the field.

Jozy Altidore was really causing problems for the entire defensive unit.  Mimicking his post up of Jamie Carragher on a few occasions and looking kind of like Dwight Howard out there, no one has a prayer of getting around him legally.  Won a few free kicks and looked dangerous throughout.  Being a striker though, you would love to see him get on the score sheet for his confidence alone.

He also did very well to win the ball in the air which set up Bradley’s finish which tied the game.  A finish which deserves al the slurp that is coming, it was absolutely brilliant.  To keep that ball down with the bottom of his shoe, going full speed, with the goalie coming out, is truly incredible.  Landon Donovan was the official Budweiser “Man of the Match” but in my opinion it was Michael Bradley.

The kid was every where in the middle of the field.  He constantly pressured the ball and took back possession.  His distribution was very good.  As I have stated (this is blog, it is self serving)….his runs from the midfield into the box always seem to cause problems for the defense, and today was an excellent example.  He is turning into a great American central midfielder in the mold of a Claudio Reyna, but with the best sense of goal we have seen from that role.  He has also matured very well over the past year and has cut down greatly on bad tackles and his hothead attitude.

There should also be credit given to Bob Bradley and Herculez Gomez for that goal; Bradley inserted the extra striker who occupied all the attention of the other CB during Donovan’s cross.  He didn’t react quick enough after the layoff from Altidore and it created the space which allowed Bradley to come into the box and finish beautifully.

Bradley’s midfield options weren’t nearly as effective as he was.  Jose Torres in the first half seemed to struggle with effective distribution, often giving the ball away and not really connecting with anyone effectively.  Maurice Edu was just as sloppy with the ball, but did do better to help win possession back a few times and was better as he got into the game.  He was quite unlucky to have that goal called back but more on that later.

Clint Dempsey was never really as threatening as he can be.  Not to say he had a bad game but he just never seemed to be really dangerous.  Might have done better on a set piece in early in the 2nd half but that is nit-picking and did get a little more active when moved up front to compliment Altidore prior to Herculez’s intro.  He just didn’t seek nor receive enough of the ball to make the kind of impact he is capable of.

Benny Feilhaber got his first World Cup appearance off the bench and had a fairly positive impact.  He did seem to be lacking in chemistry with his teammates and the knock on him continues to be that he thinks just a little too much on the ball sometimes.  He tracked back very well and was not afraid of his defensive duties at all.  I think he would have been better off starting in place of Torres, he does have the experience at this level.

Jay Demerit was very disciplined in the back, keeping the play in front of him and just being his standard aggressive self.  He also did a very good job on the much taller and clinical Milivoje Novakovic.  He did get caught out a bit on the first goal but it could also be said that his partner Oguchi Onyewu didn’t step up fast enough for the trap to work, and they got burned….not the first defensive pairing to make that mistake.  Gooch also didn’t close out fast enough on that first goal but other than that he was excellent once the game got flowing.  He did play one great long ball to Jozy, which was wasted but the ball in should get some credit.

The first goal though wasn’t all Onyewu’s fault as Tim Howard probably would have screamed and yelled at him if it was.  Howard did seem to get caught flat footed on that.  Other than that he did well to control the area and made a few big saves late on.

Carlos Bocanegra continues to have issues with any sort of speed coming down the wing but was fairly solid overall.  No glaring mistakes which is a good thing for people in his role.  On the other side, Steve Cherundolo continues to be excellent.  Offensively he wasn’t quite as creative or effective as he was against the Brits but defensively he was a stud.

In closing…

it was a fascinating game but truly a tale of two halves.  The habit of not really getting into the game until they give up a goal is scary, especially now that they must beat Algeria.  It is better to go down early  rather than play 0-0 and concede in the 75th minute, at least it gives their adjustments time to make an impact.

Despite what the press might say, Slovenia/Algeria are not bad teams.  This sport means the world to them and that is how they can turn populations that pale in comparison to the US into competitive soccer teams.  The American’s must not just talk about taking these teams seriously but actually come out flying from the beginning.  This is especially important next Wednesday when a win is absolutely necessary.

Referees

As far as the refereeing goes, it ranks right up there with the ball as things I don’t like to discuss.  There are rash examples, ie Byron Moreno from Italy v S Korea in 2002, but this isn’t one of them.  All sports are impacted by human error; the referee or a flubbed chance or a dropped pass in the end zone or letting the ball bounce through your legs.

