Tag Archives: United States

The Day of Finals

July 7, 2019 presented a rare confluence of futbol championship events.  In the morning (US time), the 2019 Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and the Netherlands took place in France.  In the afternoon, the Copa America final featured host country Brazil versus Peru.  In the evening, the U.S. men’s team faced off against Mexico in the Gold Cup final in Chicago.  The U.S. women’s team rightfully considered themselves disrespected by the North and South American soccer federations for scheduling their finals on the same day the World Cup came to a conclusion.  Nonetheless, it was a great day to be a soccer fan.

2019 WORLD CUP FINAL:

The United States cruised through the group stage scoring an astounding 18 goals while giving up none.    The Netherlands didn’t have it quite so easy in their group, but still came away with three convincing wins.   The American found tougher games in the knockout rounds, but won by a 2-1 score in each round–the Round of 16, the Quarterfinals, and the Semifinals–on their way to the finals.  The Dutch gave up a goal in their 2-1 Round of 16 win, but threw shutouts in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals.  This was only the second World Cup that the Netherlands had qualified for, but they served notice of their abilities by winning the European championship two years ago.

From the start, the U.S. dominated the game.   They continually pushed the attack, fired shots, and earned corners as the game was largely played in the final third.  The Dutch showed resilience on their back line though and turned away attack after attack by the  Americans.  For the first time in the tournament, the U.S. failed to score in the first 15 minutes of the game and the game was still scoreless at the half.

The American lethal front line of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Tobin Heath continued their relentless assault into the second half and earned a penalty kick 15 minutes in when a Dutch defender kicked too high in an attempt to prevent Morgan from receiving a pass inside the box.  Rapinoe buried the penalty kick as she has done all tournament.  The Dutch defense seemed rattled at that point and less than 10 minutes later, that discombobulation cost them.  U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle took a pass near the mid-line, dribbled straight down the center of the field, made a simple juke move at the top of the box that turned the defender the wrong way and then rocketed a left-footer past the goalie into the right corner of the goal.  Even with the two goal lead, the U.S. continued to press the attack, something many squads fail to do when they build a lead.  The Dutch got their best chances as time ran down, but could not convert.

The 2-0 win gave the U.S. their fourth World Cup title–their second in a row–two more than any other national squad.  Rapinoe won both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards.  With the emergence of the 24-year-old Lavelle, who won the Bronze Ball award, the future of the U.S. team continues to look very bright.  Much of the Dutch squad will still be in their primes in four years, so look for them to be a force at the 2023 World Cup.

Given the American womens’ dominance at the highest levels, it is high time that the U.S. soccer federation paid the women the same as the men.  The womens’ team scores better results, draws bigger crowds, and gets better TV ratings.  It’s time they get PAID!

2019 COPA AMERICA FINAL:

In a rarity, the Copa America final matched two teams that came out of the same group.  In the group stage, Brazil punished Peru 5-0, but La Blanquirroja managed to advance out of the groups with a tie against Venezuela and a win over Bolivia.  Peru then won Quarterfinals and Semifinals games against Uruguay (penalty kicks) and Chile, respectively, that they really had no business winning, but for a stout defense that turned away numerous shots and making the most of the few chances their offense received.  Seleção fought through some minor bumps in the road, notably a tie against Venezuela in the group and a penalty kick win against Paraguay in the Quarterfinals, two national squads that Brazil should have dominated.  In a hard fought game, Brazil turned away Argentina 2-0 in the Semifinals, disappointing Leo Messi on the world stage yet again.

in the Final the Peruvians surprisingly came out swinging at the start, repeatedly pushing into the Brazilian box, but could not finish.  At the 15-minute mark, a Brazilian run down the right sideline produced a long cross into the box where Peru’s defense had collapsed inward, leaving Everton alone on the back side.  He ran onto the cross and rammed home the first goal of the game.  Just before half-time, Paulo Guerrero delivered the equalizer for Peru on a penalty kick after a pass in the box bounced off the arm of a falling Brazilian defender.  Minutes later, in extra time, Peru’s defense again failed, leaving Gabriel Jesus with too much space at the top of the box which he converted into a 2-1 halftime lead for Brazil.

Brazil continued to dominate the ball in the second half, but neither team was able to get much in the way of shots on goal.  However,  as Jesus tooketh, he also gaveth away, doing Peru a favor and earning his second yellow card of the game by delivering an elbow to the back of an opposing player’s head while jumping for a high ball.  Brazil had to play a man down for the final 20 and Peru nearly tied it up again on a long shot by Edison Flores.  However, Brazil maintained its attack and got an insurance goal on a questionably earned penalty kick just before extra time.  With the 3-1 victory, Brazil won its first Copa America championship since 2007.

2019 GOLD CUP FINAL:

Mexico and the United States have long dominated the CONCACAF Gold Cup with 7 and 6 championships, respectively.  Canada is the only other national squad to have won a Gold Cup.  So it came as no surprise that El Tri and the Americans found themselves facing off in yet another Gold Cup Final.  Both squads rumbled through their groups without much problem scoring many goals in the process.  For the U.S., always known for their conservative game, this attacking approach was refreshing.  Both team faced tougher games in the knockout rounds, but survived to reach the championship game.

