"It's a lot easier being a drug dealer than an AAU coach" - this guy. Tell me something I don't know. I mean, don't think but have never tried either.
While Michigan didn't quite end up getting their entire starting five from the 2013 national title game into the first round, last night's NBA Draft proved a major success for the program. Here's an overview of what went down last night; next week, I'll take a closer look at how each U-M draftee fits in with his new team.
Nik Stauskas, #8 Overall, Sacramento Kings
Nik Stauskas went off the board at #8 to Sacramento, becoming the highest Wolverine selection since Dallas picked Robert Traylor (RIP) sixth in 1998 before trading him to Milwaukee. Stauskas, resplendent in a suit that probably cost more than my car, immediately celebrated with a perfectly executed three-goggle handshake with his dad. (His subsequent handshake with John Beilein wasn't quite so flawless.)
Afterward, Stauskas was asked about Michigan by someone who clearly never went to Michigan, because Zingerman's is way too expensive for students and the Art Fair takes place when almost nobody is on campus. He handled it well:
Q. Nik, Michigan is a very good school academically, great campus like Zingerman's, the art festival in Ann Arbor. Was it an easy decision? There must be a tough decision to say, I want to leave early, because it is a great school. Was there part of you that said, I should get my degree here and then go to the NBA?
NIK STAUSKAS: I definitely thought about it, but the biggest thing for me after this season was I felt like I was ready. I thought I had improved enough throughout the year, and I had made a lot of strides in my game and made the necessary improvements to make that jump to the next level.
Like I said, this has been a dream of mine my entire life. The fact that I had the opportunity to do it now, I feel like this is the right time. I understand that I could always go back and get my education after, which I fully plan on doing.
It's great to hear that Stauskas plans to finish earning his degree down the road. And yes, Nik, you were ready.
In the end, it turned out Stauskas separated himself quite a bit from the two players believed to be his biggest competition as shooting guards projected to go in the mid-to-late lottery. Kentucky's James Young went to the Celtics at #17, while MSU's Gary Harris surprisingly plunged all the way to #19—he'll end up in Denver after a draft-day trade with Chicago.
Mitch McGary, #21 Overall, Oklahoma City Thunder
One of the most entertaining aspects of draft night is watching Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski announce every pick on Twitter well before the actual picks are announced, sometimes getting so far as three picks ahead of the telecast. Rarely does anyone scoop Wojo; when they do, sometimes it's because they're wrong.
So when John Beilein tweeted this out minutes before Oklahoma City selected Mitch McGary at #21 overall, it'd prove to be the second-greatest thing Beilein did last night (TEASER):
— John Beilein (@JohnBeilein) June 27, 2014
John Beilein is better at your job than you are. There's no shame in this. Just accept it.
Meanwhile, MLive's Brendan Quinn passes along this fantastic quote from OKC GM Sam Presti, generally regarded as one of the best in the business:
"The last thing that is really, really impressive to us, and the reason that we value him even more, is that he's an incredible teammate -- just an incredible teammate," Presti said. "That was on display during the season when he missed a significant amount of time.
"I felt like I was scouting him on the bench while he wasn't playing. The way that he engaged with his teammates, his support was unwavering, his enthusiasm was unwavering. Combine that with his skill-set and and his intangibles, and that's a Thunder player."
If the Thunder don't use a future pick on Andrew Dakich, I'll be sorely disappointed.
Glenn Robinson III, #40 Overall, Minnesota Timberwolves
Wojo cruelly tweeted that Oklahoma City was considering GRIII with their second pick of the first round, which was not to be. In a really deep draft—Wichita State's Cleanthony Early lasted all the way to #34—he dropped to the tenth pick of the second round, but the team that nabbed him valued him much higher than that:
Robinson III 26th or 27th on #Twolves board, per Flip.
— Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) June 27, 2014
At GRIII's draft party, his mother took a moment to note that this was the plan all along:
When the waiting was finally over, after the Timberwolves had finished the drama, Clay [Robinson's mother], along with Robinson took the podium.
She read a letter he wrote in high school about how he was going to miss school but that he was onto bigger and better things.
That in a couple of years, he would be playing in the NBA.
He called it.
With Robinson's selection, Michigan—as expected—ended with three players taken in the draft, tied with UCLA for the most among any school. However...