When it is a refereeing error, it is amplified because it is much easier to rip into him than it is to blast a specific player, especially if he is your teammate.  You would love to let these kind of games unfold with out having to worry about 3rd party influence, but we are human and we can’t govern ourselves so these are evils we must live with.

Maybe I am sympathetic b/c I have some experiencing refereeing 10 year old girls, but I think Koman Coulibaly was out there with the goal of enforcing the laws of the game as accurately as possible.  He probably made an error but this is the game, sometimes they will go in your favor and other times they will not.

USA World Cup Scenarios

Now that Algeria has made things wildly interesting by tying England, we can look at what this means to the US.

Most importantly, they now control their own destiny.  Win and in. Simple.

If England beats Slovenia, the US must beat Algeria.  The winner of the group will be determined by who’s margin of victory next is great next Wednesday.

If England and Slovenia tie, the US can tie Algeria and advance in 2nd place instead of England as long as England doesn’t outscore the US by 2 goals total on Wednesday.  If they outscore the US by exactly 2 goals, it seems that advancement is by coin flip…although that sounds absurd.

If England and Slovenia tie, the US wins the group if they beat Algeria by 2 or more goals.

If Slovenia beats England, the US can advance with a tie.

Algeria can also still advance as well if they beat the US and other things go their way…not really getting into that.  Just means they will also be looking for a victory.

Others

Since things are so neat and tidy when you can put a number next to them….

Alexi Lalas is fucking pissed

If this is your thing; A full rant from FoxSoccer.com on the refereeing

Day 9 aka Tomorrow

Another reason I am stoked the US tied it….I don’t think I could have gotten excited about this weekend of games if the US had lost and been essentially eliminated.  Fine, not eliminated but too reliant on other results to really be positive.

The 2nd and last weekend of 6 games starts tomorrow, make sure you enjoy it as it will be another 4 years until we see this quantity on a weekend again.

Saturday kicks off with the Netherlands v Japan.  An interesting matchup as both teams won their opening round games; one expectedly, the other unexpectedly.  The Netherlands have the attacking prowess to make a deep run while Japan would be happy to get out of the group.

Ghana has an excellent opportunity to take control of Group D after Germany’s loss from earlier today.  Australia didn’t look great against Germany but they will surely come out ready to play, especially after today’s result threw that group into disarray.  Ghana remains the only African team to win and will surely be looking to really generate some momentum and turn into the “home team.”

In a sign of Germany’s WC consistency, that was their first group stage loss since 1986.  They did have a lot more trouble today than they did against Australia last weekend; maybe their new beautiful style was more a result of Australia’s poor performance than their own emergence.  Or the danger with a young team like this, they just got a serious wake up call that this game isn’t as easy as it sometimes looks.

Specifically, Mesut Ozil got all sorts of love after the first game but just never seemed to get into it today, didn’t have much time on the ball and didn’t seem entirely interested in being there.  One good ball did set up one of Lukas Podolski’s 10 chances but he pushed the ball wide.

The final game is a final chance for these two teams to keep their hopes of advancing alive.  Cameroon took some flak after last week’s loss, even drawing rumors of “being on the take.”  Denmark on the other hand was very successful in qualifying but was clearly outclassed against the Dutch.  However, a win tomorrow will make them keepers of their own destiny going into the final game vs Japan.

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In the context of the World Cup yesterday’s tie vs England was an excellent result.  It leaves the US in a good spot going into their next two group games, games in which they will be favored and should get 3 points.

Slovenia did get 3 points with a 1-0 victor over Algeria early this AM and is now top of group.  The US will still be favored, but there is definitely more pressure now.

Within the greater context of international soccer, this was a very good result for the US.  The Americans did not look over matched and had the opportunity to get another goal, they also did very well to respond positively from that early goal.

They did concede a lot of possession in the 2nd half but this is the they style Bradley prefers when in a desirable position.

Brits will surely say that the US got lucky with their goal, but these are the bounces of the game…sometimes they are with you, sometimes against.   If they truly were that superior, they would have found a way to put another in.

Onto a player by player breakdown…starting in the back…

Tim Howard

Tim Howard deservedly the man of the match.  Despite getting a nasty knock in the first half, he toughed it out and came up with at least 3 huge saves in the second half.  The American’s style is one which often requires the keeper to make saves, he was up for the task and is obviously the rock of this team.

