Archive for July, 2009

As Predicted, ESPN.com Misses The Mark

While Ives Garcalep (www.soccerbyives.net) filed a fair game report on the U.S. meltdown against Mexico, the same cannot be said for ESPN soccer editor Jen Chang.

While I generally feel that Chang’s commentary is right on (calling out BB’s strategy of two defensive midfielders, arguing for overseas players over MLS players), his commentary on yesterday’s game was just plain off.

Chang calls out the Americans for letting Mexico recover it’s swagger by not fielding a strong Gold Cup team. He further excoriates the U.S. depth and suggests that beyond Stu Holden and Troy Perkins, yesterday’s performances by Kyle Beckerman and Chad Marshall among others undid all the work they put in earlier in the tournament.

My first issue is that I did not hear from Chang the entire tournament. Maybe he was recovering–like nearly THE ENTIRE US FIRST TEAM–after a long arduous tournament against top competition in a different time zone. Really Jen, you wanted the U.S. to trot out it’s first team in a weak Gold Cup field where no team brought all their top talent after playing 5 games in 3 weeks just days before? Further, after many had been away from their club teams and the top level play we want them to get before 2010.

Also where was your analysis early on? The U.S. struggled against Haiti and even Panama at times. That they would struggle yesterday was more likely than the phenomenal 1st half display the team put on.

To suggest that players like Marshall and Beckerman did themselves a disservice is another egregious mistake without mentioning that a) their play was strong in the first half and b) Javier Aguirre was so concerned with his team’s first half play against a second rate U.S. squad that he brought in Carlos Vela to pair Giovani Dos Santos to start the half. That’s two, count’em, two EPL strikers to take on the U.S. jv team.

Further, it is play against quality competition that coach Bob Bradley can use to measure his arsenal of players. He just saw his “A” team against Spain and Brazil less than a month earlier. What did the “A” team have to prove in the Gold Cup? What player insights would be gained against mostly inferior competition for players that taken on 3 of the top 10 teams in the world?

A better angle if you wanted to call out the USMNT team would be to discuss the eerie parallel between Brazil piling on the U.S. in the 2nd half of the Confederation’s Cup final game with yesterday’s second half implosion. As this blog can well atest, I have been critical of Bob Bradley’s halftime adjustments and considerations in such situations and again yesterday we saw the U.S. come out not ready to handle an invigorated Mexican attack. While the manner of attack was flashy and the score finally obnoxious, the U.S. had a similar behavior against Haiti, giving up two goals in the course of ten minutes after half time in a decidedly different manner.

At least this time Bradley tried to change up the team (admittedly too late) with early insertions of Kenny Cooper and Santino Quaranta.

The story of yesterday is not the Yanks letting Mexico regain their confidence (if Mexico has to rally around beating the U.S. “B” team just a year before the World Cup that’s a bigger problem) or how certain players canceled out their entire tournament. It’s about measuring the Gold Cup team in aggregate (by achievement and by the next step of growth necessary) and a disturbing trend of coming out tactically unprepared in the 2nd half.

Yesterday’s post-game opinion saying ESPN would miss the mark

Did I Just Watch Wedding Crashers?…….. Mexico 5, USA 0

Rule #76: No excuses. Play like a champion!

I loved the first half of the movie Wedding Crashers. It was a comedic tour de force with quotable lines and great banter between the characters. Sixty minutes in you thought you were watching a potentially epic comedy. But then the movie took a drastic turn for the worse and never recovered. It went from funny and light to an obsessed John Beckwith getting beat up by Sack Lodge.

Such was the Gold Cup final for the US versus Mexico. Fifty minutes in you thought the US was playing well and a goal wasn’t too far off. Forty minutes later you were wondering how something something that started so well could end so badly.

The turning point in Wedding Crashers, much like Mexicos PK gaol.

The 54th minute of the Gold Cup final versus Mexico was akin to Jeremy Grey and John Beckwith walking down the road after they were confronted by the Cleary family. Things would never be the same after that.

I share Matt’s view of the first half –strong all-around play for the US only marred by the absence of finding the back of the net; good mix of aggression and patience while varying the method of attack. However, the penalty kick by Mexico early in the 2nd half let the air out of the US balloon. Actually, it pretty much popped the US balloon and the air came rushing out all at once (along with their fitness level?).

Was the PK the right call? In a word, NO, but I think the referee thought he had to call something with the mess of bodies in the box. From my view, Heaps stood his ground (with a little grabbing) and the Mexican player more or less launched himself through and over Heaps putting the onus on the official to make a call. It reminded my of a NBA player going strong to the rim, making contact with a bigger defender, and hoping the ref bails him out. While in basketball, its a “50/50 play,” the odds are decidedly against the defense in soccer.