Jordan Morgan, Undrafted Free Agent, Minnesota Timberwolves
...that didn't mean Beilein's night was over. The last person remaining in the green room, Michigan's coach waited out every pick in the hope that a team would take a second-round flier on Jordan Morgan:
John Beilein will not leave until all of his players are drafted. pic.twitter.com/dH6WCBK1ba
— Daniel Feldman (@danfeldman31) June 27, 2014
John Beilein is the best. The absolute best.
Morgan didn't get picked, but he'll get a chance to earn a roster spot alongside GRIII, as he told Quinn today that he's joining the Timberwolves as an undrafted free agent. He'll get his shot on Minnesota's Summer League squad; they start play on July 12th, and you can find the whole schedule here. Even if Morgan doesn't get a spot on the Timberwolves, it's a great opportunity for him to audition for other NBA teams and scouts from other leagues.
How About The Pistons?
While Detroit lost their first-round pick (don't ask, or this vein in my head starts doing funny things), they used their second-rounder on Colorado guard Spencer Dinwiddie, considered a potential first-round prospect last year before coming back to school and suffering an ACL injury. How would I grade the pick?
A veritable flood. Congrats to Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, and Glenn Robinson III as they embark on their NBA careers. I'm not even going to linger on the fact that if the Pistons didn't get jumped in the draft order their shooting-desperate butts would have been sitting at #8, where Stauskas went to the Kings. I'm not going to just stand over here banging my head against the wall and moaning "whyyyyy."
I will take off my ratty, old Pistons hat and put my Michigan one on so I can be happy:
— William Locke (@william_locke24) June 27, 2014
Morgan signed a free agent contract with the Timberwolves.
Meanwhile Caris LeVert is projected as a lottery pick next year. #welcometothefactory
It's not impossible. A pretty stunning counterpoint to Michigan's claims that their issues with selling tickets are everyone's issues:
Hats off to #PennState fans. School sold out allotment of Over 21,000 student season tix all bought in just SIX minutes!
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) June 27, 2014
Penn State's fan culture has remained that enthused through all of that. There's something to learn there. Or we could just keep hiring people from the Knicks with no clue about college sports or Michigan.
Keeping the band together. Michigan's three basketball assistants have signed contract extensions. Finally, someone spends money on something that they definitely should.
The other draft. The NHL Draft starts tonight; recruit Dylan Larkin is likely to go off the board in the first round, so there are a number of "here's this guy" articles. USA Today:
Larkin might be the safest pick because he's a gifted skater who could be a team's No. 2 center for 10 years.
"He is probably the most fluid skater in the draft," said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. "He has a powerful stride, and he is also an intelligent player."
Red Line Report has him going 16th to… sigh… Columbus.
The Washington Post also had an interesting piece about how college players are underrated relative to their draft positions:
Of the players drafted from 2006 to 2009, 14.7 percent of players from Major Junior have hit that benchmark [of 40 NHL games]; players from collegiate programs, on the other hand, have hit that mark 17.1 percent of the time. And those players from Major Junior are picked close to a round earlier on average than those playing in college (97th pick vs. 121th pick).
This is not a huge surprise. College players play in a tougher environment against older players, in which points translate more readily to higher levels:
Despite this, college prospects are actually getting drafted less often even as the percentage of players in the NHL from the NCAA ranks hits all time highs—30 percent as of last year. Meanwhile:
A study of players selected in the NHL draft from 2000 to 2006 shows that an incredible 70 percent of U.S. college players taken in the first round went on to play at least 300 NHL games (100 or more games for goalies drafted in the first round) compared to 57 percent of all other players selected in the first round through the same time period.
There is a Moneyball opportunity here for any GM who isn't a neanderthal.
That's going well, then. Stewart Mandel's final take on the O'Bannon case: there was something there to argue, but instead the NCAA trotted out a bunch of empty overpaid suits. ESPN's Tom Farrey was willing to declare "Game Over" at halftime. Grantland's Charles Pierce titles his story simply "How It Ends."
6/26/2014 – USA 0, Germany 1 – 1-1-1, 4 points, second place group G
In the aftermath of what quite a lot of people are calling Best Loss Ever there's a kind of dissonance. We lost; we advanced. Soccer luddites are persnickety about it in the annoying way that fills my Twitter timeline with backlash to a meme I'm only aware of because of the backlash. And yes while any baseball fan who's like "but you lost" should be tossed into a woodchipper, they're not entirely wrong.
