Tag Archives: Team USA

12. United States

What Went Right?  The USA played with a lot of energy, athleticism and confidence. Showed a multi-dimensional ability to get forward and attack. Even though their target man, Josy Altidore, didn’t score any goals, the USA made very good use of him by getting him the ball early and often, and his ability to distribute the ball to his trailing forwards was without peer. Attacking players were just unbelievably ever-present on the attacking end. Very quick attacking buildup, mostly on the flanks, yet still managed to counterattack effectively. Very good service into the final third, and the attacking players in advanced midfield and in front got on the end of that service and took beaucoup shots. Kept their opponents on their heels by having more than one player roam on the attacking end. They were surprising effective on the flanks going forward. When they got behind they played with an urgency not seen in previous incarnations of the side. One or two mental lapses in goal was accentuate by mostly reliable goalkeeper overall, and they got better distribution from their goalkeeper than any team has any right to expect. For long stretches they showed a consistent ability to close players down. Best of all, the USA managed to overcome obscenely bad officiating and still win their group for the first time in 60 years.

What Went Wrong?  They had an infuriating habit of getting down early, and as a result had to chase the game as opposed to having the game come to them. That’s because all of their opponents would find holes through the center to exploit. Mental lapses in the back and in goal were fatal. Midfield control was so-so at best, so their ability to close down opposition attacks before they got to the back was spotty. Had a habit of losing their defensive shape and composure during in long stretches. Should have scored much more than they did given the number of shots they took. The USA showed such an anxiety for getting shots off that their attackers frequently got in the way of each other. Worst of all, the USA was the recipient of obscenely bad officiating.

Who Stepped Up To The Plate?  Goalkeeper Tim Howard just kinda broke even. For the most part he was reliable and steady, but his two mental lapses were offset by his ability to start the USA counterattack with the best distribution by a keeper in the tournament. The center of the backline worked best when Carlos Bocanegra partnered with Jay DeMerit, and I just loved DeMerit’s ability to close down the opposition target man. Michael Bradley was a revelation for this team, moving forward in attack, creating chances, playing with energy and urgency, and taking several quality shots himself. Of course the American attack is at its stellar best with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey making runs in the attacking end and in the box, and getting off most of the quality shots on target. Robbie Findlay and Edson Buddle (off the bench) were fantastic trailers into the box, and their speed and diagonal runs into space opened up the game for Donovan, Dempsey and Bradley to take advantage of. Jozy Altidore didn’t score but he was a great target man who got the ball in the penalty area and distributed in to the attackers.

Who Didn’t Show Up?  Center back Oguchi Onyewu clearly was still not in form after his knee injury, and it showed, so it was good that he sat after the second group fixture. I just wasn’t big on fullbacks Jonathan Bornstein and Steve Cherundolo in the rear; neither did a very good job of shutting down the flanks. Maurice Edo and Ricardo Clark were the weak links in front of the backline, allowing long passes by the opposition to get to the front players and allowing the opposition forwards to get on the end of them.

How Was The Coaching?  Bob Bradley is not the most intense coach but he is steady and even-keeled, is a decision-maker, and he does take risks with his roster. He has a direct attacking style and has found the players to execute it with confidence. However, while I hope he stays as the coach of the national team, it is about time he came into the 21st century and employed the more reliably attacking 4-5-1. Opponents were able to exploit the weak center of the 4-4-2.

Did They Finish Where They Were Expected?  Yes, and that’s the problem. By finishing first in their group they got the dream knockout round end of the draw that had them facing Ghana in the Round of 16 and either Uruguay or South Korea in the quarterfinals. This was manna from heaven – they couldn’t have wished for a better draw – and they didn’t exploit it (Uruguay did). This end of the knockout round draw was never going to be this easy again (no offense to the other three teams intended). If they had just stop giving up those weak early goals it could have been them in the semis — and this country would have been sold on football. I wonder if they recognize the enormity of the opportunity they let pass up.

Now What?  On the national team side, keep Bradley but install a 4-5-1 or some variation of it that is midfield-intensive, keeps possession, allows for offensive buildup as well as effective counterattacks, and most of all closes down that weak center. In general, there is more football talent on the ground than there has ever been, and USA Soccer is clearly beginning to tap the athletic talent in the ethnic communities of America as more youngsters are playing football in than ever before – and the numbers keep going up. What the USA needs to do is put in place a youth system much like they have in Europe and South America that keeps much of that talent playing football after age 14 instead of losing them to other more high-profile American sports.

