things go poorly
First, now-ceremonial photo of some dude very far away rocking colors he probably knows not wot of:
I was in… France. We had a free apartment to stay at and my mom turned in a bunch of airline miles, so it seemed like a one-time opportunity. It rained most of the time and the food was pretty disappointing but it sounds like everyone in the United States melted while we were gone so that's cool. Also if you ever get a chance go to a calanque, you should probably do it:
That is a real place, not the scene from Contact where the alien is all like "yo I'm your dad what up Jodie Foster."
The guy above was checking out a very serious bocce tournament we stumbled across in Marseille whilst trying to figure out how to get back to the bus. I'll probably throw up a trip report in the diaries if there is further interest, or even if there isn't.
Now presenting Things That Happened When I Was Going "Meh" At Escargot:
A large chunk of next year's attrition got resolved. Kellen Jones, Teric Jones, and Christian Pace are not on the fall roster and therefore not on the team. Kellen Jones reportedly got in some legal trouble that must be serious given the repercussions on his team status. Pace and Teric Jones got sent to St. Saban Memorial. Meanwhile, Terry Talbott is also expected to miss the season but it's unclear whether or not he has made the same journey. Rivals says Hoke confirmed he was medicaled($) in the hallway scrum following his media day time, so that's probably that for one Talbott. UPDATE: Misopogon reports that Ablauf also confirmed Talbott is done.
Three of the four are obviously not sketchy. Michigan needs linebackers and DTs like Mark Dantonio needs the collected Sophocles and Pace was the only(!) offensive lineman in his class. Teric Jones's departure is one you can question given his place on the depth chart, but since there's an entire football season between now and crunch time it's probably legit. In the Big Ten, sketchy medical scholarships are something to look for in January.
As for on-field impact, Teric found it impossible to contribute even in an offense suited to his scatback skills; his absence won't impact Michigan going forward. Pace removes one bullet from the chamber at center, but they'll still have Khoury and Miller once Molk graduates. That should be okay. Talbott's absence is bad. Now instead of a shaky three-star-ish redshirt freshman behind Will Campbell there are walk-ons and air and maybe Kenny Wilkins. Kellen Jones's absence will be felt keenly as well. My excellently-timed recruiting profile of him hyped him up as an immediate contributor and possible four-year starter due to his talent and the glaring hole at WLB. Now he's gone and WLB next year is the untested Mike Jones and two really small guys.
With those four off the roster the path to 26 is considerably less eyebrow-cocking. Michigan will have to shed another two or three players before signing day. A natural level of attrition should get Michigan to their projections without fuss.
Michigan got a fullback. Tim profiled Sione Houma, who is it. I hate giving scholarships to fullbacks because the difference between a walk-on fullback and a scholarship fullback is usually indistinguishable. Michigan's best in the last 15 years was walk-on Kevin Dudley. If they really take one DT it's going to be weird, doubly so with the uncertain status of Talbott.
Michigan got Chris Wormley. A foregone conclusion, that, but it's another head to head win for Hoke against the Bobcats. SDE is set in a major way and someone—possibly two someones—are moving to three-tech as soon as they hit campus.
San Diego State got a little less scary. Two of their receivers are out for the year with knee injuries, including presumed #1 Dominique Sandifer. Their new leading guy is the equivalent of Kovacs—walk-on made good. Ryan Lindley's good but he might not have anyone to throw to.
Something vaguely ominous happened with Devin Gardner's redshirt. Brady Hoke has been unusually wishy-washy about what Devin Gardner's eligibility status is after he saw a few snaps here and there as the designated Guy Who Replaces Denard For Three Plays Guy during the nonconference schedule. This is unusual. In the past the NCAA has just issued a ruling and been done with it.
The eligibility status of Alabama receiver Darius Hanks—still on the team and everything after five years!—may provide some insight into why:
… Hanks appeared in one game as a true freshman in 2007, hauling in one pass for six yards in a 52-6 win over Western Carolina. Accordingly, his fifth season required a waiver from the NCAA, which apparently attached the two-game breather to offset Hanks' contribution to that hard-earned victory four years ago.
