It takes some doing to unearth muppets in June but here they are:
And you can't have one without the other…
That was horrible, as if Ryan Miller was actually Algeria and FIFA and the universe and God. And then the ball was just lying there, waiting to be pushed in one direction or the other.
All-time updates live on the 2011 Michigan Football Recruiting Board.
At about the 0:55 mark, that's FL WR Sammy Watkins gettin' his crush on (good pad level, that). If football and school don't work out, there's a future in stunt acting, no doubt.
Camps And Visits
The annual Sound Mind, Sound Body Camp took place at Wayne State over the weekend, drawing many of the midwest's best prospects. Sam Webb previewed the event in his Detroit News column last week:
Thanks to additional help from sponsors like Powerhouse Gym, the U.S. Army, and Scout.com, Sound Mind-Sound Body has reached farther beyond Michigan's border than ever before. As a result, before the first whistle is blown at this year's camp, it will have already surpassed last year's mark of hosting 55 prospects that eventually earned scholarship offers.
"Seventy kids already have Division I scholarship offers," said Blackwell. "We have kids coming from as far as Arizona and Minnesota. It is astounding. I'm just in awe really. This is more of a regional event now."
Prospects of interest for Michigan fans were many, and included OH OL Aundrey Walker, IL OL Chris Bryant, MI WR Commit Shawn Conway, MI WR DeAnthony Arnett, MI CB Valdez Showers, and MI CB Commit Delonte Hollowell. The Class of 2012 was represented as well, with MI LB James Ross (pictured above), MI LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, and IL OL Jordan Diamond leading the way.
Michigan's summer camp also started over the weekend (and ended yesterday). Tom ran down some of the participants, and is updating that Diary as he gets new information. Check back for the latest updates, and to know who you should keep on commitment watch.
OH OL Ray Ball was in town for camp, though he didn't work out. He raved about the visit to Tom:
"I know the top schools I have on my list are Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and UCLA, but this definitely puts Michigan in a better spot than before. "
In a class that will end up with many offensive linemen, that's a positive sign.
MI OL Jake Fisher did work out, on the other hand, and left Ann Arbor with an offer in hand ($, info in header).
NC LB/S Kris Frost was (is?) in town, and Michigan and Auburn lead LSU, Cal, and Clemson. for him.
Moving on to non-camp visit news, PA DT Delvon Simmons will be visiting Michigan eventually.
IL DE James Adeyanju visited Ann Arbor last week, and may be making a return visit soon ($, info in header).
Safety prospect Avery Walls had a great visit to Ann Arbor last week, even his mother (an OSU grad) was impressed. Michigan really rolled out the red carpet, with virtually all the coaches greeting Walls in Schembechler Hall, and it paid off. He also visited MSU whilst he was up here, but UM probably has the better chance.
Walls would be a huge grab for Rodriguez and co., but don't expect a decision any time soon.
Michigan makes the top 5 for FL S LaQuentin Smith, who is visiting with his teammate, FL RB Demetrius Hart, for the Iowa game:
"I would say that right now my top five is Arkansas, South Carolina, South Florida, Ole Miss and Michigan," Smith said. "And I still have love for Colorado State because they were the first to offer me."
Smith also hinted in the article that both Smith and Hart are considering a Michigan commitment during the visit. Hart also came in for some spring fluff:
Top RB - Dee Hart, Dr. Phillips. Hart was wiped out after playing two ways for almost 15 games over the weekend as the Panthers had to fight their way back through the losers' bracket. He rarely showed that fatigued on the field, however, and he was DP's go-to-guy, as usual, helping them reach the championship game.
The Panthers were runners-up in the USF 7-on-7 Tournament.
- IN RB Remound Wright. He held a (non-committable, I think) Michigan offer, but has committed to Stanford.
- TX RB Jarrell Oliver. He committed to Utah, where he'll be in the Utes' first recruiting class as a BCS program. Michigan seemed to cool on Oliver due to interest in other RBs (and teammate, TX S Sheroid Evans, coming off the board to Texas).
- IL WR DaVaris Daniels. He was going to choose between Miami and Notre Dame yesterday, but has pushed back the announcement. Michigan still appears to be out of the picture.
- OH WR Devin Smith. He received his Ohio State offer last week and, as expected, joined the Buckeyes' class of 2011.
