national champs baby
The Last War
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.