Thursday, June 25, 2009

Spain 0 USA...uh, er, 2?!?

The United States is in the final of the Confederations Cup. They followed an incredibly improbably passage from Group B with a solid victory over the best team in the world. I don't know where to begin, so I'm just going to start typing.

1. Don't say I didn't warn you about Sergio Ramos. I hated Bob Bradley's tactics against Brazil, but he got it right against Spain. Take it away, Eduardo Alvarez:

Let the record show that I texted a friend of mine as early as minute 15 of the first half asking him what Ramos was doing on the pitch. As explained earlier, the US gaffer decided to give him plenty of space offensively to exploit his back at the counter attack, and Sergio naively swallowed the bait. The US caught Spain's defence out of place at least four times until Altidore scored, in all cases because Ramos wasn't where he should.

The first goal came from exactly the sort of offensive play that works against Spain: a quick ball out of defense and up the offensive left side to take advantage of Ramos being forward. Charlie Davies (one of the revelations of the tournament for me) and Clint Dempsey played a nice one-two, drawing Pique and Puyol towards the play and away from Jozy Altidore. Dempsey then played the ball to Altidore, who spun away from his club teammate Joan Capdevila (kudos to John Harkes for correctly noting that Capdevila isn't the greatest of defenders) and scored.

And while we're on the subject of Villarreal players, the first goal also showed how much Spain misses Marcos Senna. Barca are able to get away with Dani Alves bombing forward because they have a great defensive midfielder (Yaya Toure) who can cover the vacated space. As Alvarez points out regarding his beloved Real Madrid, the Del Bosque teams of the early aughts were able to get away with Roberto Carlos getting forward because Claude Makelele could cover the space. Xabi Alonso isn't a true defensive midfielder. At Liverpool, he has Javier Mascherano to do a lot of the donkey work. Against the US, he was victimized by the interplay between Davies and Dempsey and thus allowed Dempsey to play a dangerous ball into Altidore.

2. After Brazil clobbered the Nats, I made the point that we should not expect our players to compete on a top level because they haven't showed that they can make their way into top club teams. So what happened yesterday? How do we explain the US winning 2-0 against three Barca players, three Liverpool players, two Real Madrid players, and a player from Arsenal, Valencia, and Villarreal? It's hard to fathom, so I'll just say that if Jozy Altidore could consistently pull off the move that he did in undressing Capdevila, then he would be playing regularly next to Giuseppe Rossi as an all-American strike force for the Yellow Submarine. Our players seem capable of achieving great things, but for some reason, they don't do so consistently for top clubs. Maybe a break-through is around the corner? Or maybe we just shouldn't read too much into a sample size of one, no matter how much we want to do so.

3. FIFA refs are punishing us for something. George W. Bush? Hiroshima? Their kids eating too much McDonald's and getting fat? The Jonas Brothers? I'm at a loss to explain how the US seems to be the only team in the tournament that gets straight red cards and typically for run-of-the-mill tackles. The U.S. will miss Michael Bradley in the final, as he played quite well from box to box.

4. It needs to be said: we were lucky yesterday. It's not every day that David Villa and Fernando Torres both sky their shots over from great positions. Spain easily could have gone into the break up 2-1, at which point the Nats would have been vulnerable chasing the game. The difference between a 2-0 win and a 4-1 loss might have simply been two of the best strikers in the world scuffing their chances.

5. Bradley got his defensive tactics exactly right. The US central defenders are strong in the air, but they aren't the fastest guys in the world. So what did Bob Bradley do? Pack his defense into the middle to prevent Xavi from passing his way through and therefore invite the Spanish to come down the flanks and send crosses into the box. Please throw Demerit and Onyewu into that briar patch. Spain's crosses were weak. Bradley's strategy also ensured that Sergio Ramos would keep bombing forward. Hell, I feel like more insults directed at Ramos...

6. Madrid, cabron... Spain won its first major tournament in 44 years after banishing Real icon (and noted bottler for Spain) Raul out of the team. Spain lost its next major tournament because Real right back Ramos gifted space to the US for the first goal and inexplicably tried to dribble the ball directly in front of his own goal to allow Dempsey to poke home the second. The second goal was the result of a mistake that most ten year olds know not to make. As if 2-6 wasn't enough humiliation, the hits just keep on coming for Franco's favorite team.


Matt said...

I remain convinced that it is not for lack of talent that Americans have trouble breaking the starting lineups for teams in Europe, but rather a strong prejudice against Americans as soccer players. Of course I am personally biased, though, after spending a semester in Ireland on the bench of the college team watching 2 Dutch brothers make a mockery of the sport.

Ryno said...


Jesse said...

How can you not even mention the play of Tim Howard? He was fantastic.

Zamankhan said...

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