- OH TE Nick Vannett, though he holds a Michigan offer, is not considering the Wolverines at this time. Conventional wisdom has him picking the Buckeyes.
- VA DE Corey Marshall. He committed to Virginia Tech.
- Future happy trails to TX CB Charles Jackson, who is deciding soon ($, info in header). He holds a Michigan offer, but hasn't really mentioned the Wolverines since receiving it.
- MI CB/Ath Raymon Taylor committed to Indiana. I, for one, will be shocked if he's still a four-star by the end of the process. The local BCS programs have had tons of opportunities to see him play, and neither considered him worthy.
Still With The Quarterbackin'
Michigan might not be dead for NC QB Marquise Williams, as he claims to not have made a decision yet, but VT or North Carolina (where he took a recent unofficial) is the presumptive choice. With his decision coming this week, we're approaching a "Happy Trails" moment for him.
That means FL QB Kevin Sousa (right) may finally be getting close to that coveted Michigan offer:
I called coach (Rod) Smith today, and they are going to recruit me. He is meeting with coach Rodriguez tomorrow as to a possible offer. He said that the guys they were recruiting are no longer interested in Michigan, and they have opened it up again as far as looking for a QB.
Should he receive that Michigan offer, don't forget he's said it would be hard to turn down in the past. He did tell Tom that he would visit Ann Arbor before making a decision for the Wolverines, but he may have that opportunity soon. He's roadtripping with his coach to several midwest schools, and if a Michigan offer is imminent, that schedule could probably be adjusted for a stop in Ann Arbor.
I've made it no secret that I think Sousa would be a great pickup for the QB in this class. If you want a little more on him, he has a variety of highlight videos available, including one from his spring game back in May:
Michigan, Pitt, and Florida are the leaders for NJ TE/DE Taques Franklin.
“My top schools that I’m looking at right now are Florida, Cincinnati, Michigan, Pittsburgh and North Carolina. Those are the top ones I’m looking at. I know a little bit about each one of them. From talking to college scouts I like what those (schools) have had to say. They’ve been telling me how good their school is for sports and education.
He may visit Ann Arbor sometime this summer.
Michigan, USC, and Oregon had been a pseudo-top 3 for AZ OL Andre Yruretagoyena, but the sanctions against the Trojans may have affected that. He talked to Tom:
I asked him what his reaction was, and he said, "I want to say it doesn't affect me, but it does. It's two years, which would end after my first year, so I would be there for it. I don't know if there's anything more, but if the NCAA finds more, then who knows what else they'll do. You never know with the NCAA."
Yruretagoyena recently released a top 7, including all three of those schools, along with Arizona, Arkansas, Oregon State, and Washington. It may be notable (and discouraging) that Michigan is one of only two non-PAC10 schools on the list.
FL OL James Elliott has received a Michigan offer.
PA OL Paul Gaughan has also received the Michigan offer ($, info in header) that he's been waiting for.
LA DT Mickey Johnson tells Tom that UCLA and Nebraska lead Michigan, Tennessee, and LSU for his services.
Coach Rodriguez is a cool guy. They're going through some things right now, but I believe that they're going to get through it. Coach Fred (Jackson) is good friends with my dad now, too. They've developed a good friendship through this recruiting process, so that's pretty cool. Plus, they play in the Big House. I've seen pictures of the stadium, and campus online, and I just can't wait to see all that.
If (when?) Michigan gets him on campus, it could be a huge boon to Michigan's chances to land him.
Shortly after Michigan offered, they were the heavy favorite for MI LB Ed Davis. However, the Wolverines have fallen off slightly, thanks to some new offers and negative recruiting.
Added SC LB Dexter Staley, who includes Michigan in his top 5.
Michigan is showing renewed interest in OH LB Antonio Poole ($, info in header).
Tom talked to MI CB Valdez Showers, who recently received a Florida offer. Michigan is in his top group, and his friendship with MI WR Commit Shawn Conway could help the Wolverines recruit him.
2012 Note: Michigan is "courting" OH RB Warren Ball ($, info in header).
Phil Brabbs is going into the hospital for his second stem cell transplant tomorrow, and for the past few weeks they've been trying to hit a goal of 5000 fans for cancerkicker.org, the facebook site of their new Cancer Kicker Foundation. They need 500 more to make it today. Also, I don't know if you've seen their new Dominate fundraising shirt but despite the initial color scheme I think they look pretty good.
