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
Name: Marcus Lewis
Ht/Wt: 6’1" / 187 lbs.
Location: Gonzaga - Washington, DC (2015)
Offers: Florida (COMMITTED), Baylor, Boston College, Clemson, East Carolina, Florida State, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, NC State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia
Rating: ★★★★ .9431 (247 Composite)
Ranking: #118 NAT / #8 ATH (247 Composite)
When Shaun Crawford decommitted a couple of weeks ago cornerback suddenly became a much bigger position of need in the 2015 class. Michigan had offered Marcus Lewis back in February but now that there is a secondary vacancy in the class, he has become a much bigger priority.
Lewis is currently committed to Florida but he is curious about several schools scattered all over the country, including Michigan.
"I'm still feeling Florida, but I just want to take some visits like everyone else," Lewis explained. "I'm interested in Michigan, Miami, Oregon, Ole Miss, Kentucky, and Washington State. I know that is all over the place and I'm not sure if the distance will be a big deal, I want to check out Oregon and Washington State since they're far away. I've already visited Miami and Kentucky."
Lewis expressed interest in multiple schools, but with Michigan, he already has a visit scheduled for one of the programs biggest recruiting events.
"I'll be checking out Michigan for the BBQ," he said. "I've heard that it's a good time for recruits. The coaches wanted me to come up for it."
Lewis is on a pretty regular communication schedule with the coaches and the ever-popular Coach Manning had his name brought up yet again.
"I communicate with Coach Mallory, Coach Manning, and Coach Mattison once a week," Lewis said. "I've also talked to Coach Hoke. I'm definitely feeling the staff at Michigan!"
Lewis mentioned Michigan's tradition as another big draw for him. He says he just wants to see the campus and spend time with the coaches in person to really get a feel for everything. Those coaches aren't the only ones coming after Lewis, however. Potential future teammates of his are really getting after him too.
"Man, they are coming after me pretty hard," Lewis said with a laugh. "Garrett Taylor, Chris Clark, and Tyree Kinnel are all talking to me about Michigan. They say that they need me. They all think I can be a big part of the team. I am buying what they are saying actually. Especially what they're saying about a Michigan degree. You can't beat it."
Lewis seems to already have pretty strong feelings toward Michigan but he's not ready to dive into the maize and blue pool just yet.
"I'm not going to call Michigan a leader quite yet," he admitted. "I just want to visit and see how it is."
5 – Trending Blue
4 – Solidly in a top 2-3
3 – Contender in a top 3-7
2 – Among large (8-15) group under consideration
1 – Let’s see if he visits before we talk
0 – Passing interest or none
The way Lewis spoke about Michigan made it hard for me to believe that he was committed to Florida. I think Michigan has a very realistic chance at flipping him when it's all said and done. Lewis told me that he doesn't plan to commit while visiting for the BBQ, but I've heard that before. I'm not saying it's likely, but I think he will love what he sees and feels on campus, and with several commits spending time with him in person it could be a pretty persuasive environment.
Gallon's levitation skills translated to the college game just fine.
Finishing out the series looking back on the 2009 recruiting class, here's a look at the non-quarterback offensive players, as described in Brian's recruiting posts of yore. But first...
My Bad, Cam
While I remembered to include then-OL, future-NT Quinton Washington on the defensive side of the ball, I forgot to do the same for Cam Gordon, the future defensive positional nomad who came to Michigan with most recruiting services considering him a wide receiver. As Gordon's recruitment wore on, it became more clear that his best spot may actually be in the defensive back seven, and thus we got one of the odder player comps I've seen:
Jason Avant, or maybe Prescott Burgess
Why Avant or Burgess? Bulky 6'2" wide receiver who will push 215 and lacks deep speed == Avant. Rangy linebacker who needs to put on 20 pounds, switch positions (sort of) and probably struggle with the mental part of being a college linebacker for a while == Burgess.
Free safety wasn't mentioned, because only an insane, desperate person would put a player matching that profile on the last line of defen--AAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHHHH. (Thank you, Denard, forever and always.)
Gordon ended his career as a backup outside linebacker and situational defensive end. Fire Tony Gibson again, just in case.
The Blue Darter
As for prospects who actually ended up at receiver, Michigan had two: consensus top-200 prospect Je'Ron Stokes, and a high school single-wing quarterback who—despite being an Army All-American—earned four-star status on just one site due to his diminutive stature.
PEAK MIXTAPE WEEZY WITH A KEVIN FEDERLINE REFERENCE.
HOW DID IT GET SO LATE SO SOON?
Though everyone pegged Jeremy Gallon as a pure slot ninja—he'd prove to be much more, obviously—the eye-opening highlights and strong Army week performance earned him plenty of hype:
Gallon is a Swiss Army knife of a player: pocket-sized, versatile, capable of surprising feats, and… uh… hard to tackle. (If you've ever tried to tackle a Swiss Army knife you know what I'm talking about. They're pointy.) It's hard to envision a scenario in which one of his diverse and sundry talents doesn't find him on the field, if not this fall than next.
