mesmerism! presidential assassinations! circuses on fire!
world cup 2010
Just like Haloi Ngata. Tom points out that Jake Ryan's twitter photo displays the first fruits of hiring Greg Mattison—redshirt freshman Richard Ash's levitating hair:
So we've got that going for us.
Too awesome to don't click here. Irrelevant, but here's three of my favorite things in one thing:
Further position clarification. Just to highlight something from Tim's post:
Cameron Gordon will play outside linebacker, because they want to get the guys into the best position they can to make plays. "And then what's the most upside." He has great ability to grow, and has that upside at OLB. "As compared to being a safety, I think he can do that too, but we have other guys that can do that."
Specifically, Gordon will be the SAM linebacker, which is a spot fairly similar to the "spur" Michigan used last year in their disaster of a 3-3-5. This answers one of the main questions from the Hello Old 4-3 posts. It seems like your starting front seven next year will be:
DL: Van Bergen-Campbell/other three tech-Martin-Roh
LB: C. Gordon/Demens/Winner of massive WLB free for all
Only the WLB spot and three-tech are up in the air.
SPARKZZZZ. A Daily article on Sparks does seem to confirm the only possible reason Lindsay Sparks would mostly hang out in the press box on a team decidedly lacking in… well… spark:
By the time Michigan headed into the stretch run, the offensively-skilled forward had played in just 10 of his team’s 34 games, mainly due to concerns about his defense. … According to Michigan coach Red Berenson, Sparks took his game to another level in practice in recent weeks. It paid off. He took the ice in both games of the final regular-season series.
Sparks picked up an effort-y assist against Northern and flashed near-Hagelin speed against Western. Surely he's a regular next year with all the departures. Prepare for me to badly overrate him.
SNUBZZZZ. Michigan didn't have a whole lot of individual stars this year but it's a somewhere between disappointing an enraging that Shawn Hunwick didn't get even a single vote for All CCHA. Spath has numbers:
Hunwick went 14-6-1 in 21 CCHA games - the coaches are only supposed to consider conference statistics - ranking second in winning percentage (.690) to Notre Dame's Mike Johnson … Hunwick also ranked second in save percentage (.931) and second in goals against average (1.95). He was the lone netminder in the CCHA to rank in the top two in winning percentage, save percentage and goals against. …
Nagle went 12-12-4 for the Bulldogs, ranking seventh in winning percentage (.500) while his .920 save percentage also ranked seventh among conference netminders and his 2.11 goals against average left him fifth. Greenham …. ranked sixth in save percentage (.921) and seventh in goals against average (2.19).
And Hunwick has the CCHA's most entertaining twitter feed. Watch him talk smack to Steve Kampfer:
.010 in save percentage + twitter should be a slam dunk for All CCHA, especially since the team that, you know, won the league only scored two of 12 players. I guess people are still hung up on the fact that he's just two cells pasted together.
Q: what was the last time Michigan had a goalie as good as Hunwick was this year? If you go by the stats, Billy Sauer's junior year is the recent best by a Michigan goalie. (The online database appears to start midway through the Tuco years.) He put up a .924 before his spectacular Frozen Four meltdown. Hunwick's .920 in 27 games is the next approximately qualifying season—if you want to roll his junior year in to get to 38 games that hardly changes the number—and then it's Montoya, Hogan, Montoya, Turco, and Josh Blackburn's four identical .905s.
If you think Sauer's meltdown poisons his whole year this is Michigan's best goaltending since Al Montoya was a sophomore who gave a crap.
Fab Five preview. Dylan got his hands on a promotional copy of Sunday's Fab Five documentary and provides first thoughts:
The brash exuberance of the Fab Five is not just captured through the clips on the court, which are obviously entertaining. A majority of the interviews do a great job of portraying the same energy. Whether it’s listening to the Fab Five describe their feelings on Duke and Christian Laettner – using words like “Uncle Toms” and “soft bitch” – or one of the many hip hop icons of the time explaining their cultural influence.
This is a no punches pulled documentary even without the presence of Chris Webber:
The range of topics discussed spans just about everything that you would expect to see. There are pictures of Jalen chugging beer out of a 40 and he discusses his drug house incident. There are also other ugly sides, such as shots of all of the racial hate mail from Michigan alumni and the inevitable discussion of the NCAA sanctions.
