Sunday, June 27, 2010

Things Fall Apart

I'm not sure I've ever felt so deflated about an entire tournament as the result of one loss.  After all the great moments and excitement from the US the last two weeks, they just laid an egg against an inferior team.  It's one thing to lose if we played well and just couldn't get it done, or we lost to a superior team.  This time, there's just four years of regrets and what ifs.

First, I finally went ahead and praised Bob Bradley for his moves this World Cup, only for him to inexplicably make the boneheaded decision to start Rico Clark over Mo Edu.  You know, because they're interchangeable defensive mids with the exception that Edu is better than Clark in every facet of the game save for long range shooting (not exactly what we should care about our D mid doing).

Clark has tremendous upside potential (thanks Simmons!) because in games where he plays well he can really be a great midfield destroyer. But he also has the worst downside, disappearing from games, being reckless in tackles, and hurting US possession.  So despite Edu being the better player and playing very well against Algeria, Bradley went back to his boy Clark, who subsequently had to be embarrassed in front of worldwide millions when his poor play help spot Ghana a goal 5 minutes in and necessitated a wasted first half substitution.  It's also pretty clear that Michael Bradley plays better and can advance forward more when Edu is playing alongside/behind him.

Not to put all the blame of Bradley Sr./Clark, Tim Howard played the shot by the German Ghanaian, Kevin Prince Boateng, very poorly and getting beat near post when that should never happen on that type of shot.  I personally was disappointed with Howard this Cup, despite playing well against England and of course his great outlet pass springing Donovan against Algeria.

I don't know if it was naively thinking they could beat Ghana by just stepping on the field and they were looking ahead to a reasonable passage to a possible semifinals, or they were really just dead from the physical and emotional toll of the Algeria.  But they wasted a half and they lacked concentration again in the beginning of the overtime.

The regret is that much greater because let's face it, Ghana is not a good team and they didn't even have their best player.  Ghana's decision making was pretty ridiculous.  A team that makes that many dumb decisions shouldn't be in the quarterfinals.  They also don't even have that much skill, though Gyan did very well on his winning goal (set up as it was by the pure luck of a blind defensive clearance).

Then of Ghana went into among the worst time wasting I've ever seen unrewarded by a single yellow from the ref.  It's understandable when teams waste time and exaggerate injuries when fouled, but the Ghanaians acted as if murdered when it was clear that they weren't touch at all.  Not light brushed or small touch fouls, I mean absolutely no contact -- pure flopping.  I have no love for Uruguay and their ugly style of play -- only marginally redeemed by the fact that it's executed by quality players, in particular that great strike force -- but I will be rooting strongly for Uruguay to beat the Ghanaians.

Lastly, even with all the above, the US still probably still should have put away their chances, only for the lack of a goalscoring striker to come back to haunt them.  Gomez and Findley failed to put away their chances this Cup, showing that being on form in the Mexican league and MLS means very little.

If you're world class you're world class (watch Miroslav Klose and Podolski, scoring goals like clockwork for Germany again despite both having a very poor club season), and the US just doesn't have such a player.  This is where they missed Charlie Davies, and Jozy Altidore showed how far he still has to go.  He too missed his chances, and he constantly reminded why he sometimes gets labeled as lazy and as lacking a soccer brain (so said Martin Keown on the BBC).  It's frustrating because despite all that, his talent and physicality still posed problems for defenders and gave the US great chances.  He showed why he only scored two goals for Hull this year.

So where does this leave the US for the next World Cup?  It's a big question mark.  The US needs to start developing strikers.  Can Jozy become world class?  I hope so.  Will Charlie Davies recover sufficiently?  With his injuries, I really don't know. Before I would've said he was a better bet to become a great goal scorer than Altidore.  Dempsey and Donovan will still be around in four years, but both will have a lot of miles on their legs.  They'll still be key players, but need strikers to support them.  The midfield will probably be very solid with Edu and Bradley both young, Stuart Holden also young, and I'm sure other midfield options will develop. 

The defense is another matter.  Based purely on age, we could see a number of the same players, but let's hope not.  Spector and Bornstein are young and will be around.  Gooch will only be 32, so he too could still be around, but let's see how his knee holds up.  He wasn't exactly fast to begin with, so that's a big question mark.  Even before this Gooch was too inconsistent and at 28, even for defenders who take a little longer to develop than great attackers, he's running out of time to turn into a world class defender.  Boca and Cherundolo -- the USA's best defender this Cup -- will both be 35, too old to realistically be relied on to keep up with the speed and quality at the World Cup (just see how 36 year old Fabio Cannavaro fared with Italy).  Similarly, DeMerit will be 34, and he's never really going to be much more than he is now.

With Germany embarrassing England this morning, we're slowly whittling away the weaker teams and setting up for some great matchups down the road. Possible Germany-Argentina and Brazil-Netherlands quarterfinals could be doozies, the semis could see Germany/Argentina against Spain, and the final will most likely have Brazil -- who has an extremely manageable draw on their half of the bracket aside from the potential Netherlands matchup -- against one of Germany/Argentina/Spain.  If the trio from that half of the bracket wins this Cup they will have fully earned it.  The Ghana match aside, this has been a mostly excellent and redeeming World Cup (including the French flameout, karma at its best), with the only thing missing as yet being a singular defining performance by one of the worlds greats (Messi, Ronaldo, etc.).  I can only hope Messi chooses to oblige us against El Tri.

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