Stoppage Muppets

Stoppage Muppets

Submitted by Brian on June 23rd, 2010 at 12:20 PM

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.

Algeria: Hopefully Like Egypt

Algeria: Hopefully Like Egypt

Submitted by Brian on June 21st, 2010 at 3:59 PM

USA vs Algeria: Wednesday 9:30 AM , ESPN. 

algeria-1_1537672i

But don't tell them that because they'll cut you.

The Situation

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:

  • Win
  • 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.

The Opponent

Nadir Belhadj

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.

algeria-slovenia algeria-england

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 Us

ricardo-clark stuart-holden-2

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.

Projected 11

G: Howard.

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.

Half-Life

Half-Life

Submitted by Brian on June 18th, 2010 at 1:47 PM

6/18/2010 – USA 2, Slovenia 2 – 0-0-2, 3 GF 3 GA, in with a chance

landon Since college football happens on Saturday and people read the internet at work, I usually have the luxury of taking a day or two to compose my thoughts on an emotionally wrenching event before pouring them out into this space. No such luxury after a 10 AM game on Friday.

It doesn't matter in this case since I won't know how to feel until the US plays Algeria. Go through, and the second half was Yes We Can We Are Amurrica It Is Morning And Let's Roll Up Our Sleeves And Get Out Of This Recession. Fall short and it's time to bomb Mali. That would be unfortunate since some 13 years ago I was sitting on the internet playing checkers at 3 AM after a night of Jedi Knight and my opponent said "hello from Mali." We had a nice conversation. I explained what "doh!" meant and he told me he was using the only computer in his village of 300 to play checkers at 10 AM. Erroll77 is now 29. If I was him I would find a TV and root like hell for the USA against Algeria. The USA didn't bomb Germany after that mad dentist conjured a penalty out of nothing in the Ghana game, but they're in NATO. We do what we must.

I digress. What just happened is Schrödinger's Cat: World Cup Edition. At halftime I left the noisy bar and thought dark thoughts about how the US has largely moved away from MLS players but remains addicted to MLS managers. Jose Torres was brought on and the first half was spent seeing Slovenia cover passing lanes until one of the center-backs aimlessly booted a ball upfield that Robbie Findley might run onto, for whatever good that might do. The US had conceded a goal built from sheer lazy marking from Bocanegra, who allowed Walter Birsa to tuck inside totally unmarked and launch a shot Howard, off his line, had no chance at. The second goal was a World Cup-crushing gut punch that followed a sequence in which the US was one wrong touch or Donovan sliding tackle away from equalizing.

Then something decayed. At halftime I was busy composing a rant about how the loss had nothing to do with the USA's inability to play above the level of their competition and everything to do with their inability to do anything except on the counter and the unfamiliarity with defending it. The US then got a couple goals off hoofed long balls and managed to avoid further crippling goals on the counter. Why is unclear.

It wasn't the substitutions, neither of whom had anything to do with either US goal allowed to stand. Before he got on the end of the Donovan service Edu was frankly bad, and Feilhaber's contribution was limited to a couple of ambitious passes that didn't come off. It wasn't the run of play, which was the same as it was in the first half, with the teams splitting possession and the US having slightly more edge in the final third. It just went differently for no immediately understandable reason. It just happened.

They're still in it, though, and since I'm at a loss as to what, exactly, to think I will default to my mode of operation in 2002, when I was in a Galway pub and Niall Quinn knocked down a header for Robbie Keane to blast past Oliver Khan:

The situation then is creepily close to what the USA just faced down. Ireland had drawn their first game 1-1. The last game of the group was against a team from the Arab world widely regarded a minnow (in their case, Saudi Arabia), and a draw was required if they were going to have a chance to advance. The goal is a carbon-copy.

Keane scored deep into stoppage time, so Ireland didn't have time to punch in the winner and see it set on fire. The country decided to take the rest of the day off and drink by the river. I've still got to watch the England game, but in many things the Irish approach to life is the wise course. For now, a stirring comeback that leaves the USA's fate almost entirely in their hands, and a reason to keep faith even when the weight of history tells you to go home and sulk.

HIGHLIGHTS

While it's up:

BULLETS!

But first! The Run of Play wins twitter in the aftermath. Read from the bottom:

image

  • Jozy's finest game in the US uniform and not even close. Consistently dangerous, drawing a bunch of free kicks around the area, one of which resulted in the Edu goal-type substance, and knocked down the long ball perfectly for Bradley. Had a couple of those thrilling runs that are becoming a regular occurrence, too.
  • Torres didn't do much and got pulled at halftime, but I'm not sure how much was even his fault since there didn't seem to be any passing lanes available.
  • In retrospect, the horrendous Edu call was coming. In the first minute of the game Dempsey should have gotten yellow for an elbow to the head, then Findley got a yellow for handling the ball with his face. Other than Jorge Larrionda (surprise!) making a hash of whichever game he did a couple days ago, we haven't seen that many bad calls in a game, let alone a half.
  • Speaking of Findley: anyone else actually happy he has to sit for the Algeria game? Pace is nice but it's almost sad to see Findley run a ball down. What's he going to do with it? Boot it directly out of bounds? Ah, yes.
  • Feilhaber instead of Holden was weird, right? I guess the former might be more likely to spring a guy with a throughball through a crowded defense.
  • The US had to make the balls-out switch to Gomez but, man, having Edu in the back in a World Cup game was terrifying.
  • It's too bad the US doesn't have a true destroyer they can rely on because allowing Bradley to go box-to-box makes the US attack considerably more dynamic. His late runs into the box find him open all the time. This time, unlike Australia, he shot.
  • The outcome of the Algeria-England game does not matter much for the US. As discussed in the preview, the only way an Algeria win does not put the US through is if 1) the ENG-SLV game is a draw, 2) that draw sees Slovenia score two more goals than the US does against Algeria. That's a highly unlikely outcome. Anything other than an England win means the US just goes through if it wins, so root for Algeria, but it's not likely to matter either way.
  • Germany outcome removes any incentive to finish first. You'd like to avoid the Germans since they only lost because of a questionable red card to Klose (like Eddie Pope's sending off in 2006 the first yellow was a "huh" moment), a saved penalty, and some heroic goalkeeping by the opposition even after Germany went down to ten. But you have no idea where they will finish in the group.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH

hug-me-hold-me

But Oh, Slovenia: A Preview

But Oh, Slovenia: A Preview

Submitted by Brian on June 17th, 2010 at 3:13 PM

 

The Situation

There are varying opinions on whether the Slovenia game is a must-win or must-tie; I'm in the tie camp. If the US ties and England beats Algeria as expected, the final matchday will see Slovenia and England enter with four points and the US two. The US would go through if they win against Algeria and…

  • England wins
  • Slovenia wins
  • there's a draw and the US wins by two
  • there's a draw and either Slovenia or England scores fewer total goals than the US.

That is almost all possibilities that include a win over Algeria. So they can't lose. But a tie is far from tragic.

On the other hand, a win gives them more leeway against Algeria and could see them escape the knockout game against Germany everyone would dearly like to after the machine mistook Australia for Austria and acquired plenty of lebensraum. Winning is good.

Unfortunately, the US is not going to have a couple of pieces of key information before they go into Friday's matchup against Slovenia: what happened in the England-Algeria game, and if Germany as terrifying as it seemed or if Australia just a team that can give up four goals to anyone. If they knew these key bits of information they would know whether they should attempt to win by a lot or just win.

Without that information and given the situation in the group, the right answer appears to be "just win." This, I'm sad to say, may see Ricardo Clark start again.

The Opponent

walter-birsaWalter Birsa is Slovenia's Dempsey

Slovenia, as you might expect given their population is approximately equivalent to Iowa, is a boring defensive team. They do have a few talented attacking players but their overall lack of talent sees them play a traditional 4-4-2 that you could call a 4-4-1-1- if you wanted, or a 4-2-2-2, or… well, a lot of different things. A 4-4-1-1 plays pretty similarly to what England does with Rooney and Heskey—Rooney comes deep for the ball, Heskey presses up the pitch—and so you could see some situations similar to the ugly breakdown that led to the England goal, hopefully minus the ugly breakdowns.

Here's my Torres pitch: I think this actually is an argument for Dollar Store Xavi. Torres operates best as a deep-lying playmaker who does not get dragged up the pitch much. Though he's not exactly spectacular in the tackle, the Slovenia attack is not athletic enough to punish him the way he would have been against England and his presence at the back will be more consistent than Clark—who tends to get dragged out of position—and Bradley—who also tends to get dragged out of position, but at least with him there's usually a point. The US defense is less likely to get pulled out of shape when he's around and more likely to spring quick attacks that bypass the Slovenian's compact discipline as much as that is possible. Clark's positioning has been erratic at best over the last month.

SI's Jonathan Wilson describes the Slovenes as essentially identical to the US, with their best and most creative players operating as tucked-in wingers:

Slovenia's only real creativity comes from the wide midfielders, Valter Birsa and Andraz Kirm. Both tend to tuck in when Slovenia is out of possession, pulling wider when the ball is won, while still looking to cut in on the diagonal -- just as Donovan and Dempsey do. They also tend to switch during games, occasionally playing as orthodox wide men and looking to swing in crosses, but more usually playing as inside-out wingers.

The back four and the two central midfielders are defensive players first, and the central defenders are good but not great. With Slovenia set to sit back and look for the counter themselves, opportunities to break will be minimal and this might be a game for Edson Buddle and his recent run of finishing instead of a Robbie Findley more likely to waste possession and biff open nets. Buddle's also a much greater threat in the air. With a lot of the USA's offense likely to come from overlapping fullback crosses, aerial power seems preferable to speed. Also, if you're bringing in Torres you might want a little more size elsewhere for set pieces for and against.

Slovenia's goalie, unfortunately, is damn good.

The Us

I've already brought this up in the previous sections: if I was Bob Bradley I'd swap Torres for Clark and Buddle for Findley, expecting that Torres would be sufficient defensively against a side lacking the sort of middle-of-the-park power England has and more likely to hold possession and unlock the Slovenian defense. Buddle, meanwhile, is more likely to get on the end of a cross or set piece and more likely to finish any opportunity that happens to come his way.

Will Bradley actually do this? I don't know. I think you might see Clark or Edu in the first half with Torres a halftime sub if the US needs a goal. Findley… well, I reviewed the England game and he was a much better hold-up forward than Altidore, consistently bringing down long balls and getting the midfield involved in pressure situations. That more than his speed was his contribution. Against a very different opponent I'd rather have a guy to get on the end of things.

The other option is bringing on Holden, which would probably see Dempsey move up top. That's an attractive option too since Slovenia is set up to give up space on the wings and Holden is probably the USA's best winger. The USA as set up against England is exceptionally unlikely to get in a good cross. This game seems to call for more width, and Holden's about the only guy who provides that unless you want to pretend it's 2006 and DaMarcus Beasley is a good option.

Everyone except Clark and Findley is a sure starter. Those nine plus tactical whateva should be enough to get a result, but Spain-Switzerland and whatnot, and we are not Spain.

Elsewhere

I recommend the above-linked SI article. The Shin Guardian and Stars And Gripes have also embarked on multi-part previews with more detail than this one.

USA-England Good, Bad, & Ugly

USA-England Good, Bad, & Ugly

Submitted by Brian on June 14th, 2010 at 1:02 PM

hand-of-clod The Good

Result. A point from the first match is fantastic, especially since the Slovenia-Algeria game was a crime against soccer. If the US wins against Slovenia, which they should, they are basically through. A tie is probably good enough going into a final game against a shambolic(!) and likely eliminated Algeria squad.

Timmah! Was where he needed to be, made the saves he could make, and did not spill a harmless ball into the net. He was fortunate that a number of English shots were directly at him, but he saved a couple sledgehammers without offering up a rebound that Rooney could have poached.

Steve Cherundolo. Essentially shut down the right side of the English attack and, as a bonus, drew two dangerous fouls on Milner, forcing Capello to take him off just a half-hour in. He coped with the speed of Wright-Phillips and Cole for most of the game; given Spector's recent troubles it's easy to envision the US conceding another goal or two if Cherundolo isn't on the field.

Dempsey & Donovan. Neither had a spectacular game. Both were still the USA's best and most dangerous players. Donovan set up most of the USA's dangerous chances and provided his usual quality set piece service; Dempsey obviously scored. Even if it was a howler by the goalie, score == good.

The Meh

Jozy Altidore. Par for the course: one brilliant piece of individual skill and not a whole lot else. Created a golden opportunity that Green and the post conspired to deny. Also whiffed on Donovan's dangerous

Robbie Findley. Josh Wolff 2.0. Took some long balls down well and helped with possession. Still wasteful when he does get the ball in a dangerous position; even got caught on his breakaway because of sloppy footwork with the ball.

Michael Bradley. I'm not really sure. I'm just putting him here because I don't recall much good or bad from Bradley.

Central defense. Onyewu did get pulled out of position on the quick Gerrard goal but since as the game wore on it became clear that the game plan for dealing with Rooney was to have the central defense immediately step out on him no matter where he was, he can hardly be blamed for following the gameplan. Zonal Marking has a bunch of stills showing the various ways in which this strategy exposed various parts of the field to  be exploited. Here's Onyewu stepping out on Rooney, getting beaten, sucking Bocanegra in, and setting up Lennon for a dangerous cross:

onyew-dragged

ZM sees this as Onyewu repeatedly committing errors, but from my perspective the US decided that Rooney would not beat them and they'd take their chances with Heskey and others, especially since the absence of Barry forced the ineffective deployment of Milner/SWP and the Nats' tucked in attacking midfielders largely neutralized the England fullbacks. The focus on Rooney put Heskey in for England's best chance of the second half. His shot went directly at Howard.

For the rest of the game, the central D pairing kept England out. Demerit was especially good at harrying Rooney, who had a minimal impact until late when everyone got tired and England finally started attempting to exploit the still-awkward Onyewu in some one-on-one situations.

The downside for the central D: both Heskey and Crouch had their way aerially, with Heskey knocking down ball after ball for his teammates and Crouch having some scary moments in the box. That's somewhat unavoidable—Heskey is a beast and Crouch is 6'7"—but a fully healthy Onyewu may have competed better.

The Bad

Carlos Bocanegra. This was definitely going to happen, but it did: Aaron Lennon was too much for Bocanegra, providing most of the England offense in the second half. He'll cope better against less blazing wingers.

Ricardo Clark. The writing was on the wall when Clark went 90 against Australia, but why a guy with two appearances for his club since the end of the last MLS season got the nod over a comparable player with a lot more recent playing time under his belt (Edu) is still unclear. Clark let Gerrard loose less than five minutes into the game, and that's especially egregious since it was obvious that center-backs stepping out was part of the gameplan and that Clark is supposed to be the most defensive-minded player on the pitch other than Onyewu and Demerit.

I haven't reviewed the game yet but the first serious rewatch posts are rolling in and Clark does not do well in them:

There is one camera angle on ESPN3 and I caught at least four other opportunities to the early gaffe by Clark of ball watching–or clipping his nails–or whatever he was doing rather than getting on the play. (19, 25, 34, 84 minutes)

Defensive awareness is about the only thing Clark is supposed to bring to a game, and he's not really doing that after missing six months injured.

I'm with the rest of the internet: I expect we'll see Torres the next two matches as the US adopts a more aggressive posture based on possession.

The Ugly

Wooo!

Also South Africa. Vuvuzelas, incredible swathes of empty seats—I'm watching Japan-Cameroon and it looks like Crisler when Michigan plays Arkansas Pine-Bluff—a bunch of money spent on sports in an area of the world that has serious problems… way to go FIFA.

Miscellaneous Items

With the draw against England, I'm with Braves and Birds:

The weekend's results create a new goal for the Nats. Coming into the tournament, we all wanted them to make it out of the group my any means necessary. Now, with a draw against England and Germany looking like the best team in the tournament, there should be motivation for the Nats to do their best to win the group to avoid the Germans in the round of sixteen.

If the US and England both win on Friday, the final matchday will be a race to avoid Germany. Big if, though, against a Slovenia side that rarely concedes goals.

The Run of Play on the game.

You Love Soccer One Month: Forwards

You Love Soccer One Month: Forwards

Submitted by Brian on June 11th, 2010 at 1:47 PM

Look: the World Cup comes once every four years and, unlike that other quadrennial mega sporting event, never takes time out to talk to you about polar bears. When someone cries it's not because that's just what you do after you dismount but rather because they are experiencing a life-rending moment. I'm going to blog about the USMNT on the front page. If this annoys you, I cannot help it.

Extremely Tentative Starters

JOZY ALTIDORE, PEACE BE UPON HIM

The mantle of First Great American Field Player* was passed from Freddy Adu to Altidore sometime a couple years ago when he fetched an MLS-record transfer fee and Adu was unable to get playing time at a second-division Portuguese club. Altidore is now the It Kid. It's too bad his first season in a top-flight league was marked with the usual pitfalls whenever a hyped American hops the pond—erratic playing time and lack of production. Altidore threw in a headbutt that drew a three-game suspension for good measure, though he was very apologetic about it on Twitter afterwards.

Even so:

 

Enjoy your starting position, especially in the absence of Brian Ching, the only semi-plausible player in the US pool who could have displaced him in a single-striker formation. Despite an ankle sprain that momentarily scared everyone pantsless when he was "hospitalized" and forced him out of the Australia game, Bradley says Altidore will start against England.

Alitdore's strength, speed, and ability to run at players is world-class but his first touch, passing, and activity are lacking. He's not a hold-up forward, and if the US is forced to go over the top with regularity they'll be giving the ball away most of the time. Of late he's been a nonfactor save for the one or two spectacular moves a game that promise a hellacious 2014 World Cup. A couple of examples from the Netherlands game:

He also provided the one bright spot in the USA's ugly first half against Turkey when he WOOPed his way through three defenders and crossed mere inches in front of Clint Dempsey's foot. He did score later in that game, but he had the simple task of not putting the ball over the net from two feet after Robbie Findley and Landon Donovan unlocked the Turkey defense.

*(Giuseppe Rossi is Italian. This will brook no discussion.)

EDSON BUDDLE?

Apparently. Buddle put in a productive 45 minutes against the Czechs, sat out the Turkey game, and put in ' target=_blank>two against the Aussies. He's fit, scoring loads of goals, and starting regularly at striker—something literally no one else on the 30-man roster, let alone the 23 who are in South Africa, can say. Welcome to the US forward pool.

Buddle is active and athletic, somewhere between Findley and Altidore in terms of speed and strength. He's been a teammate of Landon Donovan for years and should work well with the most important US player, and when given opportunities he's put them in the net. The goals he's been scoring are of a higher quality than those Herculez Gomez is putting in—more on that later—since they often involve shots from outside the box, volleys, excellent headers, and the occasional deft touch or two:

Also, a number of Buddle's goals involve runs from one Landon Donovan that Buddle calmly finishes. He's much more of an aerial threat than Findley—he can plausibly act as a target forward for Altidore to play off of—and is actually, you know, scoring. He's the man, man.

Potentially Useful Men, Perhaps Possibly (Probably Not)

HERCULEZ GOMEZ THE STRIKEZ

Form over career part II. Herculez Gomez was an MLS afterthought for years, a consistent starter in Los Angeles and Colorado but never a guy you'd single out as one of the better strikers in a pedestrian league. A move to Kansas City was a  total disaster that saw Gomez score once, one time (once), in 34 appearances. After 2009 he became a free agent, signing with Mexican side Puebla in January of this year.

So of course he moves to a much tougher league and pours in ten goals to tie for the Golden Boot, the first time an American has ever done that in a foreign league*. Wha? Double wha: Puebla was not very good, finishing with a goal differential of –3. They were last in their six-team division and 13th in the league overall. Gomez was not the recipient of a ton of service he mostly flubbed. In fact, he's not the recipient of a ton of anything:

Used mainly as a second-half substitute in his 13 appearances this campaign, he is averaging a goal for every 75 minutes played. That's the kind of contribution that could be valuable if carried over to the international level.

You can judge the quality of his rampage for yourself. Here's with every goal Gomez put in for Puebla this year:

Honestly… eh. A lot of defensive mistakes and simple finishes. Some nice runs off the ball, a couple of shots from somewhat tight angles. The free kick should have been saved, though he gets points for making Mexico's goalie look like a fool.  There's not a whole lot to overrule the rest of his career. Against teams that will actually mark him the smart bet is a return to the average MLS striker he's been for most of his career. At least he's finishing his chances, though, which makes him a step up from most of Eddie Johnson's career. If the two guys are indistinguishable, at least go with the guy who seems on form.

Gomez put in a goal against Australia on a finish that was tougher than it looked (but not that tough) and figures to be a guy the US calls on if they're looking for a late spark. He might have a tough time getting off the bench since Bradley has the option of moving Dempsey up top and bringing one of the USA's many plausible midfielders (Beasley, Holden, Feilhaber, Torres) in. His best bet might be a game in which Dempsey starts up top.

*(Mexico's Premiere division is the most confusing sporting setup I've ever tried to comprehend, and I once played with a Ukranian team in Football Manager. They actually play two seasons per year, the "Apertura" and "Clausura," following those with an eight-team playoff.)

ROBBIE FINDLEY

Robbie Findley is very fast. He made a great pass to Landon Donovan to create Altidore's goal against Turkey, and pressured an Aussie defender into the turnover that Buddle converted into the USA's first goal on Saturday. Given Altidore's mandatory place in the 11 and the hot form of Buddle and Gomez for both club and country, he would be the obvious fourth forward and a late substitution at best except for the Charlie Davies theory. That theory, which is being pushed by several people with more soccer knowledge than I have, suggests that Findley's blistering speed is required for the US to play an effective game, that he opens up space for Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, and others.

My counterpoint to that is Buddle isn't exactly Ching and has performed much better over the past eight months. Once England defenders tire, bringing Findley in as a shock to the system is a move with a potential payoff. But he's just Josh Wolff 2.0.

Vicious Electronic Questioning: Revolutionary War II Edition

Vicious Electronic Questioning: Revolutionary War II Edition

Submitted by Brian on June 10th, 2010 at 1:02 PM

World Cup content ahoy. The below is a conversation with War Blog Eagle proprietor, guy who is basically dog blood comprised of 90% cocaine during the first round of the NCAA tournament, and gracious host for the MGoRoadtrip to Auburn-LSU Jerry Hinnen. If you're trolling for more WC content, Stars and Gripes remains highly recommended, and I'd add the Shin Guardian to that list despite the fact that more than one of their contributors advocates a Robbie Findley start on Saturday.

I'm in bold; Jerry is plaintext.

So I know that after this whole Demar Dorsey thing you're ready to think about something totally non-stressful and anti-depressing. Let's talk about the U.S. central defense! Do we battle Wayne Rooney with the guy who plays (regularly!) in Norway and spearheaded the defensive "effort" against Mexico in the 5-0 Gold Cup loss? Or the guy who hasn't played more than 45 minutes since October and runs like your grandfather?

Probably the guy who not only runs but looks like my grandfather, if my grandfather was Greg Oden. As soon as Onyewu sprouted that hellacious neckbeard it was like it had always been there. Bradley said he was ready to go 90, and while that might be a smokescreen the USA backline actually started clearing crosses before they hit the ground when he came in against the Aussies.

With England seemingly set to start Emile Heskey, strength will be at a premium over speed, and it's not like Goodson is that quick or agile anyway. I think you deploy two destroyers in front of the central D and hope.

What would you do? Leave a comment below!

Ives, I agree. If Slovenia or Algeria were the opening match, I'd advise playing it safe with Goodson and giving Onyewu another few days to get the beard up to "Eliminator" standards. But England is the damn-the-torpedoes, high-variance, all-or-nothing match. Onyewu's ceiling is so many thousands of miles higher than Goodson's.

Plus Demerit seems to not be suffering a prolonged seizure when Gooch is out there, too, plus plus thanks to B. Bradley's marathon training sessions--as in "let's be fit enough to run one"--we may be OK burning a sub in central defense if we have to. So that's one of the two big lineup questions. The other: who are your forwards?

OriginalHaHa Brian Ching and Jozy. HA-ha!

No, seriously: send Bornstein home with a bruised ego and bring in Ching. Seriously. No foolies.

Do I hear a second? Sustained.

Failing that, I would go with Jozy and Dempsey because I'd rather have Holden on the field than Buddle. Given Buddle's ability to score goals when they are put on a plate, though, I'd be okay with having him start if you're dead set on having Dempsey in the midfield.

Findley: absolutely not. I will be stabby if he gets 90.

What, you're not interested in having his speed stretch the defense? But the defense! It'll be stretched! Because of his speed! That's far more important than his ability to, you know, score in an empty net from three yards.

To be fair, one of those was from like... eight yards.

You're right, I'm being too harsh on the guy who scored once in 12 MLS games this year. Me, I start Altidore and Buddle. Dempsey just seems so much more comfortable starting in midfield and moving up later, and for my money "how can we get the most out of Dempsey?" is a more important question than the Buddle/Holden dilemma. Besides, dude, Buddle was visited by some sort of magical goalscoring fairy last offseason.

Or something.

I won't be mad if it's Buddle-Altidore. I will only be mad if Findley starts. I can see him as a 60th minute sub against an old and creaky English defense, but that's all. I mean, aren't Jozy and Buddle somewhat close to his speed?

Yes. They are not slow. I wonder if Bradley believes they are because they are not short.

You left out one positional debate: midfielder who is not Bradley.

Who should start next to Bradley? Leave your thoughts below!

We can discuss our choice for not-Bradley defensive midfielder, but I'll eat a raw egg if it's not Clark. Donovan said after the Aussie match B. Bradley had used it to get his guys used to playing 90 at altitude. That Clark played that 90 (until his weird hamstring/thigh injury that no one is allowed to talk about, ever, for some weird reason) tells me it's not even a matter of debate.

Does that bother you at all? Clark sucked against Turkey. Pulling him off for Torres turned that game around. Against Australia the midfield provided almost no resistance, leaving the back four exposed. He's supposed to be a destroyer but I don't remember one tackle from the friendlies. How effective can Clark be if he's not even picking up yellows? I don't even know if that's a joke.

He was balls against Turkey but I think you're selling him a little short against the Aussies; he wasn't great, but he had a handful of decent plays, and he played the cross-field ball to Cherundolo that set him up for the run-and-cross to Buddle.

I'd start Edu myself, but I don't think England is the right game for Torres. Because jobs No. 1, 1a, 1b, and 1c for whoever starts alongside Bradley are: Mark Frank Lampard. Possession is awful nice, we all know that, but taking Lampard out of the game and unshackling Bradley from that kind of dirty work might be even nicer. If you disrupt Lampard, maybe Gerrard has to come forward to try and get something going in the middle, maybe now we've got even more space on the counter for Bradley. I think Edu could manage that assignment and give us some ball control, but I'm all right with Clark.

I'm just leery of Clark because he's basically Onyewu. He has hardly played since the end of the last MLS season. The difference in the midfield is that the US has options. Edu's battled injury problems of his own but got some significant run for Rangers towards the end of the season and just looks more ready to play. I know some of the soccer insider folks have been suggesting he will start and Clark's friendly experience was an effort to get him fitness, fitness that Edu already has. I'm hoping that's the case.

I agree that the US will be playing to absorb pressure and will be thrilled with a draw, so Torres will not and should not start. If the US is behind at the half, I think he might be a quick sub, but that's only if things aren't going well.

Here's to hoping the insiders are right. I'm not losing sleep over Clark (not more than I'm already losing anyway), but there's loads more potential for a transcendent, England-beating performance with Edu.

There's seems to be a growing consensus out there that Torres needs to start against Slovenia and Algeria, though. We're part of that consensus, right? Is anyone not?

I am so on-board with that consensus. Going back to the "form" argument, Torres has logged a ton of time for Pachuca, way more than the other viable options. He takes pressure off a central defense that will feature Demerit and someone who is not Bocanegra. Bocanegra is pretty good with the ball at his feet and takes pressure off his central defense partner when he's in the middle; when he's not the US has hoofers. Having Torres drop back to pick up possession, relieve pressure, and release freakily accurate balls to attacking players makes the US way more likely to score from the run of play.

You and I are charter members of the Jose Torres fan club, though. At halftime of the Costa Rica game in CR we were ready to fly down there and scream at Bradley for yanking Torres at the half.

I don't know if I've ever been more confused by any coach I've followed, in any sport, than Bob Bradley. He makes so many decisions that make me think a ferret with a Ouija board could do better. But the results are there: 1st in the Hex. Confed Cup finalists. Even these two friendlies; 2-1 over Turkey and 3-1 over Australia (both of those teams something close to their respective A-sides) are light years ahead of what we saw in the '98, '06, and even '02 run-ups. I can't decide if I want to hug him or strangle him. Maybe start to hug him and turn it into a strangle.

In any case: no more ambivalence after Saturday, which is nice. You on the panic side or the 1776 all over again side?

I'm not expecting a win. That Onyewu injury is haunting. Right after everything with the Confed Cup that got him the Milan transfer, a meaningless game against Costa Rica, the injury... the total lack of field time... I mean, I think the US is a good bet to score against England but unless Timmah puts on a Spain-like show I think they're going down.

My personal prediction is a 2-2 draw with the U.S. going up 2-1 early in the second and just barely--like, batting cage-style bombardment on Howard's goal--hanging on for the point. I'm thinking we really need a point at least, though, because I've to the conclusion that Slovenia could be nightmarish. It's _so_ easy to see an early mental lapse in defense, a 1-0 deficit, and 80 minutes of useless pounding away at the same defense that did just that to Russia. (Russia as coached by Guus Hiddink, nonetheless.) Tell me why that won't happen. Please? I'm begging you. Seriously, I'm on my knees here.

Russia doesn't have Jose Torres.

No, just Andrei Arshavin.

I cannot tell you anything about Slovenia other than the vague overviews, but that's totally possible. The US is only 56% to advance according to Nate Silver's crazy computer, but the Slovenians are just going to sit back and hope, really. Their defense is fantastic; their offense is piddling. I think that's the game Torres comes in and maintains possession like a mofo.

That video does fill me with hope. Still, I think the most likely path to progression for U.S. remains England draw, Slovenia draw, Algeria win, five points is good for second. I do think progression is the most likely outcome, since Slovenia (despite my worries) and Algeria are still Slovenia and Algeria. But thanks to the defense, I'm still clutching my knees to my chest and singing Amazing Grace to myself twice daily.

What do you think of the U.S.'s chances of getting out of the group? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

I'd rather look at the broader picture with Slovenia: they had a weak group and bombed out of Euro '08. Algeria is widely regarded as the weakest team outside of the pure minnows (North Korea, New Zealand, and Honduras) and may be eliminated already. And England has a rich history of wobbly play. I do think Silver is about right and the US is only 60-40 to get out of the group, but 60-40 isn't bad.

But there is nothing that can possibly calm my nerves. What if they played college football once every four years and made the season 3-6 games? You would die, and nothing could prevent you from doing so. Thus the World Cup.

There is something both soul-crushingly horrible and soul-stirringly fantastic about being the kind of soccer fan--a species I'm going to hyperbolically claim is unique to the U.S., and which I believe represents the both of us--who love the sport, never attached themselves to a club side for geographic reasons, and root exclusively for the national side. Our team plays, essentially, three games that matter every four years. They mean absolutely everything. There is no next year, no fallback, no safety net of a club for our investment as fans. Defeat is unbearable. But victory a la 1994 or 2002 is ... it's hard to describe. I mean, remember the Portugal game? My dog could have been run over by the girl who wouldn't go out with me in seventh grade and I'd have written her a check for tire damage. Or something.

I do. That was the greatest day of soccer fandom ever for me, because I was in Ireland and the next game was the famous 1-1 draw with Germany that basically put the Irish through to the second round. May some day this month equal it.

Unverified Voracity With Actual Number

Unverified Voracity With Actual Number

Submitted by Brian on June 9th, 2010 at 2:05 PM

The view from admissions. There is virtually nothing that can convince me that not taking Demar Dorsey is a good idea as long as the university makes a good-faith effort to educate him once he arrives. What you do with the poor black kid after he shows up is what reflects the character of the institution. Admissions obviously feels differently, and the feeling that Michigan is about to embark on a Notre Dame-like wander in the wilderness only gets stronger today.

Our Helmets Have Wings, a recruiting-focused M blog, snagged an interview with a former admissions employee. Unless something has changed, this is purely about academics:

Q: Did the Admissions Office examine potential students who had legal troubles differently than other students?

A: Like all applicants, potential incoming athletes with legal troubles are required to disclose most types of possible run-ins with the law.  This is not only for the purposes of safety on campus, but also to help the university maintain its tradition of selecting students of a particular academic AND moral caliber for admission.  That being said, varsity athletes, ESPECIALLY potential scholarship recipients present special cases that are most definitely looked at differently than normal applicants, but in this realm and in regards to academics.  Again, the behavioral issues tend to fall to the discretion of the athletic department.  If they say the athlete is a good ship, or at least one that can be and will be during his time at UM, the admissions office will defer to that decision regarding said athletic applicant. I do not know, personally, of any decision that was contested by the admissions office when the athletic dept. approved.

If this is about "LifeSkills," the AD should have known about it since Dorsey enrolled there in October. I'm not entirely sure but I don't think that means he stopped going to Boyd Anderson; he probably did the LifeSkills curriculum in addition to his senior year classes at Boyd, using the alternative school credits to replace poor grades from his sophomore and junior years.

Given the nature of the problem here the university can stonewall any FOIA requests by referencing FERPA, a federal student privacy law. We will never know exactly what went down, but if Dorsey ends up at Tennessee or USC or another BCS school we'll have plain evidence that Michigan's is operating with a self-inflicted disadvantage, and negative recruiters will have a field day. There is literally no way the recruitment of a kid who never even enrolled at Michigan could have been more damaging. Now any happy ending to the media firestorm has to happen somewhere else. Thanks, admissions.

Bills update. Poster Raback Omaba reports that Jon Bills's surgery to repair broken vertebrae went well and the "prognosis for a full recovery remains high." He can move his extremities. Bills is obviously done with football, but hopefully he'll make a full recovery.

Hello: Nebraska? Multiple Big 12 ADs suggest Nebraska will be in the Big Ten by Friday. I would care a lot more about this if this Dorsey thing hadn't happened. At least their basketball team will suck.

Ethics follow-up. I posted a transcript of the tense interaction at the end of the ethics panel a couple days ago, and yesterday appeared on Dan Levy's On The DL podcast to elaborate on the opinion I'd shouted in the middle of everything. Again, totally meta, but something that's important.

World Cup content. If you're one of the many people who's been frustrated with the lack of a quality USMNT blog, I think you (and I) may have a new favorite place for the next month. It's Stars and Gripes, a just-launched Nats blog with an inclination towards strategy and a soccer version of Picture Pages:

Rooney makes his run, Johnson puts in a perfect ball, and Rooney puts in his second.

The constant switching from side to side often leaves the middle of the pitch exposed, where Lampard and Barry can move from the back and put themselves in dangerous spots just outside the box. 

Anyone willing to draw a big circle with an arrow on a still of the England-Andorra game is a champion. Read it all.

If you're the sort of soccer fan who doesn't know why everyone wants to drop Jonathan Bornstein out of the team plane (with a parachute; we're not monsters), War Blog Eagle has an excellent primer for you.

An actual number. Almost a month ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch deployed the FOIA to finally provide the real hard numbers on how much Big Ten schools are pulling in from TV. Somehow, no one noticed. Here's an attempt to do so. The numbers:

School year BTN Other TV Total TV Total*
2007-08: $6.1 million $7.7 $13.8 $18.8
2008-09: $6.4 $8.0 $14.4 $19.2
2009-10 (projected): $6.5 $8.4 $14.9 $19.9

* Includes money from TV, bowl games, NCAA Tournament.

These are less extraordinary than the rapturous articles about Super Genius/Villain Jim Delany have claimed, but they still greatly outstrip everyone save the SEC, which they meaningfully outstrip. Meanwhile, the SEC is locked into an ESPN contract worth 12.5 million per team per year for 15 years and the Big Ten will see BTN revenue grow yearly.

Another note: SNL Kagan analyst Derek Baine says the BTN is getting 88 cents per subscriber in the footprint, which is about a dime short of what they were asking for and more than triple what the Comcast guy told me they valued the BTN at during the year-long standoff between the two. Cable companies did not win.

(Apologies to whoever linked this; unfortunately I've lost it. If you think it's you ask me for a HT.)

Mmmm. Wavery. Michigan's 2011 class is a bit thin so far, with just two forwards coming in in a year when Michigan willl require at least another player at F, D, and G. Lucas Lessio made an appearance at the Oshawa Generals' camp, but is expected to keep his commitment to Michigan. And now the other guy in the class, Ontario forward Alex Guptill, sounds like he's not a lock either:

Already committed to play for the University of Michigan in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) either this year or in 2011, Guptill said his immediate future, including where he might play come winter, will become more clear at the end of June.

“It is all up to — if a (NHL) team takes me — what their stance is and then Michigan’s,” Guptill said. “It will go from there.”

IE: hope the Kings stay away. Guptill and Lessio were both drafted by the USHL's Waterloo Blackhawks and the Blackhawks believe they'll have them next year.

There is some good news: Guptill was the recipient of the Ontario Hockey Association's "Top Prospect Award," something that's been bestowed on former Wolverines Mike Cammalleri and Andrew Cogliano plus an array of other NHL players like Jeff Carter and Rob Schremp. The OHA covers Ontario's Junior A and B leagues.

Etc.: The Daily puts out another huge article, this on the evolution of Yost from an empty, silent place to the raucous place it is today. I'm pretty sure this "shimmy down" tackling technique is the same that GERG is employing in practice. The idea is to focus on the approach more than anything else because most players can get a guy down if they're in the right spot. This may sound boring, but the words "they want to get pecker to pecker with the guy" appear.