World Cup Bits

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

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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.

Comments

Danwillhor

June 18th, 2014 at 1:14 PM ^

but I think a bit of injury hamming is going on with that Portugal squad. Ronaldo hurt, too? Seems a bit like trying to get us to relax a bit in a must win for them. It is the world cup.

Tuebor

June 18th, 2014 at 1:17 PM ^

Isn't John Brooks a defender?  At 6'4" I can see him going forward for set pieces but why would they play him as a target forward?

skurnie

June 18th, 2014 at 1:19 PM ^

About Ronaldo being out for the entire tournament. Apparently it's a big rumor in the media rooms around Brazil.

I don't believe it (and won't until it's confirmed) but he's been hurt for the past month. Take it for what it's worth.

snarling wolverine

June 18th, 2014 at 1:23 PM ^

Hmm, I don't see any mention in that Grantland article of Pelé's Soccer, the Atari 2600 video game.  That was my introduction to the sport.  I knew nothing about Pelé or what team he played for, but he had his own video game, so he had to be good.

 

bringthewood

June 18th, 2014 at 1:32 PM ^

I find watching bowling and golf more compelling than soccer.  Give me girls softball over soccer anyday.  Only the WNBA would fall below soccer.  I just don't get it.  Neg away.

Everyone Murders

June 18th, 2014 at 1:40 PM ^

I don't get why some folks feel compelled to declare that they don't like watching soccer.  During the Winter Olympics I was happy for the Michigan ice dancers who won gold, but did not find it necessary to declare to the world that I don't like ice dancing.

I don't get it.

bringthewood

June 18th, 2014 at 1:50 PM ^

Just tiring of the level of coverage it gets here and elsewhere.  As a non soccer fan I would rather have coverrage of M baseball recruiting over the World Cup.  Basically anything Michigan related over the World Cup, especially on Mgoblog.  But I understand Mgoblog is Brian's gig and soccer is one of his passions.

I'd say the same thing if ice dancing had been covered here at length.

Everyone Murders

June 18th, 2014 at 2:08 PM ^

I'm glad you replied, and can understand how its constant coverage would grate non-fans.  But given that soccer is the world's most popular sport, and that World Cup is its most popular event, I think you're going to find it hard to avoid coverage.

The good news for folks like you is that the heavy coverage is really only once every four years, although there are major tournaments on even years that may cut into your favored sports' coverage.  (That's also the bad news for folks like me.)

ijohnb

June 18th, 2014 at 2:25 PM ^

World Cup self promotion has been impressive to watch.  It began as kind of this insidious self importance, a mention here, a quick soundbite here, a commercial there.  In a really dead time for sports, or right on the brink of one, the 4 letter really made people believe it was important in the US, even if it wasn't right up until the time the event started.  And then the cuts to the celebtrations on Monday, where people who were not interested said "really, all of those people are interested, well then I am interested too damnit."  Now people who were not interested last weekend are not only interested but acting like "how can you not be interested."  The US is Cup crazy now.  Propoganda is a very powerful thing.  (And I am not criticizing it, I have never been a soccer fan and now I am looking up Germany's team on wiki to see what we are facing if we lose Sunday - WTF?)

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

June 18th, 2014 at 2:45 PM ^

And even then I'd rather watch a thousand ice dancing tournaments than read one post directed at ice dancing fans telling them that their pastime is stupid.

Just another example of the Internet encouraging anti-social behavior.  If you walked into a bar that you normally frequented because you like what's on TV, and then the World Cup came on instead, you'd leave.  You wouldn't go, "HEY EVERYONE IN THIS BAR!  THIS IS STUPID AND BORING!"

Doc Brown

June 18th, 2014 at 4:04 PM ^

You know what the bitching by people who do not like soccer is even more annoying than the constant in your face FIFA. What do you think you are trying to solve by bitching that you don't like soccer? NOBODY GIVES A CRAP THAT YOU DON'T LIKE SOCCER. If you don't like it, dont watch it or click on that link. It is easy that. So go pound sand. 

Even Ira on WTKA this morning was bitching about soccer. He is unlistenable as it is with his annoying voice. No wonder he is stuck on AM radio. 

