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.
More yes, please. Given the current state of college football scheduling, where you have to have one real nonconference game and then you can schedule anything that will show up at your stadium down to the Albanian cricket circus, I've been in favor of expanding the conference schedule for years. So Adam Rittenberg's post on the possibility comes with some welcome quotes:
There are certainly pros and cons to increasing the number of league games, and Big Ten athletic directors expect to debate them in August during their next scheduled meeting in Chicago.
"Unless you’re really hot, fans are finding that some of the preseason games, they just don’t appreciate," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said. "They’d rather see you play every Big Ten opponent. If you went to nine games, you’d be bringing in one more Big Ten opponent, which would make your season-ticket package more attractive."
By radically increasing the amount of money people are expected to play with PSLs and mandatory donations and whatnot, schools have increased the pressure to have home schedules actually worth buying. Burke's actually in favor of ten(!) conference games, which will never happen.
The article also quotes Barry Alvarez in support and we know that Michigan has been pushing for more conference games for a few years now, so there's at least some chance the league will add another game. Another bonus of the extra conference game: if the Big Ten does go away from pure geography and creates a division that's Michigan-OSU-Alamo Party*, additional conference games will reduce the impact of any disparity. It also makes cross-division protected games (which I don't like) less necessary since you'll be playing two-thirds of the opposite division instead of half.
*(Which seems to have something of a consensus building around it. TOC threw in the towel, and once the blogs are united nothing can stand against them. If Penn State had a vote that might be a problem, but lol Penn State suffrage.)
If NASCAR counts as a sport… then solar car competitions, where you actually build the thing yourself, is like a double sport. Also Michigan's solar car team is consistently awesome. They're running the American Solar Challenge right now and, though it's fuzzy if they're actually winning, they think they're doing well:
After being tight with Minnesota this morning and afternoon, they had to pull off the road for what is rumored to be battery problems. We don't know the current location of any other teams, but we believe we are at least 15 minutes ahead of everyone but Stanford.
That was yesterday. They learned last night that Minnesota is now 40 minutes back and Missouri S&T, which is apparently big in solar cars, is 10 minutes back. The previous stage saw Infinium finish almost an hour in front of their nearest challenger. We should totally try to get this thing in the Director's Cup.
Goodbye, almost everyone. One of the tangential discussions that's entered the public consciousness after the QC/stretching violations at Michigan is "dang, there are a lot of dudes getting paid to not coach football." The NCAA is within its rights to reel these guys in somewhat, but this seems drastic:
Back in April when the Athletics Personnel and Recruiting Cabinet began seriously discussing legislation to curb the growing football and basketball staffs, there were two big questions: exactly how many noncoaching staff members would the teams be allowed and how would the legislation deal with attempts to build new offices in the athletic department?
The cabinet gave an emphatic answer to the former question, with a somewhat weaker answer to the latter. Bowl Subdivision Football would be limited to just four noncoaching staff members, while men’s and women’s basketball would be reduced to just one. In the Football Championship Subdivision, the limit would be two.
That's not four grad assistants, it's four staff members, period. The Bylaw Blog suggests this would see athletic departments devolve the many other roles undertaken by specific sport-specific staff into department-wide organizations that avoid this new regulation. The money is always going to flow somewhere. At some point the NCAA should get serious about booting I-A teams that can't manage 20,000 paid attendance per game into I-AA. The real problem here is that teams like Michigan and Eastern Michigan are being addressed by the same sets of laws when they have zero resemblance to each other.
The elusive and wonderful. Six Zero's regular series profiling some of the characters who hang out around here has an exclusive look at youtube hero Wolverine Historian. Most surprising to me was WH's age:
Wangler to Carter. Hello Heisman. Bo singing the Victors. In your expert opinion, what is the single most iconic video clip of Michigan football?
There have been many, many memorable moments over the years. But I think Wangler to Carter from Homecoming 1979 is probably the most iconic video clip of Michigan football. I was born 4 months after that game was played so I obviously have no personal memories of it. But the video speaks for itself. One last play, Carter dancing into the end zone, the crowd going insane, Bo jumping up and down, Bob Ufer screaming, “Oh my GOD!!! Carter scored!!!” and Lee Corso having a stroke on the Indiana sideline.
Given the vast breadth of WH's tape collection, I would have ballparked his date of birth sometime around 1817. Instead he is younger than me.