Brian, I'd like to hear more about your past attempts to ... tackle ... pocket knives.
As for Stokes...
When Je'Ron Stokes committed to Michigan I was in an airport about to board a plane for Egypt by way of Germany, and as soon as he did I logged off and forgot all about him. Ever since when something reminds me of that commitment, it's like a weird bonus: oh, yeah, that universally-praised wide receiver in the class I never remember. He's like a ghost recruit.
Yeah, that was for the best.
Oh Damn, Fitz
From 2008-09, I worked as an intern at The Wolverine, and one of my primary tasks during football season was posting the stats of Michigan's commits each week. A back from Ohio's Division V Youngstown Liberty by the name of Fitzgerald Toussaint committed a few months before I got that job, so week after week that fall I'd look up his stats, bug out my eyes, and get incrementally more excited for him to see the field at U-M:
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Youngstown Liberty: Senior RB and Michigan recruit went over 250 yards for the seventh week in a row in a 33-28 win over Hubbard. After generating 16 yards on four carries in the first half, Toussaint erupted for 235 yards in the second half and scored two TDs. He has 1,950 yards in eight games.
He'd finish the season with over 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns. Between those numbers and his excellently soundtracked highlights, I thought he'd be the next great Michigan running back:
That wasn't to be, at least in large part for reasons outside his control, but when remembering where Toussaint came from...
It wasn't all flowers and 90-yard touchdowns for Toussaint, though. His dad—also named Fitzgerald Toussaint—ended up in jail after stabbing his ex-wife's boyfriend… at a football scrimmage. Nasty business.
...I'd say 32 career starts, graduating from U-M, and getting a shot to make an NFL roster constitutes a very successful college career.
Vincent Smith's profile started out with similar recounting of a tough upbringing in Pahokee, then mostly waffled between excitement about his highlights/fit in the scheme and trepidation about his size, which was the subject of an awkwardly written ESPN scouting report:
ESPN says Smith lacks size "on paper"—which uh what about real life too—and says he runs "low to the ground," as if he has a choice.
Michigan rounded out a three-man running back class with Cass Tech product Teric Jones, who recorded the fastest time at the Army combine after his junior year but didn't receive much at all in the way of recruiting hype. By the time he got to campus the coaches were already considering a position switch:
In fact, Michigan might be shooting Jones into lots of space as a slot receiver. Rodriguez said Jones was a slot receiver who "may also get reps at running back" at the signing day press conference, and Jones did have some nice receiving numbers as a junior: 24 catches for 306 yards.
Jones ended up playing special teams as a true freshman, bounced between running back and cornerback as the thin roster dictated need, then left the team and went on medical scholarship before the 2011 season after a sophomore-year knee injury.
If You Just Take Two Linemen...
...you might as well make them NFL linemen, and that's exactly what happened with U-M's 2009 O-line class of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Lewan, especially, was quite the steal; he was a total unknown until moving from defensive line to offensive line before his senior season, then vaulted into the top 300 recruits on all three recruiting services and played in the Under Armour AA Game in his first year playing the position. Michigan had a nice in with Lewan—his teammate at Chaparral High, Craig Roh, had been committed to U-M for months when Lewan decided to also head to Ann Arbor.
While this usually doesn't happen, Lewan's high school coach ended up giving the most accurate forecast of his player's potential:
“Michigan is getting, in my opinion, the steal of this year's recruiting class in the country,” Ragle said. “I know that's a bold statement to make, (but) this kid’s ability on the field won't be questioned. He's as good an athlete on the offensive line as I've ever seen.”
"He's as good athletically as any guy I have ever coached," Ragle said. "The thing that makes him so special is his upside when you think he's only been coached at the position for about eight months. But the one intangible that's most impressive is his nastiness --Taylor wants to burry [sic] someone on every play, and you can't coach that."
On point, Coach Ragle.
Schofield's rankings were in a similar range as Lewan's after a strong senior season. What stood out about him most was his athleticism—which translated to the college game, as he seamlessly transition from being Michigan's best pulling guard to a nimble pass-protector at tackle—and considering he's now 6'7" and 300+ pounds this is rather astounding:
In his first two years at Sandburg, Schofield ran the 110 high hurdles for the Eagles’ track team, winning a conference title his freshman year and finishing second his sophomore season. He also moved up to the varsity team for the state tournament during his sophomore year, finishing sixth in sectionals.
Unfortunately, there's no video of this, as the age of someone-on-a-smartphone-will-film-literally-anything hadn't hit yet.
So, with that exercise out of the way, who's ready to go over the 2010 class?
On second thought, let's save that for next summer. Or perhaps never. Leaning towards never.