Gardner appeared in three of Michigan's first four games. Against UConn and ND his box score totaled one rush for –4 yards but against BGSU he had 6 rushes for 25 yards and went 7 of 10 for 85 yards and a TD in the air. If I'm Dave Brandon I'm making the first couple of games of 2015 walkovers. Which Dave Brandon is going to do anyway because…
Dave Brandon does not Get It. This is awful:
"I don't believe we can or should go on the road for nonconference games when we can put 113,000 people in our stadium. It's, financially, the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do for our fans, in terms of their ticket packages. And we're going to alternate with Notre Dame, so we're going to have one game on the road every other year. So the rest of those games, I would like to have at Michigan Stadium."
Kiss ever seeing an interesting non-ND nonconference opponent goodbye. This is another symptom of the AD's descent into full-blown corporate ninnydom: we get to play Alabama in Dallas because it makes incrementally more money than having an exciting home game. Brandon fails to understand that the point of an athletic department is not to accumulate the biggest Scrooge McDuck vault. (See also: renting the Big House for your special event, though that's far less offensive since I don't have to buy a 70 dollar ticket to the Jones-Wilson wedding. Unless I do. Do I?) Even if it was, the marginal difference between one home game against a real opponent and two body-bag games from schools charging a million each is not that much. People will suck up the difference on the ticket cost: a Clemson ticket that costs $80 will make people happier than an EMU one that costs $70.
At least we won't have to endure three pointless games against non-BCS opponents yearly for too long. Schools have been told to clear the decks in 2017. Presumably that's when the Big Ten will go to nine conference games. That's is not as cool as actually seeing teams from other conferences but better than our yearly battle for county pride.
Ohio State didn't get anything extra handed them by the NCAA. Time for a homer check. Matt Hinton:
Is it really possible for the people in charge to have that little interest in enforcing their own rules, as long as the paperwork is in order? …
The Ohio State and USC cases are similar in the sense that they both involve a star accepting a lot of money from shady characters on the fringes of the program, but the the case against OSU is on a different level. Where USC's violations (as chronicled by the NCAA's final verdict) involved a single player, Ohio State's involve at least six. Where USC consistently disputed that anyone affiliated with the program knew what was going on with Bush — as well as the sketchy evidence the NCAA used to reach that conclusion — the paper trail leading from Jim Tressel's hard drive is an indisputable smoking gun. Which he intentionally concealed as the offending players led the Buckeyes to another conference championship. Ohio State's star player(s) and its head coach did the crime, and no one denies it. Tressel's silence after being tipped to the investigation is the definition of a program failing to cooperate. He's the head coach: He is the program.
At this point, any athletic director with half a brain is going to set up a firewall between himself and the head coach. Oh, sure, there will be any number of compliance people who will be sent around wagging fingers at coaches about following regulations. But there will also be plenty of blind eyes turned to what those coaches are doing when the compliance folks aren’t in the room with them. So when the shit inevitably hits the fan, those ADs and the presidents they work for can blink their eyes vapidly at the NCAA investigators, claim they had no idea what was going on and swear they’ll get rid of the rogue bad apple. And it’ll work.
Nice system you got there, NCAA.
Mark Emmert, you have lost our confidence in your ability to do the job.
The next time you speak, we won't be able to take you seriously thanks to news that Ohio State would not face additional charges of failure to monitor or lack of institutional control in the school's infraction case.
'It's all about what the NCAA can prove, not what we've read' is the company line. Well, you had a chance to prove things but you said you weren't going to try.
It’s pathetic, really. The rats see a ship sailing to probation, and it’s every dirty, cheating program for itself.
Ohio State got out first, and now North Carolina sees the opening. Soon enough, Oregon will too.
Here’s the best part of this growing, sordid tale: The NCAA is standing with open arms on the other side.
Want to blame someone for North Carolina’s utterly bizarre firing of coach Butch Davis, who was never mentioned once in the program’s lengthy NCAA Notice of Allegations? Blame Ohio State.
Better yet, blame the NCAA – and more specifically, president Mark Emmert.
Meanwhile Mandel, the guy who was predicting this would happen, hasn't taken up a position on whether it's good or bad. I haven't found anyone who doesn't have a framed Andy Katzenmoyer jersey who thinks this is anything other than total horseshit. Homer check tenuously passed.
Meanwhile, OSU confirms that Terrelle Pryor was ineligible for the entirety of last year and bans him from contact with the program without explaining why. Where is the extra violation that gets Pryor that treatment while the other five players remain on the team, associated with the program. Is the NCAA interested in this? Apparently not.