There is something a bit unsatisfying about putting your guts in a blender for 55 minutes, turning it up to "pulverize" for 25 more, and then finally having the pressure release when the Ghana goalie decides that catching is for people who get paid. When he bats the ball directly to the Best Player In The World, he scores a goal so stupid nobody even celebrates it. Ronaldo didn't celebrate a goal that put his team up in the 80th minute. If it's not the dumbest goal ever scored at a World Cup, it is in the top ten.
So, yeah. Pile all the masculine guitar riffs and stony anthem game face you want into the USA's escape from the Group of Death. Pile them into a bowl for my face. I crave them all. Give me Dempsey photoshopped onto everything. It was a bit of an escape, though.
And that's fine! We aren't that good at this soccer business yet. We're quite good at not getting sent off in the first 20 minutes of the World Cup. We're quite good at not needing a literal convoy of money to be sent from the homeland in a partially successful attempt to abort all-out rebellion.
— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) June 26, 2014
This is not the kind of asset you think about when sports are intra-country things. It turns out that having your shit together is a skill. The USA got out of the Group of Death because we pay our taxes, both literally and metaphorically.
But what happens when you're a guy who feels pretty good about not waiting until April 15th this year and you're up against some dude who got them in by February?
this either happened in the 68th or 91st minute
You spent a lot of time being impressed with how organized that guy is. Like, he pulls out that Franklin Planner your mom gave you when you were 15 and it is battered. He sends thank you notes. He has a meticulously organized collection of all his Halloween costumes dating back to 1988 (Alf, if you're wondering). And he is where he is supposed to be all the time.
In the preview I said that Germany looks like the hypothetical end point of what USA soccer will be. While that may be thousands of years in the future, that seemed pretty on-point as the Germans outclassed the USA in one area in particular: the high press.
Trying to win the ball back high up the field has been one of the primary tactical trends of the last decade. Spain and Barcelona—often one and the same—are widely credited for that shift, as both adopted a relentlessly possession-based style predicated on the fact that the opponent can't win if they don't have the ball. When it works, it's metronomically ruthless, as Spain's three straight major tournament wins demonstrate.
Everything is a copycat league, so high pressing has become a defining characteristic of soccer. Teams either can or cannot do it and can or cannot cope with it. Germany can do it; Germany can cope with it. The US is… working on it. They could barely touch the ball in the first 10 minutes, but came back to fight the Germans nearly equally for the rest of that half.
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 26, 2014
In the second half, things fell back to those first ten minutes, but it wasn't for lack of trying by the US. The US flew high up the press, trying desperately to get one of the Aimless Upfield Punts that generally result when high pressure hits home. But Germany wouldn't cooperate, with Neuer casually dribbling past a charging USA player and dumping it back to the other side of the field.
Howard and the USA had far less success and far more AUPs. Here are unsuccessful passes from the goalies and central defenders of each team.
Germany left; USA right
Please mentally delete the two Germany AUPs from #1 that occur outside of the box, as they were Neuer rushing out to cut out potential USA through balls and not Germany losing possession. Once that's done, the AUP edge for the Germans is truly prodigious. Thus the USA's inability to get the ball in the second half: they gave it away a lot and couldn't force Germany into the same mistakes.
Maybe this was a tiredness thing. I don't think it was—or it was at least not entirely that. Ghana boxed the US in for most of that game, for one. And when the screws get turned up the US is still liable to get itself in trouble and boot the thing upfield for safety's sake. It is in our soccer blood; I have seen it for twelve years.
Klinsmann's challenge is to take the US from back to front and get them passing to each other despite Germans pouring across the border, and to turn up the pressure himself. He said this himself when he was hired. The Group of Death has shown us just how far they have come… and how far they have to go.
What the pants man. Any remaining questions about whether it was a good idea to leave Landon Donovan at home have been resolved: hell no. Brad Davis, Donovan's obvious replacement, reprised his awful Turkey performance in his first start since the 2005 Gold Cup.
All you need to know: a guy whose one asset is a kick-ass left foot for crosses and whatnot was flipped to his off wing so the defensively meh Graham Zusi could check a German center-back who was 1) playing out of position and 2) annihilating the USA left flank.
Davis got lifted before the 60 minute mark, and that was 60 minutes too long. Presumably that will be the last time he dons a USA shirt. At least this World Cup only features the inexplicable inclusion in one start instead of three—I still shudder to think that Robbie Findlay started every game he was not suspended for in 2010.