Merrill watch. Not in the scary way. The first round of the NHL draft is tonight and should see defenseman Jon Merrill taken. There will also be a goalie taken, and this will be lame. But back to Merrill:
"I honestly want to get drafted, but it's not that big of a deal," Merrill said in a phone interview Tuesday. "It's tough not to hear about (mock drafts) or see things, but I really don't care that much about it.
"First pick or the last pick, you have the same opportunity to play in the NHL."
For the paranoid, there's no hint in of a Merrill defection anywhere in the article. The remainder of the draft will be more interesting as far as the composition of the team goes: CCHL forward Alex Guptill is eligible and has made some comments about deciding what he wants to do after he talks with the team who drafts him. He could spend a year in the USHL, possibly with fellow 2011 commit Lucas Lessio, or defect if the Kings or some other team run by paleolithic folk grabs him. He should go somewhere in the middle rounds.
The final word on SEC vs Big Ten. Sure, they may have won a zillion national titles but this is the Big Ten's position on vuvuzelas:
The Big Ten has specific policies that do not allow irritants or noisemakers, so vuvuzelas would not be allowed. Below is the specific language from our football game management manual.
This is the SEC's:
This instrument, no matter how irritating to some, will not be banned from SEC games this upcoming season, according to the SEC. The instrument of choice in South Africa, which may or may not catch on here in the states, can be brought into stadiums across the league.
Big Ten wins forever. Not that I imagine there will be a ton of vuvuzelas at SEC games. There will be three incidents where vuvuzelas are brought into the stadium, then gingerly extracted from parts of the anatomy plastic horns were not meant to tread, before everyone gets the idea.
Not technically World Cup content. This is about soccer but the larger point is excellent:
One of the hard things about forming an outlook on the World Cup is that when an event gets this much attention, the flow of commentary is so fast and broad that every possible angle is exhausted and trivial positions develop a kind of insubstantial politics. Conventional wisdom starts to seem like an ideology, and if you’re not careful, your own feelings about what happens will be dictated by where you want to stand in relation to that ideology rather than by what you actually think. There’s a pundit position, a cognoscenti backlash, an uber-cognoscenti counter-backlash, and so on till after midnight. Your heart and the stadium get farther and farther apart.
Case in point: two opinions that put you on roughly the same line of anti-pundit knowingness would be “the first round of games was actually great” and “Switzerland weren’t that exciting yesterday; Spain were just terrible.” Maybe you really feel those things, or have numbers to back them up. But in most cases, I’d guess that the attraction of these stances has a lot to do with the fact that they put some space between you and the thousand-mile pandemonium of cliches blasting out of the TV studios and the pages of your favorite newspaper. It’s not only that they make you sound like you know what you’re talking about, although there’s no discounting the lure of savvy disaffectedness. They also just turn down the volume.
That sort of contrarianism for the sake of saying something new is a constant temptation for anyone tasked with writing something people will find interesting. Sometimes it's right. Sometimes it's David Berri running a regression and declaring Dennis Rodman more valuable than Michael Jordan or that NBA coaches don't understand who their best players are. If you're trying to combat the conventional wisdom, you should regard it a tricky, wily foe that requires something more than a blunt-force blow.
Etc.: Citi dumps its Rose Bowl sponsorship.
|Gibsonia, PA - 6'3" 235|
|Scout||3*, #74 DE|
|Rivals||3*, #41 WDE, #23 PA|
|ESPN||3*, 78, #52 DE|
|Other Suitors||Pitt, Virginia, Minnesota|
|YMRMFSPA||Jeremy Van Alstyne|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Commitment post|
"Workmanlike" was the watchword of Paskorz's commitment post and that tepid word still rules after his senior season. At the time there was little to go on outside of a hastily-assembled ESPN profile in the aftermath of Paskorz's commit; after 14 months there has been additional information added to the pile.
Paskorz is still the younger brother of Notre Dame fullback Steve Paskorz and the Irish took a brief look early in the recruiting year but ended up taking a pass. This will be brought up during the next three M-ND games. He's still not a big recruit in the eyes of the sites. Scout interviewed him after his January official in which he discloses a 11.6 100 meter dash time—pretty impressive for a defensive lineman. He finished his senior year with 13 sacks and 85 tackles, ending up first team all-state on a team that made the state semis.