After the PK it was open season for El Tri. The youth of the US squad caught up to them in a hurry as the game snowballed out of control. And, surprisingly, their fitness level came into quesiton; something I didn’t expect from a US side. Perkins did all he could, but the streaking runs of the Mexican strikers were relentless and it was only a matter of time before Mexico struck again. Simply, the US could not get organized during the run of play to stop the Mexican attack.

Hindsight is 20/20, but I’d be interested to hear what you thought Bradley could have done differently. (Kick a Mexican player? Try to convince the referee that timeouts were allowed in the Gold Cup?) I am guessing that most fans were like myself, hoping time would run out without further damage. Alas, the goals kept coming even as Mexico looked to kill the clock.

While the half was a disaster all-around, I must point out one thing, specifically, I didn’t like. In contrast to my brother, I thought the yellow cards taken by the US were horrible and embarrassing. Take a yellow to protect a teammate (re: Tim Howard’s head), but don’t pile up yellows merely out of the frustration of getting whooped, especially not one from the veteran on the field. Unnecessary fouls, be it bad tackles or finishing after the whistle, are emblematic of lack of discipline from Bob Bradley. One game would be an anomaly or even one tournament would be an anomaly, but this is back-to-back tournament with different players.

Best Play of the Game Troy Perkins point blank stop around the 60- minute mark.

Most Unheralded Play of the Game Brian Ching’s continuing to fight and steal the ball down 4-0 at the 85-minute mark.

Golden Shinguard Despite the late yellow, this one goes to Brian Ching as well. He truly was the one standout in the game who made his presence felt the full 90 minutes.

Ratings:

C: Bob Bradley – INCOMPLETE Took the same team from the semi-final and had them playing much better the first 50-minutes against Mexico. Bob’s job isn’t done, however. He’s got a room full of kids who just got their ass kicked. They need to hear the good, but I also hope he will directly tell the bad and what they can learn from the experience. Hence, he gets an incomplete.

G: Troy Perkins – 7 If ever a goalie could be impressive while giving up 5, that was today. Perkins stopped some point blank shots, but couldn’t win every one v. one situation he found himself in. Seemed to be in good position even on those. And the fifth goal was perfect placement by the Mexican player who squeezed the shot between two US defenders.

D: Back Four – 5 In this tale of two halves, it’s hard to give the each of the guys individual grades. So, I am taking the middle of the road on the defense as a whole. I thought Jay Heaps had some excellent challenges and clearances, but ended up with being sent off for two bad tackles. Clarence Goodson was all over the place winning headers and tracking down players, but clearly ran out of gas. Ditto for Chad Marshall along with a great tackle to stop a Mexican counter-attack deep in the area at the end of the first half. Heath Pearce again played aggressive on the overlap, but got caught pressing for goals when the US fell behind.

M: Robbie Rogers – 4 Seemed overmatched against a stronger Mexican squad. Knocked off the ball repeatedly and blasted an eight-yarder over the crossbar on the best opportunity of the day for the US.

M: Kyle Beckerman – 6 Worked tirelessly in the mid-field. Had more room to operate and create, but couldn’t get the ball on frame in three chances from just outside the area.

M: Logan Pause – 5 Seemed to be more involved than the past two games, but didn’t do much worth mentioning.

M: Stu Holden – 7 It’s nice to have a player on the squad that gets you excited when you see he is  about to take a shot, but he was wide on his one opportunity. Good service, set pieces and corners (despite having a bottle thrown at him by the “home crowd” on one of them.)

F: Brain Ching – 8 Chased down balls on long runs, tracked back inside the six to help out on defense and battled the whole way.

F: Davy Arnoud -5.5 Didn’t make the most of his chances again, but played better than in the semi-final. If the US had another game in this tournament I don’t think he would be starting.

SUB: Cooper, Quaranta and Cronin – INC

__________________

In the end, I don’t think it was as epic a loss as the announcers would have you believe, but I am disappointed by the way the US lost. This isn’t a step back for the US program as some might suggest, but they certainly missed an opportunity to step forward.

USA – Mexico: It’s up to the A team to respond

My brother will be along later with the traditional TSG review to today’s game.

If you read the 1st half notes posted less than 1 hour ago, well tear them up or just reverse them completely.