Tactically, that was bizarre. The US was low on options, but should have gone with a defensively-oriented guy on the left and an attacking player on the right—Germany's left back was hesitant to get anywhere near the US box. Bedoya left, Diskerud right. Maybe Bedoya is exhausted, but an exhausted Bedoya would have more impact on the game than Davis.
Gonzo. Klinsmann's other tactical gambit went better. Everyone was terrified when Omar Gonzalez was announced as a starter, and Gonzo's first 15 minutes bore that out. He whiffed on a cross that easily could have resulted in a goal; he lost a couple German dudes on crosses in the box. (To be fair, it's super easy to lose German attackers.) His distribution out of the back was problematic.
As he came into the game, though, you saw flashes of why he was supposed to be the next big thing at the beginning of the last cycle. One of those Boateng crosses looked like an inch-perfect replica of the Ronaldo cross from the end of the Portugal game, down to the guy running onto the end of it; Gonzalez recovered and challenged so that the resulting header went harmlessly over the bar. It was a little like watching Jake Ryan close on someone with speed he shouldn't have.
In re: not having options from the first bullet. In almost all ways I am very positive on Klinsmann, but this USA roster has a number of obvious flaws that are biting now and will further bite in the event that the US gets to the quarters and one of their D-mids gets a yellow card suspension. There's no target guy to spot Altidore; there's no backup to Beckerman or Jones; the inclusion of Davis and Julian Green leaves the US desperately short on reasonable substitutes in a witheringly hot and humid tournament.
But seriously Klinsmann is A-OK. We got out of the group, and on his watch the US has acquired a number of promising dual-nationals. There are no Neven Subotic escapes on his watch, and the guys he's adding… well, you're college football fans. You know the importance of recruiting. Julian Green is a lottery ticket; Gedion Zelalem is a lottery ticket; you need lots of lottery tickets so you don't end up with a bench as short as the USA's in this tournament.
Meanwhile, I am 100% behind his attempt to revise the youth levels of USA soccer. When the U20s took on Spain they pressed like mofos for about 40 minutes and looked Spain's equal or better before they got torn apart, because Spain. That lets the USA know how far they have to go, but the only way to get on the level of elite teams is to organize your entire system around playing a technical, high-pressing style.
While he's not perfect, his supposed tactical deficiencies are overstated. He's led the US to a ton of landmark victories (beating Italy in Italy, winning in Azteca) and has at least reacted well to the situation when it was clear Beckerman needed to play with Jones. The adjustment to the 4-2-3-1 after Jozy went out was the right move against Portugal, and flipping Johnson to right back was a great move that prevented someone like Brad Evans or Tim Chandler from having to start.
If you say something bad about Beasley I will cut you. Again Beasley is hung out to dry by the narrowness of the USA's formation; in this game Jones was cut loose to shoot upfield so much more than he had been before, so the only guy he had covering for him was Davis and then Zusi. As a result he was exposed to constant two-on-ones on which the best option was to give Boateng space and time to cross. Things got better when Zusi flipped to his side, but he was still isolated quite a bit.
Beasley's not perfect, but why is he the guy constantly left on an island? Right. Because the only thing that happens is some guy gets in a cross from a middlingly dangerous position.
I bet Cameron returns for Belgium. He's more deft with the ball at his feet and in a game the USA is planning to win, having more of the ball will be important. Gonzalez would draw into the lineup if one of the defensive mids gets suspended, I'd imagine, with Cameron moving forward.
Bradley… man. He has improved since Ghana but he has not looked much like the potential breakout star everyone was hoping for. He'll get it together for Belgium. That's the ticket.
Don't read too much into their most recent game against South Korea. For one, Belgium was playing a bunch of subs with advancement assured. (The guy who got red-carded had about a 2% chance to see the field against the USA.) For two, South Korea has been a shambolic mess the whole way. They got blitzed 4-0 by Ghana before the tournament and only got a point in the World Cup because Russia's goalie decided to give 'em one.
In their other two games, Belgium left it late, scoring only with substitutes and only after the 70th minute. They dominated the Algeria game but could not provide much threat until one of Belgium's Bob Ross guys came on (Marouane Fellaini); the Russia game was dead even almost the whole way. Chelsea star Eden Hazard was anonymous until the final 15 minutes, when a tired Russia started allowing him space; he got to the most dangerous crossing area (inside the box on the endline) and set up a teammate for the winner.