South Africa 2010 Match Observations: Group C

Some random observations after the first group fixtures:

England 1-1 United States: Achilles heel for USA has historically been giving up goals in the first 15 minutes of their first World Cup fixture. This game was no different. Backline mistake by USA in the 4th minute resulted in a Emile Heskey interception followed by a one-touch through ball to Steven Gerrard, who made a short run through center into the penalty area and finished off with a goal. From then on the USA had to chase the game. Without a true holding midfielder in the lineup (Gareth Barry was not fit), England’s strategy was to use plenty of speed on the flanks to open up space for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the center. England definitely did a better job of controlling the midfield, and a number of quick Three Lions counterattacks began there. Despite being behind the USA showed decent direct attacking quality through the center, and put England on their back heels on certain set pieces. I guess Robert Green won’t be playing for England much longer; a catastrophic error by Green lets an easy save on a Clint Dempsey strike in. After the half England played with a renewed sense of purpose, playing short possession passes through the center. Exciting back-and-forth play the last quarter of the game. England coach Fabio Capello changed tactics midstream, advancing 3 players up front and pushing forward in numbers. Wayne Rooney finally began to show up, but Jay DeMerit was in Rooney’s grill all match long. Once the England attack got off the schneid the USA gave up way too much possession late. England has to be disappointed at not getting full points, but a mature performance – if not entirely satisfying – by the USA.

Algeria 0-1 Slovenia: Not the most tactically creative fixture. Both teams looked to stay disciplined in the back while countering quickly with long passes, mostly down the flanks, into the offensive end. No real midfield control from either side; when either team tried to slowly build an attack they stalled. Not the most sustained attacks or refined finishing skills from either team, as if both teams were just going to pound the ball upfield and hope that their opposition would make a defensive mistake they could take advantage of. Lots of crosses, long passes and through balls to nobody in particular, and no diagonal runs at all as both sides just played east-west football (clearly both teams missed the classes on taking advantage of space and getting at the end of a pass). The predictable defensive breakdown happened in the 79th minute when Algeria, down to ten men, fell asleep on a routine strike from 20 yards out from Robert Koren that the Algerian keeper should have fielded easily. After scoring Slovenia just as predictably dropped back and held on for dear life, not even attempting to get forward in any organized way even though they had a man advantage. Slovenia take the early lead in Group C in a stultifyingly sleep-inducing match.

– daveydoug

Way To Go, Greg Ryan

Chuck Noll once famously said, “When you finally get invited to the ball ya’ dance with who brung ya.”

It has also been said that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Both are famous words that all championship-caliber coaches live by. Greg Ryan did not.

Ryan made the colossal misstep of benching his first-choice goalkeeper, Hope Solo, who had three consecutive clean-sheets. Goalkeepers over time develop a rapport with their defensive backline in front of them, and it was obvious that Solo and the USA backline were in harmonious sync, especially when you consider that with Solo in goal Team USA had never lost (no this is not a typo). Not taking anything away from Briana Scurry, arguably the greatest female goalkeeper ever, but not having played all tournament long with this backline and at age 36 obviously past her prime, Ryan’s decision upset the delicate chemistry that the backline had with the goalkeeper they were obviously on the same sheet with.

It’s hard to argue that this was to blame for the unexpected loss to Brazil given the 4-0 scoreline; on the day Brazil was just the better team. But it certainly didn’t help; with a couple of well-placed and well-timed saves we don’t know what the result would have been or how the team would have responded. That Solo handled it badly afterwards is not really the point.

Ryan chose the absolute worst time to make a bad decision not even a novice soccer mom would make. And to make matters worse, he now has two players in conflict with each other and a locker room in turmoil to deal with. Way to go, Ryan. Thanks for giving us the positive proof we needed you are not a championship coach.

Since Solo is white and Scurry is black, now I’m just waiting for the predictable scream of surface racism that always accompanies this kind of conflict when a black and a white are involved. Thank you so much, Ryan, for adding this to the larger discussion of race.

– daveydoug