Here at TSG we support the USMNT, but we don’t pull any punches. If there is a player or coach to call out, we do it–in the spirit of providing good commentary to our readers and fans.

Take this away from today’s 5-0 drubbing by Mexico, it was a positive moment for U.S. soccer.

Today’s story, and don’t let ESPN commentary or Fox Soccer Channel (Fox announced: “this will taint the U.S.’s progress in the Gold Cup”) announcers tell you differently, is how a young, inexperienced team hung with the A team of Mexico for one half in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Mexican crowd at Giants Stadium.

For a team of youngsters to come together and play so confidently in the 1st half is THE story. Remember, this is a team that needed a late strike from Stu Holden just to beat Haiti a few weeks ago.

In the 2nd half, Mexico came at the U.S. with experience, momentum and national pride on the line and though our game Gold Cup squad couldn’t diffuse the onslaught, chalk that up to lack of experience and only lack of experience.

Though it was late in the game you know what was great? Brian Ching, arguably the best U.S. player on the day, rallying the squad. And you know what else I liked, 3 yellow cards (and subsequently a red for Jay Heaps) to Ching, Kenny Cooper and Heaps to end the game. While that may not be the best sportsmanship, it smacks of pride. Pride for their team and embarrassment of being demolished; it shows fight.

As a fan, I thought that U.S. soccer had fallen to the ultimate low when Tim Howard’s head was stepped on last August in Guatemala and no one came to his defense for the U.S. team. That was a team, and game, where you questioned the heart of everyone but Frankie Hedjuk. Or remember just a few weeks ago on the opposite side of the equator when the US team had to be nearly shamed into a solid performance against Egypt.

I didn’t see that today — I saw fight and a good future for U.S. soccer. I saw pride in the jersey the entire tournament.

Tough game team; great tournament. The fans appreciate it Team USA.

And kudos to Mexico, you played exceedingly well tactically and skillfully in the 2nd half. You deserved the win.

Notes at the half: USA – Mexico

The U.S. is playing a strong game today in East Rutherford as they take on Mexico for the right to host the Gold Cup trophy.

The word of the day for the USA: positioning (and this is also a pat on the back for Bob Bradley). From Brian Ching’s striker play to midfield o runs by Pause and Beckerman to Pearce overlapping the U.S. is playing a smart confident game.

Chad Marshall and Clarence Goodson have proven that their blanket defense against Honduras wasn’t an anomaly. Beyond one late half run, Mexico has struggle to mount anything more than counter attack offense.

Kyle Beckerman is controlling the midfield and Stu Holden again is creating on the wing. Even Davy Arnaud has gotten into the mix with some good if not yet fruitful runs off Ching.

For Mexico, Geovanni Dos Santos has dazzled with the ball but not yet leaked through for a shot.

Good first half boys!

Oh, one more note, Jamaican referee is calling an excellent game and clearly in charge of it. He may have been quick with some early yellow cards, but that’s how you keep a US-Mex game in check.

The Yankees, Manchester City & USMNT Strikers

Curious title?

If you’re a major league baseball fan, the name Johan Santana was on your mind heading in the 2008 season. Santana was a coveted commodity from the Minnesota Twins, who were looking to deal their ace pitcher before he hit free agency at the end of the year.

The Robinho of pitchers

The Robinho of pitchers

The Yankees, per usual, were considered players in the sweepstakes. However, Brian Cashman, the Yanks GM, balked at the asking price for the starting pitcher (two highly touted pitching prospects) and threw in his hand. Fast forward to 2009 and Cashman is inking contracts for two of the prized free agency (C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett) to enormous offers.

Cashman was asked the difference in spending on the two pitchers this year vs. spending for Santana the year before. His response?

“We didn’t need to give up anything so it was completely additive.”

The asking price, though monetarily higher, was overall less because the Yanks didn’t have to give up any prospects. Starting pitching is that valuable that prospects and proven players are hoarded. Remember that.

But what does this have to do with anything?

Manchester City is a team that has always played second fiddle to Manchester United in the northern England city and in the English Premier League.  Premier League titles since 1990? Manchester City F.C. 0, Manchester United, 11. Enough said.

Taking a number at Man City

Taking a number at Man City

Last year, Manchester City changed ownership to one with deeper pockets. After taking their shopping cart and marching around Europe, they will see no less than 6 and up to 9 1st team strikers take the field as practices begin, including such high profile players as Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz and Robinho. The USMNT–who we will get to in a moment–would be transformed as a national club with the addition of just one of those strikers.

And that really is the point.

