and... i like them? I think I like them.
Look: the World Cup comes once every four years and, unlike that other quadrennial mega sporting event, never takes time out to talk to you about polar bears. When someone cries it's not because that's just what you do after you dismount but rather because they are experiencing a life-rending moment. I'm going to blog about the USMNT on the front page. If this annoys you, I cannot help it.
Extremely Tentative Starters
JOZY ALTIDORE, PEACE BE UPON HIM
The mantle of First Great American Field Player* was passed from Freddy Adu to Altidore sometime a couple years ago when he fetched an MLS-record transfer fee and Adu was unable to get playing time at a second-division Portuguese club. Altidore is now the It Kid. It's too bad his first season in a top-flight league was marked with the usual pitfalls whenever a hyped American hops the pond—erratic playing time and lack of production. Altidore threw in a headbutt that drew a three-game suspension for good measure, though he was very apologetic about it on Twitter afterwards.
Enjoy your starting position, especially in the absence of Brian Ching, the only semi-plausible player in the US pool who could have displaced him in a single-striker formation. Despite an ankle sprain that momentarily scared everyone pantsless when he was "hospitalized" and forced him out of the Australia game, Bradley says Altidore will start against England.
Alitdore's strength, speed, and ability to run at players is world-class but his first touch, passing, and activity are lacking. He's not a hold-up forward, and if the US is forced to go over the top with regularity they'll be giving the ball away most of the time. Of late he's been a nonfactor save for the one or two spectacular moves a game that promise a hellacious 2014 World Cup. A couple of examples from the Netherlands game:
He also provided the one bright spot in the USA's ugly first half against Turkey when he WOOPed his way through three defenders and crossed mere inches in front of Clint Dempsey's foot. He did score later in that game, but he had the simple task of not putting the ball over the net from two feet after Robbie Findley and Landon Donovan unlocked the Turkey defense.
*(Giuseppe Rossi is Italian. This will brook no discussion.)
Apparently. Buddle put in a productive 45 minutes against the Czechs, sat out the Turkey game, and put in ' target=_blank>two against the Aussies. He's fit, scoring loads of goals, and starting regularly at striker—something literally no one else on the 30-man roster, let alone the 23 who are in South Africa, can say. Welcome to the US forward pool.
Buddle is active and athletic, somewhere between Findley and Altidore in terms of speed and strength. He's been a teammate of Landon Donovan for years and should work well with the most important US player, and when given opportunities he's put them in the net. The goals he's been scoring are of a higher quality than those Herculez Gomez is putting in—more on that later—since they often involve shots from outside the box, volleys, excellent headers, and the occasional deft touch or two:
Also, a number of Buddle's goals involve runs from one Landon Donovan that Buddle calmly finishes. He's much more of an aerial threat than Findley—he can plausibly act as a target forward for Altidore to play off of—and is actually, you know, scoring. He's the man, man.
Potentially Useful Men, Perhaps Possibly (Probably Not)
HERCULEZ GOMEZ THE STRIKEZ
Form over career part II. Herculez Gomez was an MLS afterthought for years, a consistent starter in Los Angeles and Colorado but never a guy you'd single out as one of the better strikers in a pedestrian league. A move to Kansas City was a total disaster that saw Gomez score once, one time (once), in 34 appearances. After 2009 he became a free agent, signing with Mexican side Puebla in January of this year.
So of course he moves to a much tougher league and pours in ten goals to tie for the Golden Boot, the first time an American has ever done that in a foreign league*. Wha? Double wha: Puebla was not very good, finishing with a goal differential of –3. They were last in their six-team division and 13th in the league overall. Gomez was not the recipient of a ton of service he mostly flubbed. In fact, he's not the recipient of a ton of anything:
Used mainly as a second-half substitute in his 13 appearances this campaign, he is averaging a goal for every 75 minutes played. That's the kind of contribution that could be valuable if carried over to the international level.
You can judge the quality of his rampage for yourself. Here's with every goal Gomez put in for Puebla this year:
Honestly… eh. A lot of defensive mistakes and simple finishes. Some nice runs off the ball, a couple of shots from somewhat tight angles. The free kick should have been saved, though he gets points for making Mexico's goalie look like a fool. There's not a whole lot to overrule the rest of his career. Against teams that will actually mark him the smart bet is a return to the average MLS striker he's been for most of his career. At least he's finishing his chances, though, which makes him a step up from most of Eddie Johnson's career. If the two guys are indistinguishable, at least go with the guy who seems on form.
Gomez put in a goal against Australia on a finish that was tougher than it looked (but not that tough) and figures to be a guy the US calls on if they're looking for a late spark. He might have a tough time getting off the bench since Bradley has the option of moving Dempsey up top and bringing one of the USA's many plausible midfielders (Beasley, Holden, Feilhaber, Torres) in. His best bet might be a game in which Dempsey starts up top.
