Friday, August 14, 2009

More USA-Mexico; CONCACAF Breakdown

A couple of thoughts on what ARF posted:

-Agree about Spector not starting. It makes no sense. During the Confederations Cup, found a back four that worked well together, only to alter it in the match that mattered most. I don't get it.

-Harsh on Howard. Does any goalkeeper in the world stop either of those strikes? If not, what else could he have done?

-I didn't even comment on the Mexican fans, because I didn't see anything I didn't expect. Going to play at Azteca is what it is. Opposing teams will get things thrown at them. They will not get any calls. Actually, since I expected the Mexicans would get every call (and the referee didn't disappoint), I wasn't really that upset about it. At least no one got a red card and there wasn't an egregiously bad penalty. Expectations are low for the referee and for the Mexican fans. Both were par for the course.

Going forward, Bradley does have legitimate selection problems, not just self-created ones. Dempsey and Donovan are obviously two of the best eleven for the United States and have to be in the lineup. But neither has a natural position on the international level. Or at the very least, Donovan doesn't. He can exist as a forward in MLS, but not in international play. So playing him on the right as a midfielder is a natural choice. But that requires he maintain width, and therefore he won't have the ball at his feet as much as the Americans would like. Or Bradley can give Donovan freedom to wander, but Donovan also needs to be able to get back and help his rightside defender. Dempsey is a different case; his natural position is probably an off or deep set striker role. But assuming Bradley isn't going to play three strikers, this would move either Jozy or Davies to the bench. And then who would play on the left wing? The Americans have no competent true left wingers (Robbie Rogers is closest, but proved again in the Gold Cup he's not international quality). So I also understand Dempsey playing on the left. It gets all the best Americans players on the pitch. But they are also playing no true wing players. If both Dempsey and Donovan are free to wander, the team will have severe trouble maintaining width and playing with balance. Not to mention I don't have lots of faith in either backtracking and helping defensively. Not questioning the effort of either; it's just not the type of players they are.

With their loss and Honduras' victory over Costa Rica, the Americans still have plenty of work to do in CONCACAF. It's a four team race at this point after El Salvador lost to Trinidad and Tobago; it's difficult to imagine either team climbing to fourth in the table. Between the US, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras, three will qualify directly for South Africa, and one team will get the dreaded home-and-home playoff with fifth place from South America. The current table and remaining fixtures:

Costa Rica: 12
Honduras: 10
United States: 10
Mexico: 9

Costa Rica: Mex, at ElSal, Tri, at US
Honduras: Tri, at Mex, US, at ElSal
United States: ElSal, at Tri, at Hon, CR
Mexico: at CR, Hon, ElSal, at Tri

Both Honduras and the US will be heavy favorites in Round 7. The Mexico-Costa Rica match will go a long way in determining the composition of the rest of the group. If Costa Rica were to win, they would be six points clear of Mexico with only three matches left and would likely be safe. Meanwhile Mexico would be four points back of third if the favorites win, and could be back in danger despite a very manageable final three matches. If Mexico were to win in San Jose, Honduras and the US could sit with 13 points and Mexico and Costa Rica would have 12. Mexico would likely be safe with their schedule, while current group leaders Costa Rica would suddenly be in danger of the playoff. Both because of their schedule and current point level, Honduras are still the most likely squad to end up in the playoff. But they've certainly announced their intentions with Wednesday's 4-0 thrashing of the group leaders.

Of course, the Americans can't control the rest of these factors. They can only win. And they must. Six points from the next two matches should put them in decent position heading into the final two matches against Hondruas and Costa Rica. And El Salvador at home and Trinidad and Tobago on the road are very winnable matches. Anything besides two victories could land the United States in South America for World Cup qualification. I probably don't need to comment on what a disaster that could be.

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