Yeah… someone please notify Phil that one of the shirt is scarlet and gray? Despite this flaw, support the cause.
Now that Nebraska will be joining the conference in 2011, what happens to the schedules? Teams have already released their schedules for that year, including 4 out-of-conference games and 8 conference games. I assume the Big Ten schedule will be modified but the other 4 games will be untouched. Any knowledge on that one?
The quick insertion of Nebraska into the schedule does pose problems for anyone who was hoping an additional conference game should be added, since just about everyone would have to cancel a tomato-can game, and suck up the penalties that come with that. That's not likely.
As far as revamping the conference schedules, as long as everyone's playing on the same dates it shouldn't be an issue. There's no reason anyone the Big Ten should have to move a bye week, and that's really all that matters. Nebraska might have to cancel or move a game, but that's part of the cost of switching conferences.
This article (below) on changes Jimbo Fisher is bringing to FSU made me wonder how much closer UM is to the late Bowden way of doing things than to the Saban / Fisher way of doing things. Specifically, in terms of ancillary staff and anything else you can do to give your program an edge by (mostly) spending money that most schools don't have, are we in the big leagues, or do we lag behind? For example, would we find it unseemly to have 9 full-time strength coaches? How many do we actually have? How many does OSU have? That's one metric. You can probably think of others.
"We had two full-time strength coaches other than our head strength coach," Fisher said. "We now have eight, and I'm about to hire the ninth guy."
To a fan of a perennial national title contender, this stuff probably doesn't sound revolutionary. It's not, which should help explain how far behind FSU had fallen in the 10 years since the Seminoles won their second national title by going wire-to-wire at No. 1.
I can't find this article any more and never actually posted about it because it was in my hopper right around the the time the Free Press initiated the jihad, but in August of last year someone* counted up the many coaching-type objects across the country and found that the national champion was none other than Michigan with, I think, 51. (None of whom filed CARA reports.) I started assembling a post about what all these people did, but googling was turning up virtually nothing and I shelved it until the report came out and it became clear that sometimes the people in the jobs themselves weren't sure what they should and should not be doing.
That was an expansion from the Carr days, mostly in the S&C department, but as long as it's legal I don't see why anyone would have a problem with it. The bits of it that are obviously an embarrassment, but presumably those won't be going on any further. If and when the NCAA reigns these spots with legislation, that will be fine, too, but the boat will just leak elsewhere.
*(Andy Staples at SI maybe? His archive only goes back six months.)
Hello Brian,Since Nebraska entered the Big 10, I was wondering how their recruiting would be impacted, especially now that they don't have as many games in Texas. Also, how will that impact existing Big 10 recruiting territories?Thanks a bunch.Respectfully,caesar
I don't think it will hurt Nebraska much. There will be some negative effect on Texas recruits who can no longer promise their families that they'll be able to attend a couple of local games per year, but as this space has discussed several times before the true genius of the Big Ten Network and the conference's ESPN/ABC contract is that with very limited exceptions*, every Big Ten football game is broadcast nationally as long as you have satellite TV or buy your cable provider's sports tier.
Decisions are still more likely to be made about quality of education and football program plus reasonable distance to home, in which case Nebraska still loses out to Oklahoma and Texas and beats almost everyone else when it comes to Texas recruits.
A more interesting effect to watch will be how Nebraska's recruiting shifts into Big Ten states, especially Illinois and Ohio. Nebraska has made a more concerted push into Big Ten territory as their walk-on program declined and their national recruiting increased. Last year the pirated IL S Corey Cooper away from Illinois and took OH RB Braylon Heard from WVU; this year they've got a couple OL from Big Ten country and DT Kevin Williams, who Michigan was also hot after.
On the other hand, Nebraska's 2008 and 2006 classes had zero recruits from the Big Ten region and 2007 had one three-star TE from Iowa and a two-star ATH from Cardinal Mooney. It's best for the conference if Nebraska keeps that up, since they'll be bringing in talent from Kansas JUCOs, Texas, Arizona, and California that other Big Ten schools have limited access to.