Steve Cherundolo continued to show why he was the right choice at right back for the US.  The introduction of Shaun Wright-Phillips did challenge him more than James Millner, a good early sub from Capello.  He was also very good going forward and is obviously the more offensive of the two wide defenders.

On the other side, Carlos Bocanegra didn’t have a great game.  He seemed to struggle with Glen Johnson (who was probably England’s most consistent offensive threat) and Aaron Lennnon.  He never found much space to get forward, but it seems Bradley prefers to keep him back and let Cherundolo do the marauding.

Jay Demerit did a great job to contain Wayne Rooney throughout 2/3 of the game.  He did come to life towards the end, but he is Wayne Rooney.  Demerit was consistent throughout the game and very solid in the back.  Did a good job to consistently make things difficult for England offensively.

Oguchi Onyewu did get caught flat footed on the goal and got caught out on Emile Heskey’s 2nd half chance.  I was a little worried about his adjustment period to playing at this level again, apparently rightly so.  Positively, he did make it 90 minutes and seemed to get better as the game went on, especially tracking back to deny Lampard late on.

Ricardo Clark also let Steven Gerrard sneak behind him on that early goal.  Onyewu was just standing there but that was Clark’s man.  Other than that, not very involved throughout the game, but no other glaring mistakes.  I think Bradley values the chemistry him and Bradley Jr. have developed over the last year.

Michael Bradley was all over the center of the field throughout the game.  The  Lampard/Gerrard central midfield partnership might not work for its own reasons, but Bradley did an excellent job containing Lampard throughout most of the game.  Also did excellent on distribution and looking for the attack.

Landon Donovan was very good for the US.  He seemed to disappear for long amounts of time, but once again, that is probably a product of this style.  He looks comfortable out there, calm with the ball, and his service into the box was excellent.

What can be said about Clint Dempsey other than that he has some sort of supernatural ability to come up with huge goals for this team.  It was a brutal error from Robert Green but as Martin Tyler said, “if  you buy a ticket, sometimes you win a raffle.”  Other than  that, he did a good job tracking back but seems to be most dangerous/comfortable when he’s close to goal

Robbie Findley has settled into his role as well.  His speed is good but his creativity is under-appreciated.  He is very good at getting his defenders turned around and getting himself into dangerous positions.  He did seem to lose a little pace right before he was removed; overall a quality showing but seems to lack that strikers sense.

I thought Jozy Altidore did really well throughout the game.  Being a striker in a counter attacking focused offense can be very frustrating at times, but he was able to keep his head enough to be dangerous when the ball did get to him.  Was unlucky to hit the post in the second half but it could be said he should have done better in the air in the first half.  Absolutely abused Jaime Carragher in the 2nd half, just wanted to say that.

Overall a good result.  Be careful of anyone who is going to make any sort of sensationalist statement about how good the US really is, or that the US is as good as England.  The US are obviously a good team but the difference in strategy is a reflection of each team’s overall quality.  However, the US has confirmed that belief that they can get on the field and compete with any team in the world for 90 minutes.

Others:

It seems as if Tim Howard might have broken some ribs in the first half, we will know more about his status late on Sunday or early Monday.

Goal.com gives their player ratings; also some defensive and midfield analysis.

Jeff Carlisle provides his player ratings at ESPN.com.

Ives Galarcep breaks it down at FoxSoccer.com, an excellent look.

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Overall a solid performance, always nice to get a victory and the 3-1 scoreline was quite convincing.

They seemed to chase possession for long periods but I think this team is built to be comfortable playing like this.  Often when the got the ball they were able to break  into attack very quickly and get the ball into dangerous positions.  I would love to see them try to be more patient with the ball and concentrate on playing through the midfield but this is the system that they are going to employ, so let’s embrace it.

A brief half by half breakdown.

First Half

2 first half goals will get anyone noticed, so it is only fair to lead off with some credit to Edson Buddle.  His first goal was an excellent finish, and probably a look at what we can expect from this controversial ball as it seemed to explode by Mark Schwarzer.  Findley should get some credit as his work rate caused that turnover which he capitalized on.

The LA Galaxy forward then did a great job to get behind the defense and finish the 2nd as well, although you could immediately see the responsible defender recognize his error and bury his head in his  hands.

