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Archive for the ‘SA 2010’ Category

This has been in the works for a few days…so excuse me if it is outdated, actual work in the way…

Just about 3 days after the US pulled out only the 2nd ever injury time goal which prevented a team from going home and sent them through to the knockout stage, they were sent packing by the same team that did so in 2006. A bit of a mouthful there, you may have to read twice.

Looking back, those first 45 minutes shouldn’t have been surprising. The Algeria game ended in such spectacular fashion and was such an emotional victory that the chances of a letdown had to be pretty high. Everyone out there, with the exception of Clint Dempsey on occasion, just didn’t seem up for the game. Ghana was running circles around them, moving very effectively and maintaining an unheard of 2/3 advantage in possession.

Nobody really seemed interested in having the ball. Michael Bradley seemed tired and was not his omnipresent self we have come to expect this tournament. Maurice Edu was a good early sub by Bob, both because Ricardo Clark’s confidence had to be shattered and he was already on a yellow card in a game the US had to chase; too state the obvious, chasing with only 10 men is even harder.

It took over 30 minutes, but they did finally apply some offensive pressure late in the half. A great chance fell to Robbie Findley in the 35′, but he couldn’t keep his balance and his effort ended up being pretty lame. This was the first real moment of the tournament where I thought to myself, “oh Charlie Davies, how I miss you.” It was a glaring example of the lack of technical ability in US Soccer (More on that later).

The 2nd half saw the US start very positively. Benny Feilhaber had a chance fall to him early and his first touch might have been a bit heavy but Richard Kingson did very well to stop his flick attempt.

Some dangerous balls came through the box, the US fought back to get possession closer to the 50/50 that it needed to be, and they had Ghana looking very leaky at the back. Clint Dempsey, probably the American’s best player all night, finally got the breakthrough by winning a penalty in the 61′ minute. Donovan excuted, and the American’s were back on terms. They continued to press and looked the more likely side to get that next goal, except of course for their lack of finishing ability and the superb goalkeeping of Kingson.

Altidore had a first touch which was too heavy in the 67′ and wasted a chance. Michael Bradley got into great position in the 76′, did well to keep his shot low but it was straight at the keeper. Altidore again got so close in the 81′, one of the only times he looked himself all day, but just couldn’t get his effort on goal.

The US seemed to let off the gas towards the end of regulation and came out a little light at the beginning of extra time. Once again, a defensive lapse did them in. We like to think that defensively the US is very solid, but this is more of an effort to find false positives in the face of growing expectations on the world stage. Defensively this team was suspect all along; Onyewu not 100%, Demerit too often content to back-pedal in the face of pressure, Bocanegra just too slow or weak.

Overall, it was an emotional ride. I am glad that they went out in a fair game which can present no arguments about being shafted by FIFA (a la Mexico or England). Ghana barely deserved to win that game but they were the more opportunistic side and sometimes that’s all it takes. The margin for error in the knockout round of the World Cup is incredibly slim and the US made too many mistakes.

Players

Rather than this game alone….here are my thoughts on each one throughout the tournament. Each is accompanied by a grade as to make me feel as powerful & important as possible.

Jozy Altidore had an ok tournament. His physical stature and style allows him to be competitive at this level but US Soccer has stated that they are not here to just compete. The lack of finishing ability was a glaring weakness in this team and no player is a better example of this than he. Altidore needs to be more comfortable with the ball and more lethal in front of goal. 4 years is a long time, especially as he now returns to a completely uncertain club situation; dealing with the routine of playing professionally, fighting for his spot, and busting his ass day in and day out to improve is asking a lot of someone who has a reputation for being immature and lackadaisical. He can be the first American striker to even approach the World Class level but he has to work at it. A lot more will be expected from him in 4 years and just ticking off the days won’t get him there. C.

The other US strikers, Herculez Gomez/Edson Buddle/Robbie Findley, can all be lumped together – none are really cut out for this level. Gomez and Buddle are ok but seem to be a little unsure of themselves most of the time. Findley also doesn’t seem cut out to play at the international level. He just isn’t comfortable enough in front of goal, his chance on Saturday was clearly compromised when he lost his balance for no good reason. I would be surprised if any of them are in Brazil in four years time. D.

Landon Donovan did carry this team through the group stage. On occasion he went long periods with out having the ball but was a driving force when it did come to him; picking out good passes and getting the ball into dangerous areas. Contributing 3 huge goals from the midfield was obviously invaluable to this team, if not for him, there wouldn’t have even been that round of 16 matchup. Saturday though, he seemed to fade heavily. It was almost as if he blew his load against Algeria, considered his goals accomplished, and then totally forgot to bring it against Ghana. Advancing could have freed him from the weight of expectation and allow him to raise his game again. Instead, he seemed to shrink from the stage, even his goal celebration was unfortunately subdued. Tying that game was a huge accomplishment, celebrate like it. His career arc for the next 4 years will be very interesting to follow; he will probably go back to Europe but he cannot expect to be as fast as he is now and must develop his game to compensate. A-.