It's not likely, though, that Nebraska just keeps up their current recruiting and doesn't attempt to exploit their newfound attractiveness to recruits in the Big Ten footprint. They're not likely to win a lot of battles against Ohio State and Penn State. Williams nonwithstanding, if and when Michigan starts being Michigan again they're also not likely to take a bunch of kids away from a Michigan program with more local cachet. But the programs in the Big Ten that depend on talent from Illinois and Ohio that fall past the big guns could suffer at the hands of the Cornhuskers. This would hit Iowa and Michigan State most harshly.
*(Regional night games on ABC and the occasional nonconference road game that doesn't merit national attention in an era when any two BCS teams going head-to-head is a big deal.)
A trio of 2010 Michigan commits participated in All-Star games over the weekend. The Brothers Talbott played for Team Ohio in the annual Big 33 Classic against Pittsburgh, while preferred walk-on Baquer Sayed (#4 at right) was on the East team in the Michigan High School Football Coaches' Association All-Star game. Paul and I took in the MHSFCA game in person, and I watched the Big 33 on NFL Network.
East-West Game Report
The MHSFCA All-Star game was without many of Michigan's best players (ironically enough). The likes of Nick Hill and William Gholston from Michigan State didn't play in the game, and the Wolverines' quartet of Ricardo Miller, Austin White, Jeremy Jackson, and Devin Gardner all enrolled early, so they couldn't play. Gardner in particular could have made this a much more entertaining game to watch. The QB play was iffy at best.
The East team had nothing going offensively in the first half, finishing with 7(!) yards of total offense and giving up a safety. The West took advantage, building a 16-0 lead going into the break, courtesy of two Chris Robinson (Ovid-Elsie - Grand Valley State) touchdown runs. Field position played a huge factor, as the East team rarely even made it into opposing territory.
After halftime, however, the East offense came alive, partially due to a little more aggressive play calling. While pass plays functioned as scramble drills in half one, they became part of a functioning offense in the second with Jason Fracassa (Sterling Height Stevenson - Northwood University) able to move the ball through the air. The East scored 20 unanswered points with Fracassa touchdown passes to Eric Cogan (Petersburg-Summerfield - Saginaw Valley State) and Torico Searcy (Warren Mott - Grand Rapids CC) before a last-minute West penalty allowed East coach Jim Sparks (Clawson) the opportunity to forgo a game-tying field goal to go for the win. Jeremy Langford (Westland John Glenn - Michigan State) lined up in the I-formation and sealed the victory for the East.
With such a sloppily-played game, few players truly impressed, but Spartan-bound wideout Tony Lippett (Detroit Crockett) was HUGE in comparison to the rest of the All-Stars. West running back Chris Robinson was somewhat impressive behind a sketchy offensive line, and West QB Jordan Beachnau (Holt - Grand Valley State) showed very good elusive abilities in traffic. I was not impressed at all by Jeremy Langford.
Also impressive was Michigan's lone representative in the game, Baquer Sayed. He was routinely open on the occasion that a pass play was called, but he was often missed (either the quarterback threw a bad ball or didn't throw it his way at all , often because he was running for his life) or interfered with. On top of one key pass interference drawn, he caught 3 passes for 45 yards, with a long reception of 22 yards. He was thrown to two other times, but both passes were uncatchable.
Big 33 Game Report
The Big 33 Classic annually pits some of the best in Ohio against some of the best in Pennsylvania. A number of college commitments participated (Pitt led the way with 10 commits, though Ohio State and Penn State each had 4), and like the Michigan game, it was a defensive battle for much of the contest.
It's very rare that you'll see two separate games start with 2-0 scores in an entire year, much less one day, but that was the case Saturday, as Pennsylvania took that advantage all the way into halftime. Missed field goals from both teams (including onetime Michigan preferred walkon-turned-Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear of Team Ohio) and generally sloppy play limited the scoring, and quite honestly, fan enjoyment of the game.
After halftime, the game opened up somewhat, as Pennsylvania QB Anthony Gonzales (Liberty - Pitt) threw a pair of touchdown passes, one to PSU-bound Alex Kenney (State College) and another to future teammate Andrew Carswell (Sto-Rox). Ohio was not to be outdone, as Ohio State commits Verlon Reed (Marion Franklin) and Christian Bryant (Glenville) scored TDs. Reed's came on an 80-some-yard scamper, and Bryant's was a 26-yard reception with less than a minute on the clock to put Ohio up for good.
