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Archive for the ‘USMNT’ Category

I recently found my way to RunofPlay.com.  The site seems to be an outlet for Soccer related content from freelance writer, Brian Phillips, who has a quality writing resume (certainly light years beyond anyone on the I Fischi staff).  Visually, the site verges on perfect.  The content itself is well written, literary in style and trending more towards opinionated, blown out anecdotes than anything terribly insightful; worth a look though.

What specifically struck me in such a fashion that I had to share my opinion on the internets again is this article on the Barcelona striker, 20 year old Bojan Krkic.  A drawn out wonderment of why such a promising youngster has yet to light the world on fire.

First the facts on Mr Krkic:

  • Youngest Champion’s League appearance for Barcelona
  • Youngest player ever to score in La Liga for FCB (breaking Leo Messi’s record)
  • 2nd Youngest Goalscorer ever in the CL (by 22 days)
  • A legend holds that he scored something like 960 goals in the youth ranks (not a fact)

With such a strong resume at such a young age, it begins to make some sense that Krkic has been a popular subject of both wild speculation and pointed criticism as he has spent large stretches of this season on the bench.  Add in the the integral role he played at the end of last season (7 goals in the final 12 games of La Liga and keeping overvalued Zlatan Ibrahimavic on the bench), and it is understandable that the negative opinions have become so loud that we are now voicing them in soccer-crazed America.

However, when looked at a little closer, it becomes clear that anything calling Bojan a bust at this point is, at best, a mis-guided reaction to his prolific individual ability.

The game as a whole has recently evolved around a more withdrawn striker, making the position less of a poacher/target player and more of interchangeable forward.  The positioning and movement involved are much more complex compared to the responsibilities involved in being a target striker  (ZonalMarking.net has a breakdown on the evolution).  It is now less about individual ability/goals, and more about being creating and moving as well as finishing clinically.

In the first team of such an advanced club, Krkic cannot just rely on speed and his ability to score but must also be responsible and answer to the complicated tactics preferred by Pep Guardiola.  He has had some reported struggles on the bench as any elite professional athlete yearns to compete, but he seems to appreciate that his development has actually continued under Pep, despite the lack of minutes.

On a personal level, to even be 20 years old and the 2nd choice striker on arguably the best team in the world puts him select company:

The only other striker born in the 90s on a top 4 team of a major league (Spain, England, Italy, Germany) that is also a top-5 goal scorer on their team, the extremely mercurial Mario Balotelli.  I would say he is ahead of Balotelli at this point in time.

A lot of qualifiers there but the point is that, to be an integral member at Barcelona at his age is quite an accomplishment.

For those who suggest that based on his playing time this year (753 total minutes, 1 league start) he isn’t integral, I would suggest you observe an entire European league season.  Barcelona has been very fortunate to have their preferred starting trio of Messi, Pedro, Villa in tact for virtually the entire season.  Bojan recently got his first start based on a Pedro muscle injury and just happened to score the winner.  In total, he has scored 5 goals over the course of a season that has seen him play a total of about 8 1/3 complete games, a pretty good rate.

Phillips also questions how at a team with such a tradition of developing world-class players, they haven’t developed this prodigy better.  He seems to have missed that there is a very well defined strategy for devleoping the youth, outlined to perfection at totalbarca.com; part1 and part2.  In short though, it is not just about displaying the talent but growing into a leader of the B squad before being promoted.  (Random relevant fact, Barcelona B’s leading striker this season is 25 year old Jonathan Soriano)

Krkic spent just a year at the B level before being promoted – in similar fashion to the reigning 2-time ballon d’or winner, Lionel Messi.  Because he is not Lionel Messi though does not mean he has failed to live up to his potential, Messi is an extreme example, a rare athlete that has been graced with an ability verging on super-natural.

Bojan is a fascinating young talent, the 2nd choice striker on the best team in the world with a very promising career in front of him.   He has had to learn from observing more often than participating, and performing when called upon, both of which he seems to have done superbly.

It is absurd to say he has failed to live up to his potential because he isn’t leading the Barcelona front-line at the age of 20.  Probably the most important reason though; Barcelona is a club focused on winning titles every year, and Bojan is obviously not mature/developed enough to the point where they could compete on multiple fronts if he was the #1 striker.

Might he be sold this summer? Yes, but it could the result of a financial decision as much as a technical one.  Ideally, he would stay at Barcelona and continue his development, as he has proven a reliable replacement when called upon and is still on the road to stardom.  Plus, I would love to proven right.

Americans…

The connection from Barcelona developed talent to the American National Team isn’t quite a clear one but when it comes to the topic of potential, I think it translates well.

Specifically relevant based on the latest in the line of American’s to burst on the stage, Juan Agudelo.  Still only 18, but with 2 goals in his first 3 Senior Team appearances, it is clear that this young man has a very bright future.  However, as he continues to shine, and based on his performances in both the MLS and for the USMNT I have no doubt he will, the attention from Europe will increase.

What will follow is probably a well publicized transfer to a relatively high-profile European team, some waning attention as it turns out he won’t be immediately leading said team to a league title, and then the questioning of what happened to Juan Agudelo.

He won’t actually have failed to fulfill his potential but he will have gone from being a big fish in a tiny pond, to being a big fish in an ocean.  Whereas in America he is the only one at his age performing at that level, there are probably at least 10 Italian, 10 Spanish, 10 French, 10 Dutch, 10 British, 10 Argentinian and 10 Brazilian kids at the same level.  He will take time to adjust to the speed of the game and will undoubtedly struggle at times, whether it’s with injury or the culture or a coach that doesn’t like him.

This isn’t to say it’s the wrong move and in-fact it is a good move.  To become a top-tier team, the US needs their top talent to want the challenge of going abroad and experience alongside that the best in the world will fully display and teach what goes into being world class.

Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu both went overseas at a very young age.  Both have had some struggles but now find themselves in positions where they are getting quality playing time on a weekly basis.

Freddy Adu specifically seems to have benefitted from increased playing time, having scored at least 2x for his latest club.  Despite being in the 2nd division in Turkey, he hasn’t given up over there and has continued to make the necessary moves to ensure he continues to get better and learn what it takes to be a professional.  Despite his struggles, he hasn’t taken the easy road and come back to the US, a lot more than can be said for the young Landon Donovan after his struggles in Germany as a 23 year old.  For anyone to count Adu out as a future piece of the USMNT is short-sighted and probably a hater.

Those players who have had the most success abroad have had it later in their careers.  The best example being Clint Dempsey.  He recently became the highest single season scoring American in the history of the EPL, 10 goals this year at the age of 28.  He dealt with being a reserve in his first season at the age of 24, only 10 appearances and a single goal, before becoming a regular starter for the past 4 seasons.

For anyone to have thought that Freddy Adu would be leading a top-tier European club at the age of 22 was over-reacting as only Americans do.  The same goes for Jozy Altidore.  The adjustment period is intense and often longer than anticipated, that does not mean that these guys should be staying in the MLS though.  To be the best, you must consistently challenge yourself against the best.

Tonight

Coming off a quality draw vs Argentina, the US prepares for their 2nd International Friendly of the current FIFA break vs Paraguay (8PM tonight – Fox Soccer Channel).  This should be a more telling example of the state of the team compared to Saturday’s draw vs Argentina.

We knew before Saturday that this team is excellent at packing the back and trying to score on the counter-attack or from a set-piece.  The US can tie anyone in the world, and because of that, every now and again there will be a crazy result like the one vs Spain in the 09 Confederations cup.  Tying these elite teams teams does not mean they are on the verge of consistently beating them.

The next step forward is to consistently beat teams that are ranked near them by FIFA; Paraguay, Ghana, Slovenia, etc.  Teams that the US struggles with because they also like to play a disruptive style and hope for success on the counter-attack.  The fact that this game is at home really means that they should win.

On Saturday, the US looked a lot better when they moved to the 4-4-2 system in the 2nd half.  Agudelo is a nice replacement for Charlie Davies (already light years ahead of Edson Buddle/Robbie Findley) and showed a good understanding with Jozy Altidore, let’s see if he get’s his first start tonight, it is deserved.

The 3 CM combo of Bradley Jr, Jones, & Edu didn’t work out so hotly as they are very similar players and don’t have the ability or understanding to pass their way out of tight areas in their own 1/3.  Subsequently they were reduced to a lot of long balls vs Argentina, and once winning the ball, Jozy just had nowhere to go with it.  I think the 2nd half combo of Edu/Bradley is the best bet.

Bradley could get a little experimental and give some time to Mikkel Diskerud, Benny Feilhaber, or Sacha Kljestan in the midfield.  Defensively you could see the young Red Bull, Tim Ream, get a start instead of Onyewu or Demerit.  Timothy Chandler probably deserves at least another 45 minutes after what was one of the most promising debuts of recent memory.

A good view from the NYTimes on suggested changes for tonight. Love the thinking.

Anyone have thoughts on any of the 1800 previous words (#ramblingconvolutedblogposts), please share, I like arguing….

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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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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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There has been a lot of content lately, so I apologize to anyone who came here looking on Monday and didn’t find anything new.

When the US isn’t playing, I am going to try to provide some insight into what to watch for each day/maybe some reflection on the results.  There is a lot out there, so I am going to keep it short and simple…..in addition to some random US Team bits.

Watching the World Cup on the Internet

First off, there is the issue that most of the games are on during times when the majority of the population is at work.  If you don’t have access to ESPN3.com I prefer the following sites:

www.firstrow.net

www.atdhe.net

Portugal v Ivory Coast

Probably the 2nd biggest game of the opening go-round.  If either team loses, it puts them way out of position to make the elimination round.  In order to advance they would probably need to beat Brazil…unless of course N Korea turns out to be really really good.

Didier Drogba’s status is apparently down to FIFA, they are expected to rule early on Tuesday (US time) whether he can play with his cast or not.

UPDATE: FIFA has given him the all clear to play

If Portugal plays “let’s watch what Cristiano Ronaldo can do” (a style made famous by Mike Brown and the Cavs) then I think Ivory Coast can get a win tomorrow.  However, I do think Portugal could respond well to being essentially an afterthought in this group; tomorrow might be a little reminder to everyone that they are indeed here to play.

Which brings us to…

Brazil

Not really the game itself but being that this is Brazil, it will be interesting to see how they come out.  A lot is expected of this crew; champions last summer in the Confederations Cup and 2nd favorites in Vegas.

It is unlike them to struggle like France or Italy and I doubt they will, can they outdo Germany’s 5 though?

US et al

Tim Howard is expected to start on Friday vs Slovenia; always positive news when you have a #1 and he’s healthy.

Zinedine Zidane is joining the “rip the French” group on Facebook.  Only time will tell if he has a read on them or if he’s having issues b/c he’s no playing.

The US v England game has outperformed the first 4 NBA finals games on TV; excellent news for the sport and affirms ESPN faith in putting so many resources behind it.

On the home front here, there is a ton of unique soccer stuff popping up in NY.  Alex Kotler is putting together what should be a really sweet space starting next week; Play Beautiful NYC on Mulberry St is going to be a World Cup focused soccer-blow out.  Try to stop by for a day-game or stroll by in the evening to check out one of their nightly events.

After FIFA crowns their champion, the 2nd annual Copa NYC hits Pier 40 in Manhattan to crown our own champion of the 5 boroughs.  An Amateur “World cup,” taking advantage of NYCs rich ethnic communities and high level of soccer talent, they have 2 weekends full of games starting on July 24-25.  16 countries represented, 1 champion.

Both efforts are refreshingly non-corporate and all about spreading the good word.  If you are a fan of this game and live in this city, make sure you take advantage of it.