Clint Dempsey was kind of the opposite of Donovan. He was wasteful in front of goal against Algeria, kind of absent against Slovenia, but really was the only US player to show up for the whole game on Saturday. Throughout the tournament he worked his tail off. Never afraid to get himself in the mix, his overall performance was very good but another goal or two would would have been nice, if not expected. We can only dream about what might have been if Bob had been willing to start him at forward instead of having to make the in-game switch every single time. B.

Michael Bradley was the most consistent player for the US throughout this tournament. He plays box to box very well; tackling effectively, distributing accurately, and being calm with the ball at his feet. He is probably the most technically sound player on this team and for the most part wanted to have the ball. He did come out a little flat on Saturday but got into the game in the second half. He showed how dangerous he can be going forward with a huge goal against Slovenia and illustrated his maturity by not accumulating a single Yellow Card; an accomplishment for a CM with his reputation. If this team isn’t already his, it should be by the time they get through qualification for ’14. A.

Benny Feilhaber was good enough to get a lot of people wondering why he didn’t start. His experience at this level and previous national team performances really did beg for him to start in Dempsey’s midfield role and push Clint upfront to pair with Altidore. His vision, passing, and movement were all on full display every time he got into the game. His willingness to track back and be an active defender was also impressive. He actively wants the ball and is always looking up with it at his feet. He was prone to over-thinking and got caught in possession a few times though. B+.

Jose Torres only got 45 minutes of time on the field over the four games so there is not a lot to go on. However, his short performance does still show that he has a ways to go in his development. He seemed out of his depth and nervous. His normal level of confidence was not there and it was reflected in his stray passes and indecisiveness. Hopefully he can learn from the experience and continue to develop, being 22 there is a chance for him to be a part of this team for a while. D.

Ricardo Clark continued to show why many observers of the program did not think he warranted a starting role. He is tough in midfield but too often concedes possession and is not at all confident with the ball at his feet. The US had been punished by his mistakes before and it happened again on Saturday. For someone who’s job it is to protect defenders, he must minimize mistakes and play within himself. He did not do either in his 120′ out there. F.

Maurice Edu ended up getting quality playing time throughout the tournament but showed why BB was a little hesitant with that role. He is much better than Clark with the ball but can have some issues with his distribution and giveaways on occasion. He isn’t as good defensively but this should come with age. He must continue to get better, but if he can stay healthy there is promise in the midfield partnership with Michael Bradley that should carry this team to Brazil. C+.

Steve Cherundolo has been a part of 3 World Cup teams so it was nice to see him finally get to play a significant role. Throughout the group stage, he was an offensive force for this team. Causing all sorts of problems for the opposition combining down the right hand side with Landon Donovan. One of the few players in the entire tournament who was not having issues crossing the ball as well. Besides a few lapses, he was defensively sound as well. Against Ghana he did have some trouble with Ayew in the first half and couldn’t find as much space in the offensive half. Overall he should definitely go home proud, and knowing that when his chance finally came, he was up to the task. B+.

Jay Demerit gained a lot of fans in this country with his hard nosed style of play, very reminiscent of his home town Green Bay Packers. He was very physical throughout the tournament both in the air and on his feet. He covered ground well, often making tackles that allowed everyone else to get back and defend. His main area of weakness seemed to be a willingness to back-pedal too far/not step up fast enough…the best example being his refusal to challenge Kevin Prince-Boateng earlier on his first half goal. His story is awesome though and you must appreciate the fact that he even made it to this level. B.

Carlos Bocanegra is an interesting player to evaluate b/c he occupied two different roles. On the left side, he was kind of playing as a more 3rd CB, allowing Cherundolo to get forward often. However, he did have numerous issues with speed on the outside. Speed on the outside is a popular trait and it is hard for a slower outside back to compensate for a lack of it. He did okay though and didn’t make any glaring mistakes. His move to the center of defense saw him get a lot more comfortable and he stepped up with a very good performance against Algeria. Through 90+ minutes against Ghana he was very good too, positioning himself well. Of course, this is the nature of the position, the glaring error he made was the one which lost the game. His former club teammate, Asamoah Gyan made him look like a child when he out-muscled him and put himself in position for that goal. B-.

Oguchi Onyewu was clearly not 100% for this tournament so to grade him is a little unfair. While he might have been fine physically, mentally he was clearly not up to speed. Going back to AC Milan could be an excellent move for him if he can get on the field. The club has a history of developing world class defenders, ‘Gooch developing to that level would be a massive boost for the American defense. D.

