Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Convergence: USMNT 2 - Ghana 1

The farlieonfootie staff, including sometime-contributor and USMNT expert, Coach Mark, converged on a local sports bar to quaff craft brews and cheer on the USA, along with 100 or so other players, parents and coaches of Fort Lauderdale Select FC.  With the exuberance of USA’s victory now faded (even if only slightly), a sober (literally and figuratively) assessment was inevitable.  With the Bossman headed to ground zero in the Amazon, the minions started chirping:
Mark Gets Things Going
So my take on the game yesterday is that the more things change in US soccer the more they stay the same. It was an extremely gritty victory, and I have to give Klinsmann credit in that he wins a lot, and he probably wins more games that we should lose (or tie) than any coach in American history. He's either really lucky and his luck will run out, or he’s really smart and just knows how to win, regardless of how unimpressive it might be.
My concerns going in was that this team had no counterattacking speed and few offensive threats. I was concerned we would not score a goal this tournament, but thanks to some individual magic by Dempsey and a lost man mark we got two. I think we scored two on something like three shots. I think Ghana had about twenty shots.
The team is playing with three defensive midfielders. While that worked against weaker qualifying competition, they couldn't maintain any possession yesterday (but they defended well). Bradley is a defensive mid at the highest level of play, not an offensive mid. Beckerman did a great job of clogging the middle and is always in the right spot, and Jones is a reckless, destroying machine. But that's a tough lineup to hold the ball with, let alone score. Bedoya is another hustle player, but offensively there is nothing there.
We like to attack with our backs, but it exposes the flanks and yesterday Ghana had 30 crosses (7 more than the next highest team in the cup).
Many people think this team is better than our last two teams. I just don't see it. Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, and then a young Donovan, Beasley, and Dempsey were a lot more dangerous than anything I feel we have in this cup. Cherundolo and Bocanegra were career European 1st division talents, that have been replaced by younger players without their polish.
I feel like this team is more comparable to the Bora teams where it's just ugly gritty hustling American soccer. Really looking forward to Portugal to see if Klinsmann can pull a rabbit out of his hat.
One thing I like about Klinsmann is he's a fun coach. He has great sideline celebrations and most of the players genuinely seem to like him.
And one thing that has improved is our game watches. From six people to 100 is real progress. If the talent on the field can improve 5% as fast we are in good shape.
Scott Responds
I agree with all you said with the slight tweak that I think we are better than we used to be.  It was gritty yesterday but we are capable of real possession soccer, unlike in years past.  We just couldn’t pull it together that way yesterday due to Ghana’s consistent pressure and our inability to not give the ball away.  I still think Bradley dictates how this team will do (barring luck like yesterday) and he was very poor at holding up play and possessing.  Plus, at 1-0 up, why were we surging forward every time we won the ball, only to give it away again within seconds?  Why not switch it back and forth, get our breath back, make them run even more and then look for holes?  I was disappointed with that.
Klinsmann is fun to watch and I think it is a little of him being good and motivating players (previous tactical point notwithstanding) and a little luck too.  We knew we would need some luck to advance, but who knew we would need so much of it against Ghana? 
Against Portugal and Germany, we will need more of that luck and also need Bradley to find his footing, Dempsey to not clock out after his moment and the whole rest of the team to remember the importance of possession – especially in the heat and humidity of Manaus.
Ed Chimes In
Mark clearly has better memories of Frankie Hejduk and the Gooch than I do.  We are better, but so is everyone else as training has gotten better for all teams, and more and more money piles into the sport. 
I didn’t like his tactics so much – we didn’t have the horses to be aggressive against Ghana.  Instead, they needed another midfielder to retain possession – Zusi should’ve played more and sooner and they could’ve gone with 1 up top.  Bradley was a train wreck all game, trying to do too much.  That said, Ghana takes lots and lots of bad shots and makes lots of poor decisions in the final third.  Apparently that’s their reputation and they lived up to it.  It’s just disappointing that we weren’t technically much better in the middle of the field.
I’m guessing from the way the players respond to the coach and the way that few of them said anything about Donovan that they all supported the coach over poor Lando.  Not sure what the issue was there, but maybe he’s a prima donna.
Portugal will be tough.  Now Beasley gets to deal with either Ronaldo or Nani.  Egads.

This is farlieonfootie for June 17, reporting from Manaus, Brazil. 

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