As I said, prepare to be massively conflicted. Sounds like it will be appointment television: 9PM, Sunday, ESPN.
Back to being an insufferable thing. Now that Jim Harbaugh is just another fish in the sea instead of the Chosen One we can resume thinking of him as kind of an asshat. This won't come as a surprise to anyone who perused the Stanford roster in the aftermath of Harbaugh's comments about Michigan funneling kids into easy classes, but—surprise—Stanford funnels its players into easy classes.
Not news, but this is a quote from the quote gods, one every Cal undergrad will be wearing next year:
"(Stanford) accommodates athletes in the manner that they accommodate students with disabilities."
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.
6/23/2010 – USA 1, Algeria 0 – 1-0-2, 5 points, top of Group A
(via omg yanks)
When you're a sportsblogger and your fiancé is getting her PhD in a humanities field, you spend a lot of time explaining yourself. (She doesn't because a few years ago the explanation became "it seemed like a good idea at the time," which fair enough.) After the beer flew and the rage subsided against Slovenia, I was asked to explain what the hell it was with me and the USMNT, and I thought about it systematically for the first time.
My first attempt to explain was jingoistic. I like the United States and would like to root for some sort of national ideal. The Olympics are far from sufficing because they don't seem fair or competitive. Hey, we grew this Michael Phelps guy in a lab, let's see how badly he can crush humans without flippers. Etc. The national team is good, but not so good that rooting for them feels like ugly Americanism.
That was kind of right, but missing the important thing. When Dodgy At Best put out an Algeria preview, his bolded section headers read "Karma," "Revenge," "Hope," "Fortune," and "Fate." Because I am who I am mine were "stop Nadir Belhadj" and "get a lot of set pieces"; DAB got it right, and I got it wrong. I can break down a football game all day. Basketball is given over to tempo-free numbers. Baseball could be played between computers these days and no one would notice. If you are so inclined, you can delve into the details of any and reject the narratives people layer on top of them because randomness can't happen and everything must have meaning. The analysis will be better and smarter but the experience a little poorer.
Soccer defies that. It is opera on a field. Not the Italian variety where a series of humorous misunderstandings yield mildly sexy results, but German opera—Klingon opera. Plenty of tridents. Sheets of rain. Thunderbolts cascading from the sky. In the background armies march through the mud, toward each other. Patterns converge in a rumble, pressure building until it's unbearable and someone falls over, a spear jutting out from his breastplate.
I don't have any critique in me any more. Jonathan Bornstein started a World Cup game and that's fine. The US went up and down the field and didn't shut down space in the midfield and didn't finish and had everyone in bars across the country three minutes from crumpling into the sort of heap that national manias are born from. A typical example will transpire later today when Serbia tries to shake off old Yugoslav demons:
Perhaps some of the Europeans there – certainly the French journalist opposite – were driven by anti-German feeling, perhaps some were instinctive Slavophiles, but when the three locals at the MTN (South Africa-based mobile telecommunications company) desk reacted to the final whistle with a group hug and collective dance, the appeal of Serbia's inner turmoil becomes difficult to deny. Unless they'd had a bet, I suppose, but when asked one said he'd decided to support Serbia because "they seemed to be trying to lose".
English journalist Simon Kuper dedicated a good chunk of his most recent book to explaining the English fatalism towards their team, one that echoes the national narrative of empire lost. It's so cliché that multiple books have been written about it, including Kuper's earlier, excellent "Football against the Enemy," but it's true: soccer does reflect the national culture, mostly because people want it to and no one can stop its narrative by dissecting it.
The USA's narrative has been bootstraps. College kids rescuing the program, batty goalies with an American flag fetish, Paul Caliguri, and so on. Tom Friend just published a lengthy story on USA 1990 third-string goalie David Vanole that's veritably dripping with half-truths dedicated to shaping that narrative. The USMNT is the 1980 hockey team spread over twenty years, because that's the way we want it.
We don't roll around on the ground. If we fall over, we probably just fell over. We run and and run and run, and late, when everything is stacked against us in a game where it's just so hard to finish the job, we do it Puritan style: ugly effort. A minute into stoppage time, the ball's just lying there and it's all about who will get there first.