Between him and Robbie Findley, they are each very different players.   Buddle is a more natural goal scorer and target striker, he does seem to be lacking in control and vision though.  Findley offers more speed, one on one ability, and creativity with the ball.  It is an interesting pairing up top if Altidore does end up missing out on next weekend.

Overall though I think Martin Tyler summed it up best in about the 41st minutes with this gem, “with the ball the US have a fair amount to offer, with out the ball it hasn’t been quite so good”.

The US seemed to chase for long periods and were content to let Australia play with the ball in the middle of the park.  This often led to them getting the ball in more dangerous areas eventually.  The Australians showed excellent patience in build up and it was only really the final product which was lacking.

Second Half

A rough afternoon continued for Robbie Findley, missing another sitter which can’t bode well for his confidence.  To state the obvious, the US needs their strikers to finish and if he’s not doing that, can BB really afford to give him a chance in a meaningful game?

Of course right after the miss, he does excellent along the wing to turn defending into attacking in a split second.  Maybe his real role is on the wing.

I am surprised that Ricardo Clark saw all 90 minutes, it is amazing to me how someone who is playing a central midfield role can disappear for such long stretches of time.  Being that him and Maurice Edu are so similar, you would think that BB would like to get a good look at each one last time.

Maybe he wanted to try to establish some more chemistry but looks like he might have paid for it as Clark limped off at the end.  Never want to see anyone limp off the field in a friendly, especially one this close to the World Cup.

One of the major issues was the number of balls that just seemed to meander through the box.  Whether it’s defenders not wanting to take a chance or the tentativeness that comes with returning from injury, it was very unnerving to see corners and crosses continually just bounce through very dangerous areas.  Stronger strikers salivate over things like that….aka Wayne Rooney.

Herculez Gomez scoring at the end was very positive.  The ball from Donovan was very dangerous and Herculez’s finish was calm and clinical.  Between him and Buddle, this team will have the ability to score off the bench.

Cherundolo should also get credit for an excellent game.  He combines very well with Donovan along the right side, did very well to create space and provided an excellent ball for Buddle’s second.

It was interesting to see Donovan stay on the right and Dempsey on the left the whole time.  Donovan shed some light on this after the game, mentioning that it will probably depend on the opponent.  Continues with BB’s theme of versatility, personally a huge fan.

On the Jozy Altidore front, he did do some running today as was reported prior to the game.  He will do some light training again tomorrow, followed by a day off for everyone on Monday.  Tuesday will probably be the one remaining maximum session and that should provide some more insight into Jozy’s status for next Saturday.

Other Stuff

Two new injury updates on other squads.

Arjen Robben hurt his hamstring in the Netherlands final warm up and did not travel to SA with the Dutch team. A huge blow to them; although they are not lacking offensive talent, Robben has been in impeccable form lately and I was really looking forward to watching him.  Hopefully he can come back for at least some of the games.

John Obi Mikel has removed himsel from the Nigerian squad due to a knee injury. English speakers might call this a blow as Mikel’s name is known due to his time at Chelsea.  I don’t know enough to shed light on how Nigeria might respond to this setback.

Finally, Part 4 of the “Road to South Africa” documentary on the US National Team…take a look…

Look for a mix of US and non US related content coming this week.  Under a week!

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Overall the United States’ 2-1 come from behind victory this afternoon was a positive step and should definitely build confidence as they prepare for their departure for South Africa.  To come back with composure and the level of calm which they did is very impressive and should serve as a quality lesson on playing from behind.

The first half saw them maintain a very low level of possession and they weren’t doing great when they did get it.  However, it was the first time BB trotted out a top lineup like this in a while and it was going  to take some time for them to gel.    Turkey was running  them around holding possession and the US was relying on deep balls, too often giving the ball right back to the opposition.  Some key substitutions at the half saw the dynamic change entirely and they looked much more dangerous and cohesive for the 2nd 45 minutes.

It should be noted that  even though the US is on the way to South Africa while Turkey is just finishing a long European season and will be home for the tournament, this is a quality win.  Europe is the toughest region to qualify from and based on the  nature of the tournament and the cycle of talent, good teams will watch from home.  Turkey is one of them.

I thought it might be interesting to comment on individuals in a pass fail style… Cool?  Cool.  Nature of the game says that most of them passed.

From back to the front.

Pass

Tim Howard – maybe could have done a little better on the goal but at least he didn’t get hurt.  Would rarely fail.

