Monday, November 16, 2009

What We Learned This Weekend

We learned little this weekend, most judgments pending further outcomes.

We learned the US has some defensive depth because Jonathan Spector is versatile and can play center back in a pinch. And I hope we can get a chance to see what we have in Edgar Castillo on Wednesday against Denmark (especially seeing as Bornstein was poor against Slovakia). Building defensive depth is never a bad thing (though Clarence Goodson does not count as defensive depth).

We learned were reminded that the US has no attacking depth. In addition to an uninspired Jozy Altidore, Bob Bradley called upon Conor Casey, Eddie Johnson, and Jeff Cunningham to lead the attack. That's otherwise known as the striker pu pu platter. Granted with unavailable players limiting his choices, Bob Bradley didn't have much to work with. MLS playoffs kept Robbie Findley and Brian Ching from getting looks. And more importantly, Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden were absent, meaning that probably the US's next best option at forward, Clint Dempsey, remained in midfield rather than moving up top.

Also, can we just pray that Donovan doesn't get injured, because let's face it there is little creativity and menace to the US attack without him and if Jozy isn't having an A game. Holden can add that element, but again he wasn't there, though he will be against Denmark. Robbie Rogers hasn't hurt himself with his displays, but I don't think he's a starter and he's definitely not someone who should be expected to be the fulcrum of the US attack. And unfortunately Torres won't be playing Wed either. Feilhaber and Bradley controlled the midfield well, though some of that was due to the extreme defensive look Slovakia was playing, but they never really carved out a truly threatening final pass.

We learned that Brad Guzan looks like he will continue to provide excellent back up in the net despite still playing behind Brad Friedel at Aston Villa. His Cup heroics for the Villains are not flukes.

We learned that FIFA knows how to give out toothless punishment. Two month ban for Maradona for his explitive-laden rant means his can't be present at the World Cup draw and he misses one friendly match. Tough.

We learned that Uruguay will be joining said World Cup draw. Sure they still have the second leg to play, but Costa Rica has been in a free fall during qualifying and there's no way they will overturn a 1-0 home leg defeat in Montevideo on Wed. The World Cup is better off for having La Celeste rather than the Ticos.

Nothing was settled in UEFA qualifying, though we did learn another reason to hate the French, what with Lassana Diarra causing some sort of ruckus and being "unclassy" with the Irish. The World Cup would be better off having the Irish fans and their team's spirit there, but in pure talent, the country that gave us Michele Platini and Zinedine Zidane are the better bet. They outclassed Ireland in Dublin, and players like my man Joann Gourcuff, Thierry Henry, and Patrice Evra do qualify as classy footballers in my book. The 1-0 away win is a great result, and while the Irish won't go down without a fight, they have long odds at this point.

Russia also has some classy players, with Andrei Arshavin (in my book the main reason why Arsenal are looking like a real threat this season) leading the way. Having Guus Hiddink in charge pretty much guarantees some nice attacking football and probably a good World Cup showing if they make it there, but they need to be wary after Slovenia grabbed an away goal. Still, I couldn't name you a single player from Slovenia. Elsewhere, Ukraine and Greece played to a 0-0 draw, fitting for a match that is drawing the least amount of attention of all the playoffs. And Portugal will continue to make things difficult for themselves. While a clean sheet victory at home is usually a great way to start off a tie, the slender advantage means there will be stressful times in the second leg in Bosnia. I'd love to see one of Bosnia's superb strikers get a goal to really open up that match. All neutrals may want Portugal to win so Ronaldo can play in the World Cup, and even though I'm inclined to want the same, deep down don't we know that Portugal is just going to disappoint in the World Cup anyway?

Finally, we also learned our 2009 MLS Cup participants! Landon Donovan and David Beckham can get you a long way in MLS, so the LA Galaxy have to be favorites for MLS Cup. For the second straight year an unexpected team got hot at the right time to make it to the playoff championship, this year being RSL. Salt Lake has players to like (Findley, Yura Movsisyan, Kyle Beckerman, Clint Mathis) and Nick Rimando had flashbacks to his 2004 Eastern Conference Final penalty kick heroics (one of the great matches I've ever attended). I think it'll be a good Cup final, and the Seattle crowd should be a good one, hopefully giving the MLS season a nice send off.

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