There is a recent precedent for a team not getting failure to monitor or LOIC (which come on) and still getting hammered: Alabama got 21 scholarships docked and a two-year bowl ban for various boosters paying dudes to go to Alabama. If Ohio State gets something similar, fine. The NCAA's two-eyes-for-an-eye policy could see at least 12 scholarships obliterated and two years of bowl ban even without LOIC if the committee is like "hey, your head coach lying to keep a half-dozen players eligible and hoodwinking us to let them play in a bowl game… that's bad."
loldantonio. Mark Dantonio called Jim Tressel a "tragic hero."
Then Jim Brandstatter was all like "loldantonio" and Dantonio was all like "paraphrase of insanely misused Teddy Roosevelt quote about being in the arena," because that's what people who say stupid things do when they are criticized for saying stupid things.
The Big Ten Network made itself into a feed. Press release:
BTN2Go features a live feed of all BTN linear network programming, including more than 40 football games, over 100 men’s basketball games and hundreds of other live events, as well as Extra Football Game Channels, on-demand programming and archived content.
BTN2Go will be offered exclusively through BTN’s participating cable, satellite and telco distribution partners as an authenticated digital service to subscribers who already receive BTN as part of their video subscription.
If the authenticated bit lets you watch the BTN if you're in Alabama despite the locals not giving a damn, that's great as long as it works better than the streaming service did a year ago when I tried it for an hockey game. If it's ESPN3 quality, lovely.
Desmond Howard had a good idea. Via Get The Picture:
“But if you want to play the education game, then check this out. If they get my likeness for life, then they should be committed to my education for life. So if Mark Ingram 20 years from now, when they’re still selling his jerseys in Tuscaloosa, says ‘You know what? I want to get my Ph.D.’ Guess who should pay for that? They should be committed to his education for life. They’re still selling his jerseys.”
If a school is still profiting off a guy who had a few years in the NFL and now has some messed up knees and maybe wants a more saleable degree, he should be able to get it.
Wolverine Historian posted a bunch of games. Bo becomes the winningest coach in school history with a victory in The Game:
John Gibson defects to the OHL, Michigan picks up Michael Downing. Let's not mince words: dropping a college commitment less than a month before classes start is a dick move. I get that he'll get more games next year because he probably won't be splitting time, but exactly no information has changed since he committed and signed a LOI. Blah blah blah about "doing what's best for me" is what they say on Jerry Springer, too.
Michigan now has zero backup to Hunwick and is in a desperate search for his replacement next year. At least whoever they pick up—they likely need two goalies—won't have a midget dynamo blocking their path.
In happier news, Michigan's somewhat glaring hole on D going forward is smaller thanks to Downing's commitment for 2013. Downing was the third pick and first defenseman in the USHL Futures Draft. He's coming off a strong showing at the U16 Festival. OHL defection risk currently seems low: he's from CC, has an older brother already in the USHL, and was drafted in the flyer area of the OHL draft (8th round) by Sarnia, a team not known for picking up off college-bound folk.
People discussed ways to prevent "Jerry, Jerry, Jerry" events. Gibson's very very late decision spurred a round of "what can we do" from Yost Built and The United States of Hockey. Yost Built wonders about making a hockey LOI binding in the same way an NTDP commitment is. Someone will have to ping The Bylaw Blog for confirmation but that would redefine the LOI in such a comprehensive fashion it wouldn't be a LOI anymore. It's currently a non-legal agreement enforced by a non-NCAA organization of schools interested in reducing chaos.
The United States of Hockey discusses whether or not it's a good idea to allow CHL players to play NCAA. He says no, and he's right. CHL teams have no incentive to keep athletes NCAA eligible even now; removing that restriction would provide an incentive to actually discourage players from keeping up with their books. The number of players headed the other way would be few. Meanwhile, the USHL has established itself a high quality league designed to get kids to college. This would hurt it as some players choose the CHL over it.
It's a moot point anyway: the NCAA just relaxed regulations on foreign players playing with pros. Hockey specifically requested and acquired an exemption.
So there's not much the NCAA can do. The one thing I'd suggest is prohibiting American 16 and 17 year olds from playing CHL hockey in Canada. As we learned during the Max Domi song and dance, Hockey Canada currently prohibits Canadians from leaving the country to play junior. Domi's dad would have had to "move to" Indiana to get his kid eligible for the USHL, a major hurdle for anyone who didn't have a long NHL career.
USA hockey should adopt the same policy, limiting American high-schoolers who want to play in the CHL to the small number of American teams in the WHL and OHL*.