Carlos Bocanegra – Probably should have fouled the man in possession directly prior to the goal.  Other than that he looked good coming forward, confident in possession and never exposed at the back.  Overall a good return which definitely eased some of the defensive concerns.

Jonathan Bornstein – More of a precautionary sub, he did fine but is clearly the #2 option at LB.  That being said I wouldn’t be surprised to see him if the US is protecting a lead and wanted to bring an additional defensive presence.

Clarence Goodson – Not overly present but never grossly exposed.  Definitely the fourth option at CB and could provide a little offensive help if the US finds themselves in that type of position.

Jay Demerit – Can sometimes get caught heading one direction but overall read the game well and provides excellent coverage.  Speedy enough to be the final man and a good compliment to Onyewu.

Oguchi Onyewu – Only a half this afternoon but a quality one.  Looked more confident in winning the ball and not afraid to get himself dirty.  A more complete performance next Saturday would make a lot of people feel better.

Steve Cherundolo – Not as athletic as Spector but more experience, especially at the International level should make him the right sided defensive starter.  Smart coming forward and more positionally sound.

Ricardo Clark – Fairly solid if not unspectacular but that is a good thing for your defensive midfielder.  I think his time in Germany is helping him mature.  Will be interesting to see if Bradley gives him another chance next weekend or if Edu gets the call.

Michael Bradley – Really solidifying himself as the core of this team; solid defensively, very good distribution, and dangerous going forward.  He has shown a strikers sense which made it surprising to see him lay back for Dempsey towards the end.  Has kept his cool lately and if he has moved out of that short tempered phase it would be a very big step in his maturity.  Should be a big part of how this team fares in SA.

Jose Torres – Harkes called him the Man of the Match and while I don’t agree, he did bring a level of energy and creativity which changed things.  His combination with Bradley was effective and definitely made the whole team more offensive.  It would be a surprise to see Bradley forgo a traditional defensive midfielder but this is an intriguing option.

Stuart Holden – Not a lot of time out there but did provide a nice ball on Bradley Jr’s run into the box.  Similar to Torres he enjoys having the ball and is collected with it at his feet.  The US definitely has some options when it comes to attacking minded midfielders.

Clint Dempsey – He admitted to some rust in the first half which probably led to his ineffectiveness in the early going.  Did real well to take down the ball and finish the winner.  Obviously a key cog to this team.

Landon Donovan – A positive performance.  He is a key creator and did well to set up Jozy Altidore’s tying goal.  Not always the most effective in possession but this isn’t his role.

Jozy Altidore – Always looks dangerous and did well to create space for himself.  You would like to see him make some more darting runs and try to get himself in behind the defense but he knows how to use his big/physical nature to keep the ball and be dangerous.  Good positioning to get the  goal.

Robbie Findley –  Everyone else looks kind of dumb after the reaction to BB’s decision to take him along.  He played a gorgeous ball over the top to Donovan which led to the equalizing goal.  Continuously made the runs he was brought along and got himself in dangerous positions with possession.  Seems to always think forward, he needs  to read the pass back on occasion instead of just trying to run by guys.

Fail

Jonathan Spector – Not really at fault for the goal as someone should have been providing cover after his good run.  However, he did get beat a few other times.  Doesn’t seem to be entirely comfortable at this level yet.

Benny Feilhaber – Nothing great from him.  Looked a little more comfortable when he switched over the right hand side but still seems a little disinterested or unenergized or something, I am not really sure.  Every now and then provides an visionary ball but not the top option for his role right now.

I am much more confident now than I was prior to this game.  This team is in good shape and should look to build off this as they shift their concentration to acclimatize to South Africa.

Anyone out there in the ether have any thoughts?  How do you feel about this team now compared to prior to this game?

Check back for various fun World Cup stuff prior the final warm up game next Saturday AM…

Others:

Excellent analysis on the match from Leander  Schaerlaeckens at ESPN.com

Player ratings from Mr. Schaerlaeckens as well

Jose Torres on some of the influences on his recent development into a more complete midfielder

Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey on the striking options

Goal.com weighs in with their own player ratings

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So there it is, the final roster of 23 players has been announced by Bob Bradley.  It should be noted that FIFA allows substitution of a player on this roster up to 24 hours in advance of a team’s first game in case of an injury and before each game, the roster is narrowed to 18 players.