At Michigan, Paskorz is one of the few players told he will play at the LB/DE hybrid "quick" position currently inhabited by Craig Roh who has a high probability of sticking there. At 235 pounds currently but lacking the 6'4-6'5" frame Michigan prefers for its out-and-out linemen, Paskorz is a classic tweener who might fit in Michigan's defense better than he does elsewhere. That's the impression provided by his ESPN evaluation($), anyway:
Paskorz will offer some versatility as a defender at the college level. At the high school level, he plays from a two-point stance and could be considered as an outside linebacker/defensive end prospect in the right fit. Overall, we feel he will fit best more as a traditional defensive end. He could be asked to play from a two-point stance, but seems best suited to play near the line of scrimmage in an attacking fashion.
The rest of the evaluation is a series of sentences that go "he does this okay, but needs to work on this, too." The overall impression is that he's one of Michigan's less exciting recruits. Scout and Rivals actually think a little less of him (Rivals breaks DEs down into strongside and weakside spots, meaning he'd be about 80th on a unified list), but they all put him in the wide swath of generic three stars. What difference of opinion there happens to be is minor.
Paskorzs's offers echoed those evaluations, with a few middling-to-bad BCS teams hopping in and notable powers staying away. Pitt, Virginia, and Minnesota were the schools Paskorz picked Michigan over. He might have gotten more interest if he extended his recruitment past late May, but his offers are right in line with his rankings.
This lack of recruiting acclaim and the corresponding skepticism from the Michigan internets (possibly including this Michigan internet if the author of the following piece knows the distinction between blogs and message boards, a 50-50 proposition) spurs the haters-gonna-hate article:
Hampton's Jordan Paskorz has heard the whispers. The senior standout football player has read that he's overrated and that his scholarship offer to Michigan was helped by bloodlines. But the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Paskorz brushes it off like he has so many offensive tackles.
Once you get past the defensiveness, though, that piece has some useful quotes from Paskorz's coach:
"…it's hard to find a player of his caliber. He worked hard, he devoted time early in the morning and he didn't miss workouts. Jordan has been a quiet leader, and at least to me, he's exemplified what a Division I player should be."
"He's a physical specimen," DeMatteo said. "You look at him sometimes, and you forget he's just an 18-year-old kid."
There is also further confirmation that Paskorz is going to be behind Roh:
DeMatteo knows Paskorz likely will play a nearly identical position in the Michigan system.
"It's really based on what the offenses are doing. It's not any more complicated than that," DeMatteo said. "He has some things you can't coach.
"With all that being said, I can tell you right now, people aren't going to be afraid to run towards him. People aren't going to back down from him, and I hope he expects that."
And that's basically it when it comes to information floating out there. I've done a lot of these with an eye towards looking a little deeper than the recruiting sites do on the vast mass of three-star prospects that haven't leapt out at Scout or Rivals, often finding reasons for optimism. See Carvin Johnson for a canonical example. Here, though, there isn't much to go on. All recruits are lottery tickets that have a chance to hit big, but that doesn't mean you can't get a rough sense of the chances from surveying google. This is all a long way of saying I'm not expecting immediate contributions from Paskorz and think he's got a relatively low chance of being anything other than a functional rotation player a la Greg Banks. At this time, Pittsburgh-area newspaper cranks are invited to view this animated gif if it will make them feel better.
Why Jeremy Van Alstyne? It's really hard to find a Michigan player in the last decade who was a 230-ish pound LB/DE coming out of high school who did not have a ton of hype (Tim Jamison, Roh). I was going to go for Brandon Herron, but he was 6'2" and under 200 pounds as a high school kid. Van Alstyne was 240, listed at LB, and expected to play DE. He was always supposed to be breaking through but suffered a series of injuries and then didn't play that well even when he saw the field. He ended up a rotation player and erratic starter.
Etc.: State runner-up in the shot put. Fluffy article previewing Hampton's season last year with a couple quotes. Signing Day interview on WTKA. Paskorz's coach in an AA.com article on something he won't do at Michigan:
“I’m sure all the computer breakdowns would say that we were so right-handed because he played as our tight end to the right side,” Hampton coach Jacque DeMatteo said. “And he just mauled people. It was fun to watch. It was really nice to be able to coach something like that.”
Guru Reliability: High. Unified opinion about a healthy kid and nothing in the offers to contest the assessment.