Njia

June 19th, 2014 at 8:47 AM ^

You're a tool and a troll. I'm not a huge fan of soccer either; ditto hockey. But, you know what? Once in a while, I find both games compelling, especially during playoffs (ANY playoffs). I may not even understand all of what's going on, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy the spectacle of some of the world's most gifted athletes performing on one of the world's biggest stages. I am also curious to understand why the sport is so beloved, particularly among Americans like Brian who have so many other sports choices. In the process, I learn and appreciate something new and take an interest, even if only fleeting.

FIFA World Cup, even more perhaps than the Olympics, is the one event where almost every person on earth takes a pause to enjoy the same thing. Is it a cure for poverty, war, disease and famine? Of course not. But that doesn't mean it isn't a big deal or that it's not worth watching.

Wolverine In Iowa

June 18th, 2014 at 1:38 PM ^

After the Brooks goal, I wasn't 100% he scored, because they cut away to him in his complete incredulity, and I thought, noooooo!!!!!!  But when he went to the ground, I was sure!  (Sound was off at the LAME bar I was at in Oshkosh, WI).

MCalibur

June 18th, 2014 at 2:14 PM ^

I dont understand soccer but I wish I did. Seems like a intense game to watch as a fan and with so much tension built up inside it's no wonder people respond the way they do in victory and defeat.

Good on y'all and thanks for the updates.

Space Coyote

June 18th, 2014 at 2:47 PM ^

As usual, the Simpsons explain soccer and it's relationship with much of America as well as anyone

And also HERE (same episode, one of the greatest Simpsons episodes of all time really)

HAIL 2 VICTORS

June 18th, 2014 at 3:11 PM ^

World Cup Soccer is and endless font of Schadenfruede.  Besides enjoying the United States winning anything anytime the investment of other countries souls being obliterated and having to wait another four years for redemption is priceless.

The Baughz

June 18th, 2014 at 4:12 PM ^

I do not follow soccer, and have not watched any of the world cup. Im thinking about tuning in for saturday's game. But after reading the article on the front page about DaMarcus Beasley, is it safe to say he's the Boubacar Cissoko of the US team? Im just trying to relate it to something Im more familiar with.

Coach Carr Camp

June 18th, 2014 at 6:27 PM ^

To give a little more guidance than some other responses, Boubacar was young with incredible raw talent, but could never translate combine skills onto the field. DeMarcus Beasley is an old as dirt veteran (who was a very solid player in his prime) but is now playing a different position. He's clearly not physically the same player, but makes up for it with savyness. I think he gets a little more crap than he deserves, as i think he's more solid on defense than people think, but he's not flashy (i.e. always in right position, doesn't give up the big play, etc). Someone said Darryl Green at the end of his career, which is not bad. I can't think of another sport where an old vet was playing out of position in another sport to give a better anology.  

Edit: Karl Malone when he was with the Lakers. The Lakers didn't need him to be the all-star he used to be, but knew he would be a steady hand and not make mistakes. 

Crash

June 18th, 2014 at 4:33 PM ^

John Brooks' reaction to his goal is priceless.  I love it.  He literally can't comprehend what just happened.  I really believe his reaction is genuine and not just some weird act/celebration.  This is what I love about soccer in the US.  It's essentially in its infancy so the fans and the players are far less pretentious.  If the sport ever does take off and become mainstream, it'll be flooded with marketing and destroyed.

aahsrd

June 18th, 2014 at 5:33 PM ^

Sorry that you get some crap about the coverage of the WC. Some people will always try to inflate their self-importance by trying to imply that they are more discerning than the unwashed masses, even when they know nothing about what they are criticizing. After all, I am not a hockey fan, but it would seem absurd to suggest that a game that people absolutely love is inherently boring. Like baseball, and unlike basketball, it is much harder to enjoy soccer if you know little about it. Also, like every sport, there are boring games and great games, and how much you like the sport and the treams involved makes all the difference. 

I hope the trend of GREAT games in this world cup continues. It's been fun. Thanks for the coverage! 

 

Cville Blue

June 18th, 2014 at 8:11 PM ^

With the injuries to Portugal, we have a decent shot at getting three more points on Sunday.  That would put us in a great position to advance from the "group of death."  I'll be traveling, but have made sure that I'll be in a position to watch the game Sunday.