In case you don’t like clicking…

GK: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

DEF: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay Demerit, Jonathan Spector, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson

MID: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Jose Torres, Damarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber

FWD: Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley

Jere Longman from the NYTimes points out that it is a squad with only 8 players who have previously appeared in a WC.  This could be seen as a negative but it should be noted that key pieces like Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo, Dempsey, Donovan, and Bradley Jr all have at least 1 WC under their belt.

The biggest surprise has to be Robbie Findley over Brian Ching/Eddie Johnson.  Kid didn’t even get a look last night and has done nothing to impress in any of his national team appearances to this point.  Obviously BB and co see something, probably speed but hopefully more, that warranted his inclusion.  I thought Ching did well last night while EJ brings both WC and international club level experience.  Both have seemed out of their depth at the highest level though, but I doubt that Findley or Buddle will fair any better.

He also must have complete faith in the health of Bocanegra and Demerit as 9 Midfielders and only 7 Defenders is an interesting skew.  Maurice Edu got burned once last night but I guess BB still believes he can be called in as an emergency CB.

This pattern of versatility continued with the inclusion of Jonathan Bornstein who can play up and down the left side and Stuart Holden who is comfortable in the middle or out wide in the midfield.  Feilhaber has also been employed out wide on the right, and it will be interesting to see who gets the nod out there if Dempsey is indeed employed upfront.

It should be noted that after getting a heavy dose of MLS players experience, he included only 4 on the final roster (one being Landon Donovan).  Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan were both left off.

Some good level-headed reaction from Graig Garbino at No Short Corners.

Last Night

Not too much should be read into last night’s loss to the Czech Republic as it was clearly a chance for the staff to get one last look at some fringe players before today’s announcement.

Clarence Goodson is a clear weapon in the air and prior to the last 15 minutes, was very solid in the back.  He was called out by BB during a post game interview with ESPN and was rewarded with his ticket today.

I thought Brian Ching played quite well, held the ball nicely and distributed well.  Also played an excellent little flick to set up Herculez Gomez.

Maurice Edu and Jose Torres partnered well in the midfield.  Torres probably won’t start but can obviously provide an offensive spark if they find themselves in that kind of situation.  Good vision and crisp, accurate passing.  Edu patroled the middle well, winning balls back and distributing nicely.  He’s not afraid to play the ball back but it would be nice to see those guys show some faith in him by moving the ball fwd along the ground rather than over the top every time.

Onyewu looked decent in the middle but showed some obvious tentativeness, although he would disagree with me.  It will be interesting to see how he progresses through the next two friendlies and if BB trusts him come June 12th as England will certainly be dangerous going forward.

The Steve Cherundolo showed that the right hand side back there will have some depth but Jonathon Bornstein seems to get stuck out of position too often for my taste.  I would imagine his role will be more of a defensive reinforcement during the chance they get the lead.  He does seem to be susceptible to too many awkward fouls though and chances are, that will be deadly.

Upfront I thought Herculez Gomez did the best, although in a one on one with the defender he shoulda done a little better.  He did excellent to finish the chance that came his way and was rightly rewarded with a spot.  Beasley also showed a level of energy which was nice to see out of him and will bring some experience to the squad.

Stuart Holden started off well but faded towards the final third.  He admitted this much, but it was nice to see him last for a full 90 minutes.  I expect big things from him in South Africa.

Some player ratings from Goal.com and a look at specific players who impressed.

Up Next

Next up for the US is a friendly vs Turkey from Lincoln Financial field in Philly this Saturday.  Set your DVR if it’s going to be nice out as the game is 2:30 EST, ESPN2 this time.

A more in-depth look at what to watch for will come later this week but hopefully BB will test some of the other injury questions along the back line; Jay Demerit and Carlos Bocanegra specifically.

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This was originally going to be a post about the lack of an EPL team in the Champions League final since 2003; however, being a Barcelona fan, I must give due credit to today’s 2-0 result at the Bernabeu. Rather than talk, here are some ghetto highlights…

If anyone had a doubt about the level at which Lionel Messi is playing, there is no longer an argument about him being the best player in the world right now. You could argue that I am just making a statement for the self important reasons of making a statement like that, but it is so easy to say, there should be no illusions about my motive. It’s true, thats it.

