Boiler Room

Boiler Room

Submitted by Brian on June 23rd, 2014 at 12:19 PM

6/22/2014 – USA 2, Portugal 2 – 1-0-1, Group G

Jermaine-Jones-of-the-United-States-celebrates-scoring-his-teams-first-goal[1]

I had an internship in Austin when I was in college, and fell in with some guys who played roller hockey in the parking lot. We were a motley crew; I was near but not quite at the bottom in terms of skill. This is always my critical point: I have to be obviously not the worst guy. I was at least fourth from the bottom here, which marks my personal athletic best.

We would take breaks because it was summer in Texas. During those breaks we would discuss how close we were to dying at that very moment, because we were engineers playing roller hockey in summer in Texas. But there was this guy. He had a ponytail and did not look like an engineer. He was not skilled either. When we took our breaks to pound water in our faces and discuss how narrowly we had avoided catastrophic death, this guy would be flying around the parking lot at top speed. He did nothing except take laps.

We looked at him like he was out of his mind. He kept skating. Endurance is rarely spectacular, but when it is, it really is.

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Jermaine Jones probably doesn't know what hockey is, let alone the variety that comes on fake ice skates. He is nonetheless that guy, running and running and running even after he should fall over and expire. This has always been more or less true, but now that he's been well and truly released by the presence of Beckerman, he is something to marvel at. He's probably taking laps at halftime.

And then this gets into what it is to America. I read one of the pile of articles about how Klinsmann was or was not making American soccer more or less American and got irritated at various assertions but particularly this one…

"Largely due to an influx of continental players, the U.S. team has options now and is reaching beyond its previous identity, the way a toddler goes from a crawl to a walk. "

…because it just couldn't be more incorrect. The Influx Of Continental Players is basically Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones and the occasional substitute appearance, hardly unusual world-wide. Spain (Spain!) started a recently naturalized Brazilian striker. The US lost Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic to Italy and Serbia, respectively. Meanwhile, the United States has long been on the lookout for anyone technically American, no matter how vague the connection. Having the son of a soldier stationed overseas on the team dates back to at least Earnie Stewart. The teams that won't poach a dubiously authentic Insert Nationality Here if given the opportunity start and end with Brazil.

But anyway I bristled at this assertion that the USA's surging fortunes were due to some unprecedented wave of educated foreigners to the point that I left a snotty comment, which was this:

There are all of two dual-nationals who are projected to start, and one of them is the most stereotypically American player in the 11: Jermaine Jones, a physical and endurance marvel who's about as creative as a brick.

And he is! You could not carve a more American defensive midfielder out of apple pie. He may as well be running around the field in a stovepipe hat, all industry and impossible running 80 minutes into a game played in a convection oven.

It's not often that you can see a guy playing sports and go "whoah" just because he's running in a straight line faster than the other guys around him. Those moments are usually reserved for the Denard Robinsons and Usain Bolts of the world. Even next to the indefatigable Bradley, though, Jones makes you marvel. When US shirts had descended into sheer, soaked clingfilm, Jones was still roaring around.

The US got their grip on the game, and this time it was Portugal dropping out exhausted as the US kept coming on. I said after the Ghana game that I had seen this before, and it does remain a real thing about this team: they will never stop coming.

Then friggin' Ronaldo had to go and do his Ronaldo thing—actually his un-Ronaldo thing—to spoil the party. If you had given me any odds that Ronaldo was going to doodle around and then fire in a shot from a bad angle that was still scary I would have taken it. Ronaldo doesn't cross. Are we rubbing off on people? I certainly hope not.

---------------------

After it was over I collapsed on a stool, wrung out. I had not been there, but my legs, stomach, and assorted other vaguely aching bits would disagree with this assertion. Jones had fired in a piledriver of a goal that felt like it was coming as he and Bradley took turns calibrating their rifles in the first half; I had done a series of involuntary squats at chances squandered on both sides.

Thirty seconds from freedom; instead another lap. Okay. We have legs yet.

Bullets

Highlights.

It happens. Stray into a comments section today and you'll get some dude screaming about how Bradley should be deported for overall suck, and I'm just like… no. Bradley managed to put a ball from two yards on to a defender's knee, sure. Here is The Best Player In The World afforded a chance from not quite the same range but not much further:

it-happens

juuuuuust a bit outside

The number one rule of soccer is that it is hard and you mostly look dumb trying to do it.