General Excitement Level: Insert the usual disclaimers about how I don't want to be rude to a kid but have to maintain some air of objectivity: low. There's obviously some chance that Paskorz develops more than his classmates but his ceiling seems pretty average and he's got a ways to go to get there.
Projection: Redshirt, then spends another two years behind Roh before challenging for the starting job as a redshirt junior.
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.
All-time updates live on the 2011 Michigan Football Recruiting Board.
At about the 0:55 mark, that's FL WR Sammy Watkins gettin' his crush on (good pad level, that). If football and school don't work out, there's a future in stunt acting, no doubt.
Camps And Visits
The annual Sound Mind, Sound Body Camp took place at Wayne State over the weekend, drawing many of the midwest's best prospects. Sam Webb previewed the event in his Detroit News column last week:
Thanks to additional help from sponsors like Powerhouse Gym, the U.S. Army, and Scout.com, Sound Mind-Sound Body has reached farther beyond Michigan's border than ever before. As a result, before the first whistle is blown at this year's camp, it will have already surpassed last year's mark of hosting 55 prospects that eventually earned scholarship offers.
"Seventy kids already have Division I scholarship offers," said Blackwell. "We have kids coming from as far as Arizona and Minnesota. It is astounding. I'm just in awe really. This is more of a regional event now."
Prospects of interest for Michigan fans were many, and included OH OL Aundrey Walker, IL OL Chris Bryant, MI WR Commit Shawn Conway, MI WR DeAnthony Arnett, MI CB Valdez Showers, and MI CB Commit Delonte Hollowell. The Class of 2012 was represented as well, with MI LB James Ross (pictured above), MI LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, and IL OL Jordan Diamond leading the way.
Michigan's summer camp also started over the weekend (and ended yesterday). Tom ran down some of the participants, and is updating that Diary as he gets new information. Check back for the latest updates, and to know who you should keep on commitment watch.
OH OL Ray Ball was in town for camp, though he didn't work out. He raved about the visit to Tom:
"I know the top schools I have on my list are Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and UCLA, but this definitely puts Michigan in a better spot than before. "
In a class that will end up with many offensive linemen, that's a positive sign.
MI OL Jake Fisher did work out, on the other hand, and left Ann Arbor with an offer in hand ($, info in header).
NC LB/S Kris Frost was (is?) in town, and Michigan and Auburn lead LSU, Cal, and Clemson. for him.
Moving on to non-camp visit news, PA DT Delvon Simmons will be visiting Michigan eventually.
IL DE James Adeyanju visited Ann Arbor last week, and may be making a return visit soon ($, info in header).
Safety prospect Avery Walls had a great visit to Ann Arbor last week, even his mother (an OSU grad) was impressed. Michigan really rolled out the red carpet, with virtually all the coaches greeting Walls in Schembechler Hall, and it paid off. He also visited MSU whilst he was up here, but UM probably has the better chance.
Walls would be a huge grab for Rodriguez and co., but don't expect a decision any time soon.
Michigan makes the top 5 for FL S LaQuentin Smith, who is visiting with his teammate, FL RB Demetrius Hart, for the Iowa game:
"I would say that right now my top five is Arkansas, South Carolina, South Florida, Ole Miss and Michigan," Smith said. "And I still have love for Colorado State because they were the first to offer me."
Smith also hinted in the article that both Smith and Hart are considering a Michigan commitment during the visit. Hart also came in for some spring fluff:
Top RB - Dee Hart, Dr. Phillips. Hart was wiped out after playing two ways for almost 15 games over the weekend as the Panthers had to fight their way back through the losers' bracket. He rarely showed that fatigued on the field, however, and he was DP's go-to-guy, as usual, helping them reach the championship game.
The Panthers were runners-up in the USF 7-on-7 Tournament.
- IN RB Remound Wright. He held a (non-committable, I think) Michigan offer, but has committed to Stanford.
- TX RB Jarrell Oliver. He committed to Utah, where he'll be in the Utes' first recruiting class as a BCS program. Michigan seemed to cool on Oliver due to interest in other RBs (and teammate, TX S Sheroid Evans, coming off the board to Texas).
- IL WR DaVaris Daniels. He was going to choose between Miami and Notre Dame yesterday, but has pushed back the announcement. Michigan still appears to be out of the picture.
- OH WR Devin Smith. He received his Ohio State offer last week and, as expected, joined the Buckeyes' class of 2011.