Belgium is a lot like Germany. They play four center-backs due to a lack of quality full-backs; their offensive players are very talented and interchange frequently. Belgium is a bit more structured, and their Klose I-head-the-ball figure—Fellaini—is actually a midfielder(!).
The good news: the US has been pretty successful at cramming the middle of the field and forcing things to go around the outside, which Belgium isn't much suited for. The bad news: they flipped to a straight 4-4-2 with Fellaini and strapping 19-year-old Divock Origi up top when trailing late against a packed-in Algeria side and immediately pounded in goals from crosses to win.
Belgium is not Germany's match for the high pressing that stifled the USA in two of their three group matches. They've got a couple of winger types not particularly inclined to harass defenders. Unfortunately they've just provided their starting 11 plenty of rest and with the USA's ability to play it out of the back an obvious weakness they're likely to give it a shot.
HELLO THERE WILL BE LITTLE CONTENT TODAY BECAUSE OF TERROR SO MUCH TERROR
BUT HERE YOU GO
And you can't have one without the other…
GROUP OF DEAD AMIRITE
Michigan's trio of early entrants will learn their NBA Draft fates tomorrow night, and it appears there's at least a puncher's chance Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, and Glenn Robinson III all find their way into the first round. Here are the most recent projections and rumors for the three Wolverines as they await the moment they officially realize their professional dreams.
It doesn't appear Stauskas will fall any further than the #13 pick (Minnesota), and there's a solid chance he cracks the top ten. The Philadelphia 76ers own two lottery picks, at #3 and #10, and Stauskas appears to be an ideal fit for their second selection. CSN Philly states Stauskas would fit the team's needs "perfectly," as they lack shooting, which you may know Stauskas does rather well:
The Sixers are in desperate need of shooters to complement Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and whomever they draft with the third pick. Nobody in this draft shoots the ball better than Stauskas. Defenses always have to account for a shooter like Stauskas when he's on the floor. This would open up driving lanes for Carter-Williams and create more room inside for post players like Noel to operate.
Stauskas and Carter-Williams would form a dynamic backcourt. Both have good size and their skill sets complement one another very well. Stauskas is a solid enough ballhandler and decision-maker to play point guard in a pinch. Brett Brown would also have the option of bringing Stauskas off the bench. He would thrive in that role, providing instant offense the minute he enters the game.
The two other prospects who fit that mold and are expected to go in the same range are MSU's Gary Harris and Kentucky's James Young. After pre-draft workouts, Stauskas and Harris have seemingly separated themselves from Young, and Stauskas is consistently projected to go a spot or two above Harris.
A Sixers squad featuring MCW, Stauskas, Thaddeus Young, Nerlens Noel, and the #3 pick could be a really exciting young team to watch.
McGary has taken a cautious approach to the pre-draft process as he recovers from back surgery, as he detailed after working out for the Milwaukee Bucks, per UMHoops:
“It’s a little different, my situation with the surgery and everything else going into (the draft),” McGary said. “I thought this was was the best possible outcome for me — having a couple of limited workouts and getting my body back to where it needs to be and have the best chance in the draft. I talked to the assistant GM and the GM and they’re definitely interested in me.”
The Bucks own the #2 pick (not happening) and the first pick of the second round, but it appears they'll have to move up if they want to snag McGary. According to ESPN's draft insider, Chad Ford, there's good reason why McGary hasn't pushed himself through workout after workout:
I'm confident Mitch McGary has a promise in the 1st round. He's done just 1 workout. He's healthy. His camp has gone radio silent.
— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 24, 2014
Hearing Hornets at 24 most likely destination for Mitch McGary to land. Source says they are the culprit of his draft workout shutdown
— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 24, 2014
That's a little higher than the most recent spate of mock drafts had McGary going, but not by much: he was projected to go anywhere from the Miami Heat's pick at #24 (Ford) to the Dallas Mavericks' selection at #34 (CBS's Gary Parrish, who seems to think the marijuana thing will actually matter to the NBA, so... grain of salt) before Ford unveiled the info above.
While the Hornets don't have the NBA's most talented roster, they have some promise in the backcourt (namely PG Kemba Walker), a consistent 20-10 guy in center Al Jefferson, and a big hole at power forward filled last year by Josh McRoberts (an unrestricted free agent) and Cody Zeller. If McGary landed there, he'd have every chance at playing time once he's 100%, and he'd fit in great as an energy guy alongside the older, more polished Jefferson.