The late turnover is also a thing that happens; Bradley had a poor first touch, then set up to wall off the Portugal player who was trying to get the ball off him. he found misfortune when that guy happened to be Eder, who is about 30 pounds heavier than anyone else on the field and made a play that was seemingly way out of his wheelhouse by deftly stripping the ball without fouling.

It still took three subsequent major errors and a perfect cross for anything to come of it.

If the above still had been the goal instead of the sad thing that transpired in the 95th minute people would be bitching about Dempsey and Beckerman, who conspired to turn it over and create a break. When you complain about something that happened after six more touches, none of which had anything to do with the initial turnover, you are just venting irrationally.

Bradley was much, much better in this game than against Ghana, opening up the Portugal defense with accurately placed balls down the wing and harrassing Moutino into a performance that lacked impact. A turnover well on the Portugal side of the field is just that: a turnover. Which happens.

The real question. What is even the point of Omar Gonzalez? Specifically brought in to deal with crosses late, Gonzalez ends up higher up the field than four other American players on the fatal break.

image

Gonzalez dead center, higher than Jones

If he is even with Besler in the center of a three-man back line he cuts that cross out well before it gets anywhere near Varela and everyone goes home happy. Instead he's somehow gotten dragged into the midfield. When Bradley loses the ball he is literally at the halfway stripe!

I don't get it. It makes sense to bring the guy in to clog up the box with about three minutes left. So why isn't he doing it?

Tactical shift, quicktime. The official lineup released by the US had Zusi on the left and Bedoya on the right, presumably because Bedoya's higher work rate and defensive ability would come in handy against Ronaldo. The fifth minute goal seemed to change that:

imageimage

Bedoya left, Zusi right, after 5 minutes. Before that they were flipped.

After the US went down Zusi moved over to a spot where his right foot was better situated to have an impact. Note Zusi's tendency to stay tucked in so Fabian Johnson could bomb down the right, exploiting the space that Ronaldo refuses to track back on. For 94 minutes he was a liability.

Zusi then flipped back to the left when Yedlin came on, which is where the assist on Dempsey's goal came from, a sweetly hit short cross from his left foot.

Immense. Matt Besler just turned in one of the finest performances I've seen from a US center back in… ever? Possibly ever. Oguchi Onyewu has to get a mention here for battering out approximately a mole of crosses from Spain in the Confed Cup (oh man now I just thought about having Gooch in this game instead of Gonzalez and now sadness reins).

Other than that, Besler's high up there. Besler's positioning and instincts were impeccable here. The high point was probably the break he snuffed out at midfield just as everyone was getting their Ronaldo panic on. He was near flawless.

Immensely variable. Cameron, Besler's partner, had a major hand in shutting down Ronaldo all night. He also scuffed a clearance right to Nani for the opener and got beaten in the last minute. I don't know, man. Obviously both those things are very bad. But outside of those very bad things Cameron has been consistently good for the US, anywhere you put him. I think he'll put an admittedly game-wrecking performance behind him.

I mean, there's a poor clearance and there's a poor clearance that happens to be the absolute perfect ball to Nani. As with Bradley, I'm trying to chalk up Cameron's error on what it was instead of the result.

Are you five-foot-eight and fast as a guy with flaming pants? If so, stop playing basketball. Stop playing football unless you are Dennis Norfleet. You aren't making it big in either of those sports. Best-case scenario, the one in 300 million scenario, is that you are a role-playing freak show for a few years. It's not bad if you can get it, but you probably can't.

Soccer, though: DaMarcus Beasley is 5'8". DeAndre Yedlin is 5'8". All those terrifying buggers like Christian Atsu and various other Ghana midges are 5'8". Brazil brings on a 5'5" guy(!).If you can run all day and change directions quickly but tend to disintegrate on contact because you are a wee thing, get thee to the soccer field. For America.

Group Situation

The US wins the group with a win over Germany and finishes second with a tie. The prospect of a wink-wink draw with the Germans is there, as it would guarantee both teams advance and Germany would avoid (presumably) Belgium in the first knockout round. At the very least expect both teams to play defensively.

