Monday, June 22, 2009

Wha?

Going into yesterday's games, the US needed a three-goal win over the reigning African champions (Africa is generally considered to be the third-best continent for football after Europe and South America; North America and Asia are in some unknown order behind those three) and they needed the holders of the World Cup to lose by at least three goals against Brazil. The odds on those two events happening had to be in the neighborhood of 200:1. So naturally, Brazil put three past a hapless, aging Italian side in the first half (what did I say about the Brazilians effectiveness on the counter?) and then the US beat Egypt 3-0 to secure a place in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. We progressed from a group containing Italy and Brazil. Swirl that around in your mouth for a moment.

The outstanding performance yesterday doesn't completely erase the weak second half against Italy or the horrendous 90 minutes against Brazil, but it does show what this US team is capable of. Sometimes, a team will win 3-0 because it got an early lead and then exploited an opponent forced to take serious risks. Yesterday's game was different because, in light of the result in the Italy match, Egypt just had to avoid getting hammered. Thus, the US won 3-0 against an opponent that was trying its best not to lose by that margin, rather than against an opponent that threw caution to the wind.

A few conclusions from the match:

1. It seems to me that Bob Bradley's coaching mindset is dictated by the fact that the US plays in CONCACAF against weaker opponents. He's used to coaching with superior players, so he deploys a relatively offensive formation to prevent the possibility of a 0-0, 1-0, or 1-1 result determined by the odd chance. That strategy was an utter disaster against Brazil, but it worked against an Egypt side missing several of its offensive stars. It was perfect in a match where the US had to win and win big. To me, it's ironic that a number of people want to replace Bradley with Jurgen Klinsmann, a coach who just got fired at Bayern Munich for throwing caution to the wind too often.

2. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are an either-or proposition. Dempsey is a waste in the midfield, but he's a good finisher. Bradley needs to play one on Wednesday, but not both. If I were Bradley, I'd use the Liverpool 4-2-3-1 with Dempsey as the striker, Bradley in the Gerrard central midfield role, Donovan on the left, and...I'm not sure who on the right. Charlie Davies? The outside attacking midfielders have to be prepared to track back to help the fullbacks. I like the idea of Donovan in an advanced left position to take advantage of Sergio Ramos getting too far forward. I would also make absolutely certain that Ricardo Clark and a friend are playing defensive midfield to present an obstacle to Xavi and Cesc. Speaking of which...

3. You see how important a competent defensive midfielder is? Ricardo Clark was on the pitch for 34 minutes against Italy and the US looked good. After his red card, the US gave up three goals. The US was then overrun against Brazil when they played without a proper defensive midfielder. I'm not saying that Ricardo Clark is the second coming of Claude Makelele, but he was certainly a major difference yesterday because his solid work gave Michael Bradley the freedom to get forward.

4. Holy cow, was Jonathan Spector's cross for the third goal great or what?

4 comments:

Tim said...

200:1 is mighty generous odds for what happened yesterday. I'd imagine Spain beats the US very handily (though not on the level of their shellacking of NZ).

Jerry Hinnen said...

I actually think the U.S. is going to give Spain a good run. A U.S. team with its back against the wall/in an elimination format has given bigger-name foes some form of trouble for years and years in major tournaments--vs. Italy '90, vs. Brazil '94/'95, vs. Germany '02, vs. Italy '06. It helps that aside from Bornstein, the U.S. back four appears to be in excellent form.

As is Bradley--he's been the U.S.'s best player by a wide margin if you ask me, and you're dead-on, Michael, when you point out that Clark's presence is vital to letting Bradley push forward into the kinds of positions where he and Donovan can collectively do some damage. This is the exciting thing about Jermaine Jones joining up--nothing against Clark, but getting a seasoned Bundesliga d-mid into that spot (and the likes of Mastroeni and Kljestan out of it if Clark's out) should be a huge boost for the U.S. midfield.

I think the 4-2-3-1 with Dempsey up top is an interesting idea--I'd suggest some combination of Torres and Feilhaber in the 2nd d-mid/right wing spots, I guess, with Adu coming on at the hour mark. Bradley would never go for it, of course--he'd stick Dempsey on the right wing and Altidore or Davies up top with Feilhaber probably occupying the other midfield spot. And to be fair, the U.S. has looked much, much more comfortable playing 4-4-2 in recent months than any variation Bradley's tried (and he's tried a few), so I don't much blame him if he sticks with that Wednesday. At any case, I think it's obvious Dempsey needs to play as an out-and-out striker and let Feilhaber or Torres get the start in the midfield.

I'm curious: what do you think Bradley should do once Bocanegra returns? I've liked the Demerit/Onyewu pairing enough and Bornstein little enough I'd like to see Boca just take over at left back. Since he plays there for his club, it's not like it'll be some huge adjustment, and if he's not the attacking "threat" from the run of play Bornstein or some other traditional left back might be, I'd think his usefulness on set pieces--both offensively and defensively--would make up for it.

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Stephen said...

Love your blog... as a rabid Atlanta-everything fan I like most of your takes. I'm loosely interested in soccer, and I think you do a great job giving everything perspective.

I felt obliged to comment that in the spirit of this blog, Ricardo Clark is (or at least was) a native Atlantan, and I went to high school with him at St. Pius X.

He was two years older than me so I didn't really know him, but I do remember when he climbed the 20-ft facade in front of the school and mooned everybody at lunch once.