Thursday, June 26, 2014

Impossible is Nothing: Germany 1 - USMNT 0

Coach Mark and Correspondent Ed weigh in on the USMNT's advancing through the Group of Death to the Round of 16:


So we backed into the next round. There is no sport in the world that can bring you that anti-climatic feeling like soccer. We lost, and we won at the same time. Muted high fives everywhere.

You got to like the competitiveness of this team. The team has the personality of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman, which is 100% scrappy hustle. Unfortunately it also has their offensive skill set.

Bradley has looked like a defensive mid pretending to be an attacking mid the whole tournament. Jones ended up playing target man part of the game because he's the only player on our offense who has the physical strength to compete for balls with a player on his back. We had a terrible time controlling the ball in our midfield to come into the attack.

I think Clint Dempsey's doing a good job faking the striker position. He's not fast enough to go by anybody, and not strong enough to play target, but he's got such a great feel getting in good spots and is the only guy with any precision on the team so he can survive.

I thought Omar Gonzalez was terrific today. Horribly tough spot to be put into, but he was a beast in the air, and showed a faster recovery step than Geoff Cameron. I think Cameron had a terrible game the other day, but he's a player. I would not mind seeing him sub into the defensive midfield to end a game. I thought it was kind of lousy that he got pulled after such a rough game when he was so solid during qualifying, but Gonzalez justified the decision, at least for today.

This team's Achilles' Heel is a complete lack of speed and precision on the offensive side. Dempsey and Graham Zusi (who I thought was very good today) are the only two offensive creators who have any precision on the final pass or shot. But neither of those two guys has the speed to threaten vertically.

Bradley's been just awful in front of the goal. Bedoya is basically an invisible player, and plays like a third outside fullback with a hustle-only game and Brad Davis showed why he got passed over three times for World Cups when he was in his prime. He's too slow and not tough enough on defense. It was a miracle we survived him today.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Points Dropped, or a Point Gained?: USMNT 2 - Portugal 2

24 hours after the Cristiano Ronaldo cross that rocked the USMNT, the crack analytical team from farlieonfootie breaks down the game and looks forward to Thursday's action.

Mark:  To revisit our pre-cup theme, did we really take Alejandra Bedoya over Landon Donovan? Bedoya apparently did not complete a single pass yesterday.

The one thing we have lacked so far is precision in front of the goal, and the most precise player in American history is making funny commercials while we are missing the goal by a foot to the left and a foot to the right.

Who thinks that Donovan misses that tap in that Bradley missed yesterday. I don't think Donovan has ever missed on of those. That would have been Donovan's spot yesterday.

It's a real shame because we seem to have a real team here, except that we need a second forward or wing player. And we left the best one in the history of the country at home.

Scott:  I’m still in denial. It can be a cruel game. But then you can make it even worse by not hanging onto the ball for another 30 seconds. At least twice in the last couple of minutes I saw times we could have easily bled off 15 seconds or so, but instead we gave it right back to them so CR7 could have his one moment. A botched clearance, a missed open net, and inability to waste 30 seconds… I wish I could go back to bed.

Mark:  I think this is hard to let go of because we know this is going to come back to haunt us. In American soccer it always does. There are never happy endings. It's like what happens to the Central American teams. Some how even when they should win, they lose, usually by some call where the ref gives the game to Argentina or Germany because they are the teams that are supposed to advance. I am hoping Portugal wins. I don't have a lot of confidence that we can take Germany. I think we are capable of a devastatingly close loss to them, but not a win.

The one thing I am happy about is that US soccer is clearly better than Portugal and that's no small feat, and Costa Rica is better than a lot of people so our group now has some respect.

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.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The US Fan's Perspective: From Cringing to Leaning Forward

Correspondent Scott is especially prolific lately:

I know it's not the World Cup yet, but USA's 2-1 victory over Nigeria in Jacksonville has convinced me that US Soccer has finally, truly arrived. I'm not saying they are going to win the World Cup, but I think it is safe to say that we can now play with anyone and play the game well - maintain possession, utilize quick, one-touch passes, create opportunities and counter.

Let's face it, it wasn't that long ago that as a fan I would lean back and cringe a little at how we might keep the ball or make a technical error (anybody remember Jeff Agoos against Jamaica?).  Fast forward a couple World Cups and now I lean forward each time we have the ball, in anticipation of what we might create.