*(Mexico's Premiere division is the most confusing sporting setup I've ever tried to comprehend, and I once played with a Ukranian team in Football Manager. They actually play two seasons per year, the "Apertura" and "Clausura," following those with an eight-team playoff.)
Robbie Findley is very fast. He made a great pass to Landon Donovan to create Altidore's goal against Turkey, and pressured an Aussie defender into the turnover that Buddle converted into the USA's first goal on Saturday. Given Altidore's mandatory place in the 11 and the hot form of Buddle and Gomez for both club and country, he would be the obvious fourth forward and a late substitution at best except for the Charlie Davies theory. That theory, which is being pushed by several people with more soccer knowledge than I have, suggests that Findley's blistering speed is required for the US to play an effective game, that he opens up space for Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, and others.
My counterpoint to that is Buddle isn't exactly Ching and has performed much better over the past eight months. Once England defenders tire, bringing Findley in as a shock to the system is a move with a potential payoff. But he's just Josh Wolff 2.0.
World Cup content ahoy. The below is a conversation with War Blog Eagle proprietor, guy who is basically dog blood comprised of 90% cocaine during the first round of the NCAA tournament, and gracious host for the MGoRoadtrip to Auburn-LSU Jerry Hinnen. If you're trolling for more WC content, Stars and Gripes remains highly recommended, and I'd add the Shin Guardian to that list despite the fact that more than one of their contributors advocates a Robbie Findley start on Saturday.
I'm in bold; Jerry is plaintext.
So I know that after this whole Demar Dorsey thing you're ready to think about something totally non-stressful and anti-depressing. Let's talk about the U.S. central defense! Do we battle Wayne Rooney with the guy who plays (regularly!) in Norway and spearheaded the defensive "effort" against Mexico in the 5-0 Gold Cup loss? Or the guy who hasn't played more than 45 minutes since October and runs like your grandfather?
Probably the guy who not only runs but looks like my grandfather, if my grandfather was Greg Oden. As soon as Onyewu sprouted that hellacious neckbeard it was like it had always been there. Bradley said he was ready to go 90, and while that might be a smokescreen the USA backline actually started clearing crosses before they hit the ground when he came in against the Aussies.
With England seemingly set to start Emile Heskey, strength will be at a premium over speed, and it's not like Goodson is that quick or agile anyway. I think you deploy two destroyers in front of the central D and hope.
What would you do? Leave a comment below!
Ives, I agree. If Slovenia or Algeria were the opening match, I'd advise playing it safe with Goodson and giving Onyewu another few days to get the beard up to "Eliminator" standards. But England is the damn-the-torpedoes, high-variance, all-or-nothing match. Onyewu's ceiling is so many thousands of miles higher than Goodson's.
Plus Demerit seems to not be suffering a prolonged seizure when Gooch is out there, too, plus plus thanks to B. Bradley's marathon training sessions--as in "let's be fit enough to run one"--we may be OK burning a sub in central defense if we have to. So that's one of the two big lineup questions. The other: who are your forwards?
No, seriously: send Bornstein home with a bruised ego and bring in Ching. Seriously. No foolies.
Do I hear a second? Sustained.
Failing that, I would go with Jozy and Dempsey because I'd rather have Holden on the field than Buddle. Given Buddle's ability to score goals when they are put on a plate, though, I'd be okay with having him start if you're dead set on having Dempsey in the midfield.
Findley: absolutely not. I will be stabby if he gets 90.
What, you're not interested in having his speed stretch the defense? But the defense! It'll be stretched! Because of his speed! That's far more important than his ability to, you know, score in an empty net from three yards.
To be fair, one of those was from like... eight yards.
You're right, I'm being too harsh on the guy who scored once in 12 MLS games this year. Me, I start Altidore and Buddle. Dempsey just seems so much more comfortable starting in midfield and moving up later, and for my money "how can we get the most out of Dempsey?" is a more important question than the Buddle/Holden dilemma. Besides, dude, Buddle was visited by some sort of magical goalscoring fairy last offseason.
I won't be mad if it's Buddle-Altidore. I will only be mad if Findley starts. I can see him as a 60th minute sub against an old and creaky English defense, but that's all. I mean, aren't Jozy and Buddle somewhat close to his speed?
Yes. They are not slow. I wonder if Bradley believes they are because they are not short.
You left out one positional debate: midfielder who is not Bradley.
Who should start next to Bradley? Leave your thoughts below!
We can discuss our choice for not-Bradley defensive midfielder, but I'll eat a raw egg if it's not Clark. Donovan said after the Aussie match B. Bradley had used it to get his guys used to playing 90 at altitude. That Clark played that 90 (until his weird hamstring/thigh injury that no one is allowed to talk about, ever, for some weird reason) tells me it's not even a matter of debate.