- OH TE Nick Vannett, though he holds a Michigan offer, is not considering the Wolverines at this time. Conventional wisdom has him picking the Buckeyes.
- VA DE Corey Marshall. He committed to Virginia Tech.
- Future happy trails to TX CB Charles Jackson, who is deciding soon ($, info in header). He holds a Michigan offer, but hasn't really mentioned the Wolverines since receiving it.
- MI CB/Ath Raymon Taylor committed to Indiana. I, for one, will be shocked if he's still a four-star by the end of the process. The local BCS programs have had tons of opportunities to see him play, and neither considered him worthy.
Still With The Quarterbackin'
Michigan might not be dead for NC QB Marquise Williams, as he claims to not have made a decision yet, but VT or North Carolina (where he took a recent unofficial) is the presumptive choice. With his decision coming this week, we're approaching a "Happy Trails" moment for him.
That means FL QB Kevin Sousa (right) may finally be getting close to that coveted Michigan offer:
I called coach (Rod) Smith today, and they are going to recruit me. He is meeting with coach Rodriguez tomorrow as to a possible offer. He said that the guys they were recruiting are no longer interested in Michigan, and they have opened it up again as far as looking for a QB.
Should he receive that Michigan offer, don't forget he's said it would be hard to turn down in the past. He did tell Tom that he would visit Ann Arbor before making a decision for the Wolverines, but he may have that opportunity soon. He's roadtripping with his coach to several midwest schools, and if a Michigan offer is imminent, that schedule could probably be adjusted for a stop in Ann Arbor.
I've made it no secret that I think Sousa would be a great pickup for the QB in this class. If you want a little more on him, he has a variety of highlight videos available, including one from his spring game back in May:
Michigan, Pitt, and Florida are the leaders for NJ TE/DE Taques Franklin.
“My top schools that I’m looking at right now are Florida, Cincinnati, Michigan, Pittsburgh and North Carolina. Those are the top ones I’m looking at. I know a little bit about each one of them. From talking to college scouts I like what those (schools) have had to say. They’ve been telling me how good their school is for sports and education.
He may visit Ann Arbor sometime this summer.
Michigan, USC, and Oregon had been a pseudo-top 3 for AZ OL Andre Yruretagoyena, but the sanctions against the Trojans may have affected that. He talked to Tom:
I asked him what his reaction was, and he said, "I want to say it doesn't affect me, but it does. It's two years, which would end after my first year, so I would be there for it. I don't know if there's anything more, but if the NCAA finds more, then who knows what else they'll do. You never know with the NCAA."
Yruretagoyena recently released a top 7, including all three of those schools, along with Arizona, Arkansas, Oregon State, and Washington. It may be notable (and discouraging) that Michigan is one of only two non-PAC10 schools on the list.
FL OL James Elliott has received a Michigan offer.
PA OL Paul Gaughan has also received the Michigan offer ($, info in header) that he's been waiting for.
LA DT Mickey Johnson tells Tom that UCLA and Nebraska lead Michigan, Tennessee, and LSU for his services.
Coach Rodriguez is a cool guy. They're going through some things right now, but I believe that they're going to get through it. Coach Fred (Jackson) is good friends with my dad now, too. They've developed a good friendship through this recruiting process, so that's pretty cool. Plus, they play in the Big House. I've seen pictures of the stadium, and campus online, and I just can't wait to see all that.
If (when?) Michigan gets him on campus, it could be a huge boon to Michigan's chances to land him.
Shortly after Michigan offered, they were the heavy favorite for MI LB Ed Davis. However, the Wolverines have fallen off slightly, thanks to some new offers and negative recruiting.
Added SC LB Dexter Staley, who includes Michigan in his top 5.
Michigan is showing renewed interest in OH LB Antonio Poole ($, info in header).
Tom talked to MI CB Valdez Showers, who recently received a Florida offer. Michigan is in his top group, and his friendship with MI WR Commit Shawn Conway could help the Wolverines recruit him.
2012 Note: Michigan is "courting" OH RB Warren Ball ($, info in header).
Phil Brabbs is going into the hospital for his second stem cell transplant tomorrow, and for the past few weeks they've been trying to hit a goal of 5000 fans for cancerkicker.org, the facebook site of their new Cancer Kicker Foundation. They need 500 more to make it today. Also, I don't know if you've seen their new Dominate fundraising shirt but despite the initial color scheme I think they look pretty good.