I was impressed with the performance of Alex Kenney and Andrew Carswell from Pennsylvania. Carswell should be a big target for Pittsburgh in the coming years. Wisconsin-bound Mannesah Garner (Brashear) was a terror on the defensive line, though he's expected to be a wideout in Madison. The surprise star of the day was Rich Gray (Woodland Hills) who's headed to Kent State, of all places. He was constantly in the Ohio backfield, and if he can stay on top of his conditioning, the Golden Flashes have uncovered a serious diamond in the rough.
A few Ohio players impressed as well. Verlon Reed and Christian Bryant showed good athleticism, though Reed couldn't pass the ball well at all, and Bryant looked lost in coverage at times (in man, he let Andrew Carswell get free by about 15 yards for one of Pennsylvania's touchdowns). JT Moore (Youngstown Boardman - Ohio State) got good pressure on the quarterback as well.
Michigan's representatives in the game, brothers Terry and Terrence Talbott, had mixed results. For the record, their jerseys both said "Talbott"—the organizers probably figured that 6 inches and 75 pounds would be enough for observers to differentiate between them.
Terry had one sack (@ 2:59 in the video below) and a couple other QB pressures, but no other real production. Terrence had a fumble recovery on special teams, one pass breakup and a couple tackles. Terrence was also responsible for one of Pennsylvania's touchdowns, however, as PSU commit Alex Kenney ran a streak down the sidelines, finding himself a step past—and a lot bigger than—Talbott.
Big 33 Video
That wraps up Michigan commits' All-Star performances for the year, and Friday Night Lights will go into hibernation until late August, when the Class of 2011 gets its time to shine.
Valdez Showers is a versatile athlete out of Madison Heights, Michigan, mainly being recruited as a defensive back. Sitting in Michigan's backyard, Valdez has an offer from the Wolverines and just picked up a somewhat surprising offer from Florida. Auburn, Michigan State, and others have offered.
First his junior highlight film:
There's film on him from a 7 on 7 tournament, as well. Here's what Showers had to say.
TOM: Word on the street is that you received an offer from Florida recently?
VALDEZ: Yeah, I went down there on the 16th to visit the school. I camped the next day, and I could tell that the coaches were impressed. When I got home, I talked to one of the coaches, and he offered me a scholarship. They just said that overall I'm a great player, and I would fit well at cornerback for them.
TOM: Is that what most schools are recruiting you for? Cornerback?
VALDEZ: Yeah, that's what pretty much everyone sees me at.
TOM: That's a pretty big offer; how many total do you have now?
VALDEZ: I have a total of around 16 now. I don't have a top list yet, though. I'm going to sit down this week, and see if I can narrow it down.
TOM: There has to be some schools that stick out to you, though, right?
VALDEZ: Yeah, I mean, Florida sticks out because they have great football, and academics. Michigan sticks out, they'll probably be in the top group, too. I have a good connection with the coaches at Michigan, and they're well rounded, too.
TOM: When you say you want to narrow your list down, how are you going to decide who makes the cut? You have some nice offers from Auburn, Cinci, Michigan, and Florida, what's the criteria?
VALDEZ: I'm looking for great academics, great football, and a good coaching staff, of course. I really want to find the school that's the right fit for me, though. So, I'm not sure when I'll decide. I just want to take my time with it, and put it in God's hands.
TOM: With some offers out of state, and across the country, how will distance factor in?
VALDEZ: Distance won't be a factor. I'll just go where ever is best for me. My mom was excited when I got the Florida offer, and she's said that she'll come watch me play where ever I go, so that doesn't matter.
TOM: Were you able to make it back up for the Sound Mind Sound Body camp this weekend?
VALDEZ: Yeah, I went, but my flight got delayed from Florida. I came late to the second day, so I couldn't do a whole lot. I got to talk to a couple coaches from Michigan, and they were telling me to come back up and visit sometime soon. I'm going to try to get back up there pretty soon. I'm not sure when, though.
TOM: Since you're from Michigan, are you friends with any of the other Michigan recruits? Do they try to recruit you?
