The Last War

Submitted by Brian on June 28th, 2010 at 1:21 PM

6/26/2010 – USA 1, Ghana 2 – End of World Cup

clark-ghana robbie-findley

The internet has a very strong opinions about virtually anything more controversial than the capital of Vermont*. I once read a Wikipedia article about the WWII-era Battle of Kursk that had a distinctly pro-Russian slant and ended up clicking over to the talk page, where German and Russian editors were engaged in a brutal proxy reenactment of history's largest tank battle. Wherever there is a point of view on the internet, there is someone who thinks the holder of that opinion has brain damage.

This goes triple for something as subjective and—for most observers in this country especially, including the author—arcane as the performance of a soccer player. Despite this, the internet was unified in the opinion that Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley should eat bench after a series of mediocre or worse performances. Even shameless homerism and the extraordinary friendliness of Mormons could not see their way towards pulling for Findley: a poll on the Real Salt Lake official site asked if he should start against Ghana. Findley got 27% of the vote.

The debate was about whether Bob Bradley would share this opinion. At the start of Saturday's game, Bradley did not; 45 minutes into what would end up a 120 minute game he was forced to by events on the field. Again.

By that point Clark was largely responsible for a goal scored less than five minutes into the game—the second time he'd managed this trick in two World Cup starts—and picked up a silly yellow. Findley had shot a golden chance directly at the keeper. Looking for offense in the second half, Bradley took off a striker. He got a lot of praise for his ability to make halftime adjustments after the US found themselves behind, but four games into a tournament when your halftime adjustments are the same adjustments that turned your fate around after your starters found themselves struggling, you're less an adjustment genius and more a guy who just doesn't learn.

Bradley is totally stuck on his Confed Cup/Hex model put together as the younger Bradley's box-to-box game developed and Charlie Davies established himself a real striker on a real team in the French League. That model was based on a dedicated destroyer who would allow Bradley to get upfield and a pacey striker who would either get in behind the defense if they pushed up or drive the defense back, giving Donovan and Dempsey time and space on the ball. It worked great when the central midfielders managed to stay on the field, seeing the US into its first FIFA final ever and grabbing a win over world #1 Spain. It was a good idea.

Then Clark moved to Germany and got injured, playing only 3 games for his new club. Davies almost died in a car accident. Instead of attempting to adjust his system to get Stuart Holden—who'd actually been impressive on the field for the national team and had just moved to a Premiership club that extended his contract every Tuesday—or Benny Feilhaber—a key player for his Danish club—on the field Bradley shoehorned a guy coming off the bench for RSL into the starting lineup. Putting Edu, an in-form starter for Scottish champs Rangers since February, in didn't even require a tactical change. Edu had even proven himself a more reliable option in South Africa. And yet… Clark and Findley.

You can't even blame Robbie Findley. Here's Findley on the mid-May game in which he scored his first and to-date only goal of the year:

In the second minute, Findley broke behind the Houston defense and in on keeper Pat Onstad. His final touch was a little hard, setting up a tougher angle for his shot, which Onstad saved as it was hit belt high.

"I probably should have gone low on that one," said Findley.

Findley would certainly like to have his opportunity back from the 66th minute. Once again he got behind the back line and broke in toward Onstad. This time, however, he was in the middle of the field with even more open space. He pushed his shot to the far post, but missed the mark wide.

"I did everything wrong on that one," Findley said. "I should have taken my time, maybe taken one more touch and probably gone near post."

The US put a player who cheerfully admits he does "everything wrong" even when he actually scores on the field for three World Cup starts, and a fourth was only averted because of suspension. In his time Findley did exactly nothing to help the USA's cause. In 169 minutes with Findley on the field, the US scored one goal, that the Robert Green gaffe. In 221 without him, the US scored six, two of which were inexplicably waved off.

The team met expectations by getting out of the group and immediately going home against a team from the brutal Serbia-Germany-Ghana trio, and they did it despite having two goals inexplicably wiped away. That's their second-best modern World Cup performance. But it's hard not to be disappointed in Bradley's insistence on pretending Charlie Davies was healthy and stubborn adherence to a tactical system the USA no longer had the personnel for. The US missed a golden opportunity (get to the semis without playing a world power) unlikely to come again, and the main reason seems to be the coach putting the team in a position to fail.

Bradley did a good job in his cycle as the US national coach but it's time to get someone who has the tactical creativity to adapt when the only round pegs available are made out of snow.

*(F$&# YOU IT'S MONTPEILIER)

Bullets

  • A first glance at the 2014 roster seems promising. Howard, Demerit, Cherundolo, and Bocanegra will be 34 or 35, Dempsey 31, Donovan and Onyewu 32. Everyone else of import will still be on the right side of 30. Jermaine Jones will be 32 and possibly available; Davies will be 28. Adu might become useful at some point. The main concern is finding some defenders (I think Onyewu will be fine and possibly one of the other three but good lord the outside back positions look horrendous) and hoping Dempsey and Donovan can still be effective.
  • Did anyone else feel a slight pang of regret when the US ended up with Ghana? If the team goes out against Germany, okay, that's going out against Germany. Against Ghana and the Donovan goal maybe loses a tiny bit of its electric mayhem.

Of Great Relief To Certain Folk

WC coverage ends here.

Comments

UMQuadz05

June 28th, 2010 at 1:32 PM ^

Did you ever think Bornstein would start for the last two games, and it wouldn't even get a bullet point?  Did Bob Bradley just conjure up a LB out of thin air, by continuing to play him over and over, forcing him to raise his game?

Lordfoul

June 28th, 2010 at 6:03 PM ^

I have to admit that I was impressed with Bornstein's play.  He pushed up well and made good touches with the left foot, while still managing to get back and cover when needed.  Maybe he is a viable option going forward, as he will be under 30 for 2014.

Griff88

June 29th, 2010 at 2:23 AM ^

Russians can say want they want. However, just my opinion... if Manstein hadn't been held up by his command, allowing Zukov to build defence in depth... Kursk would have turned out differently. Come to think of it, Bradley is a bit like Zukov. Tactically not very brilliant, relying more on brute force to win.

TG7782

June 28th, 2010 at 1:42 PM ^

I was pretty pissed that Stuart Holden didn't get any time this tournament.  No one will convince me that it was coincidence that whenever Findlay and Clark were on the field the Nats got out scored and didn't look too good.

 

I think in the end we lacked a striker who could finish, would have been nice to see what Davies could have done.

AnthonyC

June 28th, 2010 at 1:51 PM ^

In a year after Holden has had a good Premiership season and good Gold Cup we're going to look back and realize he only played 1 minute in the World Cup.

Kind of like Charlie Davies playing 20 minutes in the Olympics, an Under-23 tournament and 10 months later playing great in the Confed Cup and 2 months after that scoring in Azteca.

Blah.

M-Wolverine

June 28th, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

No, I didn't regret the Ghana draw....

And no more World Cup coverage?  That means it was never World Cup coverage, only US soccer coverage...I was looking forward to the Finals analysis.

WanderingWolve

June 28th, 2010 at 1:57 PM ^

As one grateful for what Bob Bradley has done in taking the US to another level, I think it's time the USSF lets him choose whatever position he wants other than head coach of the USMNT.  I think coaches are only good for one WC at a time and if he's allowed to continue on, the team will regress.  His starting 11 is inexplicable.  How come he can't find someone to pair with his son or with Altidore?  I know the Altidore pairing has been answered but he was unfortunately left off the roster.  Edu or Feilhaber seem the easy and obvious choice as the other center mid but alas.

I do love that Bradley essentially runs a 4-2-4 but I think he needed to change that (one of Brian's points I believe) for this tournament.

I, for one, hope we hire Jürgen Klinsmann.

Yinka Double Dare

June 28th, 2010 at 2:02 PM ^

I really didn't want to be right (along with many others) but man, were all of us who bitched about Clark and Findley right.  I could not for the life of me figure out why Bob didn't just start what clearly had been the best lineup so far with Edu and Feilhaber.

Upset of the tournament is Bornstein showing up for two straight games instead of his oft-seen alter ego Burned-stein.  He wasn't great (he was near-useless going forward) but he was not a liability, and the way he and the other left backs not named Bocanegra had been for the last few years, that was a plus performance at that position.  I'm as amazed as anyone else -- he actually stepped up to the plate when it counted, and big props to him for that. 

Tha Quiet Storm

June 28th, 2010 at 2:02 PM ^

"good lord the outside back positions look horrendous"

Bornstein looked the best he ever has during the last two games, and he and Spector should both be better in 4 years after a little more seasoning.  I certainly feel better about those positions than I did before the tournament.

As for a new coach, I'd love Klinsmann if we can get him, but if the only other option is another MLS/US college coach, I'd rather stick with BB.

zlionsfan

June 28th, 2010 at 2:14 PM ^

There would have to be other options, wouldn't there? I mean, this is basically the best-case Bradley scenario, isn't it? His system didn't work with the talent he had available, and he didn't show a willingness to change when it was advantageous, only when it was necessary (i.e. at halftime and trailing).

There are sides with greater talent available, like England, who suffer from the same rigidity: this is what we are going to play because I say so, and if it doesn't work, oh well. I don't think there's any reason to believe that our talent will be considerably better relative to the top sides in 2014 than it is now (I'd like it to happen, and we are slowly getting there, but I don't think we'll have made much more progress talent-wise).

There must be some coach out there who is good at making the whole greater than the sum of the parts, one who wants to be soccer's Herb Brooks.

DoubleB

June 28th, 2010 at 2:13 PM ^

If you're going to bash Bradley for starting Clark and Findley at least give him credit for benching Gooch and starting Bornstein the past 2 games. His reasoning for Clark and Findley was getting fresh legs on the pitch after the very short turnaround. A reasoning that made sense considering the team ran out of gas the last 40 minutes or so of game time. It was a calculated risk and it backfired. Frankly, the USMNT doesn't have enough quality right now where there aren't going to be weaknesses somewhere on the field.

Of all the issues with the USMNT, I don't think coaching ranks in the top 5. Getting a quality backline is the hugest issue for this squad and has been for a long time.

jamiemac

June 28th, 2010 at 2:14 PM ^

As a soccer novice, Bennie Feilbauer's play stood out every time he was on the pitch.

Aparently, there was nothing he could do to ensure starter  minutes.

Oh well. I like Bradley, but like somebody said above WC coaches are really only effective for one cycle. I think only 1, maybe 2 tems in this WC had the same coach as last time.

Thanks for the soccer posts, Brian. I, for one, wont ever complain about it. It's a welcome diversion for this reader from all the same old Meeeeechigan stories.

MGoShoe

June 28th, 2010 at 2:21 PM ^

...up to now there's been value in having an American as the coach including someone with knowledge of MLS.  But the trend sure seems to be that our top flight players are finding their way into clubs beyond the border.  With fewer players coming in the national team pool coming from MLS, that seems like a characteristic that's losing its value.

Kilgore Trout

June 28th, 2010 at 2:25 PM ^

Let it be known I am a total novice to this. I am your typical watch every four years type of soccer fan (though I did end up watching MLS a bit yesterday).

Anyway, it seemed to me that a big problem was the lack of a real "finisher" that I have seen on other teams.  It just seemed like Altidore didn't really measure up when it came down to being a real threat to score.  Dempsey also seemed to have trouble finishing and never really created much on his own (I don't really know what the expectations are).  Sounds like not having Davies was a pretty big deal.

grand river fi…

June 28th, 2010 at 2:31 PM ^

I thought Dempsey was the Nat's best player at the tournament.  He drifted in from the wing and got out of  possistion in the 4-4-2 but that was only because the midfield was being steamrolled.  He always looked like a threat and was consistantly creating chances.  His little skill and move to get the penalty was the best by any american in the tournament.  He really should have been played as a second striker and suffered a bit from being pushed out to the wing.

TG7782

June 28th, 2010 at 2:33 PM ^

I remember watching some post game on this and they asked one of the European analysts what the US was lacking most and he said a true number 9 striker.  A guy who can finish around the net with his feet and head.

 

While the defense wasn't great, I think that the Nats needed just a little extra punch up front and while good Jozy just doesn't finish chances yet.  Thankfully he is really young and already a physical beast, just needs to develop a little more touch in and around the net.

thethirdcoast

June 28th, 2010 at 6:55 PM ^

...that the Nats lack, and have lacked a big time finisher up front for some time, and that really hurt them because there is enough creativity in the Nats midfield to feed such a striker.

There are a couple other data points in the 2010 WC that support the idea a big time striker on his game is a must for this tourney.

The first is how small Rooney played relative to his club play the past few years. Didn't even look like the same player. Even a potential injury does not fully explain his shocking lack of fire.

The second is Argentina with their strike tandem of Messi and Tevez at 22 and 26 years old. Easily the best pair of forwards in the tournament, and Maradona seems to have lit the fire in their bellies.

jamiemac

June 28th, 2010 at 2:40 PM ^

Jozy is 20, about the same age as William Campbell. Give him time to develop and grow.

Ghana's striker Gyan is 4-5 years older than he is. As our most other strikers in this field.

I think he got some experience and should be way more ready to wear as far as finishing in 4 years. At least, I hope so.

tk47

June 28th, 2010 at 2:53 PM ^

good lord the outside back positions look horrendous

You want a solution?  Three words: DEMAR.  FREAKING.  DORSEY.

/knows this would never happen but holy shit how awesome would it be

Wolverine In Exile

June 28th, 2010 at 3:02 PM ^

1) Man, I would love to see someone as a previous poster said, become an soccer version of Herb Brooks where an 'American' soccer is born taking advantage of our strengths. Let every other nation flop like they've been shot, our guys are just going to take it and bust your ass with our relentless never give up, always attacking style of play. I thought I saw a lot of that in the Slovenia game, but the Ghana game seemed like a regression from that.

2) Good God if we could ever get one of super athletes to play soccer, you know the 6'5"-6'8" brick shithouse with speed types like LeBron/Jordan/Terrill Owens/BoJackson, they would just put the fear of Jeebus into these teams. When I see the Crouch guy from England be considered a serious threat, I see Chuck Nevitt, and just wonder what would a Kevin Garnett would do at the same height but a crapload more athletic and nimble.  

Needs

June 28th, 2010 at 3:25 PM ^

An athlete Garnett's size would have an incredibly difficult time holding the ball against defenders. He'd be potentially deadly on crosses but would likely be a complete liability with the ball at his feet.

The athletes we need playing soccer are the Martavious Odoms type, very quick in bursts with low centers of gravity that can control the ball at close quarters. Look at Argentina and Spain, Messi, Tevez, Xavi, Iniesta are those types of athletes. That's also where the US is at its weakest, players who can hold the ball and beat one or two defenders off the dribble to create chances.

grand river fi…

June 28th, 2010 at 3:56 PM ^

I think everyone over stresses the Nats need for athletes.  Yes a couple of Messi / Odoms combinations would be fantastic, but a couple of skillful intellegent players would be amazing as well.  Xavi is a great example, hes small, not to quick, and not to strong, but his passing, touch and movement are of such class he can dominate a game.  I'm watching Chile - Brazil and can't stop thinking what a player like Gilberto would do for the Nats, not much of an athelte (he can hardly run these days) but reads the game beautifuly, protects his back line and doesn't waste possession.  The US doesn't really lack for athletes (look at Altidore, he's a physical beast but plays like a donkey), they lack for tactically astute technical players who can manage a game and bring their teammates into play.

msoccer10

June 29th, 2010 at 12:21 PM ^

6'+ can be good, but once you get above 6'4" its hard to find too many great soccer players. And a lot of the threads around here have been about how awesome a team with Lebron James 6'8" and Dwight Howard 6'10" would kick ass, but I don't think that is the case.

MileHighWolverine

June 28th, 2010 at 5:33 PM ^

Garnett, or better yet Dwight Howard, would be absolutely dominant as a keeper.  His height and wingspan would make it virtually impossible to score unless you shoot so low you are rolling the ball or skimming the grass.  Set pieces would be next to impossible to score on and the idea of a header getting past D. Howard is laughable.  He would pluck the ball right out of the air a good four feet before anyone could get a head on it. 

Considering the salaries these guys pull down, and how long their careers are, I am actually surprised we haven't seen a Lebron/Kobe/Ladanian type fully concentrate on soccer.  I guess being out of the US is too big a negative to overcome.

jmblue

June 28th, 2010 at 9:16 PM ^

Garnett and Howard are too tall.  The large majority of shots are low, and they'd have a tougher time stopping those than a shorter keeper.  If being supertall were in fact an asset, there'd be some 7-foot goalies in the World Cup.  We're not the only country with people that tall.

evilempire

June 28th, 2010 at 3:04 PM ^

...the great shadow of american militaristic monolithic football fast approaches! I see the dark clouds approaching...soon it will be (to borrow from Judas Priest) "SLAMMING THE WORLD LIKE A BATTERING RAM"

MGoKalamazoo

June 28th, 2010 at 3:07 PM ^

USA had their chance. This team will have a lot of turnover, Howard is officially past his prime plus field players being on the wrong side of 30 does not bode well historically. Add that to a Michigan State-ish history and the next world cup does not look promising, IMO.

mfan_in_ohio

June 28th, 2010 at 4:30 PM ^

Howard just turned 31.  That's not that old for a goalie.  Marcus Hahnemann and Brad Friedel are both approaching 40, and Friedel is still one of the better goalies in the EPL.  Brad Guzan is probably the next goalie both for the U.S. and for Aston Villa, and he is only 25.  In contrast, both of Germany's keepers in the 2006 Cup were 36. 

As for the field players, the next four years will provide valuable experience.  Donovan should be in the EPL full time in a year or two. Dempsey is already a star for Fulham. Altidore had a brief stint with Hull City at the age of 20; in four years, he'll still be one of the youngest strikers in the World Cup, and will have five years in a major European league under his belt.  Charlie Davies will be 28 and hopefully healthy.  Feilhaber, Edu, and Bradley will all still be under 30 with four more years of European club experience.

The only concern is the  back line, but a healthy Onyewu, with a few more years of experience with AC Milan, will make a big difference.  DeMerit is a serviceable although not great center back, and Bornstein and Spector should be able to hold down the outside backs. 

The biggest hole this team had was not the defense, it was the forwards.  Charlie Davies is miles ahead of everyone that was put alongside Altidore, and that is the key position.  Altidore can serve well as a Emile Heskey-type physical forward, who can draw the defense and bring balls down for a faster and good-finishing forward.  We might not have Wayne Rooney, but Davies will be a massive improvement.  While we won't get as favorable a draw next time as we did this time, the U.S. should still have a great opportunity to advance at least to the knockout stage, and possibly further.

M-Dog

June 28th, 2010 at 6:34 PM ^

Um, yes it was.

Giving up those long ball Stewart-to-Westbrook breakaways in the first 5 minutes of EVERY game (don't forget it hapenned in the Algeria game as well, only the woodwork saved us) was a killer.

Like the Michigan Wolverines of American football, our back line just cannot defend in space.