Yeah… someone please notify Phil that one of the shirt is scarlet and gray? Despite this flaw, support the cause.
Now that Nebraska will be joining the conference in 2011, what happens to the schedules? Teams have already released their schedules for that year, including 4 out-of-conference games and 8 conference games. I assume the Big Ten schedule will be modified but the other 4 games will be untouched. Any knowledge on that one?
The quick insertion of Nebraska into the schedule does pose problems for anyone who was hoping an additional conference game should be added, since just about everyone would have to cancel a tomato-can game, and suck up the penalties that come with that. That's not likely.
As far as revamping the conference schedules, as long as everyone's playing on the same dates it shouldn't be an issue. There's no reason anyone the Big Ten should have to move a bye week, and that's really all that matters. Nebraska might have to cancel or move a game, but that's part of the cost of switching conferences.
This article (below) on changes Jimbo Fisher is bringing to FSU made me wonder how much closer UM is to the late Bowden way of doing things than to the Saban / Fisher way of doing things. Specifically, in terms of ancillary staff and anything else you can do to give your program an edge by (mostly) spending money that most schools don't have, are we in the big leagues, or do we lag behind? For example, would we find it unseemly to have 9 full-time strength coaches? How many do we actually have? How many does OSU have? That's one metric. You can probably think of others.
"We had two full-time strength coaches other than our head strength coach," Fisher said. "We now have eight, and I'm about to hire the ninth guy."
To a fan of a perennial national title contender, this stuff probably doesn't sound revolutionary. It's not, which should help explain how far behind FSU had fallen in the 10 years since the Seminoles won their second national title by going wire-to-wire at No. 1.
I can't find this article any more and never actually posted about it because it was in my hopper right around the the time the Free Press initiated the jihad, but in August of last year someone* counted up the many coaching-type objects across the country and found that the national champion was none other than Michigan with, I think, 51. (None of whom filed CARA reports.) I started assembling a post about what all these people did, but googling was turning up virtually nothing and I shelved it until the report came out and it became clear that sometimes the people in the jobs themselves weren't sure what they should and should not be doing.
That was an expansion from the Carr days, mostly in the S&C department, but as long as it's legal I don't see why anyone would have a problem with it. The bits of it that are obviously an embarrassment, but presumably those won't be going on any further. If and when the NCAA reigns these spots with legislation, that will be fine, too, but the boat will just leak elsewhere.
*(Andy Staples at SI maybe? His archive only goes back six months.)
Hello Brian,Since Nebraska entered the Big 10, I was wondering how their recruiting would be impacted, especially now that they don't have as many games in Texas. Also, how will that impact existing Big 10 recruiting territories?Thanks a bunch.Respectfully,caesar
I don't think it will hurt Nebraska much. There will be some negative effect on Texas recruits who can no longer promise their families that they'll be able to attend a couple of local games per year, but as this space has discussed several times before the true genius of the Big Ten Network and the conference's ESPN/ABC contract is that with very limited exceptions*, every Big Ten football game is broadcast nationally as long as you have satellite TV or buy your cable provider's sports tier.
Decisions are still more likely to be made about quality of education and football program plus reasonable distance to home, in which case Nebraska still loses out to Oklahoma and Texas and beats almost everyone else when it comes to Texas recruits.
A more interesting effect to watch will be how Nebraska's recruiting shifts into Big Ten states, especially Illinois and Ohio. Nebraska has made a more concerted push into Big Ten territory as their walk-on program declined and their national recruiting increased. Last year the pirated IL S Corey Cooper away from Illinois and took OH RB Braylon Heard from WVU; this year they've got a couple OL from Big Ten country and DT Kevin Williams, who Michigan was also hot after.
On the other hand, Nebraska's 2008 and 2006 classes had zero recruits from the Big Ten region and 2007 had one three-star TE from Iowa and a two-star ATH from Cardinal Mooney. It's best for the conference if Nebraska keeps that up, since they'll be bringing in talent from Kansas JUCOs, Texas, Arizona, and California that other Big Ten schools have limited access to.
It's not likely, though, that Nebraska just keeps up their current recruiting and doesn't attempt to exploit their newfound attractiveness to recruits in the Big Ten footprint. They're not likely to win a lot of battles against Ohio State and Penn State. Williams nonwithstanding, if and when Michigan starts being Michigan again they're also not likely to take a bunch of kids away from a Michigan program with more local cachet. But the programs in the Big Ten that depend on talent from Illinois and Ohio that fall past the big guns could suffer at the hands of the Cornhuskers. This would hit Iowa and Michigan State most harshly.