Glenn Robinson III
This is where it gets interesting, as nobody seems to have a great idea where GRIII could end up; he's projected to be picked anywhere from #21 by Oklahoma City (NBADraftNet) to the LA Clippers' second-round selection at #39 (Parrish). Most, however, have him right on the edge of the first round; ESPN's Jeff Goodman has him going to the Clippers at #28 overall, while his colleague Ford has Robinson playing for his father's old team after Milwaukee selects him with the first pick of the second round.
The Clippers seem like an ideal landing spot for GRIII. He wouldn't be asked to do too much right away on such a good team, but there could be opportunity for some early minutes at the three if Danny Granger doesn't re-sign after opting out of the final year of his deal, and at the very least Robinson would provide another high-flying fast break threat for Lob City.
Homerism caveat granted, I believe it'll be difficult for a player with Robinson's athleticism, pedigree, and potential to slip out of the first round, especially since most of the teams picking at the back end of the draft can afford to grab a guy who needs some development before being a major contributor. The development of his midrange game during his sophomore season could prove the key to him being the third Michigan first-rounder in this draft.
|WHAT||USA vs Germany|
It's simple for the US: tie or possibly go home. Things get complicated if they're losing. So let's not do that.
THE THEM: DIE MANNSCHAFT SOUNDS LIKE A JOKE BUT IS ACTUALLY WHAT THEY'RE CALLED AND WHY NOT
From 1,000 feet, the German national team is the US national team: great goalkeepers, hard-working, tall, disciplined, organized, relentless, not given over to the kind of petulance that affects quite a lot of people after they've been running around for 70 minutes and think they might collapse at any moment.
The problem comes when you zoom in, and all the American stuff about German holds true and then they happen to be smarter, faster in spots, and just generally better. The hypothetical endpoint of USA soccer is Germany. Teams like Italy and Holland occasionally crash out in the group stage. Germany never does. Michael Ballack summed it up best when the final bit of the Group Of Death fell into place during the World Cup draw: as America panicked and set its pets on fire, Ballack monosyllabically droned "we. don't. care."
They don't care because they'll win anyway. Imagine Michigan, 1989. That's Germany.
GOALIE: Manuel Neuer is generally regarded as the best in the world right now. He's done nothing to give anyone a different impression so far.
more like Per Mertesoccer amirite
DEFENSE: The usual collection of giant robots direct from that Pixar-y Nike commercial. Central defenders Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels are 6'6" and 6'4", respectively, and while Mertesacker can be exposed by speed somewhat, Hummels is usually able to compensate. They're in the running for the best pairing in the tournament.
The problem, such as it is, comes on the outside. Phillip Lahm has been drafted as a defensive midfielder, leaving Germany a collection of outside backs who are generally deployed on the interior at their clubs. This was a major issue in Germany's 2-2 draw with Ghana, as Christian Atsu was able to fire in shots and crosses considerably more dangerous than the ones he got off against DaMarcus Beasley; Andre Ayew was able to score on a back-post header and Ghana fired in a ton of crosses.
Ghana chances largely came from the German left
The left back, Benedikt Howedes, is a right-footed central defender by trade. The right back, whether it's Jerome Boateng or Shkodran Mustafi, is a slightly less awkward fit since they're on their natural foot. But only slightly; both are central defenders at club level. As a result the German outside backs rarely venture beyond the edge of the final third.
Howedes, Boateng, and Mustafi against Portugal (left) and Ghana (right)
That Portugal chart is pretty remarkable what with Portugal's wingers so uninterested defensively and the team playing narrowly after the Pepe red card.
As a unit, these guys are large, organized, and reasonably fast enough. Outside back, though, is a place where the US does seem to have an advantage.
MIDFIELD: Lahm, Sami Khedira, and Toni Kroos are the backbone of the entire side, and will give the USA problems. The US has a couple of guys who are a physical match for the burly Khedira, and Beckerman may be the tactical equivalent of the heady Lahm, but really it comes down to Bradley being Bradley and not the off-brand version we've seen so far.
That's because Kroos is Bradley minus doubts. Jonathan Wilson:
Kroos is dynamic and hardworking. He can play at the back of midfield or at the front, in the centre or on the flank. He could almost certainly play as a box-to-box midfielder in a 4-4-2 if he ever were asked to do something so archaic. He is creative without being flash, breaks up play without being violent. He is physically robust without being a monster and astute in possession without over-reaching. He has an understated efficiency that means he probably isn't appreciated as much as he ought to be.