*[The Q just shut down their only American team, the ridiculously-named Lewiston MAINEacs.]
Austin Hatch is still in a coma a month after the plane crash. At least that's what his local paper says. Depressing.
Zak Irvin picked Michigan. Covered yesterday, but dang if Beilein's recruiting hasn't been on a steady upward trajectory since his first class. It's got to plateau soon, but that plateau looks like a Sweet 16 team.
Also, UMHoops has uncovered the first grainy videos of the camera-shy Irvin.
People covered ADs golfing like it was news. I don't care if it's July. A story about an athletic director playing golf against another athletic director is time that could have been spent on something more socially productive like spitting off a balcony. I'm not linking to any of this stuff. Sports editors across the state: you have suffered the mother of all eye-rollings.
Baseball made its RPI more Northern friendly. By acknowledging that—surprise!—having to spent the first month or two of the season on the road is a significant handicap, Big Ten teams that are actually kind of good will stand a better shot of making the tournament. They also eliminated some bonuses/penalties for teams at the extreme ends of the the range.
Getting those kind of good B10 teams remains a chore. As long as this is true…
Some schools are able to play 35-40 of their 56 allowable games at home, while other teams, due to factors such as weather, may play only 20 home games.
…the playing field will never be anywhere close to level, but good luck trying to change that.
In related news, Jonathan Bornstein moves to Honduras. Bob Bradley was fired and replaced by Jurgen Klinsmann as the head of the USMNT. I get people's reservations about Klinsmann's reputation, which is largely based on one World Cup with Germany and a flameout with Bayern Munich, but if there's one thing the US needs now it's a holistic look at how they develop talent and how it can be improved. The talent gap with Mexico won't be huge for the rest of this WC cycle, but it's hard to see the US not taking a back seat once the Dempsey/Donovan/Dolo/Boca generation ages out after Brazil. There are 100x fewer Uruguayans than Americans, man: there's no reason the US shouldn't be able to produce a few world class players.
Also! PSU QB Paul Jones is academically ineligible, leaving the QB competition there just Bolden and McGloin. The Big Ten further proved that putting their athletic directors in charge of naming anything just leads to a successories poster. BTN revenues increase 21(!) percent over last year. A Michigan undergrad built the largest solar array in the state. Basketball agreed to a home and home with Arkansas. Doctor Saturday predicts 7-5 again, but adding up the "likely win/tossup/likely loss" bits seems to point to 8-4. Gameday likely for the ND game.
6/26/2010 – USA 1, Ghana 2 – End of World Cup
The internet has a very strong opinions about virtually anything more controversial than the capital of Vermont*. I once read a Wikipedia article about the WWII-era Battle of Kursk that had a distinctly pro-Russian slant and ended up clicking over to the talk page, where German and Russian editors were engaged in a brutal proxy reenactment of history's largest tank battle. Wherever there is a point of view on the internet, there is someone who thinks the holder of that opinion has brain damage.
This goes triple for something as subjective and—for most observers in this country especially, including the author—arcane as the performance of a soccer player. Despite this, the internet was unified in the opinion that Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley should eat bench after a series of mediocre or worse performances. Even shameless homerism and the extraordinary friendliness of Mormons could not see their way towards pulling for Findley: a poll on the Real Salt Lake official site asked if he should start against Ghana. Findley got 27% of the vote.
The debate was about whether Bob Bradley would share this opinion. At the start of Saturday's game, Bradley did not; 45 minutes into what would end up a 120 minute game he was forced to by events on the field. Again.
By that point Clark was largely responsible for a goal scored less than five minutes into the game—the second time he'd managed this trick in two World Cup starts—and picked up a silly yellow. Findley had shot a golden chance directly at the keeper. Looking for offense in the second half, Bradley took off a striker. He got a lot of praise for his ability to make halftime adjustments after the US found themselves behind, but four games into a tournament when your halftime adjustments are the same adjustments that turned your fate around after your starters found themselves struggling, you're less an adjustment genius and more a guy who just doesn't learn.
Bradley is totally stuck on his Confed Cup/Hex model put together as the younger Bradley's box-to-box game developed and Charlie Davies established himself a real striker on a real team in the French League. That model was based on a dedicated destroyer who would allow Bradley to get upfield and a pacey striker who would either get in behind the defense if they pushed up or drive the defense back, giving Donovan and Dempsey time and space on the ball. It worked great when the central midfielders managed to stay on the field, seeing the US into its first FIFA final ever and grabbing a win over world #1 Spain. It was a good idea.