*(Regional night games on ABC and the occasional nonconference road game that doesn't merit national attention in an era when any two BCS teams going head-to-head is a big deal.)
A trio of 2010 Michigan commits participated in All-Star games over the weekend. The Brothers Talbott played for Team Ohio in the annual Big 33 Classic against Pittsburgh, while preferred walk-on Baquer Sayed (#4 at right) was on the East team in the Michigan High School Football Coaches' Association All-Star game. Paul and I took in the MHSFCA game in person, and I watched the Big 33 on NFL Network.
East-West Game Report
The MHSFCA All-Star game was without many of Michigan's best players (ironically enough). The likes of Nick Hill and William Gholston from Michigan State didn't play in the game, and the Wolverines' quartet of Ricardo Miller, Austin White, Jeremy Jackson, and Devin Gardner all enrolled early, so they couldn't play. Gardner in particular could have made this a much more entertaining game to watch. The QB play was iffy at best.
The East team had nothing going offensively in the first half, finishing with 7(!) yards of total offense and giving up a safety. The West took advantage, building a 16-0 lead going into the break, courtesy of two Chris Robinson (Ovid-Elsie - Grand Valley State) touchdown runs. Field position played a huge factor, as the East team rarely even made it into opposing territory.
After halftime, however, the East offense came alive, partially due to a little more aggressive play calling. While pass plays functioned as scramble drills in half one, they became part of a functioning offense in the second with Jason Fracassa (Sterling Height Stevenson - Northwood University) able to move the ball through the air. The East scored 20 unanswered points with Fracassa touchdown passes to Eric Cogan (Petersburg-Summerfield - Saginaw Valley State) and Torico Searcy (Warren Mott - Grand Rapids CC) before a last-minute West penalty allowed East coach Jim Sparks (Clawson) the opportunity to forgo a game-tying field goal to go for the win. Jeremy Langford (Westland John Glenn - Michigan State) lined up in the I-formation and sealed the victory for the East.
With such a sloppily-played game, few players truly impressed, but Spartan-bound wideout Tony Lippett (Detroit Crockett) was HUGE in comparison to the rest of the All-Stars. West running back Chris Robinson was somewhat impressive behind a sketchy offensive line, and West QB Jordan Beachnau (Holt - Grand Valley State) showed very good elusive abilities in traffic. I was not impressed at all by Jeremy Langford.
Also impressive was Michigan's lone representative in the game, Baquer Sayed. He was routinely open on the occasion that a pass play was called, but he was often missed (either the quarterback threw a bad ball or didn't throw it his way at all , often because he was running for his life) or interfered with. On top of one key pass interference drawn, he caught 3 passes for 45 yards, with a long reception of 22 yards. He was thrown to two other times, but both passes were uncatchable.
Big 33 Game Report
The Big 33 Classic annually pits some of the best in Ohio against some of the best in Pennsylvania. A number of college commitments participated (Pitt led the way with 10 commits, though Ohio State and Penn State each had 4), and like the Michigan game, it was a defensive battle for much of the contest.
It's very rare that you'll see two separate games start with 2-0 scores in an entire year, much less one day, but that was the case Saturday, as Pennsylvania took that advantage all the way into halftime. Missed field goals from both teams (including onetime Michigan preferred walkon-turned-Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear of Team Ohio) and generally sloppy play limited the scoring, and quite honestly, fan enjoyment of the game.
After halftime, the game opened up somewhat, as Pennsylvania QB Anthony Gonzales (Liberty - Pitt) threw a pair of touchdown passes, one to PSU-bound Alex Kenney (State College) and another to future teammate Andrew Carswell (Sto-Rox). Ohio was not to be outdone, as Ohio State commits Verlon Reed (Marion Franklin) and Christian Bryant (Glenville) scored TDs. Reed's came on an 80-some-yard scamper, and Bryant's was a 26-yard reception with less than a minute on the clock to put Ohio up for good.