If the US loses things get into goal differential with the winner of the Ghana-Portugal game. Portugal would have to make up their 4-0 loss in the opener; Ghana just has to make up a one-goal loss. The US is out if they lose 1-0 and:

  • Ghana wins by two goals, or
  • Ghana wins by one in a goal blizzard (3-2 at least)
  • Portugal wins by five

So root for Portugal in the other game. Barring unlikely outcomes, the US enters the final match with a two-and-a-half goal cushion on Ghana and a five-and-a-half goal cushion on Portugal.

That's still a pretty good situation.

Germany Situation

The Germans are close to healthy. Right back Jerome Boateng was lifted at halftime of the Ghana game with a hip injury of some variety and may or may not be available. Thomas Muller took a nasty collision right at the end of the Ghana game but is not seriously damaged and should be fine for Thursday. Everyone else is good to go.

After a German walkover of Portugal, they struggled against Ghana. The 2-2 draw was closer to a Ghana win than vice-versa as the Germany D struggled to keep pace with Ghana on counters. Germany's outside backs were particularly poor at both ends, and not unexpectedly: both the starting right back, Benedikt Howedes, and Boateng's replacement, Shkodran Mustafi, are center backs at club level. Boateng is a bit more versatile but is still primarily a center back. (Germany's using  Phillip Lahm as a holding midfielder for some reason—really makes you wonder if Germany would have both Jones and Johnson on their roster if they had not switched to the US.)

It's the offense bit that's worrying. Germany has about a half-dozen world-class attackers, and even though one's out with a pre-World Cup injury they've still got a pile of dudes more talented than anyone the USA's got.

Knowing they only need a draw, The US is likely to reprise their 4-2-3-1 from the Germany game in an attempt to keep possession for long stretches and remain compact at the back.

Preview: Nats vs Portugal

Preview: Nats vs Portugal

Submitted by Brian on June 20th, 2014 at 11:58 AM

Bqh7GBQCEAECRmC[1]THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT USA vs Portugal
WHERE Arena da Amazonia
Manaus, Brazil
WHEN 5 PM Eastern
Sunday
LINE Hat eatin'
TV ESPN

Via AO Augusta.

It's (probably) simple for the US: draw and don't get blown out by Germany and you're through. The best way to draw is to win, because then even if you don't win you still draw.

Now, about doing that…

THE THEM: RONALDO AND THE OTHER GUYS

Portugal fell apart like a Michigan running play against Germany, falling behind early, taking a straight red when Pepe lost his mind, and then slowly bleeding goals the rest of the 90. It was an hour and a half of a 3-yard TFL.

This means that Portugal will be desperate to go up early. They will attack like mad; the US has to weather that storm. The good news is that if the US gets a lead it seems likely that Portugal will deflate. They're a bit fragile, the Portugals.

From time immemorial Portugal has relied on a 4-3-3 in which the striker is more of a facilitator to Ronaldo than an elite threat himself; this means that forward surges from the USA fullbacks will seem promising until such time as the US doesn't have the ball, whereupon you'll be screaming GET BACK GET BACK at the teevee. With Portugal going balls to the wall for three points, a withering back and forth akin to the Turkey game beckons, albeit hopefully one with fewer free goals handed out.

GOALIE: If Rui Patricio, the designated starter is out, there will be another goalie who is probably slightly worse. But he's still a goalie.

742427-68764b28-f582-11e3-9eee-86d74a63fbdc[1]

yeah but "Beat It" was a hit

DEFENSE: Shot through the heart and various things are to blame. Pepe, the first-choice centerback who's real fast, took a red card and is out. Fabio Coentrao strained a groin and is out. Bruno Alves has some sort of hamstring issue and is "doubtful" for Sunday.

As a result, this looks rather appealing from a US perspective. Pepe's likely replacement is 33-year-old Diego Costa. If Alves plays this makes the Portugal CB pairing 1) old, 2) slow, and 3) forced to endure the punishing heat and humidity of the Amazon. They're good, of course. This is not an ideal situation for them. If Alves does not play, his replacement is Luis Neto, who plays in Russia and has nine caps to his name.

On the outside, Andre Almeida (not that Andre Almeida) is likely to replace Coentrao. A converted midfielder unsure about his positioning, he doesn't get forward that much… or at least hasn't in the last few games. That's a major downgrade from Coentrao.