Then Clark moved to Germany and got injured, playing only 3 games for his new club. Davies almost died in a car accident. Instead of attempting to adjust his system to get Stuart Holden—who'd actually been impressive on the field for the national team and had just moved to a Premiership club that extended his contract every Tuesday—or Benny Feilhaber—a key player for his Danish club—on the field Bradley shoehorned a guy coming off the bench for RSL into the starting lineup. Putting Edu, an in-form starter for Scottish champs Rangers since February, in didn't even require a tactical change. Edu had even proven himself a more reliable option in South Africa. And yet… Clark and Findley.
You can't even blame Robbie Findley. Here's Findley on the mid-May game in which he scored his first and to-date only goal of the year:
In the second minute, Findley broke behind the Houston defense and in on keeper Pat Onstad. His final touch was a little hard, setting up a tougher angle for his shot, which Onstad saved as it was hit belt high.
"I probably should have gone low on that one," said Findley.
Findley would certainly like to have his opportunity back from the 66th minute. Once again he got behind the back line and broke in toward Onstad. This time, however, he was in the middle of the field with even more open space. He pushed his shot to the far post, but missed the mark wide.
"I did everything wrong on that one," Findley said. "I should have taken my time, maybe taken one more touch and probably gone near post."
The US put a player who cheerfully admits he does "everything wrong" even when he actually scores on the field for three World Cup starts, and a fourth was only averted because of suspension. In his time Findley did exactly nothing to help the USA's cause. In 169 minutes with Findley on the field, the US scored one goal, that the Robert Green gaffe. In 221 without him, the US scored six, two of which were inexplicably waved off.
The team met expectations by getting out of the group and immediately going home against a team from the brutal Serbia-Germany-Ghana trio, and they did it despite having two goals inexplicably wiped away. That's their second-best modern World Cup performance. But it's hard not to be disappointed in Bradley's insistence on pretending Charlie Davies was healthy and stubborn adherence to a tactical system the USA no longer had the personnel for. The US missed a golden opportunity (get to the semis without playing a world power) unlikely to come again, and the main reason seems to be the coach putting the team in a position to fail.
Bradley did a good job in his cycle as the US national coach but it's time to get someone who has the tactical creativity to adapt when the only round pegs available are made out of snow.
*(F$&# YOU IT'S MONTPEILIER)
- A first glance at the 2014 roster seems promising. Howard, Demerit, Cherundolo, and Bocanegra will be 34 or 35, Dempsey 31, Donovan and Onyewu 32. Everyone else of import will still be on the right side of 30. Jermaine Jones will be 32 and possibly available; Davies will be 28. Adu might become useful at some point. The main concern is finding some defenders (I think Onyewu will be fine and possibly one of the other three but good lord the outside back positions look horrendous) and hoping Dempsey and Donovan can still be effective.
- Did anyone else feel a slight pang of regret when the US ended up with Ghana? If the team goes out against Germany, okay, that's going out against Germany. Against Ghana and the Donovan goal maybe loses a tiny bit of its electric mayhem.
Of Great Relief To Certain Folk
WC coverage ends here.
Do we have to? Does it really have to be Saturday? Gah. I've felt resentment at the tennis guys or General McChrystal and everything else that keeps happening and the people who keep talking about it when all I want is a day to do nothing but get in the Clockwork Orange machine and hear "OH, IT'S INCREDIBLE" over and over again. (The only exception: Slovakia bombing Italy right out of the World Cup.) From time to time I would take breaks to listen to Andres Cantor lose his mind and his voice. Also if we could get the Japanese announcers' reactions that would be fantastic too.
Yes. We have to. But not before this bit where I link to a lot of stuff.
My favorite is the kid in his basement who treats his stairs like a rollercoaster. Girl, you'll be a blogger soon.
If you want that broken down into individual clips, the New York Times has you covered.
The best things that are writing are Orson's Proustian journey into his Nats fandom and the Run of Play writing on alternate universes and happiness. There is also Dan Levy's clutch interview with Ian Darke.
I’ve been reading match reports—you know, the analytic, intelligent, fullbacks-were-used, the-universe-didn’t-explode-into-radiant-particles variety—and I have a feeling of simultaneously understanding them and not understanding them, like a patient who’s too drugged to follow his own diagnosis. There’s another order of reality, and it’s sheared off the top of the sky. It’s incandescent. I have a broken jaw, and all my perceptions are beautiful.
A silhouette of a fan appears at the top of the hill. He's wearing an Uncle Sam top hat and American flag across his shoulders as a cape. I don't know why he's out there. In retrospect, maybe he just wanted to tell someone, anyone what had just happened. In Little Five Points at five in the morning, this would likely be a homeless man looking for grain alcohol, but he would have told him all the same, and possibly bought him a beer.
Instead he sees me, and screams at me down the hill.
"WE'RE UP ON PORTUGAL TWO-NIL! FREAKING PORTUGAL!!!"
I start sprinting up the hill. Every fan has a focal moment, a point where, like a serial killer, you crossed the line from being a normal person to someone who would discard everything in the name of obsession. With U.S. soccer, being up two goals against Portugal at five in the morning is mine.
Question: did the ridiculous American flag soccer hat spontaneously materialize on Maurice Edu's head when Landon Donovan scored?
Later they put it on Torres's head, which successfully made him look 12:
Also Ricardo Clark looks like the Baba Yaga.
DAMARCUS BEASLEY'S EYES POP OUT OF HIS DAMN HEAD
This is forever going to the image that pops into my mind whenever a terrible refereeing decision happens.
CLINT DEMPSEY AND LANDON DONOVAN
In one way—the dumb way—they're the least "diverse" members of the USA team, but Landon is admittedly a fancy lad even if "Landycakes" is so dead it's giving Beano Cook a run for his money and Dempsey, well, Dempsey:
The kid [Altidore] is part bull, though, and this time he muscled into the box and cut it to Clint Dempsey, a Texan who claims his parents sold some of their guns to finance his youth soccer career. UNITED STATES! UNITED STATES!
When I was in Chicago, Orson Swindle and I got up at the obscenely early (for me, anyway) time of 7 AM on a Saturday to catch the Australia friendly before the World Cup, and during that 90 minutes we decided that Dempsey has never ended any sentence spoken on a soccer field with a word other than "…bitch." Check the OMG Yanks photo archive for proof.
An ton of post-match commentary has focused on the Donovan goal as yet another galvanizing moment that will thrust soccer into the national consciousness. I find this depressing. Who cares? I mean, it's great that a lot of people will no longer look at you funny, but if your primary reaction to that goal is to think about what people who don't care about the national team think now that's a wasted opportunity to write something about what will probably stand as the the greatest moment in USMNT history on the day you die instead of what Jim Rome thinks about it.
The worst (the worst), though, are the That's On Point commenters who are worried that this might make soccer more popular and decrease their indie cred. Triple guh.
And, Finally, Moving On: Ghana
The situation is "win or go home." FWIW, The US is actually a slight favorite according to the bookies at +165 to Ghana's +195. Better to be us than Mexico, which is –200 against Argentina.
African sides are stereotypically athletic, skilled, disorganized, and prone to horrible mistakes. Ghana defies the latter two, and possibly latter three. They are a compact, organized defense that puts a lot of guys behind the ball and tries to counterattack with a limited number of attacking players. The result is not thrilling scoreboards:
Not since November last year, when it drew 2-2 with Mali in a World Cup qualifier in Kumasi, has Ghana scored twice in a game, and yet in that time it has reached the final of the African Cup of Nations and, after two games of Group D, looks the likeliest of the African teams to reach the knockout phase. Of its past seven competitive games, four have been won 1-0, and only Ivory Coast, which inflicted a 3-1 defeat in the Cup of Nations, has managed to score more than one against Ghana's defense.
Those streaks were extended a game each in Germany's 1-0 defeat of Ghana in the final group match. Jon Wilson, the author of the above, does point out that when Ghana was pressing for a goal against 10-man Australia they "lost shape" and unleashed a torrent of harmless long-range shots. They're not very good at breaking down a set defense, and managed to get through their group without scoring a goal from the run of play—both Ghanian goals were penalties. Their tournament has been the USA's Algeria game writ large:
Despite Germany having the better of the game, Ghana were breaking and creating chances of their own. Yet again, they lacked clinical finishing, and for all the pace and direct running they offered, you were never completely sure they were going to actually put the ball in the net. They’ve been extremely impressive at this tournament and yet have relied on two penalties for the goals.