The Americans did not abandon Coach Gregg Berhalter’s attacking style, creating two great early opportunities for Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore that could not be converted.  The Mexicans played a more patient passing approach, but the stiff U.S. back line prevented any troubling penetrations in the final third.  At the end of the half, the stats say Mexico had more possession and shots, but the U.S. clearly created the more dangerous opportunities, though they were unable to finish them.

An early corner in the 2nd half nearly put the Americans on the board.  A header off the Pulisic corner was saved by a defender’s header on the goal line at the near post.  A follow-up shot went off a defender’s back.  As the half progressed though, Mexico’s attack kept building, earning corners and putting shots on goal.  Momentum had clearly shifted and the Mexicans finally cashed in on a push up the middle where Raul Jimenez put through a beautiful back heel pass to Jonathan dos Santos at the top of the box.  Dos Santos then placed a left-footer into the top left corner of the net that U.S. goalie Zach Steffen could only watch.  The United States staged a furious rally in the final 20 minutes, but despite some great opportunities, they could not find the equalizer.

The Americans should feel good about their showing in this tournament.  They still need to find a Clint Dempsey-like finisher, but the attacking style suits the make-up of the team.  Budding stars like Pulisic, Weston McKinnie, and Reggie Cannon, all 20 or 21 years old portends a bright future for the USMNT.  Mexico’s bend but don’t break approach survived this time, but many of their attackers are 25 and under, so they will get better with experience too.  Hopefully both squads continue to get better so that CONCACAF can put forward a better presence at the World Cup.

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 Match Observations: Round of 16, Part I

Some random observations after the First Knockout Round:

Uruguay 2-1 South Korea: Quick attacking movement from both sides from second one. Neither team were going to waste time waiting for counterattacks; both Uruguay and South Korea put the pedal to the medal, spread the field and took long, direct passes upfield into the attacking end. Both teams were very effective in the midfield, but Uruguay was a lot more solid in the back (Uruguay quietly went through the group stage without giving up any goals). Diego Forlan was on target early, not letting grass grow beneath his feet. The first counterattack for Uruguay resulted in a Forlan cross behind the Korean backline to Luis Suarez on the right, who one-timed it into the Korean goal. After that South Korea got a lot more disciplined going forward, looking to buildup their attack with sustained ball control. Uruguay exposed holes in the Korean backline, spreading them thin on the flanks with their furious counterattack and ability to switch play like nobody else in this tournament so far. Uruguay showed fantastic ability to close down the Korean attack in the midfield.

After the 30th minute Korea began to take quality chances on the Uruguayan goal. Park Ji-Sung was a monster on the left flank, using his speed to get the ball forward and showing a deft touch getting the ball to the forward players in the final third. You had to figure that one or both of these teams was going to get tired due to the furious pace of the game by both teams. Slightly more accurate long-range shooting from South Korea. Furious attacking by Korea after halftime, putting Uruguay’s backline under siege. For whatever reason Uruguay took their foot off the gas, letting Korea dominate possession in the attacking end. Park was now playing more centrally and much more forward as a target man in the box. No panicking from the Koreans, they were finally able to get the first goal past Uruguay this tournament on a poorly defended set piece, setting up Lee Chung-Yong to finish the rebound in the 68th minute. Finally getting their attacking mojo back, Suarez scored with a brilliantly sublime shot on the right upper corner off a set piece rebound in the 80th minute. Fantastic attacking match from both sides. Madd Props to Uruguay for a tactically proficient match that they grinded out for the win. And Big Ups to South Korea for always showing great workrate and never giving up.

United States 1-2 Ghana: Mistake giveaway in the midfield by Ricardo Clark followed by the failure of the USA backline to close down gave Prince Boateng an easy goal in the 7th minute during the run of play for the first time in this tournament. Ghana did a good job of controlling the midfield early, even disrupting the USA attack before it could get to the final third. Decidedly uncharacteristic buildup by Ghana, which resulted in them having the advantage in possession and sustaining it going forward. Not very tactically smart approach by the USA, who wrongly decided to try to match Ghana’s speed and strength. Bad day for defensive/holding midfielder Clark, who had his pocket picked early and got a yellow on a hard challenge only minutes later. Great anticipation by Ghana, who also showed an ability to chase down lose balls and get back in numbers in front of their goal to defend a counter. Benny Feilhaber came on in the second half for the USA and the distribution got much better, sending diagonal balls inside if still not spreading play wide with any regularity. Tactically the USA got better chances on the attacking end. Big break in the 62nd minute when a defensive breakdown by Ghana led to a hard tackle in the box on Clint Dempsey resulting in a penalty converted by Landon Donovan.

After that the game became a war of attrition; a lot of back-and-forth through the center with both teams closing down the ball carrier. In extra time, once again on a long pass into the front Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra couldn’t decide which one was going to close down Asamoah Gyan, who picked the pass out of the air and put a laser past Tim Howard. Ghana just went about killing time by playing keep away and flailing around on the ground on phantom injuries to close out the game. The USA went to the well once too many times, giving up early goals way too often to be able to come back from. A winnable game for the USA that they should not have lost. Proof positive that mistakes in the back can be fatal and send you home. A shame, really, because the USA clearly has the talent to hang with anybody but clearly lacks a certain mental toughness. Ghana’s strength and ability to press was the difference.

-daveydoug