It takes some doing to unearth muppets in June but here they are:
And you can't have one without the other…
That was horrible, as if Ryan Miller was actually Algeria and FIFA and the universe and God. And then the ball was just lying there, waiting to be pushed in one direction or the other.
USA vs Algeria: Wednesday 9:30 AM , ESPN.
But don't tell them that because they'll cut you.
Brady2Terrell has a clear and comprehensive breakdown of what the US needs in a message board post. To make it even more concise: a win means the US is in. A loss means the US is out. A draw and the US is waiting on the result of the other match. In that case, England winning puts us out. Basically anything else and the US is through. Draws in which England scores three more goals than the US does—very unlikely—put England through instead. Draws in which England scores two more lead to a decision based on card accumulation, in which the sides are tied.
Those things are maybe 1% probable. Slovenia goes through with a draw and is very experienced at bunkering; England's offense has been impotent thus far in the tourney.
Ignoring that, your rooting interests:
- Do not lose
- If tie, hope England does not win.
Since both games will happen at the same time this promises many tense moments unless the US goes up two (raise your hand if you think that's likely, and if you've raised your hand please relocate yourself to a national team that apparently does not exist). Wednesday will be knee-buckling.
Algeria is a strange team. Every time Nadir Belhadj (above) makes a darting run forward I am literally angry that Algeria can pump out a left back like that and we're left with Jonathan Bornstein and a centerback gamely playing out of position. Rangers manly-man Madjid Bougherra would probably be the USA's first-choice centerback with Onyewu's injury and lack of form. Abdelkader Ghezzal may not score a lot in Serie A, but he's actually in Serie A. Serie A would laugh at the entire US forward corps, then consider them again just to laugh some more. If you were to pick a starting eleven from the combined rosters of the same team, the position at which Algeria would win they would win by a country mile.
But… that's kind of it as far as obvious Algeria wins goes. Their goalkeeper, described as "very, very dodgy" by Zonal Marking even before the tournament started, was replaced after giving up a game-winning goal to Slovenia that was almost but not quite as bad as Robert Green's nation-horrifying mistake. His replacement got his first international start against England, making a couple of good saves while looking equally dodgy on balls played in from the edges. He plays in the Bulgarian league. Knock on wood, but the chances he gives up a game-changing mistake are much greater than Tim Howard's.
Tactically, Algeria is extremely variable. They shifted from a three-man backline in the African Cup of Nations to a 4-4-2 in their pre-WC friendlies, then went with a 3-5-2 that was closer to a five-man backline against England.
With Ghezzal available—he was suspended for the England match after picking up two yellows in just over twenty minutes as a second half sub against Slovenia—and Algeria needing to win by two goals to guarantee advancement, the Desert Foxes will probably adopt a more attacking posture against the US. This will see Nader Yahia move back to right back after being drawn inside to play centrally against England, with the rest of the midfield adopting more aggressive attacking positions.
Left: Algeria (white) against Slovenia. Right: Algeria (green) against England. While the England formation looks more aggressive, in reality the two wing-backs operated mostly as defenders.
The two central midfielders were described by Zonal Marking as "simple defensive-minded midfielders" before the tournament and have lived up to that reputation. What attacking the Algerians manage is usually through Belhadj and Wolfsburg attacking midfielder Karim Ziani, easily recognizable as the douchiest looking guy in the tournament thanks to his blond dye-job. (Algeria, as a group, look like Aqua.)
The attack broke down in the final third against England when Matmour, normally a midfielder, provided no threat:
Algeria dominated possession for periods of the game, as you would expect for a side essentially fielding six midfielders. Indeed, you can stretch that to seven – because Matmour is plainly not a forward, let alone a lone striker. His movement was decent but he offered no threat in behind, which is the obvious way to catch out a defensive partnership of John Terry and Jamie Carragher.
Threats in behind are also an obvious way to catch out the defensive partnership of DeMerit and Onyewu, so it's nice that Algeria doesn't have a consistent way to generate any. Ghezzal is a strapping 6'1" guy who shouldn't be a huge matchup problem for Onyewu and Demerit.