Count me among the Jonathan Bornstein doubters prior to this tournament. I actively hoped he would not get a chance to make a glaring mistake and so I was worried when he got the start vs Algeria. However, he was quite good on that day and even better against Ghana. One of the few players to show up for the first half, he was constantly making positive runs and seeking out the ball. His touch still lets him down occasionally which can be frustrating, and he is not the prettiest player out there, but Bradley’s faith in him has finally paid off. Probably the LB for the next four years. B+.

Finally we get to Tim Howard. Often a rock in the back of this team, his performance was not consistent enough throughout this tournament. He was brilliant against England, had a good 2nd half against Slovenia, and was a key contributor to that key goal against Algeria. However, the first half against Slovenia saw him get caught on an early goal and there has been a lot of talk about how he might have done better against Ghana. He was subject to two excellent finishes over the weekend but it is only because of his past performances that we think he could have done better. The US has always lived and died with brilliant goal keeping; Howard didn’t quite get to that level and now we are all reduced to rooting for other teams. B-.

Coaching

Bob Bradley has had a good run as the coach of this team. He won the important Gold Cup in 2007 to earn a spot in last years Confederations Cup, which he took advantage of with a huge US victory over Spain in the semi-final. He took what was mostly a B team to the Gold Cup final last summer before getting smoked by the Mexican A side. He got out of the group stage, the main goal, in this years World Cup. USSF President Sunil Gulati seems to disagree, he apparently expected more but at least getting to that point was an important step.

He got an unprecedented number of players capped and made sure that the squad he took to South Africa was full of the best options he had. He has navigated the US through CONCACAF qualifying successfully and established them as at least equal to Mexico in this region. He has shown the ability to prepare the US to compete with and even beat a few of those teams which can truly be considered world class.

However, there is a huge gap between CONCACAF qualifying and playing England/Spain/Brazil to a tie. There is a whole level of teams that rank in the neighborhood of the US which the US continues to have trouble with. There seems to be a level of entitlement when they come up against Ghana/Slovenia/Algeria, where unless their back is against the wall they aren’t prepared to win, and this is where the real issue is.

They can beat most CONCACAF teams purely based on talent and they can tie powerful teams purely through being defensive/well organized and counter-attacking effectively; not easy to do but also not exactly revolutionary. Coming up against equally talented opposition, of which there is a massive amount, is when it comes down to tactical decisions. This is where Bob Bradley is truly lacking.

Teams at the US’s level are very similar to the US, they are not going to open themselves up to the counter attack often enough for the American’s to be able to rely on it as the only tactic. The US has looked lost at times when they aren’t asked to just defend stoutly out or attack all out. Players don’t seem comfortable having the ball in the midfield, often don’t call for the ball nor distribute effectively. There isn’t a willingness (and possibly ability) to play simple passes in small areas and patiently force the defense to move around and exploit the gaps that open.  Movement is often very linear and direct, lacking any general ability to hold possession and use the space a team opens up.

Now, I am not saying that the US should go out and knock the ball around like Spain or Brazil does. American’s just cannot match the talent level of teams like that, and therefore cannot truly play a style like that. But there has to be a level of confidence in your ability to use the ball to your advantage, allowing the game to be played effectively from a draw.

If this is a result of the lack of ability from the players out there, then that is one thing.  However, if that were the case then the US wouldn’t rank in the top 20 teams in the world.

IF it was up to me, Bradley would continue as the coach of this team for the time being. Next summer’s Gold Cup is an important test of where they stand moving forward. It is a CONCACAF tournament and should be his sweet spot. If he cannot win that, then I think it is time to reevaluate with 3 full years remaining until Brazil 2014.

A POLL!!!

Thought this might be fun to try…

Overall

I am going to post something more about soccer in America, but probably after the tournament…when we can see the full viewing patterns.

I also want to talk about what I see as flaws of American soccer and what is keeping us from being realistically in the hunt for a semi final berth.

Et al

Paul Gardner takes a very critical look at the team and Bob Bradley

Jeff Carlisle from ESPN on what we learned about US Soccer

George Vecsey on the entire tournament run

Joe Posnanski on the American’s struggle to “make plays”

Steve Davis on the learning experience of a tournament like this

US Players mull what might have been and return to their respective homes

Sunil Gulati says, FAIL

Statistical evidence that Michael Bradley is indeed, sick

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The US was about 3 minutes from going home disappointed, but here I am, 2 days later, writing another preview post.  It’s a good thing.

What that injury time goal did for this team is almost unbelievable.  They went from the brink of disappointing elimination to sitting in an very manageable corner of the bracket.

England’s quadrant; a round of 16 matchup with Germany, possibly followed by the winner of Mexico/Argentina.