Due credit must be given to the team around him with out which this wouldn’t be possible. If I had the resources, I would love to know the % of Messi’s goals which have been assisted by Xavi Hernandez. He served the first one today on a platter and played an inch perfect pass on Pedro’s 2nd half effort to put Barca up 2-0. With out some excellent goal keeping from Iker Casillas, there is no doubt that Lionel could have had an additional 2 goals, both supplied by Xavi.

The game itself was everything it was billed to be, probably only because in my opinion there are fewer things greater than watching Barcelona completely outclass Real Madrid. Carlos Puyol brought his usual ‘reserved only for El Classico’ performance, Pedro continued his breakout season, and it was evident that Real Madrid were frustrated after Messi’s opener.

Credit should also be given to Pique and Milito for anchoring the defense, Keita for being relentlessly active in the midfield, and Dani Alves for providing a right sided attack when Guardiola moves Leo into the middle.

The fact that Real Madrid attempted to spend their way to Barcelona’s level and are already out of Champions League only made it sweeter. Barcelona is now in prime position to win their 2nd La Liga title in a row; 7 games remain and they are up 3 points, leading on the first tiebreaker (head to head record).

Coming less than a week after Messi’s incandescent personal defeat of Arsenal (an obvious overstatement, but more than one website has listed that performance as a perfect 10…video just below) is what has actually put an end to any debate about his current form. His control is immaculate, his time to top speed unmatched, and the overall rythym of his game set him apart from absolutely everyone else out there.  In fact, that statement alone trivializes his game right now.  Enough Slurp?  Ladies and gentlemen, the hilites…

Ever??

The British announcer calls him “the most talented footballer of his generation,” others will make similar statements for various reasons, and there is an argument to be made there.  Personally, I would say that to be considered among the truly great footballers of all time, that  rare tier of 3 or maybe 4 players, he must succeed on the world stage.

He is currently turning himself and Argentina’s success into the main story line during the lead up t0 the upcoming World Cup.  It is a different game though and single elimination can be a doozy for any team.  While failure doesn’t rule him out, it will mean another 4 years until he is afforded the opportunity again.

Others…

A good collection of world reaction to Tuesday’s win from the NYTimes.

A good look at Messi’s status around the World from one of America’s most connected soccer writers.

Champion’s League Final Four

If Barcelona are able to repeat Champions League glory in the May 22nd final in Madrid, it will be the ultimate proverbial icing on the cake of 2 years of beautiful soccer, or cherry on top, or any other food related superlative. They will also be the first ever back to back champions in the “Champions League Era.”

Of course getting there will be very difficult. The upcoming semi-final is against an Inter Milan team which has the class, experience, and determination to stop Barcelona from playing their style. Of course, no one has really been able to effectively do that in a long time.

Eto’o coming back to send Barcelona packing almost seems true before it happens.  He is one of those athletes who elevates his game when he’s convinced he has been slighted or disrespected and the trade of him +43.25 Million Euros is, in my opinion, slightly disrespectful (this is the nature of running a successful professional sports team).

Additionally, Jose Mourinho has provided problems for the Catalans in the past, it should be noted that Barcelona got the better of the group stage battles (0 0 tie in Milan, and a 1 0 victory in the Nou Camp).

Mark it on your Calendar, April 20/28, 2:45 PM EST; second leg in Catalunya.

Donde Esta El Brits?

As stated earlier, up until today the headline from Europe must have been that this is the first time in 7 years that there is no English team in the final four of the Champions League.  While there was the obvious overreaction on the part of the British, this does not a represent a decline in the EPL but rather just the end of a great run of continental football.

In elimination style competitions, even two-leg versions, there are bound to be surprising trends (witness the Big East’s variation from the 2009 NCAA basketball tournament to this year’s version).

It was a brilliant goal from Arjen Robben (one of the deftest signings of last summer) which sent Bayern through to a semi final date with Lyon.  If you haven’t seen it….

While the Inter/Barca semi-final is the marquee matchup, neither of these teams should be counted out in the final. They have both beaten teams which many believe to be better them; Lyon over Madrid in the round of 16 and Bayern outplaying Man Utd in the Quarterfinals.

Lyon has experience in this competition and the confidence that comes with getting to this point. They are willing to sit back and take the goals when the opportunities present themselves. You must be finishing effectively for this to work and Lisandro has spear headed some excellent counter attacking football.