Joao Pereira is the right back; he's the guy who dragged down the German dude to open the scoring in that route. He is a fixture at Valencia, and is more of a tough-tackling guy who won't do much surging forward.

MIDFIELD: Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles are highly likely. Meireles is the biker Viking you may have seen extending his index fingers at the referee on twitter:

53a13ee0865b3_Screenshot20140618at08.17.18[1]

some people saw middle fingers and went omg

His main asset is running around tirelessly and annoying people, like Jones. Zonal Marking notes that he "does everything reasonably well without excelling in any one category."

Moutinho is the primary link between attack and defense:

Ronaldo was the obvious star of Portugal's 3-2 victory over Sweden in the second leg of the playoff, but Moutinho's role was vital. It was his perfect through ball that laid on the first (although it would be wrong to give him too much credit for his positioning, given he was only there because he'd been writhing in supposed agony trying to get the game stopped). Still, having received the ball, his awareness and the weight of pass were exemplary.

In what often seems a broken team with six defensive players and three forwards, Moutinho's capacity to link the two parts of the side, both with his running and his passing ability, is critical. Efficient rather than flashy, he is the central intelligence that binds Portugal together.

That is even more true now with Coentrao out; the US should focus on applying pressure to him as quickly as possible, allowing anyone but Moutinho the time and space to try an incisive ball.

Those guys are the higher-placed of the three midfielders; the defensive midfielder could be Miguel Veloso, who played against Germany, or the 22-year-old riser William Carvalho. Veloso got pulled out of position constantly in the first gmae, but the Portugal coach tends to ride or die with the same set of guys. Would he ride or die after a 4-0 defeat? I don't know. The soccer internets seem to think Carvalho is a much better idea, as he is clever on the ball and has attacking upside. Portugal needs that in a game they must win.

FORWARD: I'll list the three main attackers here even though Nani's more of a winger, as Portugal has steadfastly stuck to a 4-3-3 in which the front three don't put a ton of work in on defense.

Cristiano-Roanldo-Portugals-danger-man[1]

don't let this happen much please

Ronaldo is Ronaldo. He will hang out on the left wing and try to cut in; he'll shoot from all angles; he will flip from time to time with Nani to see if he can annihilate the other side of the US lineup a bit easier. Ronaldo's been dealing with tendinitis and hasn't been able to practice much, often limping off the field after 15 or 20 minutes with an ice pack on his leg. His fitness is in question; he'll be considerably more dangerous early. Oh, and he's lethal on free kicks.

Nani is Nani, except when he's not, which is a lot of the time. You could be forgiven if you thought his full name was The Mercurial Nani. He's a much more traditional winger than Ronaldo; he'll try to get in dangerous crosses most of the time, with occasional forays inside. Beasley should get to be more aggressive because Nani's crosses are more dangerous than the left-footed Atsu, and if Portugal goes with the guy they probably will they'll have much more dangerous targets in the box. He is capable of moments of magic.

With Hugo Almeida out, Portugal has generally turned to the strapping, Altidorean Eder as their center forward. He's a hold-up guy and aerial threat, very physical. The aging, wily Helder Postiga is another option, but in the heat one dollar says the 26 year old coming on gets the nod over the 31-year old who's struggled to see the field for his club of late.

Eder's a pretty good matchup for the US, as they've always been an outfit that deals with crosses well, and that's' where Eder is at his best.

BX19I7YIYAAm5zr[1]THE US(A)

The early goal and Altidore injury saw the US drop back into a 4-4-2 most of the night against Ghana instead of the diamond. A lot of that was just the USA's inability to keep possession. In a game that figures to feature the USA with more of the ball, I would expect something more diamond-y, but also more aggressive on the wings on offense as the US tries to pull Portugal out of shape. More about that in a bit.

GOALIE: Howard.

DEFENSE: Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson.

No reason to change with the center backs turning in terrific performances, Cameron especially, and the backup options on the outside seeming scary. Chandler in particular has seemed to wilt when the temperature gets turned up. Though Beasley is much older he's used to he conditions as he plays in Mexico. He also weighs about 90 pounds and has never, ever seemed tired.

Alternatives include Brooks if Besler is not ready to go and a potential shakeup at one of the outside back spots. I think changes would be silly. They either involve exposing an untested player to Ronaldo or playing said player on the left, where they are uncomfortable.