America’s quadrant; a round of 16 matchup with Ghana, possibly followed by the winner of Uruguay/S Korea.

Not to say it will be easy, any team still alive will have confidence in their ability and belief that they can beat anyone, especially the Americans.

We should also thank Wayne Rooney for hitting the post, another goal from the Brits would have put the US in 2nd (and that other quadrant) based on goal differential.

A miracle of Youtube before we move on….a great video compilation of reactions from around the World:

Thank you Robby Donoho, Purdue – class of 2010.

The one disadvantage to winning the group (for the first time since it was a 16 team tournament in 1930) is that the team got only 2 full days off prior to having to play again.  Ghana is in the same situation though and this is where the American’s fitness advantage could really benefit them.  Both teams will surely be amped up for the game itself but things could really open up around minute 70-75 when the reality of playing two games so close together will set in.

The story of Ghana’s World Cup so far has been their trouble scoring from the run of play.  Their 2 goals have both come from the penalty spot and many consider them lucky to have moved on.  This is an interesting fact but it is a moot point now; if the US takes this lightly (which I doubt) they will be disappointed.

Everything changes in the knockout round; the top quality teams have the pressure associated with not advancing removed, while surprise teams are playing with nothing to lose and a subsequent lack of inhibition.  My guess is that Ghana falls into the 2nd group and will only be further boosted by being the only African team left.  You can be sure there will be a lot of American’s in the stands tomorrow, but they will be greatly outnumbered by the number of African’s supporting Ghana.  They are the home team now, the US the enemy, win or go home.

These teams are slightly familiar with each other.  Ghana beat the US 2-1 in their final group game of 2006 and kept the US out of the 2nd round.  Ghana went on to lose 3-0 to Brazil in the round of 16.  They are a team with a good mix of World Cup experience and youth, their European contingent is strong and used to playing at a high level.  They are fast up front, strong throughout, and will provide an athletic test for the entire American team.

Defense

After making some changes in the Algeria match, it will be interesting to see how Bob Bradley prepares his defense for this one.  Was Onyewu out b/c Bradley just decided that after 180 minutes, he wasn’t fully fit or was he being strategic and trying to save his legs in case they did advance.

Cherundolo and Demerit have their right side locked down.  Bornstein was good enough on the left side to give Bradley confidence if he does go that direction again.  Bocanegra has been exposed by speed when he was out there and seemed to be more in tempo with the game than Onyewu was in the middle.

I think the move here is to keep the lineup the same and go with the crew that was responsible for the first US WC clean sheet since 2002.

Midfield

Michael Bradley is the core of this unit.  The outside is exciting but you need strength and consistency in the middle and this kid has continued to provide it.  He is the only American in the top 100 of the Castrol World Cup rankings, and at number 48 he is above players like Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi.  Let’s not be ridiculous, to claim he is better than either is absurd, but this should give you a good idea for the level he is playing at.  Tomorrow, however, is a new stage for him though and he must maintain the composure he has shown thus far.

BB has been unnaturally inconsistent with his son’s partner though.  Through 3 games there have been 3 different starters in that position.  I thought Edu was pretty good on Wednesday and can provide a goal scoring touch which Ricardo Clark can’t match.  Other than that though, neither has really distinguished himself.  My concern with Clark is that tomorrow will mark 2 weeks since he last played; if he takes time to get himself back up to game speed, it could cause early issues.

Donovan and Dempsey are clearly preferred on the outside of the 4 midfielder formation, the right and left respectively thus far.  They compliment each other very well.  I would like to see BB be a little more free with alternating them if they are having trouble getting good time on the ball.  He has shown a willingness to move Dempsey upfront as well, but only been when he feels the need to switch things up and push for a goal.

Pushing him up would allow for Benny Feilhaber to start.  Possibly a better option than any of the other strikers.  Feilhaber has played very well in some significant time off the bench over the last two group games.  He is a very cerebral player and during the 2nd half against Algeria he seemed to be much more on tone with his teammates than against Slovenia.

My guess is that Bradley comes out with the standard midfield setup he has used for most of the qualifying campaign (Dempsey/Clark/Edu/Donovan).  He was offensive on Wednesday b/c he had no choice, but now I would be surprised if he doesn’t revert to a more traditional setup.  Of course, his offensive approach led to a clean sheet (not a small task for this team) and it would be massively frustrating if he went traditional and allowed another early goal…knock on wood.

Attack

Neither Herculez Gomez or Edson Buddle has really demanded more time with their performances.  Gomez moved around the field very well against Algeria, did well to create space, and make dangerous runs, but at times does seem to be a bit lost out there.

Edson Buddle hasn’t had too much time but has made some good passes.  Most often though, he doesn’t seem like he wants the ball nor is he comfortable when he gets it.