Wilson does seem to think more of Kroos than many people. Not a ton more—dude is a starter on Germany, after all.
Meanwhile, if Kroos is German Bradley, Khedira is German Beckerman:
Khedira is in many ways Löw's key player. In a team characterised by outstanding attacking prowess he holds the defensive midfield together and is very much a player out of the "coach's favourite" mould: a good reader of the game, disciplined and perfect at implementing his respective manager's instructions. No wonder, then, that his coaches at Real Madrid, José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, also value Khedira's style of play. In the midst of a host of artists he plays the unpretentious conductor and with the German national side not having a Pirlo or a Xavi, it needs at least a Khedira.
Because he's German Beckerman he's like Beckerman except a super elite athlete.
Lahm is a fixture with Germany and Bayern Munich, generally at outside back. Last year he was moved to defensive mid by his club, though, and he has taken up the same position for Germany. He had issues against Ghana's high press—he was involved in the sloppy German build-up to the Ghana pirate schooner of a goal. That was an aberration for Lahm's career and recent form.
FORWARD: You can look at a tactical thing that says Mehmet Ozil is here and Muller is here and on average they'll be right-ish, but everyone goes everywhere. Ozil in particular roams across the width of the field just in front of the opposition defense, offering outlets to any German who happens to have the ball and playing in guys from anywhere.
Ozil vs Ghana
He has virtually no defensive responsibility.
Mario Gotze is a very similar player, a natural #10 who roams around looking for the ball. With Ozil on the field he functions a bit like a winger and a bit like a withdrawn striker. Thomas Muller is the most striker-y of Germany's dedicated attackers, at least in this tournament. Normally one of the three attacking mids in a 4-2-3-1, an injury has forced him into the striker spot. He relies on intelligent movement more than raw power to get his goals; all three attacking players interchange constantly.
The overall effect is odd. None of Germany's attackers are physically overwhelming or even particularly deft on the ball—no Messis or Ronaldos here—but because of collective understanding and anticipation they rain in goals.
If Germany's chasing the game, ancient Miroslav Klose will likely enter. Klose is a combo target forward/poacher who just tied the all-time World Cup scoring record; he's done so without scoring a goal from outside the box.
ALTERNATIVES: Germany has many of them.
Without Altidore, the US switched to the 4-2-3-1 they'd gone with through most of qualifying. Dempsey was the lone forward with Bradley the attacking mid; Beckerman and Jones were D-mids behind. I felt some foreboding about it and not entirely without reason, as neither Zusi or Bedoya had much impact on the game until Zusi's cross off a scramble gave the US their second.
But situations being what they are, it makes sense to reprise that formation. Jozy is still out and the US get through with a draw. Given the roster, the question is who replaces Jozy: Zusi/Bedoya or Johannsson/Wondolowski? The answer against a 4-3-3 was a midfielder; the answer against what's pretty much a 4-3-3 is likely to be a midfielder.
DEFENSE: Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson.
Any thought that the US should switch things up because Cameron had a bad couple plays needs to compete with the fact that apparently it would be Omar Gonzalez replacing him. Even if Gonzalez was supposed to be playing some sort of defensive mid spot late against Portugal, he has been shaky for the US in his last half-dozen appearances.
On a down to down basis, Cameron offers more. He has not provided many moments of worry except the terribly bad one to Nani—I buy Jesse Marsch's explanation of the Portugal equalizer that spreads blame throughout a bunch of players*. Focus on the consistency instead of the accidental severity of mistakes and Cameron is obvious.
As discussed in the Germany D section, this is a spot where the US should have a tactical advantage. Johnson can bomb forward without worrying that his opposite number will catch him on the break. As long as the US has cover, and with Cameron and Beckerman they do, the outside backs should be the freest guys on the field.
*[Marsch points out that Varela is Fabian Johnson's mark and that Cameron has two guys slowing up at the edge of the box in front of him that he is looking at. By the time Cameron sees the cross he's got little chance of getting to it, because it is perfect.]
MIDFIELD: Beckerman, Jones, Bedoya, Bradley, Diskerud
The three defensive-ish mids are locks. Bedoya is highly probable.
Then the fourth guy is in question. Zusi had a bad game outside the assist, constantly losing possession thanks to a wooden first touch. Davis is probably not in the cards since crossing won't be at a premium against Germany and Davis was absolutely miserable defensively against Turkey. The US will want guys who at least try.