MIDFIELD: Beckerman, Jones, Bedoya, Bradley

Michael Bradley

Bradley needs to be Bradley

Jones and Bradley are obvious; Beckerman is almost certainly going to be included as well, as the US can count on him to be in annoying positions when Ronaldo attempts to cut inside.

The fourth midfielder could be either Bedoya or Zusi. I think Bedoya will be preferred because he's more active defensively and has the pace to zip past Dempsey as he drops into the midfield, about which more later. Zusi would not be a huge surprise, as he quickly showed his quality once inserted with that corner. Zusi has a knack for long, defense-splitting passes that should be available. I expect both to play.

This might look more like a 4-2-3-1 as the US should be pressuring whoever Portugal's defensive mid is, especially if it is Carvalho. Meanwhile, expect Beckerman to shade towards Ronaldo's side with Jones providing more cover and less upfield surging than he has in the last couple games.

FORWARD: Johannsson, Dempsey

The "false nine" thing is popular because it drags center backs around. If Dempsey drops off the defensive line to collect the ball, Portugal is faced with a decision: give the USA's most creative player time and space or try to shut him down by running one of their CBs at him. Germany exploited this even when Pepe was available; without Pepe around it seems like the best way for the US to proceed is to have Dempsey drop back and flank him with two guys who can run past him when someone steps out to meet him.

Then you get things like this:

The biggest spot to attack Portugal is undoubtedly their left rear channel. This is the area of the field that is typically defended by Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrão … and Miguel Veloso.

It’s the flaw of Bento’s system because Ronaldo tends to stay high and Moutinho tend to get pulled out to cover that space. This reverberates down the defense.

Germany incessantly attacked this area on Monday. (Has it been mentioned what a masterclass Jogi Low put on?). Thomas Muller’s haul-down came from there. The second goal (above) came from there and there was another quality chance knocked over the bar just by Götze.

Germany deployed this to good effect.

Low’s decision to play a 4-3-3 with a false 9 was incredibly insightful. While Pepe is fast, Alves is not, and Götze’s constant movement towards the midfield pulled Alves into a position that he could not recover from.

With Alves hurting, all the more reason to force Portugal players to step out into the midfield.

The wild guess here is that Dempsey is a striker who drops back and Johannsson comes in to dart past him; Johannson will also be the target of those long diagonal balls on which he should be able to outpace the center backs as Portugal's outside backs get forward. He's not a target forward but against a depleted Portugal back four he can have a similar effect as an outlet valve.

The other runner should rotate depending on the situation: Bradley, Bedoya/Zusi, and Johnson will all be candidates.

Michael Bradley

Wondo time

SUBS: Expect Wondolowski if the US needs a goal, and probably even if they don't. The combination of slowish, exhausted center backs and Wondo's evil, constant movement makes him a very attractive option. It's probably going to be a prematch plan for Johannsson to give his all for 60 minutes and then exit.

Whoever of Bedoya or Zusi does not start will probably replace the other as the US keeps its right flank fresh against Ronaldo.

The third sub would be context dependent: if the US needs a goal they would probably lift Beckerman for Diskerud. If they're in the lead they might not use it at all; if they do the introduction of Yedlin or Chandler would probably be the move.

THE REF

Argentine Nestor Quintana has been assigned the game. He did the 1-1 draw between South Korea and Russia in which there wasn't a whole lot to get wrong. He tends to issue a lot of cards, FWIW.

KEYS OTHER THAN SCORING MORE GOALPOINTS

winger stops tracking Johnson, and that happened

Get Fabian involved on offense. But Ronaldo? The thing is: Ronaldo don't do D, so you can find a lot of room behind him and pull Portugal out of shape. That requires covering, and the US can do that reasonably well by sliding Cameron over—EPL rightback, remember—and keeping Beckerman shaded to the right. That also means Beasley has to stay back, but that's okay.

It's not ideal for Johnson to get caught upfield. The risks are worth it. Johnson is one of the USA's most dynamic offensive players no matter where he is. This is an opportunity for him to find a bunch of room, as he tends to cut into the very right-hand channel that Germany exposed so ruthlessly.

The US can cover for him. If you squint, it actually looks like this was the plan from day one: Johnson isn't terrific defensively; Cameron is the most mobile central defender the US has. As long as the US is cognizant of Johnson's surges they will be fine.