Robbie Findley will probably get the nod after serving his suspension for Yellow Card accumulation.  For like the 25th time, Bradley has shown that he likes his strikers to be complimentary and you can only imagine how much he misses Charlie Davies.  Findley has been fairly positive, but really needs to be a little more patient sometimes and show a willingness to play the ball back and not force things.

Somehow getting Findley a goal would do wonderful things for his confidence.  When he finds himself with a scoring opportunity, he can’t be feeling good about it.  There is a little bit lost right now by starting a striker who is having trouble finding the net, just ask England and Emile Heskey.  Of course, if the US were to get to the point where they need a goal, Bradley has shown a willingness to insert a more natural striker…Gomez/Buddle.

Jozy Altidore is sure to start and has played very well thus far.  He has been a nightmare for defenders, continuously drawing fouls in dangerous areas because they have no other way to stop him.  He has also been very good at not losing his cool or getting impatient.  For his own sake, I hope a goal comes, but either way, he must keep his cool tomorrow.  Another yellow card means he will miss the following game if, god willing, they advance.

Overall

Vegas/UK oddsmakers have the US at about +135 to win, the favorites compared to +200 for Ghana.  Stating the obvious, but we aren’t the only ones who think this is a winnable game.  However, just b/c it is winnable doesn’t mean that by showing up they will win, Ghana will come to play and play for the all of Africa (a massive continent if you haven’t noticed).

Keeping things tidy in the first 20 minutes is imperative.  After that the flow of the game should establish itself.  I expect possession to stay fairly even which should give the US plenty of chances to cause trouble in the box.  Good service from Cherundolo and give-n-gos with Michael Bradley have been the impetus for a lot of chances through the first three games and can really put the pressure on the Black Stars defense.

Despite the stress this team has caused through the group stage, I have complete faith in Bob Bradley and the staff to have them both mentally and physically prepared.  A two day turnaround isn’t easy, especially after such an emotional win, but this is a resilient bunch and if they play their game they have an excellent chance to continue this run.

Et al

My dude, Joe Posnanski with a great blog post on the US team.  I think his description of Donovan’s goal as the most emotional goal in US Soccer history is the most accurate one so far.

This is a little random, so excuse me, but….

We are about 30 minutes from the final group games.

Honduras v Switzerland and Spain v Chile.  3 of the four have a chance to advance so it will be an entertaining set.

I did make a few statements about TV ratings last week.  I was slightly offbase as the records were only in reference to soccer on ESPN.  To clarify…

The US v England game drew 12.9MM viewers on ABC and I expect tomorrow could go over 15MM.  This doesn’t even include the countless people who will be in bars and at friends houses.  Some more in depth viewership numbers:

Richard Sandomir of the NYTimes

ESPN.com focuses on the digital records

Getting back to tomorrow’s game…

Grant Wahl and his things to watch for

US press conference coverage from Goal.com

Jeff Klein details their path to the semi-finals (a little forward thinking for my taste but no one can help it, see above).

Jeff Carlisle from the WWL on Bob, the Defense, and complacency.

Grant Wahl (again) discussing his conversation with Bill Clinton on Soccer and the World Cup.

Is everyone pumped for tomorrow?  What do you think will unfold?

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UPDATE:  Bob Bradley has really made some significant changes for this game.  Edu starts instead of Clark.  Gomez get’s the nod of upfront.  Bocanegra moves to the middle, Cherundolo to the left, and Bornstein comes in at Right Back.  His mindset seems to be, “I know if we lose it probably means my job,  if this all backfires then so what anyway.”

Maybe not that extreme but he is putting a lot of faith in Bornstein along the back.  Please god keep his defending instincts calm and collected today.

VIVA AMERICA!!

Less than 24 hours remain until the Americans decide their World Cup fate against the Algerians.

To state the obvious, the US is focused on avoiding one of those early goals which have plagued them since qualification.  The trend has been especially disconcerting against teams to which they consider themselves superior; Honduras, El Salvador, Slovenia.

Players have said plenty about respecting Algeria but I think this team thinks things will be easy against teams ranked lower than them.  An absurd mindset, these teams might be ranked lower but they have gone to South Africa with a belief that they can win and a cockiness that comes from being professionals.  They fear few teams, definitely not including the US.  When the US starts slowly and thinks that by just playing 90 minutes they will be rewarded with a victory, they leave themselves wide open for one of those awesome kicks to the teeth.  Of course, then they get in gear, start to play with more abandon, and hit their potential.

The positive going into this game vs Algeria is that their back is already against the wall and this is when the often play best.  My hope is that they will channel that 2nd half from the Slovenia game into a full 90 minute performance.  Of course they must maintain discipline at the same time and not get caught up in frantic, unorganized play..

Algeria will provide a quality test.  They surely feel as if they could very well be on 2+ points right now, with a serious shot at advancing.  As it stands, a win tomorrow could still see them advance if things fall in their favor and they score enough.  Even though it’s a long shot, they will come to play and have shown in the previous two matches that they are a team which can’t be overlooked.

Moving on to what we can expect from the US…

Up Front

Robbie Findley must sit out tomorrow’s game after receiving his 2nd yellow card last week.  None of the replacements (Dempsey, Gomez, Buddle) bring the same kind of speed that Findlay offers but all are legitimate options to start up front.

Clint Dempsey has shown an attraction to goal throughout his career, regardless of club or country or position.  Bob Bradley has moved him upfront before when the team is in need of goals, but I think he is more comfortable with his alternate striker options than his alternate wide midfield options.

Herculez Gomez has shown a preternatural ability to score when inserted into the game.  Twice since his callup to this team he has come on as a substitute and scored.  Last Friday his sheer appearance in the game allowed the space for Bradley Jr. to tie the game.  Put simply, the man is involved in goals.  His finishing ability is among the best on this team and he is probably the most complimentary to Altidore.

Edson Buddle is the third option for Bob Bradley and would form a very tall, physical strike force alongside Jozy Altidore.  He has been finishing effectively this season and two forwards of that size and strength would make things very difficult on the Algerian defense which is not as physical as the Slovenians.

I think Bradley will go with Buddle to start but if the US finds a goal hard to come by, Gomez will be introduced somewhere around minute 60.

There is some news now that Altidore missed training today because he was sick, he is expected to play though.

Midfield

The main question mark still seems to be who will partner with Michael Bradley.  I think Ricardo Clark will get the start as he is the most defensively sound and has been BB’s preference.  He provides excellent cover for his partner’s forward runs.

If the US is finding goals difficult to come by, you could see Maurice Edu get a late entrance.  He has shown the ability to pop up and score very important goals at the club level and was oh so close to replicating for his country.

Benny Feilhaber or Stuart Holden would probably get the start on the flank opposite Donovan if Dempsey were to start as a withdrawn striker.  Holden offers some more pace and width but Feilhaber brings a level of experience which is probably more valuable.  I love Holden but inserting him into a game like this is asking a lot.

Jose Torres probably missed his chance with his uncharacteristically sloppy performance vs Slovenia.  He is young though and should at least be able to learn from this.

Defense

There have been some calls for Oguchi Onyewu to be replaced.  I see where people are coming from as he has been at least somewhat involved in all 3 conceded goals so far.

The first option for Bradley would be to straight swap him for Clarence Goodson.  An interesting prospect as Goodson is excellent on set pieces and the Donovan has been providing great service.  However, being a central defender in a game like this requires a level of calm and composure gained only with experience.  It would take a lot of faith from BB to see this happen.

The other option is to move Bocanegra into the middle where his speed isn’t as big of a liability.  This would mean putting Spector on his unnatural side or starting Jonathan Bornstein.  Spector seems to have been worn out by the long European season while Bornstein has a love for committing bad fouls, and nothing would be worse than giving up a PK tomorrow.

I think Onyewu will once again start, let’s all hope that he has gotten better with each game.

Overall

The US has to like being in a position where they control their own destiny.  A win and they accomplish their first goal, advance to the knockout round.

They must respect Algeria and what they did to get here.  Just being here is a credit to their quality and two good performances have them playing with a level of confidence that will surely make things harder than they think.

The US however is coming off a very positive draw last week and has a lot of confidence in their own ability to score.  They must, however, stay disciplined and use their advantage in fitness and will to build this game in the image they have visualized.

Et al

Apparently a few of the Algerians have packed their bags and brought them to Pretoria so they can leave right after the game.  Obviously the Algerian Federation president is not happy about that.  A good sign for the American’s but they still have to play the game.

John O’Brien (for the NYTimes) gives his own insight into the unique nature of the final group games.

Phil Ball examines to Spain’s in game response to their early loss.

Ben Lyttleton at SI.com on what we have learned up to this point.

An EPLTalk contributor chronicles the English’s penchant for underestimating opponents; can also be applied (at a lesser degree) to the Americans.

Obviously there are some other games tomorow too..

England and Slovenia will be interesting, especially as England needs to win to ensure advancement.  At least if they fail to make the 2nd round they can be assured they will still be overshadowed by the French disaster.  Little consolation though, we all know they will get roundly ripped and push the French out of everyone’s mind if they fail to advance.

The Group D finale in the afternoon is very messy.

Everyone will be looking to win as that is the only way they can hope to advance.  Germany and Ghana specifically know that a win will put them in the round of 16, no questions asked.

Serbia advances with a win or a tie and a Ghana win.

Australia needs a lot of help to advance but must at least get a win.

Essentially, it will be a very interesting afternoon of games.

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I didn’t watch much today besides Brazil and Ivory Coast.

Paraguay continued the South American dominance this morning and took control of Group F with a 2-0 victory over Slovakia, a score which at least looks convincing.

Brazil continued that theme in the afternoon game with a victory over the Ivory Coast.  In doing so they qualified for the round of 16 and extended the African frustration, 1 win in 12 matches.  Brazil showed flashes of brilliance but did seem to get a little unhinged towards the end, perhaps a reflection of their fiery coach, a trait which could punish them as the games become tenser.

The middle game saw New Zealand squeak out another improbable tie, this time against the defending champion Italians.  Another excellent result for the 78th ranked team in the world.  They now actually hold out hope of advancing but need to up their standard of improbability and somehow beat the Paraguayans.

Tomorrow marks the final day of the 2nd set of group games.  This also means its the final day of 3 games at independent times.  Tuesday starts the final set of games when both group games are played at the same time to prevent any unfair competition.

The early game is probably a must win for Portugal if they harbor hope of advancing.  A loss wouldn’t rule them out completely, nor would a tie obviously, but it would mean their result vs Brazil has to be better than Ivory Coasts v North Korea.

The middle game is an interesting matchup between Switzerland and Chile.  Chile is everyone’s favorite darkhorse still but they will come up against a team in Switzerland which has shown they will be happy to absorb the attacking style and try to steal a goal at some point.

The afternoon pairing will probably see Honduras incur the wrath of La Roja.  Spain has surely been salivating at the thought of getting back onto the field after last week’s disappointing start to their campaign.

Nothing much more for today.  Happy Father’s Day.  Check back tomorrow.

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I am going to try to keep this short because it’s the weekend and there has been a lot written the past few days.

Denmark was able to get 3 big points to put their hopes of qualification on their final group game vs Japan; essentially, winner advances. It was a very frustrating game to watch if you were rooting for Cameroon; Denmark was happy to pack the back and did well to capitalize on the counter attack. I was hoping Cameroon would advance but they just kept getting denied in the most agonizing fashion, and were done in by some poor defending of their own.

The Netherlands secured passage to the 2nd round with a 1-0 victory over Japan. They maintained a massive advantage in possession but still seem to be lacking in creativity around the box.  Being outshot (10-9) while holding 61% of possession screams of a lack of any sort of final ideas.

The middle game today was interesting as Australia played quite well despite going down to 10 men about 1/3 of the way in. They had a few great chances to really even out that group but did give themselves a slight chance at moving on by holding on for the tie. That group matches up with Group C in the round of 16, so you can be sure the American’s will be watching.

Tomorrow starts with the 2nd set of Group F games and could see the group begin to work itself out a bit.  Slovakia and Paraguay will look to get a victory before heading into their final matchup.  Paraguay looked unafraid last week against Italy and a victory tomorrow will put them in excellent position heading into their final group game with New Zealand.

Italy will surely like their chances vs New Zealand; the all whites were very lucky to get out of the first game with a tie after an injury time equalizer.  Despite the criticism going into the tournament and a tentative first half, Italy played a very positive second half.  It will be interesting to see if Marcello Lippi is humble enough to recognize that Antonio Di Natale deserves a full 90 minutes.  Of course, how Federico Marchetti handles his sudden promotion to GK #1 will be interesting, even if it is against New Zealand.

The final game is also the most enticing; Brazil v Ivory Coast.  If Ivory Coast harbors any hope of advancing they are going to have to play to their much publicized potential tomorrow.  You can be sure that Brazil will come to play but the Ivory Coast can do themselves a lot of good, both in the Group and in their confidence, by putting together a positive and competitive performance.  Competing and losing though could be crippling.  Much more will be known about how the group is unfolding after Portugal takes on N Korea on Monday at 7:30.

That is all for today…check out the link below though…

If you want more about the US and the blown call, check out any piece of American sports media….

Et al

Another NYTimes Goal blog post from John O’Brien; he continues to be the most insightful person writing about this tournament. Combines excellent tactical understanding with US specific insights.

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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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As this blog is nothing if not about the the US National Team, today’s focus is on tomorrow’s matchup with Slovenia. I will touch on today’s results and tomorrow’s other games towards the end.

Most importantly, if you are unable to watch on a TV, Univision.com has live streaming of every game.  Yes, the commentary is Spanish, but soccer sounds better in Spanish anyway. The quality is much better and the site more reliable than the other two, shadier options from earlier in the week.

A tie in the first game was a quality result for the American side. However, whether or not they qualified for the knockout round was always going to depend on the results vs Slovenia and Algeria. Slovenia did make things a little more interesting through their victory vs Algeria last Saturday.