VALDEZ: I'm friends with Shawn Conway. We met through the 7 on 7's, and became cool through that. He doesn't really try to recruit me, he just tells me to pick the best school for me.
TOM: Describe yourself as an athlete to someone who has never watched film on you.
VALDEZ: I'm a leader on the field, a hard worker, explosive, fast, and I just make plays. I ran the 40 at the Florida camp, and I was timed at a 4.48, and a 4.5. I have a hamstring injury, too, so I know I can run faster than that.
USA vs Algeria: Wednesday 9:30 AM , ESPN.
But don't tell them that because they'll cut you.
Brady2Terrell has a clear and comprehensive breakdown of what the US needs in a message board post. To make it even more concise: a win means the US is in. A loss means the US is out. A draw and the US is waiting on the result of the other match. In that case, England winning puts us out. Basically anything else and the US is through. Draws in which England scores three more goals than the US does—very unlikely—put England through instead. Draws in which England scores two more lead to a decision based on card accumulation, in which the sides are tied.
Those things are maybe 1% probable. Slovenia goes through with a draw and is very experienced at bunkering; England's offense has been impotent thus far in the tourney.
Ignoring that, your rooting interests:
- Do not lose
- If tie, hope England does not win.
Since both games will happen at the same time this promises many tense moments unless the US goes up two (raise your hand if you think that's likely, and if you've raised your hand please relocate yourself to a national team that apparently does not exist). Wednesday will be knee-buckling.
Algeria is a strange team. Every time Nadir Belhadj (above) makes a darting run forward I am literally angry that Algeria can pump out a left back like that and we're left with Jonathan Bornstein and a centerback gamely playing out of position. Rangers manly-man Madjid Bougherra would probably be the USA's first-choice centerback with Onyewu's injury and lack of form. Abdelkader Ghezzal may not score a lot in Serie A, but he's actually in Serie A. Serie A would laugh at the entire US forward corps, then consider them again just to laugh some more. If you were to pick a starting eleven from the combined rosters of the same team, the position at which Algeria would win they would win by a country mile.
But… that's kind of it as far as obvious Algeria wins goes. Their goalkeeper, described as "very, very dodgy" by Zonal Marking even before the tournament started, was replaced after giving up a game-winning goal to Slovenia that was almost but not quite as bad as Robert Green's nation-horrifying mistake. His replacement got his first international start against England, making a couple of good saves while looking equally dodgy on balls played in from the edges. He plays in the Bulgarian league. Knock on wood, but the chances he gives up a game-changing mistake are much greater than Tim Howard's.
Tactically, Algeria is extremely variable. They shifted from a three-man backline in the African Cup of Nations to a 4-4-2 in their pre-WC friendlies, then went with a 3-5-2 that was closer to a five-man backline against England.
With Ghezzal available—he was suspended for the England match after picking up two yellows in just over twenty minutes as a second half sub against Slovenia—and Algeria needing to win by two goals to guarantee advancement, the Desert Foxes will probably adopt a more attacking posture against the US. This will see Nader Yahia move back to right back after being drawn inside to play centrally against England, with the rest of the midfield adopting more aggressive attacking positions.
Left: Algeria (white) against Slovenia. Right: Algeria (green) against England. While the England formation looks more aggressive, in reality the two wing-backs operated mostly as defenders.
The two central midfielders were described by Zonal Marking as "simple defensive-minded midfielders" before the tournament and have lived up to that reputation. What attacking the Algerians manage is usually through Belhadj and Wolfsburg attacking midfielder Karim Ziani, easily recognizable as the douchiest looking guy in the tournament thanks to his blond dye-job. (Algeria, as a group, look like Aqua.)
The attack broke down in the final third against England when Matmour, normally a midfielder, provided no threat:
Algeria dominated possession for periods of the game, as you would expect for a side essentially fielding six midfielders. Indeed, you can stretch that to seven – because Matmour is plainly not a forward, let alone a lone striker. His movement was decent but he offered no threat in behind, which is the obvious way to catch out a defensive partnership of John Terry and Jamie Carragher.
Threats in behind are also an obvious way to catch out the defensive partnership of DeMerit and Onyewu, so it's nice that Algeria doesn't have a consistent way to generate any. Ghezzal is a strapping 6'1" guy who shouldn't be a huge matchup problem for Onyewu and Demerit.