Diskerud is a strong possibility. He is the most possession-y option in game in which the US would like to grab the ball and thunk it around quite a bit. The Germany wings are threatening, but not quite in the same way that Ronaldo and Nani are; the German fullbacks do not provide a whole lot of threat. A centrally-oriented possession midfielder makes sense given the situation and opponent. Diskerud is that, and he's fresh. Also his hair is amazing.
Dempsey did a credible imitation of a target forward against a couple of burly but not particularly agile center backs and he's got a version of that again in this game. Hummels in particular is a step above anything Portugal has to offer, but given the situation it makes sense to play things conservatively and add attacking verve if the situation demands it.
SUBS: If the US needs a goal, lifting Zusi or Bedoya for Wondolowski or Johannsson, makes sense, possibly both if you want to drop Dempsey into an attacking midfield role. If the US is shepherding a win or draw to the finish line, Yedlin should reprise his speed merchant role from the Portugal game.
Ravshan Irmatov is from Uzbekistan, but he's not one of the randoms from tiny countries included to disallow Maurice Edu goals. He's a veteran of many high-profile matches with few complaints lodged against him. He did the 2010 World Cup opener and a semifinal.
The most controversial thing on his profile was an incident where he whistled for a penalty kick the moment before a goal was scored and decided to allow the goal.
KEYS OTHER THAN SCORING MORE GOALPOINTS
is a tired Jones even possible?
Fitness will be tested. I'm not entirely sure I buy the game-after-Manaus-is-doom meme being tossed around. Yeah, England lost to Uruguay and Italy lost to Costa Rica, but after the crapfest they put up in their final matches it's possible those teams just suck. And a look deeper than the score indicates that most teams coming off a game in the jungle weren't exactly overrun:
- England vs Uruguay: England outshoots 12-8, has 63% possession, almost scores about five goals, gives up derf derf goal to Suarez to lose.
- Italy vs Costa Rica: Shots tied, Italy with 61% possession and about 200 extra passes.
- Croatia vs Mexico: 11-10 shot edge for Mexico, Croatia with 55% of possession.
Cameroon—possibly the worst team in the competition—was always going to get ripped by Brazil. So there's only one game in which the Manaus effect really looks like much of anything. That's Mexico-Croatia. Is that a Manaus effect or just the obvious effect of putting a bunch of Mexican dudes up against people who think 75 is time to flip on the AC?
That said, the US has had their defensive midfielders run their ass off for full 90s and has one fewer day of rest. If they're pressing for a goal, things are going to get seriously stretched.
Touchline crosses and "underlapping" runs. The aerial doom provided by the German defensive Luftwaffe makes trying to head in goals a difficult proposition. Setting up against a set defense and trying to put it on Dempsey's head is a wasted possession.
Despite this, the US has a couple of speedy outside backs that can and should have an impact. This can come either by beating the slower German outside backs to the endline, where crosses can be fired in low and hard, or diving inside when the USA's wingers provide them room by stretching Germany horizontally. See: Yedlin versus Portugal, Johnson versus Turkey, etc.
Low tempo, high possession. With fitness a concern and a draw good enough, the US should be content to dawdle on the ball if not presented with a clear chance to break. This may not be a wink-wink draw but neither is it going to be a wide-open attacking goal fest.
It'll be interesting to see how much pressing either team does. Germany certainly has the ability to do so, but they're also vulnerable, what with a number of defensively-oriented guys in awkward positions. Sulley Muntari's tackle in Germany's defensive third led to a trademark goal from Gyan.
An eye on the other game. Depending on how the other game goes, the US may not need to react if they go down a goal. If Portugal is leading the other game they can take a 1-0 defeat and get through. If Portugal-Ghana is 0-0 in the 80th they're feeling pretty good.
But Ghana already in the lead against the Portuguese or even 1-1 would mean the US would have to go all out for a goal even if that left them exposed to counterattacks from Germany. The best way to avoid all this is to not go down, of course. But… yeah.
A lot of people are predicting that Portugal falls over and dies. That is a possibility. But Ronaldo is highly concerned with his legacy and has zero goals in this World Cup as Neymar and Messi pound 'em in. He's going up against a shaky, disorganized backline. Pepe should return with an eye on redemption, as well. They'll at least give their all for 45; hope for an early Portugal goal and then they'll be energized to hang on.
TIE THE GAME. #tiethegame
SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES