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Posts Tagged ‘USMNT’

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The game as a whole has recently evolved around a more withdrawn striker, making the position less of a poacher/target player and more of interchangeable forward.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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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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Today wrapped up the 2nd set of group games with a trifecta of entertaining games.

The morning started inocently enough with North Korea matching up competitively with Portugal for most of the 1st half.  Portugal did get a very well played goal to put them up 1-0 heading into the break, but North Korea was not lacking in ideas or confidence.  The 2nd half though was an entirely different story, Portugal broke through with 3 goals in 7 minutes and did not look back, finishing the day with 7 total.

Portugal looked like a much more positive team today with a ton of movement throughout the offensive half and excellent team understanding.  Deco was left out after a hip injury sustained in training, although it has also been rumored that he and manager Carlos Quieroz have a slight misunderstanding, something he has denied.  Whether they were better today because of his exclusion or because of greater freedom from Quieroz will probably be seen when they face Brazil on Friday.  Most importantly though, their 7 goal victory means that even if they lose to Brazil, it will take quite a performance from the Ivory Coast to send them home.

North Korea performed admirably for 135 minutes of this tournament before seeming to collapse in the 2nd half today.  Whether they were just playing at an unsustainable level beyond their ability or ran out of gas, they added a unique element to this tournament.  It is especially unfortunate that today’s game was the first one broadcast live to their homeland, the country deserves to get a true picture of how well they were represented on the world stage.  Here’s to hoping they can put together a final quality performance against Ivory Coast on Friday.

The middle game was a contentious affair between Chile and Switzerland.  Chile did very well to play their attacking style in the face of the Swiss defensive mindset while not conceding anything cheap.  Switzerland on the other hand defended admirably with only 10 men for a full hour.  They were also unlucky not to equalize very late on, Eren Derdiyok missed a sitter from about 12 yards out in the 90th min.

The final contest of the day went as expected, except maybe that Spain didn’t score as much as everyone expected.  Fernando Torres started, a positive sign, but couldn’t go the full 90′.  They didn’t seem quite as full of threat as they did against the Swiss but things turned out quite different this time.  The critical game in that group is now Spain v Chile, Friday at 2:30 PM EST, loser plays Brazil in all likelihood.  Unless of course the loser is Spain, then they could very likely be sent home early.

Tomorrow…

begins the final stage of the group stage, always an exciting prospect as that means it’s almost the end of ties.

The first set of games is the finales of Group A; Mexico v Uruguay and France v South Africa.  Everyone is probably aware of the mess that has become of the French national team, but they are not yet eliminated.  They have to beat South Africa by a few goals and hope that either Mexico or Uruguay loses.  If they tie, they both advance, making France’s situation even more dire.

Overall it’s been a terrible week for French Soccer.  Not qualifying for the knockout round is a failure of massive proportions and a shock to the entire world.  The team has been an utter mess on the field as well, playing 180 minutes of World Cup soccer and still searching for their first goal.  Of course, it could all be pushed to the back burner as they still must play the games.

Mexico and Uruguay will surely be very scared to make the mistake that could potentially send them home, and it will probably lead to a very nervous game.  If there is a goal though, things will open up very quickly.

The afternoon matchups will determine the fate of the Group B teams.  Argentina takes on Greece while S Korea tries to secure advancement against Nigeria.  Asking Greece to beat Argentina is a tall task, so the upper hand definitely goes to the Koreans.  It would be a surprise to see them advance but after outplaying Greece, a victory would give them deserved qualification.  Argentina has been a fascinating team to watch thus far and I doubt Mr Maradona would let them take their foot off the gas tomorrow.

Tomorrow brings the US v Algeria preview.  A few bits of that from other sources…

Et al

An interesting point of view on what US v Algeria means for Bob Bradley’s legacy.

American players seem to be ready to attack on Wednesday but they do have a level of respect for Algeria, or so they say.

Jeff Carlisle takes a look at the 3 major lineup issues facing the US and what they can do to stop the slow starts.

Rob Hughes from the NYTimes highlights the European difficulties so far.

France information if you are interested; Domenech’s faultEvra and Domenech’s fault; and now Zidane (who has previously spoke poorly about Domenech) says shame on the team.

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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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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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So these daily little looks will come towards the end of the 2:30 games, aka sometime between 4 and 5PM EST.

Today was kind of odd as the one match everyone was thought would be the best, was probably the most negative game thus far.  Both teams clearly didn’t want to lose and if it weren’t for some moments of Ronaldo and Gervinho, the game might have ended with 0 offensive chances created by either side.

Portugal has the advantage of playing Brazil in their last game; they should know exactly what they need to do in order to beat out the Ivory Coast for that elimination spot.

New Zealand showed that maybe they aren’t the worst team in the tournament and saved their chances of advancing with an injury time equalizer.

North Korea played a very organized and efficient style in the late game.  They were able to stay level with Brazil through the first half and even scored late on to make the ending a little exciting.

It was nice to see two excellent goals from Brazil as this run through has been void of any real highlights.  Maicon’s was a mini version of this Roberto Carlos classic and Elano was the beneficiary of a beautiful pass from Robinho (who was probably Brazil’s most dangerous attacker throughout)>

Final Four Teams to Start

Chile vs Honduras kicks things off tomorrow at 7:30 AM EST and could end up being fairly exciting.  The Chileans have been a popular underdog pick due to their attacking nature.  Honduras on the other hand has been written off almost entirely after qualifying based on a late US goal vs Costa Rica.

Chile’s reputation says they will not follow the convention of playing not to lose.  This should result in some entertaining early morning Latin flavored soccer.

The second game places the tournament favorite, Spain, up against the Swiss.  Spain is going to hold possession for like 85% of this game and it would be nice if they could put some away.  The real high quality teams have played one of two ways so far; firing on all cylanders and flowing like Germany/Argentina or play more cautiously like the Italians/French/English/Portuguese.

My boy Phil Ball from ESPN.com says that the mood in camp is excellent and things look almost too rosy for this version of La Roja.

South Africa vs Uruguay

After what has seemed to be a very long 5 2/3 days, we get into the second set of group games.  Now teams with moving into the knockout round have to start making a move towards that.  If someone wins this game it will start to clear up the Group A picture.

Belief seems to be that South Africa blew their load in the first game vs Mexico and can’t replicate the performance tomorrow.  Personally, I think they are lucky to get France in the final game and tomorrow is really a toss up.  Uruguay didn’t look particularly good vs the French and were lucky to escape with a point.

It will at least be interesting and let’s rejoice in the fact that games start to matter a little more now.

US et al

Tim Howard returned to full training today; expected but still a good sign concerning his availability for Friday.

Slovenian midfielder Andrej Komac has guaranteed victory. An interesting tactic but it’s a little nerve wracking that they are so confident.

Paul Gardner at soccer America has an excellent article on the first few games and the quality refereeing thus far. A few days old but definitely worth a read.

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