Does that bother you at all? Clark sucked against Turkey. Pulling him off for Torres turned that game around. Against Australia the midfield provided almost no resistance, leaving the back four exposed. He's supposed to be a destroyer but I don't remember one tackle from the friendlies. How effective can Clark be if he's not even picking up yellows? I don't even know if that's a joke.
He was balls against Turkey but I think you're selling him a little short against the Aussies; he wasn't great, but he had a handful of decent plays, and he played the cross-field ball to Cherundolo that set him up for the run-and-cross to Buddle.
I'd start Edu myself, but I don't think England is the right game for Torres. Because jobs No. 1, 1a, 1b, and 1c for whoever starts alongside Bradley are: Mark Frank Lampard. Possession is awful nice, we all know that, but taking Lampard out of the game and unshackling Bradley from that kind of dirty work might be even nicer. If you disrupt Lampard, maybe Gerrard has to come forward to try and get something going in the middle, maybe now we've got even more space on the counter for Bradley. I think Edu could manage that assignment and give us some ball control, but I'm all right with Clark.
I'm just leery of Clark because he's basically Onyewu. He has hardly played since the end of the last MLS season. The difference in the midfield is that the US has options. Edu's battled injury problems of his own but got some significant run for Rangers towards the end of the season and just looks more ready to play. I know some of the soccer insider folks have been suggesting he will start and Clark's friendly experience was an effort to get him fitness, fitness that Edu already has. I'm hoping that's the case.
I agree that the US will be playing to absorb pressure and will be thrilled with a draw, so Torres will not and should not start. If the US is behind at the half, I think he might be a quick sub, but that's only if things aren't going well.
Here's to hoping the insiders are right. I'm not losing sleep over Clark (not more than I'm already losing anyway), but there's loads more potential for a transcendent, England-beating performance with Edu.
There's seems to be a growing consensus out there that Torres needs to start against Slovenia and Algeria, though. We're part of that consensus, right? Is anyone not?
I am so on-board with that consensus. Going back to the "form" argument, Torres has logged a ton of time for Pachuca, way more than the other viable options. He takes pressure off a central defense that will feature Demerit and someone who is not Bocanegra. Bocanegra is pretty good with the ball at his feet and takes pressure off his central defense partner when he's in the middle; when he's not the US has hoofers. Having Torres drop back to pick up possession, relieve pressure, and release freakily accurate balls to attacking players makes the US way more likely to score from the run of play.
You and I are charter members of the Jose Torres fan club, though. At halftime of the Costa Rica game in CR we were ready to fly down there and scream at Bradley for yanking Torres at the half.
I don't know if I've ever been more confused by any coach I've followed, in any sport, than Bob Bradley. He makes so many decisions that make me think a ferret with a Ouija board could do better. But the results are there: 1st in the Hex. Confed Cup finalists. Even these two friendlies; 2-1 over Turkey and 3-1 over Australia (both of those teams something close to their respective A-sides) are light years ahead of what we saw in the '98, '06, and even '02 run-ups. I can't decide if I want to hug him or strangle him. Maybe start to hug him and turn it into a strangle.
In any case: no more ambivalence after Saturday, which is nice. You on the panic side or the 1776 all over again side?
I'm not expecting a win. That Onyewu injury is haunting. Right after everything with the Confed Cup that got him the Milan transfer, a meaningless game against Costa Rica, the injury... the total lack of field time... I mean, I think the US is a good bet to score against England but unless Timmah puts on a Spain-like show I think they're going down.
My personal prediction is a 2-2 draw with the U.S. going up 2-1 early in the second and just barely--like, batting cage-style bombardment on Howard's goal--hanging on for the point. I'm thinking we really need a point at least, though, because I've to the conclusion that Slovenia could be nightmarish. It's _so_ easy to see an early mental lapse in defense, a 1-0 deficit, and 80 minutes of useless pounding away at the same defense that did just that to Russia. (Russia as coached by Guus Hiddink, nonetheless.) Tell me why that won't happen. Please? I'm begging you. Seriously, I'm on my knees here.
Russia doesn't have Jose Torres.
No, just Andrei Arshavin.
I cannot tell you anything about Slovenia other than the vague overviews, but that's totally possible. The US is only 56% to advance according to Nate Silver's crazy computer, but the Slovenians are just going to sit back and hope, really. Their defense is fantastic; their offense is piddling. I think that's the game Torres comes in and maintains possession like a mofo.
That video does fill me with hope. Still, I think the most likely path to progression for U.S. remains England draw, Slovenia draw, Algeria win, five points is good for second. I do think progression is the most likely outcome, since Slovenia (despite my worries) and Algeria are still Slovenia and Algeria. But thanks to the defense, I'm still clutching my knees to my chest and singing Amazing Grace to myself twice daily.
What do you think of the U.S.'s chances of getting out of the group? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
I'd rather look at the broader picture with Slovenia: they had a weak group and bombed out of Euro '08. Algeria is widely regarded as the weakest team outside of the pure minnows (North Korea, New Zealand, and Honduras) and may be eliminated already. And England has a rich history of wobbly play. I do think Silver is about right and the US is only 60-40 to get out of the group, but 60-40 isn't bad.
But there is nothing that can possibly calm my nerves. What if they played college football once every four years and made the season 3-6 games? You would die, and nothing could prevent you from doing so. Thus the World Cup.
There is something both soul-crushingly horrible and soul-stirringly fantastic about being the kind of soccer fan--a species I'm going to hyperbolically claim is unique to the U.S., and which I believe represents the both of us--who love the sport, never attached themselves to a club side for geographic reasons, and root exclusively for the national side. Our team plays, essentially, three games that matter every four years. They mean absolutely everything. There is no next year, no fallback, no safety net of a club for our investment as fans. Defeat is unbearable. But victory a la 1994 or 2002 is ... it's hard to describe. I mean, remember the Portugal game? My dog could have been run over by the girl who wouldn't go out with me in seventh grade and I'd have written her a check for tire damage. Or something.
I do. That was the greatest day of soccer fandom ever for me, because I was in Ireland and the next game was the famous 1-1 draw with Germany that basically put the Irish through to the second round. May some day this month equal it.
The view from admissions. There is virtually nothing that can convince me that not taking Demar Dorsey is a good idea as long as the university makes a good-faith effort to educate him once he arrives. What you do with the poor black kid after he shows up is what reflects the character of the institution. Admissions obviously feels differently, and the feeling that Michigan is about to embark on a Notre Dame-like wander in the wilderness only gets stronger today.
Our Helmets Have Wings, a recruiting-focused M blog, snagged an interview with a former admissions employee. Unless something has changed, this is purely about academics:
Q: Did the Admissions Office examine potential students who had legal troubles differently than other students?
A: Like all applicants, potential incoming athletes with legal troubles are required to disclose most types of possible run-ins with the law. This is not only for the purposes of safety on campus, but also to help the university maintain its tradition of selecting students of a particular academic AND moral caliber for admission. That being said, varsity athletes, ESPECIALLY potential scholarship recipients present special cases that are most definitely looked at differently than normal applicants, but in this realm and in regards to academics. Again, the behavioral issues tend to fall to the discretion of the athletic department. If they say the athlete is a good ship, or at least one that can be and will be during his time at UM, the admissions office will defer to that decision regarding said athletic applicant. I do not know, personally, of any decision that was contested by the admissions office when the athletic dept. approved.
If this is about "LifeSkills," the AD should have known about it since Dorsey enrolled there in October. I'm not entirely sure but I don't think that means he stopped going to Boyd Anderson; he probably did the LifeSkills curriculum in addition to his senior year classes at Boyd, using the alternative school credits to replace poor grades from his sophomore and junior years.
Given the nature of the problem here the university can stonewall any FOIA requests by referencing FERPA, a federal student privacy law. We will never know exactly what went down, but if Dorsey ends up at Tennessee or USC or another BCS school we'll have plain evidence that Michigan's is operating with a self-inflicted disadvantage, and negative recruiters will have a field day. There is literally no way the recruitment of a kid who never even enrolled at Michigan could have been more damaging. Now any happy ending to the media firestorm has to happen somewhere else. Thanks, admissions.
Bills update. Poster Raback Omaba reports that Jon Bills's surgery to repair broken vertebrae went well and the "prognosis for a full recovery remains high." He can move his extremities. Bills is obviously done with football, but hopefully he'll make a full recovery.
Hello: Nebraska? Multiple Big 12 ADs suggest Nebraska will be in the Big Ten by Friday. I would care a lot more about this if this Dorsey thing hadn't happened. At least their basketball team will suck.
Ethics follow-up. I posted a transcript of the tense interaction at the end of the ethics panel a couple days ago, and yesterday appeared on Dan Levy's On The DL podcast to elaborate on the opinion I'd shouted in the middle of everything. Again, totally meta, but something that's important.
World Cup content. If you're one of the many people who's been frustrated with the lack of a quality USMNT blog, I think you (and I) may have a new favorite place for the next month. It's Stars and Gripes, a just-launched Nats blog with an inclination towards strategy and a soccer version of Picture Pages:
Rooney makes his run, Johnson puts in a perfect ball, and Rooney puts in his second.
The constant switching from side to side often leaves the middle of the pitch exposed, where Lampard and Barry can move from the back and put themselves in dangerous spots just outside the box.
Anyone willing to draw a big circle with an arrow on a still of the England-Andorra game is a champion. Read it all.
If you're the sort of soccer fan who doesn't know why everyone wants to drop Jonathan Bornstein out of the team plane (with a parachute; we're not monsters), War Blog Eagle has an excellent primer for you.
An actual number. Almost a month ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch deployed the FOIA to finally provide the real hard numbers on how much Big Ten schools are pulling in from TV. Somehow, no one noticed. Here's an attempt to do so. The numbers:
|School year||BTN||Other TV||Total TV||Total*|
* Includes money from TV, bowl games, NCAA Tournament.
These are less extraordinary than the rapturous articles about Super Genius/Villain Jim Delany have claimed, but they still greatly outstrip everyone save the SEC, which they meaningfully outstrip. Meanwhile, the SEC is locked into an ESPN contract worth 12.5 million per team per year for 15 years and the Big Ten will see BTN revenue grow yearly.
Another note: SNL Kagan analyst Derek Baine says the BTN is getting 88 cents per subscriber in the footprint, which is about a dime short of what they were asking for and more than triple what the Comcast guy told me they valued the BTN at during the year-long standoff between the two. Cable companies did not win.
(Apologies to whoever linked this; unfortunately I've lost it. If you think it's you ask me for a HT.)
Mmmm. Wavery. Michigan's 2011 class is a bit thin so far, with just two forwards coming in in a year when Michigan willl require at least another player at F, D, and G. Lucas Lessio made an appearance at the Oshawa Generals' camp, but is expected to keep his commitment to Michigan. And now the other guy in the class, Ontario forward Alex Guptill, sounds like he's not a lock either:
Already committed to play for the University of Michigan in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) either this year or in 2011, Guptill said his immediate future, including where he might play come winter, will become more clear at the end of June.
“It is all up to — if a (NHL) team takes me — what their stance is and then Michigan’s,” Guptill said. “It will go from there.”
IE: hope the Kings stay away. Guptill and Lessio were both drafted by the USHL's Waterloo Blackhawks and the Blackhawks believe they'll have them next year.
There is some good news: Guptill was the recipient of the Ontario Hockey Association's "Top Prospect Award," something that's been bestowed on former Wolverines Mike Cammalleri and Andrew Cogliano plus an array of other NHL players like Jeff Carter and Rob Schremp. The OHA covers Ontario's Junior A and B leagues.
Etc.: The Daily puts out another huge article, this on the evolution of Yost from an empty, silent place to the raucous place it is today. I'm pretty sure this "shimmy down" tackling technique is the same that GERG is employing in practice. The idea is to focus on the approach more than anything else because most players can get a guy down if they're in the right spot. This may sound boring, but the words "they want to get pecker to pecker with the guy" appear.
Well, what can you take from that? At halftime I was sure the USA was going three-and-out at the World Cup after a dismal showing that saw the one good US chance something Jozy Altidore created entirely on his own versus a series of knee-buckling counter-attacks from Turkey that repeatedly caught US midfielders out of position. Doom.
Four subs and 45 minutes later… hey… a result against a basically A-level Turkey team that's got a considerably better Silver ranking (24) than either Slovenia (35) or Algeria (a stunning 64th, well behind South Africa and ahead of only minnow-tastic New Zealand and North Korea). And a deserved one. Bring on England.
Jose Torres. I can put many words down or I can point you to the five minutes that cover every touch Torres had in the Turkey game:
That is five solid minutes of possession and passing porn. Torres's composure on the ball reminded me of the Holland friendly earlier this year. In that dismal loss, whenever the USA would put the Dutch in a tough spot in the midfield they would keep it with deft touches and accurate passes; the US would either lose it or dump it back to Demerit, who would hoof it upfield. That was kind of what the first half was like with Ricardo Clark swinging back towards wildly useless—it's always one or the other with him. Enter Torres and the world changes. That highlight reel is composure under pressure and a wide array of great passes that break pressure and set the US up in space that simply did not exist in the first half.
After the Czech friendly I praised Torres's work but suggested his general "uselessness" defensively would keep him from seeing the field in the World Cup because he'd be a substitute and Bradley would favor the relatively more established Benny Feilhaber. I would like to backtrack on that as rapidly as possible. I'm not an extremely bald man with a furrowed brow and more soccer experience than scalp shine, so I can't rule out the possibility that against some of the USA's first-round opponents the tactical situation will call for an Edu or Clark or (I guess) Feilhaber. But I want Torres to start. I think it makes sense, too, with England's central midfielders not exactly the guys who will make Torres's diminutive stature and lack of raw speed an issue.
Robbie Findley. Findley, like Torres, has seen a groundswell of internet support for a potential starting role—enough that Greg Lalas (yes that Lalas) has offered a "settle down, folks." I'd like to cosign that: you're choosing between Findley and Stuart Holden here. Holden was perhaps the USA's best player against the Czechs and has been so impressive with Bolton that they've offered him two contract extensions in the last six months. He's real good.
Findley, meanwhile, blew everyone's minds with the chip pass that set up the USA's first goal and put himself into the conversation as a potential substitute, but let's not get ahead of ourselves: it was Torres, not Findley, that produced the sea change in the amount of space and time the Nats had in the second half.
Steve Cherundolo. After an iffy to bad game against the Czechs—gave away possession a lot—may have forced himself into a starting role by controlling Arda Turan much more effectively than Jonathan Spector did. Also got forward effectively in the second half once the US, spurred by Torres, found itself in a position to use overlapping fullbacks effectively. The choice at RB may come down to how threatening the opponent's wingers are, with Cherundolo taking the tough ones and Spector offering a more attacking option against potentially less sturdy opposition.
Altidore, Donovan, Dempsey. All three are in the same category as players who either scored or set up scores—Donovan assisted on both—but still left something to be desired. For Donovan it was a little backtracking and an ability to get involved in the game in the first half. Dempsey impact was limited until his goal.
As for Altidore, this first highlight was brilliant…
…and he had a few other decent touches, but didn't have any other chances. The goal, well… it's nice that he's in the right spot but most people reading this blog could have finished it.
Still, these are caveats: X did not do this except for this one brilliant thing against a good opponent. Dempsey's ability to run onto the Donovan pass after deflecting it with his hip and then fire it through the keeper seemed fluky, but eventually when you keep doing ridiculous fluky things they cease being fluky.
I'd leave him up top. He'll need service to get involved in the game but no one on the roster makes goals out of seemingly nothing like he does. (Yes, he had moved back to midfield for that goal.)
Carlos Bocanegra. Is the holiest of holy locks to start at left back.
Stuart Holden. Holden didn't get much time but his cameo was productive; he was the guy who picked out Michael Bradley and put him in alone. Speaking of…
Michael Bradley. Had a major part in both the ineffective first half and very effective second half. See the above Torres reel for an indication of where he falls flat—better control on that pass leaves him in a ton of space moving at the D. There was also the fantastic run to get him one-on-one with the keeper late… and the pass that resulted. Bradley scored 17 goals in the Dutch league one season, so he can and should be shooting there. It wasn't a horrible decision since Dempsey did get off a shot that clipped the post, but, man, one on one with the keeper any international level midfielder should be shooting.
More important as far as Bradley's role on the team: the spacing and lack of tackles in the first half was at least partially on him. I don't know how much. Again, this doesn't matter much as far as the starting lineups for the WC: he's played every game, he starts in the Bundesliga, he's the coach's kid, he's an automatic start.
Tim Howard. Could maybe have saved the Turkey goal but tough to blame him; didn't really have much to do other than that except a couple of shots that were directly at him. Minor plus: got in some serious "I have Tourette's guys, in case you forgot" screaming at the defense in the first half.
Center back roulette. Onyewu had an encouraging second half, charging down a potentially lethal shot in the box and doing some unnecessarily high jumping on uncontested balls in an effort to prove that his error against the Czechs was not indicative of his fitness.
Demerit and Goodson, on the other hand, were kind of shaky, Goodson most prominently. To be fair, they were put in a lot of bad positions by midfielders getting out of position in the first half and shaky play from at least one fullback at all times (the window between Spector coming out and Bornstein coming on. But the errors from others exposed a certain lack of mobility that I don't recall a healthy Onyewu displaying. I think they have to grit their teeth and hope for the best with Gooch.
Jonathan Spector. May have lost his job in the first half after putting in a pretty ugly performance defensively. I'm not talking about the run that eventually led to the Turkey goal, as there were a couple of passes and some midfield pressure from the US that delayed the Turkey counter and should have let either Donovan or Clark rotate back; neither did. I think that's mainly on Donovan because of his positioning on the field but Clark's supposed to be a defensive mid, so I can see the school of thought that puts the blame on him.
Anyway, when Spector was in position his defending was poor to say the least; I don't know if that's an anomaly but since people who pay more attention to the EPL than I do claim he was amongst the weakest left backs in the league it might not be. Cherundolo shook off a poor game against the Czechs and was an immediate upgrade defensively. Against England and their blazing wingers this will be important.
Ricardo Clark. It was obvious that he was having a bad game even before Torres came on and almost singlehandedly swung the flow of play. Clark's played in just three club matches since the end of the MLS season and the rust was apparent. Even at the best of times he's marginal with the ball at his feet (unless he's uncorking a shot from distance); against Turkey he never even got to display this limitation because he never won the ball. If it wasn't Donovan's job to rotate back it was definitely Clark's. Torres, meanwhile, had 41 appearances for Pachuca across competitions last year.
Jonathan Bornstein. It's come to this: when he came on for the final 15 minutes yesterday I was rooting for him to get smoked just so Bradley would not be tempted to put him on the field in virtually any circumstance in the World Cup. Even with that background, Bornstein still managed to disappoint, getting skinned three(!) times in his brief cameo and getting lucky on a late offside trap that did not work except in the eyes of the linesman.
I'd send him home with an injury and call up Frankie Hedjuk. Seriously. I'd think about bringing in Tony Sanneh.
Next up: the last friendly, this against fellow World Cup participant Australia in South Africa. It's at 8:30 AM on Saturday. With a full week until the England match, the US can put whoever it wants on the field without worrying about fitness, so I'm guessing we'll see Onyewu and Holden go the full 90 in an effort to get them as match fit as possible. Bocanegra may also fit into that category after his surprise hernia surgery.
One man's starting lineup for the Socceroos:
Cherundolo Onyewu Demerit Bocanegra
Holden Bradley Torres Donovan
I assume both Dempsey and Altidore will make way for some combo of Gomez/Buddle/Findley, Spector will be given a shot to decide the RB position, and the central midfield will also see a healthy amount of rotation. Donovan will probably get lifted for Beasley just so nothing horrible happens.
6/28/2009 – USA 2, Brazil 3 – Confederations Cup Runners Up
Note: yeah, this is Off Topic, but 1) this is also way more interesting than anything else going on at the moment, 2) I reserve the right to wander off the reservation in the hard offseason, and 3) I'm slightly tired of recruiting-recruiting-recruiting. Aren't you? Coming up tomorrow: Wednesday Recruitin'!
Here's Clint Dempsey holding the "bronze ball" bestowed on the FIFA-approved third-best player at the Confederations Cup. Here is a brief list of the folks Dempsey finished in front of:
- That white guy on South Africa
- Everyone on Brazil not named Kaka or Fabiano
That is an impressive array of players to beat out. And yet Dempsey looks like he's auditioning for The Hangover 2 or Fully, Completely Baked. This is because the United States has just found out that there is a way to lose to Brazil 3-2 and feel agonized, that, yes, there is such a thing as crashing out for you who thought yourself immune.
Sitting there in the aftermath of Brazil's comeback was one of the strangest feelings I've had as a sports fan. To demonstrate: I was going to put an adjective on "comeback" there and considered both "stunning" and "inevitable." Words literally fail. Maybe there's something in German for it. Schiessenkopffrauballsdammit: the feeling you have when the incredibly improbable thing you dreaded and feared comes to pass, just like you knew it would. (See: 2005 Ohio State game.)
That was the nature of this deeply bizarre tournament. Bludgeoned and discarded in the first games, the United States retroactively justified my friend's terror that the Honduras game would not end with a result and that this would surely put the Nats in an honest-to-god World Cup qualification dogfight—in CONCACAF! Late in the dire Brazil drubbing, another friend asked me what we should do and I succumbed to pure reactionary talk-radio blithering: "Fire Bradley," I muttered, and said no more.
From that moment on the US put together the most brilliant two-and-a-half game run in probably their entire history: 3-0 over Egypt, 2-0 over Spain, and 2-0 over Brazil. Yeah, they were on the back foot for about 60 minutes of the Spain game, but dos a cero is dos a cero. If only soccer finals were 45 minutes long. (While we're at it: if only soccer finals were 45 minutes long and banned people fluent in Portuguese.)
They are not, and we are left with our schiessenkopffrauballsdammit.
I don't have any other soccer team. The nearest MLS team are in Chicago and Columbus and Toronto, none of which I can root for on geographical principle. If I was to pick up one of the big four in the EPL I might as well just go the whole nine yards, buy a Yankees hat, USC jersey, Duke shorts, and Lakers shoes, and shoot myself.
But what's the point of rooting for Fulham? Good job lads, you didn't get sent to purgatory… this year. European soccer is structured such that you can either pick the Yankees or the Toledo Mud Hens. The Mud Hens have as much of a chance at winning the World Series as Wigan has of winning the Premiership. But Wigan fans don't seem to mind. Win some games, lose some games, sing about Emile Heskey emerging from a radioactive lagoon during a terrible thunderstorm, end of story let's get a pint.