Their setup is basically a 4-3-2-1:
Asamoah Gyan is the yellow circle, Prince Tagoe the blue circle most advanced, and then you've got a blender of midfield folk plus the standard split between very defensive center backs and somewhat attacking fullbacks. This is a slightly more attacking setup for the World Cup than they did in their surprise Essien-less run in the African Cup of Nations, replacing Inter central midfielder Sully Muntari with Prince Tagoe, who plays as an extremely advanced winger.
Gyan, a teammate of Carlos Bocanegra at Rennes, is the lone striker. He looks like Manny Harris's older brother, and his role is a cross between Brian Ching and Jozy Altidore: he is left alone up top and is asked to run on to a lot of long balls, hold them up, and wait for the midfield cavalry to arrive. He hasn't gotten a lot of his own opportunities as a result, and hasn't finished anything except the two PKs. That doesn't mean he's bad…
Ghana’s use of one man upfront meant they struggled to make too many clear-cut chances, but Gyan’s intelligent running into the channels did cause a constant threat to the Serbia defence. Ghana only had three shots on target, and they all came from the Rennes striker. He also hit the post twice – once from a near post header on the right, once from a low shot from the left. Lone strikers need to be able to cause a nuisance to both centre-backs, and Gyan does that excellently.
…it's just the tactical setup.
Leaving Gyan up top alone gives Ghana an extra guy in midfield, and as you can see by the big glob in the middle of the field above, that means a lot of tough-tackling, athletic guys right in the middle of the park breaking up attacks and holding possession. The presence of Ballack-slayer and newly minted Ghanaian international Kevin Prince Boateng has provided the team with an increased ability to build from the middle of the park, and it will be important for the strikers to come back to harry Anthony Annan, their version of Pablo Mastroeni.
Bob Bradley has some interesting tactical decisions going into the game:
Onyewu? With the quick turnaround Onyewu will likely be at least as fit as either Bocanegra or Demerit, who are coming off 270 minutes. Meanwhile, Ghana attacks the right flank with a lot more determination and skill than Algeria—which is almost entirely left-sided—did. This would expose Bornstein to an active, physical Prince Tagoe. On the other hand, Onyewu was rusty in the first two games and at least partially responsible for the three goals the US gave up.
This is a tough choice I don't envy Bradley for having to make. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think the tie-breaker is Bocanegra's extensive familiarity with Gyan. I'd put him in the middle and start Spector. Bradley will start Bornstein.
Who's the second striker? I'm with Stars and Gripes in advocating the addition of Dempsey to the front line; surely at this point Robbie Findley has played himself out of the starting lineup. Both Gomez and Buddle have been more dangerous in brief cameo appearances than Findley has been in two starts, and the most attractive attacking soccer came with Findley out of the lineup. S&G has a similar opinion:
Through two weeks, however, it’s become far too obvious that he doesn’t have the technical skill or vision to compete on this level—yet. Speed only gets you so far against world-class defenders, and Findley prematurely ended a number of promising attacks by running into a crowd and losing the ball. I was rather shocked he made the starting XI twice, and I believe that feeling has been vindicated.
Buddle and Gomez were about on par, more likely than Findley to find some space and launch a shot at goal but not exactly thrilling. The Shin Guardian expects Findley to get the nod, but… seriously… no. He will be consumed whole by Ghana's experienced back line.
Wings? Maybe one wing? Ghana's defenders are stout but short. With Isaac Vorsah out of the lineup with an injury, the back line for Ghana maxes out at 5'10". I know I suggested this for the Algeria game, but this could be a game in which Stuart Holden's crossing ability finds a use.
Who partners Bradley? If Edu is fit, you'd think it would be him, since he's the guy who's looked the best in recent games. Torres is right out since the overload in midfield will require the USA's central midfield to cover a lot of ground crossly. The quick turnaround might argue in favor of the rested Clark, but Edu came off at halftime for Feilhaber and should be fine.
D: Spector, Demerit, Bocanegra, Cherundolo
(Spector is a better matchup for the physical Tagoe and I have lingering Bornstein terror. I think you have to sit Onyewu.)
M: Donovan, Edu, Bradley, Holden
(Holden's fresh and if Dempsey has to play, and he does, I'm a little worried he'll fade if he's supposed to track counter-attacks.)
F: Altidore, Dempsey
(Dempsey can drop back into an attacking mid spot if necessary, and can pace himself if necessary.)
I'm betting Bradley goes with Bornstein and either Buddle or Gomez with Holden on the bench, though.