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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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So this is it, South Africa got a deserved tie vs Mexico.  If you were wondering:

Yes that was offsides in the first half, the rule is that “a player is in an offsides position when he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.”  Second last is because the goalie is usually the last defender but on that corner kick, the South African keeper got caught way out and therefore, even though there was a defender on the line, Carlos Vela was offsides.

Tomorrow brings some excellent games in the morning but the majority of people in this country are focused on what is probably the most hyped soccer game ever in this country; 2:30 PM, England vs USA, ABC.

Football vs Soccer.  Redcoats vs Patriots.  Favorites vs Underdogs.

If you want to get yourself fired up, here’s a purposely pompous piece from the other side on why the US will lose, courtesy of the London Evening Standard via the NY Daily News.

A brief preview, or as I prefer…”what to watch for.”

Starting Lineup

This team has a lot of promise but there are still major question marks about health.  It looks as if Altidore has fully recovered, and is poised to start according to BB.  I think Dempsey is the best option alongside him, as what they do lack in outright speed, the pair would make up for in sheer finishing ability.  My guess is that Bradley goes with Robbie Findley to start though as he seems to like two strikers with complimentary skill sets.

There has been little news about Ricardo Clark after he injured himself last weekend, so it will be interesting to see who is paired alongside Michael Bradley.

Onyewu swears he is healthy but it wouldn’t a surprise if Clarence Goodson started in the middle in order to save Onyewu for next week.

My guess though:

Howard

Cherundolo-Demerit-Onyewu-Bocanegra

Demspey-Bradley-Edu-Donovan

Findley-Altidore

Wayne Rooney

Easily the best player on the field tomorrow.  My fear is that the US won’t be able to contain him and he will score 3 times and put the game out of reach before the US even knows what happened.  It will be up to Demerit and (probably) Onyewu to keep tabs on him and close down very fast when he gets the ball.  He can score from anywhere around the area with the slightest amount of room.  Containing him is key to keeping this game in reach.

Midfield Battle

If Rooney can be held in check, this is where the game will be won or lost.  Making sure the Edu/Clark and Bradley Jr. combo stay alert vs Gerrard and Lampard is integral to not playing behind the ball the whole time.  It will be up to the pairing to close these two down and ensure they have very little time to either distribute or shoot.

They both have the ability to score from distance, and are probably salivating at the thought of this new ball.  Anticipating their space and closing it down will save the Americans a lot of trouble.  Of course, they also can’t give away many soft fouls, as both also dream about the idea of free kicks from 20-25 yards.

The Air Up There

With Peter Crouch expected to start and England’s skill down the flanks, it will be important for the US to control the box.  Crouch is huge and excellent with his head but Rooney also added this element to his game this past season.  The US has the defenders to cover for this but if they have trouble with the ball flight like they did against Australia it could end up being a long afternoon.

Carlos Bocanegra

Definitely the best option for the US at the Left Back position, but he will be tested immediately tomorrow.  Aaron Lennon is fast and loves to dart inside.  Bocanegra’s main weakness is his lack of pace and therein lies the obvious problem.  Bocanegra does have experience though and he will need to rely on this in order to frustrate  Lennon and keep him off his game from the opening whistle.

Additionally, Glen Johnson loves to overlap and will surely combine with Lennon to get the ball forward.  It is a dangerous combination and one which the US must not forget about when focusing on the middle.

Carlos has a lot to worry about tomorrow, but I would be way more nervous if Jonathan Bornstein were starting.

Landon Donovan

The other side of this is that the left side for the US will be the most open side for the US to exploit the counter attack.  Johnson can get caught too far forward and is defensively suspect.  Look for most counter attacks to start in this direction; Donovan taking off  down the left should really cause problems for the remaining English defenders.  Jozy Altidore should get some opportunities and hopefully Robbie Findley can keep his cool in front of the net.

This applies to Clint Dempsey as well but Donovan is much more dangerous on the break, so it’s named after him.  Ashley Cole is also much more defensively sound than Glen Johnson so the Right flank won’t be as exploitable for the Red/White/Blue.

Overall

England will likely utilize a fairly offensive lineup with both Lampard and Gerrard occupying the middle.  Combined with the penchant of their wide-backs to get forward, the game could result in plenty of counter attacking opportunities the US thrives on.  I don’t have concerns about the Americans’ ability to score, they have been good at both creating chances and finishing them in the warm up games.

My concern is with not letting Englad get too far ahead; they must close down space in the final 3rd very fast and keep the game in front of them.  Overcomitting will leaving space open in other places, space which any number of the Englishmen will be salivating at exploiting.  The US has the ability to score but if they are required to get 3+ goals to get a result is where I start to worry a bit.

Etc.

In closing, make sure you enjoy this.  I know few people out there consider themselves diehard American Soccer fans  and we aren’t long suffering like Cubs fans, so there will be few people chewing their nails or sweating heavily tomorrow afternoon.  But the tournament as a whole is a rarity and you should make an effort to enjoy it while it’s happening.

Also, don’t forget that this is just a first game.  Winning would be awesome, getting out with a point would be solid, but a loss would not be crippling at all.

Internets?  What are your thoughts on the game(s) tomorrow?  Tournament as a whole?

Others:

Goal.com’s official preview, including their lineup selections.

Grant Wahl gives his 5 things to watch. Nothing really revolutionary but a good point about these teams and their love of set pieces.

A look at England and their Defensive “weakness.”

10 overall storylines to follow throughout the cup from SI.com.

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I will get into specifics later this week but before that we should focus on the US team’s overall performance. Afterall, despite all there hype, there are at least 2, maybe 3, 4, or, 5 games after they play England this Sat (5 games means the semi finals, so they theoretically could play 6 but let’s not get ahead of it).

There are two, alternating pieces to this; one is the key players (no real surprises) and what they need to do to be successful while the other is overall team components.

Formation: Bob Bradley experimented with some lone striker, 451 play during the Turkey game. He could look to utilize this if he wants to try to clog up the midfield force opposition to play wide. It didn’t work too well offensively but in a game where they will not force the issue from the beginning, it might be useful (Read vs England this Saturday).

Of course, he has been loyal to his 442 for a while now, and that seems to suit their counter-attacking style best.  They are most dangerous when catching other teams too far forward and are able to strike quickly.  I say, don’t mess with what works.

Michael Bradley: with a history of accumulating Yellow Cards and the occasional Red, his personal battle to keep his temper in check is very important. He missed last years Confederations Cup Final due to a Red card vs Spain.  While playing with 10 men is never ideal, this is more about the player that Bradley Jr. has become.  He is integral to this team and his ability to stay on the field is of the utmost importance.

Additionally, after two successful seasons in Germany he could be on the verge of another step up.  A strong performance here would go a long way in pushing that along.  He is excellent at retrieving possession and starting the team on the attack, while his long runs with out the ball into dangerous areas always seem to cause excitement.  He seems to have a strikers sense for the goal as well, which him get on the score sheet once or twice.  Basically, he is the most complete player on the field and this tournament will be an excellent indication of just how far he has come.

Playing as Favorites: the US has had difficulty in the past when they are expected to win. They seem to play down to their opponents and subsequently make things much more difficult on themselves. They will come into their 2nd and 3rd games as the favorites and whether or not they take the game to the Algeria/Slovenia will determine how much the American soccer fan sweats.

The US seems to be a little unsure of themselves when given the opportunity to dominate possession.  They don’t do to well in small spaces or in playing large portions of the game near the oppositions goals against a well organized defense.  If Algeria and or Slovenia sit back and attempt to beat the US at their own counter-attacking game, it will be interesting to see if they US can adjust and really own the game.

Jozy Altidore: as the striker with the highest level of international experience and most talent, the need for goals does fall to him.  His youth will serve him one of two ways here; either he embraces the environment, takes a liking to the atmosphere and channels it into strong performances or he gets lost in all the media and hype and fails to even get on the scoresheet.

Personally I expect big things from him.  His experience in SA last summer got him used to the environment, while a year in the EPL taught him exactly what high level performance consists of.   His main challenge will be to keep his head in the game, even when he goes long periods with out seeing the ball.

He has struggled some on the club level but he has always performed for country.  A strong showing in South Africa (read: multiple goals) should see his stock rise again.

The Midfield: Bradley and Donovan are fixtures and will likely play close to every meaningful minute of the tournament.  With the strong showings of Buddle and Gomez, along with Findley’s speed, it is likely that BB will utilize Clint Dempsey in his normal position on the flank opposite Donovan.  This only leaves 1 spot open, however it is a spot with a lot of variation possible.

There has been limited news about Ricardo Clark after he limped off last weekend so who starts this weekend is still a mystery.  You have to believe that it will be him or Edu though when BB prefers to be defensive.  Jose Torres and Stuart Holden will be pumped to make an impression when the team needs to go offensive.  Also look for Damarcus Beasley to be employed if Bradley does employ Dempsey upfront.

Clint Dempsey: Probably the most dangerous player in front of goal, he will surely be required to come up with big goals to see the US through.  No one can doubt his work ethic on the field, but my one concern is his penchant to try and do too much with the ball, getting caught in possession.  He is best when making darting runs towards the top of the box and beating defenders one on one.

His creativity and fearlessness in front of goal have endeared him to the Fulham faithful and while he is the cause of much debate here in the States, most of it is misguided.  Expect to see the Texan bring his ‘A game.’

Defensive Health: This has been a major question mark since Oguchi Onyewu tore his Patella Tendon last October.  He has been a little tentative since returning and while he swears he is ready to go, there are only a few teams that would provide more of a test than England.

Jay Demerit, while physically fit for 90 minutes, has seemed to struggle with his judgement over the 3 warm up games.  His eye injury resulted in some crazy cornea replacement, and he has admitted that his judgement has been slightly off.  His grit and toughness are needed in a back line but he must play within himself and not make any glaring mistakes.

Wayne Rooney can make any CB look dumb, while Peter Crouch is like a freaking hawk in the air (ok, that might be a bit much).  Either way, we will know within 45 minutes what kind of shape the back line is in.

Landon Donovan: The 2002 World Cup was his arrival, the 2006 version signaled he just wasn’t ready, and now we are on the precipice of his 3rd/probably defining World Cup.  Despite being the 2nd choice captain, this is his team.  The US will concede goals at the back, every team does, but it is how they work offensively which will determine how far they go.

His ability on the counter attack is World Class but he must play within himself when opponents give him space and invite the attack.  Players like him who excel in the wide spaces tend to love the counter attacking style the US plays, however when this isn’t possible he must adjust, be patient, and pick his spots.

He always seems to be on the verge of ripping one from outside the box and occasionally his unselfishness hurts.  I would love to see him take a few chances from 18 yds+ and I hope he will be rewarded, he’s due.  My guess is that we see a whole new level of Landon Donovan this month, one that the Brits only got a glimpse of this past winter.

My sports writing man-crush Joe Posnanski takes a great look at the maturation of Landon Donovan; read.

Others:

Speaking of Mr. Donovan:

1)Apparently he has been the focus of the British media leading up to Saturday.

2)He also makes an appearance on the Dan Patrick show and was apparently a great guest, unfortunately I haven’t had the time to listen yet.

3)NYTimes Goal Blog also takes a look at him and he recognizes being in a different place today than where he was the past two world cups.  I would be really worried if he thought he was was the same as that 20-year old from 2002.

An ESPN roundtable with some editors on how far they expect the US to go.  I do really enjoy this style as it provides numerous different viewpoints, some you are bound to agree with and some you aren’t.

As stated, Onyewu and Jozy both claim to be all ready to go.  A good sign but we won’t really know until about 3:15 on Saturday.

John O’Brien continues his awesome blog at NYTimes.com, this time addressing changes in team training as the tournament approaches with a very fresh approach.

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