On the other hand, even the lowliest American franchise has aspirations to greatness. A few years ago the Penguins were awful enough to get like three consecutive top-three picks. The Patriots were a laughingstock for most of their existence. The Spurs were some random team in San Antonio before Tim Duncan arrived. The Cardinals won the World Series despite being like four games above .500. Everyone can strive. Even Clippers fans eagerly await the day Donald Sterling dies. "Look at the Blackhawks!" they say before returning to Bill Simmons' annual fantasy football draft-stravaganza. This is a blessing and a curse.
The curse section is provided Brian Phillips on the outstanding Run of Play:
I'm more interested in seeing the run through this tournament, and the Spain game above all, as something to celebrate for its own sake, without thinking about next year or whether it's safe to nudge up my expectations. I'm sure I'm not alone in that, but partly thanks to Bradley's understandable emphasis in his postgame remarks, so much of the coverage has skirted the "what does this mean?" question that I've spent most of the last 24 hours wanting to take an anchorperson by his lapels and scream "We #$*%ing BEAT SPAIN! Doesn't that matter more than abstract 'potential'?"
Yes, because it probably doesn't mean much in the scheme of things. Spain and Brazil showed their quality, and while it's great the US beat one and took the other to the limit, what that says is that the US can scrap with teams better than they are. The World Cup group is going to have between one and three teams better than the Nats, and there will be scrapping.
This is foreign to the national state of mind. The United States does not scrap except maybe in rhythmic gymnastics and kayaking and other things dreamed up by commies trying to get up to par in gold medals. When the US decided to get super-serious about soccer, they dreamed up "Project 2010," which was supposed to "ensure the US Men's National team was a legitimate threat to win the World Cup by 2010," emphasis mine because WTF? Win? We are Americans, and it doesn't matter if we have the resources of the Kansas City Royals. We have Yankee dreams.
So what the Brazil game was was a chance. A stupid, improbable chance built on equal parts grit, skill, and astounding luck; a chance to slay two giants back-to-back and scramble up to the pinnacle of world football for somewhere between sixty seconds and a day before the ground gave way and it was back to Grenada and Haiti. So I appreciate *#$&ing beating Spain but also feel like Dempsey above, holding a trophy he had no right to expect and thinking of what might have been.
- So a major reason this post exists was the large influx of soccer emails into the inbox. Aaron Rennie's contribution: "The first half was like the best blowjob you've had in your life; the second was discovering you got it from a dude." Funny, but it's not like I started questioning which team I was rooting for later. I have my cool group of local friends because a couple people knew I liked soccer and needed someone to watch it with and joined up with us; I feel I owe Arriaga II, God of Soccer, a tribute.
- You know, I had bought into Harkes' gratuitously negative take on Dempsey in the Egypt match—when I deigned to tweet about the 3-0 win, I mentioned Dempsey had been "terrible" or "awful" or something like that—but then I re-watched the first half a couple days ago and saw him set up the US's two best scoring opportunities of the first half with incisive passes. There really needs to be a Nats UFR.
- …which might fall to me, actually. I'm seriously considering starting up a USMNT blog with a couple friends (so that the burden on me is not extensive enough to hamper MGoActivities, of course). Name suggestions welcome.
- I wasn't thrilled with Bocanegra at left back but that might have something to do with the fact he was coming off injury and playing against Spain and Brazil; he was clearly less overmatched than Bornstein. Bocanegra-Demerit-Onyewu-Spector/Cherundolo should be the backline going forward, with Hedjuk around to come on as a lead-protecting substitute and all around insane hairy guy.
- Bornstein, meanwhile, might see his spot yoinked by Edgar Castillo, the Texican left back who appears frozen out of Los Douchebags' plans. That would make the USA 2/2 on grabbing newly-eligible defectors.
- Argh Rossi.
- Actually read some insane Big Soccer criticisms in the wake of the first couple matches directed at Howard because "the book" on him had become clear: shoot miraculous 30-yarders. When that's all they can say about you…
- What happens when Ching is available? Davies ran around and did some stuff and scored an Eckstein goal and had that gorgeous assist to Donovan. But Jozy's not much of a holding or linkup forward right now. He is a beast who is fast and huge and could conceivably function as a Charlie Davies who ate a steroid-laced power mushroom. Ching and Jozy worked very well together before Ching's injury, and then you get to bring Davies' pace off the bench.
- Similarly, once Edu and Jermaine Jones start pushing for central midfield slots the competition will be as brutal as it gets on the US National Team. Clark might get pushed to the bench even after turning in a very strong Confederations Cup; he's not likely to go without a fight.
- Side benefit: you've seen the last of Kljestan against teams outside of CONCACAF. (Or I'll die.)
- Jozy watch: Villareal just sold Nihat. He was injury-plagued and not a consistent starter, but maybe that opens up space for Altidore to be a consistent substitute?
- While we're at it, Dan Levy has an excellent article at TSB on ESPN's impact on the Future we're trying so hard not to consider at the moment.