Munich’s attack pairing of Ribery and Robben is as fast and lethal as anything out there. With a goal in each leg vs United, Ivica Olic’s European performances have added that in form striker who can change the game on his own accord.

That is all for now…I continue to want to provide some updates on the USMNT but right now your soccer focus should be on the culmination of the European season over the next 6 weeks.

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In the wake the American’s latest friendly encounter and with less than 100 days to kick off in South Africa I figured this was a good time to pick up blogging again.

Wednesday’s friendly against The Netherlands showed just how vulnerable the US can be against top quality opposition.  The 2-1 final score line doesn’t do justice to the dominance the dutch showed throughout the contest.  Defending, the red/white/blue’s strongest suit that night, was the only reason things didn’t turn out worse, and a late goal on a set piece (would you expect anything else) led to a short flurry that almost improbably tied the game.

In attack the US was a stark contrast to the fluidity, creativity, and overall purpose of the Dutch;  whichever Dutchman had the ball seemed to know what their options were and where they were going with the ball.  Compared to the incredibly uncoordinate attack efforts of the American’s, it was a beauty to watch.  They always seem to know where they are going next and having us guessing, while we never seem to know where we are going with the ball until its way too late; exhibit A – Rafael van der Vaart’s backheel in the box compared with Damarcus Beasley’s attempt at going 1 v 1 outside the box only to run directly into the defender.

The US continues to have issues holding possession and controlling the ball.  Their passing is somewhat suspect but the inability to control the ball soundly is a much more concerning topic as it makes it virtually impossible to hold possession.  With an inability to maintain any possession in the opponents half, they are at the mercy of supremely talented teams like this one.

Occasionally, and usually through great counter attacking soccer, they are able to pull off an upset like last summer v Spain.  However, most of the time they look like an overcoached unit, overthinking every movement.

Some highlights…

Stuart Holden looked great, he seems calm/collected with the ball at his feet and his weaknesses are exposed against high quality opposition like some of the other younger team members (Borenstein, Rogers).

It is  a shame he was a victim of that harsh tackle but he should be back sometime in mid-April.  Rumor has it that Bolton has already extended his deal as well, keeping  him in the Premier League next season.

Jozy Altidore looked very good as well and it is clear that his time with Hull City is beginning to pay off.  He did very well to create that chance for himself late in the game and get off a shot on net.  His form is integral to the US come June.

I am not even going in depth w/the negatives because there were too many.  Jonathan Borenstein is just out of his depth at that level and becomes a liability; Heath Pearce should have gotten more of a look at LB.

Jose Torres cannot play the CM role in the 4/4/2 the US prefers.  The optimal partnership in my opinion is Bradley Jr and an in form Maurice Edu; this would allow Bradley to get forward more and he has shown a knack for the goal.  Torres is an interesting option out wide but probably in a reserve role for this team.

Overall, the US has the parts necessary to make a run but they need to be as healthy as possible and stop overthinking.

Andrea Canales from Goal.com has a great piece here on the style of he US game and what Bob Bradley could learn from a certain mid-table side in the EPL.

Other Random Notes…

According to his Twitter feed, Charlie Davies rehab is going well and he is only about 2 weeks from returning to training on the field.

Despite his failure to show up on Wednesday, Everton would like to hold onto Landon Donovan past the beginning of the MLS season.  I would say its a long shot as Donovan is the star of the MLS but its at least encouraging that he has succeeded there to warrant coming back.  Apparently there is even a facebook group dedicated to keeping him there.

ESPN has released their lead broadcasters for this summer’s World Cup.  It is an all British team and as the NYTimes mentions, a very impressive on at that.  JP Dellacamera is relegated to an ESPN radio role and John Harkes (thankfully) is notably absent.  However, despite the article saying that he has been banished to “oblivion,” ESPN will likely put another voice alongside each lead and this is where we could see Harkes name come up again.  Personally, I hope not.

I think this is a great move; their knowledge of the game is unrivaled, pronunciation rarely butchered, and their sense of the rhythm of the game much more accurate.  American sports often require the announcer to fill a lot of dead time and results in American sports casters being a lot more long winded which isn’t really the optimal style for soccer.  FSC recognized this and has stuck with the British broadcasters for both EPL and their Champions League games.  Kudos to ESPN for following this mold.

That is all for now, please continue to check back as activity here will be much more prevalent over the course of the next 96 days.

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