Wear out the center backs. Long diagonal passes into the channels will pull those guys into uncomfortable positions and wear them down. The US can get its pressure relief from Johannsson thanks to the setup here. Then they can bring in a poacher in an ideal situation.

Keep possession. The US was pretty dire at this after Altidore went out, and large parts of the problem were due to nothing other than US players making crappy passes. A repeat of that is an alarming possibility. It should be easier against a team that won't be inclined to press.

Avoid issuing dangerous free-kicks. They are extremely, extremely dangerous against Portugal. Ronaldo is crazy good at shooting from them, and Alves (if he plays) is a major danger on crosses from them. Easier said than done with the king of stepovers, I know.

TIE THE GAME. #tiethegame

SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES

DIVBYZERO

World Cup Bits

World Cup Bits

Submitted by Brian on June 18th, 2014 at 12:50 PM

USA_color[1]

via ndmspaint

Yes, exactly. The usual round of soccer meta-backlash posts is underway—I had a contribution to the genre—after the usual round of soccer backlash posts. Will Leitch's is the best because it communicates the thing:

I don't know whether you like soccer, or whether you don't, whether you've been tracking USMNT for two decades or you just popped by the bar after work and oh hey look at the TV that's the country I'm from. I just know that when John Brooks -- who is 21 years old, who was born nine days after Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993 -- scored that header for the United States to take a stunning 2-1 lead against Ghana on Monday, it is worryingly possible that I accidentally made it to second base with every person in the bar. No matter where I was looking, no matter what direction I was pointing … whatever was in front of me was my best friend. It was a collective gaggle of fists and elbows and screams.

I had fun! Lots of fun. That's why I like the soccering. I like it and find it fun. I guess it's cool if that makes you want to throw a shoe at my head, but you're missing out, man.

Game takes: Beasley edition. It is an infallible rule of soccer that no matter how unfathomable a post-game opinion is, someone will hold it with the ferocity of a thousand suns. I haven't quite found someone with a thunderous defense of Bradley's uncharacteristically poor play, but I'm sure he's out there, asserting that despite all available evidence he should just be a defensive mid.

The major point of contention seems to be about Beasley's performance. Some are like "let's try Chandler":

D DaMarcus Beasley (3) – To put it bluntly, Beasley was roasted on the left. Ghana identified him as a weakness and attacked him over and over again as a result. It’s worth wondering if an uncomfortable Timmy Chandler might even be better, especially since it will get no easier facing Nani against Portugal.

That guy gave Howard a 9 for fielding a large number of the harmless balls flung in by Atsu, which seems… unbalanced.

SI's Liviu Bird has a take that's kinder to Beasley that seems about right:

Ghana concentrated its attacks on the right side, trying to exploit Christian Atsu’s youth and athleticism against DaMarcus Beasley.

The Black Stars got into dangerous areas multiple times, but their service left a lot to be desired. Multiple crosses were overhit, blocked or poorly placed.

The strategy played to Ghana’s athletic strengths, but it also put the U.S. defenders in a situation they find most comfortable, as Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Tim Howard play in leagues where defending crosses is a necessity.

To me the key thing in Beasley's favor here is that Atsu plays his club football as a winger… a left winger. Dude is left footed, and the large number of crosses Beasley gave up were ineffectual because

  1. Most of them were from the winger's weak foot.
  2. They were shot in at a bracketed Asamoah Gyan and a bunch of 5'8" bros.

Putting Atsu on the right was a tactical move that wanted to get through-balls and other items in the box with an inverted winger. The US responded by packing the middle and leaving Beasley on an island… again, Spain redux. Matt Doyle:

But considering he was going 1-v-2, he did well because – and I'm going all caps here because I don't trust the weight of mere words – NOBODY GOT BEHIND HIM. The US can deal with crosses all day, but you don't want Geoff Cameron, Besler – most likelyJohn Brooks now – or especially Omar Gonzalez having to come out and meet attackers wide.

They hit 30 crosses from open play – seven more than anyone else this tournament! That's [recently fired ManU manager] David Moyes territory.

