Sunday, June 28, 2009

The "Holy S***, we're 2-0 up on the Selecao!" Impromptu Live-blog

We're playing like Brazil. I kid you not. The second goal was a carbon copy of Brazil's second against us in the group stage: turnover on the offensive right, leading to a lightning quick two-man counter that ends with the diminutive withdrawn striker knocking the ball home from 18 yards. Donovan and Charlie Davies were phenomenal in using one another on the counter. Brazil would be proud to score a goal like that. Any team in the world would be proud to score a goal like that.

As for the opener, it was a carbon copy of the third goal against Egypt: a great cross from Jonathan Spector that was finished by Clint Dempsey. The finish by Dempsey was incredible if he meant it or good fortune if not. Either way, the run and cross put the US in position to benefit from some luck. If Spector turns into an offensive threat at right back, then the US will have a great set-up. Barca are able to get so much offense from Dani Alves because they have a great defensive midfielder and a left back who can play like a central defender when the back four become a back three. With Bocanegra at left back, the US has the latter and with Ricardo Clark playing so well, we have the former.

I can't say enough about Bob Bradley right now. He is getting his tactics exactly right against: two lines of four working together to frustrate a favored opponent. And it's not just his tactics; it takes great instruction in training and during the game to get the two lines to work together so well. Watch how there is always an American player to cover for a teammate when Brazil tries to play a one-two or a player gets into shooting position.

Listening to Tim Vickery's segments on World Soccer Daily for the past two years has been a total education in terms of the way that Brazil play. They struggle to break down organized, defensive opponents (Read: France) because they don't have the skill in the midfield that marked Brazil's game through the Zico-Socrates generation. They are deadly against opponents that come forward and create space for the counter. (Read: Argentina.) They are dependent on offense from their outside defenders. As bad as our tactics were last week, they have been perfect today because we're staying back and we're paying attention to Maicon.

Min. 46 - Uh oh. Luis Fabiano gets the ball at the head of the box, turns, and fires home. 2-1. Great goal. I'm not sure that you can blame Jay Demerit. Maybe he could have been a smidge closer. Predictably, the pass into Fabiano came from Maicon.

Min. 52 - The US has a great counter, but Davies doesn't find the streaking Donovan and then Dempsey can't play in Altidore. Not the greatest first touches from the US.

Min. 56 - Great save from Howard on a header from a corner. Howard has been outstanding and I'm taking him for granted because the keeper position is the one where the US is undoubtedly world class. The defensive style only works with a good keeper and we have one of the best.

Min. 59 - I guess Howard making a save after the ball crossed the line is a great save. Brazil are getting chances off of crosses, showing that our defenders may be good in the air, but we aren't that good. Kaka should have had the equalizer there. Remind me again why FIFA won't put a chip in the ball so we can actually know when it crosses the line, not that a major tournament has ever been decided by a ball that didn't cross the line before.

Min 64 - We maintain possession in the offensive end for the first time in the half, leading to a couple good shots. Nice to see the Nats relieve pressure on the back line a little.

Min. 70 - Horrendous turnover by Bocanegra leads to Fabiano coming in one-on-one with Howard. Howard takes the ball off his feet. Howard is the man of the match if the US holds on.

Min. 72 - Great run by Davies foiled by equally great tackle by Luisao.

Min. 74 - 2-2. I guess it was inevitable the way the game was going. Too bad that Fabiano was there for the rebound because Robinho hitting the bar from three yards would have been one of the great misses of all-time. Great run and pass by Kaka, who beat Spector badly.

Min. 85 - 3-2. Great header from Lucio. Brazil have killed the US with crosses from the wing in this half. That's a difference between Brazil and Spain. Spain can be frustrated if they're forced to go wide; Brazil are big and athletic and have wing backs who can cross the ball beautifully. This game has the feeling of Spurs going two up at Old Trafford and then conceding five in the second stanza. Sometimes, a more talented team gets rolling and you just have to grin and bear it.

Min. 88 - Onyewu heads over from a corner. That could have been a massive reversal of fortune. Brazil are not totally solid defensively, but when have we ever not been able to say that?

Min. 90 - Fin.

Kudos to Brazil, who put on a clinic in the second half. I'm not sure how much blame to apportion out to the defenders for allowing Brazil to take potshots with headers off crosses. Also, the outside midfielders tired and allowed the Brazilian wing backs to dominate outside. At the end, Brazil had better players and once they got momentum, the game was headed in one direction. The US was a very streaky team in this tournament. When they were good (the first 45 minutes against Italy, all 90 against Egypt and Spain, and then the first 45 in the Final), they were very good. When they were bad (the second half against Italy, all 90 minutes of the first game against Brazil, and the last 45 minutes of the Final), they were very bad. The Nats tended to give up goals in bunches, which might speak to the team having somewhat fragile confidence. If I could play amateur psychologist for a second, our team is talented, but when something goes against them against a name opponent, they appear to decide "oh yeah, Italy are supposed to beat us" and then one goal allowed becomes three.

Although there is some sense of a missed opportunity, this has been the best week in US Soccer history. We dominated the African champions, beat the European champions, and then led 2-0 against the South American champions before succumbing. This is a young team, so we should be better next summer. Bob Bradley figured out how to play against teams like Spain and Brazil. Our players will hopefully have the confidence to make a mark in the coming World Cup. Happy days are here again!


Bret LaGree said...

Based on the last couple of months of national team matches, I'm calling for a ban on calling up much less playing any Americans who can't get playing time for an SPL team. Let not the dessicated husk of DaMarcus Beasley or failed Celtic trialist Sacha Klestjan undermine the good efforts of their countrymen again.

If Cherundolo and Maurice Edu get healthy and Freddy Adu and Kenny Cooper force Bob Bradley's hand with strong performances in the Gold Cup we'll be close to having a first 18. I'm very positive that the last 8 days have given Bradley a good idea who his first 11 or 12 are.

Spector and Onyewu, in particular, were revelations in this tournament.

Michael said...

Amen on Beasley. He needs to come back to MLS to find whatever it is he lost on the flight across the pond. Klejstan is a little better, but he was cast in the wrong role against Brazil. If we simply penalized players for having bad spells in Europe, then we wouldn't play Donovan (remember his performance for Leverkusen against Liverpool?) or Onyewu (a failure at Newcastle, which is at least as embarrassing as failing for Celtic or Rangers).

Jerry Hinnen said...

Felt like the benches were the difference in the game--while Dunga was able to throw on Dani Alves and Elano in search of the winner just after the hour-mark, Bradley waited until the 72nd minute to make any substitutions because all he had was the likes of Bornstein and Kljestan BOTH playing out of position and finally Conor Casey. Ugh. (I think Torres's poise on the ball would have been immensely helpful, but obviously he's fallen completely out-of-favor with Bradley.)

Worth noting the U.S. put this performance together with arguably their best player through the first four games suspended.