ZM sums up their first two games as "dogged" but says they've "offered nothing in an attacking sense" thus far. Whether that will hold true against a leaky USA defense is another section.
The Nats are in an unusual and advantageous situation. Algeria has a shot to advance but absolutely must win. They will be forced to attack against a team they might have bunkered against if they'd faced them in one of the first two group matches. This should play into the USMNT's hands. They're an excellent counter-attacking team even against world class sides like Spain and Brazil, and Algeria's defense has a tendency towards Michigan 2009 errors. Marauding fullbacks and erratic passing will yield plenty of opportunities for the US to strike back.
So… this is a situation in which a ball-winning central midfielder next to Bradley is a priority. I haven't been a fan of Clark, but Edu's second-half performance against Slovenia wasn't much more impressive. Either would be fine as a starter; Torres is set to be a second-half sub if the US needs a goal.
As far as the forwards go, take your pick between putting Buddle in the starting lineup and thrusting Dempsey up top and putting Holden into the fray. With Algeria's games to date proving Belhadj the Algerians' most effective attacker, I vote Holden plus Dempsey. Holden is a young, pacey, work-rate-heavy winger capable of tracking Belhadj's runs better than Dempsey, and tasking Holden with the most important defensive responsibilities frees Donovan to be Donovan*. Holden is the only US player who gives the team any width, and his ability to get deep and cross should be an effective way to test any of Algeria's flappy goalkeepers.
The seemingly odd substitution of England winger Aaron Lennon (generally regarded as by far their best wide option) for national whipping-boy Shawn Wright-Phillips was because Lennon kept cutting inside:
Aaron Lennon constantly came inside rather than getting down the touchline. He needed to be braver and give Nadir Belhadj more of a problem by staying wide and high when Algeria got the ball – this would have either pushed Belhadj backwards to pick up Lennon, and therefore take him out of the equation, or forced one of the three centre-backs to come across to the left-back position, which would have removed Algeria’s luxury of a free man at the back.
Tracking Belhadj and threatening him with an actual winger will go a long way towards shutting down the Algerians' main attacking threat. This could be a game where Beasley makes sense as a second-half sub, possibly for a ragged Holden.
The United State has another huge advantage in the game: set pieces. The US was consistently dangerous on them in the first two games because of Landon Donovan's excellent service, and Algeria was often disorganized in their first two games. It's easy to envision the US pumping in a goal or two from dead-ball situations, another reason to focus on wide play—and the resulting corners that come from it.
(SIDE NOTE: why has Donovan been so excellent in a tournament in which every well-hit cross sees four or five fly wildly out of control? One: he's good. Two: MLS is our secret weapon. Many observers are convinced that a lot of the crappy play in this World Cup (goalie errors, wack crosses, zero free-kick goals) stems from the Jabulani ball, and that the Germans' proficiency with it is traceable to the Bundesliga's adoption of the thing six months ago. Guess who else is using it?
On a domestic front, the Jabulani has made an appearance in Portugal’s league, Argentina’s league, America’s MLS, the Dutch league, the French Cup and the Swiss league.
So there you go.)
As long as the game remains tied, the advantage is to the US. With the sketchy central defense and the situation they can adopt their usual slightly defensive 4-2-2-2 and wait for the opportunities that will surely come.
D: Cherundolo, Onyewu, Demerit, Bocanegra
M: Donovan, Clark, Bradley, Holden
F: Altidore, Dempsey
*("Landycakes" is dead. You hear me? Dead.)
The Important Thing
Do not go down a goal in the first fifteen minutes. Algeria probably couldn't go in a shell at that point—they need to win by two to guarantee they go through—but they would pull back somewhat, waiting for information from the Slovenia-England game. The longer Algeria's kept off the board, the more they'll have to press and the more vulnerable they'll be.
This section is totally obvious and useless, I know.
Some other important things:
- Play wide and quickly to exploit the space left by the attacking Algeria fullbacks.
- If Dempsey is up front consider dropping back into a 4-5-1 that would give Donovan and Holden more license to press high, potentially taking Belhadj and others out of the offense.
- Keep the wing players outside and allow Demerit and Onyewu to do what they do best: clear crosses.
- Pick up as many set pieces as possible.