With Gyan limited by congestion in the middle all he could do was fire in that one brilliant header that was wide and Howard had covered anyway. Gyan's other moment of threat was a cut in from the USA's right that got him a shot from just outside the box that tested Howard. Do we want those, or do we want guys trying to get on the end of crosses? Seems obvious. FWIW, crosses per game are down from 32 to 27 compared to 2010. They're a bit passé.

Theory: Beasley getting his ankles broken early like he'd just experienced a Derryck Thornton crossover made everyone super nervous about what would happen for the rest of the game, and even though not much did that nervousness leaked into some evaluations.

How is this different from the Chandler performance against Turkey I ripped? Chandler ceded one free goal and allowed another shot from inside the six yard box; also his side of the field was exposed not only to crosses but to shots, lots of shots.

Game takes: tactics. The US got penned in and ate possession, but how much of that was poor tactics (or injury misfortune) and how much was just bad play? It seems like a big chunk of the problem was just bad play, particularly from Bradley. FourFourTwo:

Ghana dominated the ball from the first whistle, and Klinsmann's team didn't do a great job of protecting their early lead. They completed just 201 passes at a rate of 73%, and gave the ball away cheaply whenever they got sight of the opposition half. Ghana recovered possession a huge 56 times (to USA's 31): loose balls from poor play, effectively.

Opta "recoveries" are balls that get played to you without you having to go get it with a tackle. They're unforced errors, for the most part. In fact:

USA’s pass completion was 73% which is the second lowest seen in the World Cup so far (only Iran with 72% vs Nigeria have shown lower).

That obviously cannot continue if the US is going to do anything against even a depleted Portugal.

Zonal Marking points out that Johannsson's total lack of impact was expected and that a midfielder (Mix Diskerud?) may have been preferred.

In fact, when Altidore departed midway through the first half, the USA were already under heavy pressure. Klinsmann might have considered bringing on an extra midfielder at this stage, because his side simply weren’t covering the midfield ground effectively. Dempsey and Johansson were stuck upfront with little service, covering the responsibilities of one man, and it felt like the USA were playing with ten players at times.

However, Kinsmann was able to depend upon good performances at the back, while Kyle Beckerman was excellent at screening the defence – he protected the ‘red zone’ excellently, meaning Ghana always looked out wide for their route to goal. Tim Howard, meanwhile, claimed crosses well and swept off his line intelligently.

Whoops. In the column yesterday I said Zusi lost the run of Ayew on the goal; that was Johnson.

React video. As per tradition.

Not often that the best and most overwhelmed response is from the dude who actually put it in.

By Sunday, Portugal will be down to potted plants. Already down Almeida, Coentrao, and Pepe, Portugal is now saying their starting goalie could be out. Portugal's other options are a guy who seems on the downside who just signed for a Croatian team and Sevilla's starter, who's only got a few caps. That's not as big of a deal as their other losses, but it certainly doesn't help.

UPDATE: Ronaldo limps out of practice with an ice-packed knee. !!!

USA injury stuff. Klinsmann says that Besler should be good to go for Portugal, and that he is "full of hope" Jozy will be back "in this tournament." Still seems impossible that would mean by Sunday.

If Besler's ready, he should go. He's been working on chemistry with Cameron for a month now and played very well during his 45 against Ghana. Brooks can be our target forward.

Working it out of the back: more possible now. While the FIFA rankings think Portugal is a much better team than Ghana, the setup should be more comfortable for the US. Ghana's athleticism and youth (they're the youngest team at the tournament) allowed them to press the US high for big stretches of the game after the early goal and Altidore departure.

The results were pretty ugly. The game featured the second-fewest passes per possession since Klinsmann took over. While the results of these low-possession games haven't been too bad, life is easier when you have the ball.

Portugal isn't nearly as suited to press high. Ronaldo in particular does not work on D, and while I'm not sure about this Eder guy coming in for Almeida it doesn't seem like he did much to harry the Germans. Of course, by the time he got in Portugal was falling apart at the seams. So… yeah.

The weather also means that high pressing is probably not in the cards. The Italy-England game got really sloppy because of the heat; forwards are likely to conserve energy when not in possession.

This means that not having Jozy isn't as bad as it could be, since the US should be able to play it on the ground out of their defense.

Etc.: Prehistoric US soccer writing from 1982, all dusted off. Unhappy Socceroo fan doesn't know about Tim Cahill yet. Orson on the game.