ZM sums up their first two games as "dogged" but says they've "offered nothing in an attacking sense" thus far. Whether that will hold true against a leaky USA defense is another section.
The Nats are in an unusual and advantageous situation. Algeria has a shot to advance but absolutely must win. They will be forced to attack against a team they might have bunkered against if they'd faced them in one of the first two group matches. This should play into the USMNT's hands. They're an excellent counter-attacking team even against world class sides like Spain and Brazil, and Algeria's defense has a tendency towards Michigan 2009 errors. Marauding fullbacks and erratic passing will yield plenty of opportunities for the US to strike back.
So… this is a situation in which a ball-winning central midfielder next to Bradley is a priority. I haven't been a fan of Clark, but Edu's second-half performance against Slovenia wasn't much more impressive. Either would be fine as a starter; Torres is set to be a second-half sub if the US needs a goal.
As far as the forwards go, take your pick between putting Buddle in the starting lineup and thrusting Dempsey up top and putting Holden into the fray. With Algeria's games to date proving Belhadj the Algerians' most effective attacker, I vote Holden plus Dempsey. Holden is a young, pacey, work-rate-heavy winger capable of tracking Belhadj's runs better than Dempsey, and tasking Holden with the most important defensive responsibilities frees Donovan to be Donovan*. Holden is the only US player who gives the team any width, and his ability to get deep and cross should be an effective way to test any of Algeria's flappy goalkeepers.
The seemingly odd substitution of England winger Aaron Lennon (generally regarded as by far their best wide option) for national whipping-boy Shawn Wright-Phillips was because Lennon kept cutting inside:
Aaron Lennon constantly came inside rather than getting down the touchline. He needed to be braver and give Nadir Belhadj more of a problem by staying wide and high when Algeria got the ball – this would have either pushed Belhadj backwards to pick up Lennon, and therefore take him out of the equation, or forced one of the three centre-backs to come across to the left-back position, which would have removed Algeria’s luxury of a free man at the back.
Tracking Belhadj and threatening him with an actual winger will go a long way towards shutting down the Algerians' main attacking threat. This could be a game where Beasley makes sense as a second-half sub, possibly for a ragged Holden.
The United State has another huge advantage in the game: set pieces. The US was consistently dangerous on them in the first two games because of Landon Donovan's excellent service, and Algeria was often disorganized in their first two games. It's easy to envision the US pumping in a goal or two from dead-ball situations, another reason to focus on wide play—and the resulting corners that come from it.
(SIDE NOTE: why has Donovan been so excellent in a tournament in which every well-hit cross sees four or five fly wildly out of control? One: he's good. Two: MLS is our secret weapon. Many observers are convinced that a lot of the crappy play in this World Cup (goalie errors, wack crosses, zero free-kick goals) stems from the Jabulani ball, and that the Germans' proficiency with it is traceable to the Bundesliga's adoption of the thing six months ago. Guess who else is using it?
On a domestic front, the Jabulani has made an appearance in Portugal’s league, Argentina’s league, America’s MLS, the Dutch league, the French Cup and the Swiss league.
So there you go.)
As long as the game remains tied, the advantage is to the US. With the sketchy central defense and the situation they can adopt their usual slightly defensive 4-2-2-2 and wait for the opportunities that will surely come.
D: Cherundolo, Onyewu, Demerit, Bocanegra
M: Donovan, Clark, Bradley, Holden
F: Altidore, Dempsey
*("Landycakes" is dead. You hear me? Dead.)
The Important Thing
Do not go down a goal in the first fifteen minutes. Algeria probably couldn't go in a shell at that point—they need to win by two to guarantee they go through—but they would pull back somewhat, waiting for information from the Slovenia-England game. The longer Algeria's kept off the board, the more they'll have to press and the more vulnerable they'll be.
This section is totally obvious and useless, I know.
Some other important things:
- Play wide and quickly to exploit the space left by the attacking Algeria fullbacks.
- If Dempsey is up front consider dropping back into a 4-5-1 that would give Donovan and Holden more license to press high, potentially taking Belhadj and others out of the offense.
- Keep the wing players outside and allow Demerit and Onyewu to do what they do best: clear crosses.
- Pick up as many set pieces as possible.