Yes, there were still a few cringe-worthy moments, usually defensively, but even those are far fewer than a decade ago.  Quite frankly, there's no way a Jeff Agoos even makes the team now. To be clear, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Agoos, who gave his all for our National Team.  He is just a dusty example of when our all wasn't nearly enough. But now, playing our best and not making any mistakes, we really do have a chance to beat the best in the world. And with the formation change yesterday that left both Beckerman and Jones providing cover for the defense, allowing Bradley to create going forward, we might have found our best chance of escaping the Group of Death.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thoughts on England vs Ecuador, Miami-style

Scott's detailed notes from yesterday's game:
Ensconced in the luxurious surroundings of a Farlieonfootie-sponsored skybox, after a staggering amount of libationary and gastronomical delights were savored at the somewhat misty tailgate party, the in-town staff members (poor Ed) viewed the proceedings below with the critical eye to which our loyal readers have become accustomed. Dodging my head from side to side in order to catch the action beyond my impossibly large Heineken can (all the craft beer was in the parking lot), I was witness to 90 minutes of English languidness and Ecuadorian effort which, ultimately, earned the South Americans a deserved draw against the sputtering Three Lions.  Despite controlling large parts of the game, including most of the first half, the Brits were unable to triumph.
Milner at right back (for a while anyway), Rooney wide to the left, Lambert up top and Gerrard and Sturridge nowhere in sight, English fans will hope that Roy Hodgson learned what he needed to from the experimental lineup and will adjust accordingly. The middle defensive pairing of Jones and Smalling could generously be described as shaky while neither Luke Shaw nor the aforementioned Milner were able to provide appropriate cover at critical times. Shaw, especially, seemed lackadaisical when a yellow shirt threatened the box. Tired?  Adjusting to the climate?  Let's hope so.
Rooney and Wilshire were just OK and, while Lampard did ooze calmness on the ball, his howitzer shots from distance were far more dramatic than they were effective.  Barkley, on the other hand, showed moments of creativity which largely contrasted the general play of the English.  I have a sneaking suspicion that he will be critical in deciding England’s fate later this month.
Another bright spot was the new Liverpool boy, Rickie Lambert.  What a week he is having!  First signing a contract with your boyhood club at the age of 32 and then scoring an excellent goal for your country.  I think he, too, will have much to offer if given the chance in Brazil.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Defending Donovan

Scott still is not over 'The Omission":

Landon Donovan not on the US National Team?  And not on a self-diagnosed curative walkabout?  Blasphemy!  And the wrong decision.
First of all, everybody needs to get over their hurt feelings from when Donovan went MIA for a couple months and missed some qualifiers. When a seasoned professional, who has arguably given more to US Soccer than any other individual, says their body and mind need a break, we should trust that professional. And when said professional returns and the coach says he needs to earn his place back in the squad, we should support that coach. Donovan humbly applied himself again, working his way back into the lineup and then leading the team to a Gold Cup Championship last summer while garnering MVP honors along the way. So let's just put all that in the past - he took a break, people were disappointed, he came back, earned his spot, excelled and led - 'nuff said.
Now to the present. Should Jurgen Klinsmann have included him among the final 23 to go to Brazil?  Absolutely!  Why?  Because he has a surfeit of the 2 qualities you look for when it comes to the World Cup: Experience and Rising to the Occasion.  There is no doubt that Donovan has the experience.  He is a veteran of 3 World Cups and has more international appearances than any American except Cobi Jones (and, let’s face it, due respect to Cobi but he got a lot of those back when the US was pulling from a much smaller talent pool and playing a lot of kickball).  Plus, Landon has scored more goals than anyone else for the US by a long shot, 57 compared to the next best of 36.  But he doesn’t just score goals either.  He also has 58 assists which is similarly miles ahead of the next best of 22.  Experience counts at the World Cup.  When nerves are rattled by playing in front of 50,000 plus in attendance and a billion or so television viewers, teams need a player like Donovan who has not only been there before, but also excelled.
Which brings us to the next quality.  Some players, despite a solid supporting cast around them, never rise to the occasion of the World Cup.  As evidence, consider that Donovan has the same number of World Cup goals as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robin Van Persie…..COMBINED.  While not in the stratosphere where you can find Miroslav Klose and the former Ronaldo, Donovan’s total of 5 World Cup goals is more than respectable – it’s damn good.  And as further evidence of stepping up when it matters, consider the small matter of a lung-busting 60 yard run, in the final minutes, to turn in the winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, without which, the US would have been eliminated.  There is no doubt – Donovan is a gamer.