The read on tomorrow’s opposition is that they are content to pack the back, focus on defending, and hope to capitalize on the counter.  The style presents an interesting situation for the Americans; they thrive when they are able to play in that format but have struggled when teams invite them to attack.

They are also a physically imposing team, both CBs measure over 6’1”.  It will be an interesting test for Mr. Altidore who can sometimes succeed on pure physical superiority.  He will need to be smart and not just a man child tomorrow.

A draw wouldn’t rule out progression but it does take their fate out of their own hands. If the US is as good as we like to think, they must beat those teams to which they are clearly superior, especially in the World Cup.  Being competitive with Spain and England and Brazil is fun, but this is where the bread is buttered.

Since the US will need to score, we will start up front…

Strikers

8 guys behind the ball will make it hard for Robbie Findlay to utilize his speed to full effect.  He is most effective in the open spaces and on the break, circumstances which probably won’t arise that often tomorrow.

Personally I would like to see BB employ a more natural striker (read: better finisher) alongside Jozy; preferably Herculez Gomez but Edson Buddle would work too.

He could also push Dempsey up front and bring in Stuart Holden along the right hand side.  Holden is very strong in possession and is full of good offensive ideas, while I maintain that the Texan is at his best when he is close to the goal.

Based on Slovenia’s willingness to sit back, the US will have chances in the area.  It is imperative that they are able to finish when the opportunity presents itself.

Midfield

There has been a lot of talk about Ricardo Clark in both the build up to the tournament and in the time since the England game.  The media seems to think he isn’t the best option but it is clear that Bob has other thoughts.  Clark was burned on the goal last weekend, allowing Steven Gerrard to slip right behind him.  If he starts again, it will either be a sign that he doesn’t trust anyone else out there or has an absurd amount of faith in him.

I think that to start it will be Clark or Edu in the midfield, as they need a strong defensive midfielder to help control counterattacks, especially if they start pushing people forward.  I would imagine the first part of this effort will be Michael Bradley getting  some more offensive freedom, a good thing.

Landon Donovan is the integral piece of the attack though.  He thrives in counterattacking situations and it will be different for him to receive the ball, look up, and see 6/7/8 defenders.  Patience will be key, as will a willingness to make some short passes.  He should find some space on the outside, but needs to capitalize with good crosses.

If the US get’s to halftime with out scoring, the 2nd half could see a more attack minded partner for Bradley Jr; Feilhaber or Torres or possibly Holden.

Defense

I expect this to stay exactly the same.  They will probably position themselves further up the field than usual but I don’t expect them to try to hold around the halfway point or anything crazy.

It will be a different game from what they are used to.  Rather than playing in their own penalty area for long periods, they will probably be cleaning up long balls and feeding the wings.  They must not get impatient early and rely on sending the ball forward and hoping.

As stated, the Slovenians are a physically imposing side and the US has very little chance of a game of long ball like that working.

They must also be wary of the counter attack.  I expect Steve Cherundolo will continue his offensive journeys, a great thing, but it does leave some exposure at the back.  The remaining.

Overall

This is a game the US should win.  That statement alone has caused issues for them in the past and that is why this game is such a measure of how far they have actually come.  The Swiss showed on Tuesday that the US is not alone or extraordinary in their ability to pack the back and score on the counter.  If this team is actually the most talented the US has seen, then they must go out tomorrow and win.

Et al.

Argentina guaranteed themselves passage through to the knockout round early this AM with a convincing win over S Korea.  They definitely established themselves as one of the top teams at this tournament.  Lionel Messi is generally excellent both with and with out the ball, clearly enjoying the reign and responsibility given to him by Maradona.  That goal at the end of the first half did highlight the uncertainity surrounding their defending.

Nigeria seemed to be in good shape until playing with 10 men for 55+ minutes proved too much to bear.  They might say it was a harsh decision but the referees have been punishing any sort of that extra curricular activity harshly throughout the tournament.

South Korea will still advance with a draw in their final group game but you can be sure Nigeria will come out flying.

Mexico’s first goal was a bit lucky not to have been called back for offsides but France cannot go 180 minutes with out scoring and expect to be in good position.  Uruguay and Mexico are now in very good position to advance and France will need to hope one of them loses and they can beat South Africa at least 3-0 to have a hope.  Either way, I think it is clear that this French teams is in bad need of an overhaul.

Tomorrow’s other games are really just the periphery to me.  I fully expect England to come out firing in an attempt to establish their dominance.

I originally had this incorrectly, Germany v Serbia is the early game tomorrow.  Based on a strong backline, many people had Serbia pegged as possibly a surprise winner in Group D.  They were unfortunate to lose to Ghana on a late penalty and will need to come out and try to get a victory vs Germany tomorrow if they want to maintain hope of advancing.  Germany has looked as strong as any team thus far though and it will be a serious test for the Serbians.

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