I was impressed with the performance of Alex Kenney and Andrew Carswell from Pennsylvania. Carswell should be a big target for Pittsburgh in the coming years. Wisconsin-bound Mannesah Garner (Brashear) was a terror on the defensive line, though he's expected to be a wideout in Madison. The surprise star of the day was Rich Gray (Woodland Hills) who's headed to Kent State, of all places. He was constantly in the Ohio backfield, and if he can stay on top of his conditioning, the Golden Flashes have uncovered a serious diamond in the rough.
A few Ohio players impressed as well. Verlon Reed and Christian Bryant showed good athleticism, though Reed couldn't pass the ball well at all, and Bryant looked lost in coverage at times (in man, he let Andrew Carswell get free by about 15 yards for one of Pennsylvania's touchdowns). JT Moore (Youngstown Boardman - Ohio State) got good pressure on the quarterback as well.
Michigan's representatives in the game, brothers Terry and Terrence Talbott, had mixed results. For the record, their jerseys both said "Talbott"—the organizers probably figured that 6 inches and 75 pounds would be enough for observers to differentiate between them.
Terry had one sack (@ 2:59 in the video below) and a couple other QB pressures, but no other real production. Terrence had a fumble recovery on special teams, one pass breakup and a couple tackles. Terrence was also responsible for one of Pennsylvania's touchdowns, however, as PSU commit Alex Kenney ran a streak down the sidelines, finding himself a step past—and a lot bigger than—Talbott.
Big 33 Video
That wraps up Michigan commits' All-Star performances for the year, and Friday Night Lights will go into hibernation until late August, when the Class of 2011 gets its time to shine.
Valdez Showers is a versatile athlete out of Madison Heights, Michigan, mainly being recruited as a defensive back. Sitting in Michigan's backyard, Valdez has an offer from the Wolverines and just picked up a somewhat surprising offer from Florida. Auburn, Michigan State, and others have offered.
First his junior highlight film:
There's film on him from a 7 on 7 tournament, as well. Here's what Showers had to say.
TOM: Word on the street is that you received an offer from Florida recently?
VALDEZ: Yeah, I went down there on the 16th to visit the school. I camped the next day, and I could tell that the coaches were impressed. When I got home, I talked to one of the coaches, and he offered me a scholarship. They just said that overall I'm a great player, and I would fit well at cornerback for them.
TOM: Is that what most schools are recruiting you for? Cornerback?
VALDEZ: Yeah, that's what pretty much everyone sees me at.
TOM: That's a pretty big offer; how many total do you have now?
VALDEZ: I have a total of around 16 now. I don't have a top list yet, though. I'm going to sit down this week, and see if I can narrow it down.
TOM: There has to be some schools that stick out to you, though, right?
VALDEZ: Yeah, I mean, Florida sticks out because they have great football, and academics. Michigan sticks out, they'll probably be in the top group, too. I have a good connection with the coaches at Michigan, and they're well rounded, too.
TOM: When you say you want to narrow your list down, how are you going to decide who makes the cut? You have some nice offers from Auburn, Cinci, Michigan, and Florida, what's the criteria?
VALDEZ: I'm looking for great academics, great football, and a good coaching staff, of course. I really want to find the school that's the right fit for me, though. So, I'm not sure when I'll decide. I just want to take my time with it, and put it in God's hands.
TOM: With some offers out of state, and across the country, how will distance factor in?
VALDEZ: Distance won't be a factor. I'll just go where ever is best for me. My mom was excited when I got the Florida offer, and she's said that she'll come watch me play where ever I go, so that doesn't matter.
TOM: Were you able to make it back up for the Sound Mind Sound Body camp this weekend?
VALDEZ: Yeah, I went, but my flight got delayed from Florida. I came late to the second day, so I couldn't do a whole lot. I got to talk to a couple coaches from Michigan, and they were telling me to come back up and visit sometime soon. I'm going to try to get back up there pretty soon. I'm not sure when, though.
TOM: Since you're from Michigan, are you friends with any of the other Michigan recruits? Do they try to recruit you?
VALDEZ: I'm friends with Shawn Conway. We met through the 7 on 7's, and became cool through that. He doesn't really try to recruit me, he just tells me to pick the best school for me.
TOM: Describe yourself as an athlete to someone who has never watched film on you.
VALDEZ: I'm a leader on the field, a hard worker, explosive, fast, and I just make plays. I ran the 40 at the Florida camp, and I was timed at a 4.48, and a 4.5. I have a hamstring injury, too, so I know I can run faster than that.
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.