Man City is being a considered a bit of a laughing stock around the EPL right now with the press and even United manager Sir Alex Ferguson poking fun at them for assembling a group of parts that may not go together on the field.

But Man City is not stupid.

Strikers are the starting pitchers of soccer. And by buying them up (without giving up anyone, like prized middie Steven Ireland) Man City has done nothing but been completely additive with the talent on their squad. They know that the glut it too big to work and they know that eventually one, two or maybe up to 5 of the strikers they possess will be sullied by the experience and look for a transfer.

At that point Man City will be dealing from strength and have the most valuable commodity out there. Proven starting strikers who can put the ball in the net.

In two years, Man City will probably have agreed to transfer some of that squad for quality around the pitch that they don’t possess. (Let’s hope it’s for back four help because they are sorely in need of an injection).

And now rounding out this piece, as mentioned before, could you imagine if the USMNT possessed the depth of quality strikers that Manchester City currently boasts. Shouldn’t the U.S. value strikers similarly?

While Bob Bradley has certainly done a fine job of building a defensive minded squad. It’s up to Bob and the rest of the US Soccer program to develop a wealth of strikers at their disposal. The U.S. has consistent veteran and developing quality on the wings, on both the “A” and “B” teams, if you will, with Donovan and Dempsey and Holden and Rogers. However we continually see the U.S. unable to move the ball through the middle of the field. While part of this is attributed to Bradley defensive-minded pairings in the center pitch, the other part of it is lack of effective strikers that opponents fear to drag defenders deeper in positioning. What I am telling you is nothing new of course.

The U.S. saw just a glimpse of what striker quality could do earlier this year in the Confederations Cup — not with prized youngster Jozy Altidore finally on the pitch, but with Charlie Davies making deep runs. It was truly a revelation in the Spain game to see what the U.S. can do with just some speed up top. I can’t remember ever seeing the U.S. in a major game have the picture perfect counter goal that led to the second U.S. score between Landon and Charlie.

Please sir may I have another!

Please sir may I have another!

With Davies, the U.S. actually can play a through ball to put on pressure as opposed to just the up-and-over. And Davies is just one option.

That’s why I, and other fans, should continue to not be content merely with just additions of Altidore and Davies. Frank Dell’Apa (noted Boston Globe and ESPN columnist, and a member of the Massachusetts Sports Hall of Fame I believe) is a writer I typically agree with. However his article earlier this week, I think was off point. Dell’Apa hailed the “new breed of U.S. striker. with Altidore and Davies.

Yes, it is true that the U.S. is better off at striker now than it may have ever been, but that’s like telling a child that it’s okay to pass a test with a 66.

I’m not lamenting the quality of Davies or Altidore (or Ching, Cooper, or anyone else).

My message is: Do you see what just a small threat upfront can do to:

- add excitement for fans

- take pressure off the defense

- open the midfield

So when I see Bob Bradley in the Gold Cup running out Brian Ching time-and-time again, (note: I love Brian’s game. I do. But I know all about it already. I don’t need it in the Gold Cup), or when I see Conor Casey come out against Brazil and Spain, or when I see more recently with Davy Arnaud being left in the game too long, I question some of the U.S. strategy in player development.

Do you remember what was loudest fan cry from the 2006 World Cup and criticism of Bruce Arena? It was not getting enough minutes of Eddie Johnson. It wasn’t that Eddie was the answer, it’s that Eddie was hope up front.

Two years ago for me, I wanted to see Edson Buddle to get a shot whether right or wrong. Er, please don’t comment

Last year, I was clamoring for Kenny Cooper at least to get a look.

The Ferrari of strikers?

The Ferrari of strikers?

I’d like to see the U.S. really focus on developing the striker position, so that we see the results in 2014. I’m not sure “how” and maybe I’m too naive that we have other options.

Let’s see Adu up there maybe just as a look see. Let’s see Dempsey take a few more runs out there.

Earlier this week, I had a column on Wake Forest soccer. Let’s see Cody Arnoux and Marcus Tracey get a shot.

What about Jemal Johnson? How do we get Gabriel Ferrari involved if he’s good enough for Series A already?

Like I mentioned, I’m probably a bit naive on all the inner workings, but I know we need to get some more starting pitchers developed.

Gold Cup Final: US – Mexico Preview

Although this game could be seen as a “pre-season” contest to the titanic clash looming on August 12, the fierce rivalry coupled with the atmosphere of a tournament final should make this game one to watch in its own right. The US will need to play a better game than their lackluster semi-final effort against Honduras to get the result they are looking for against a maligned Mexican squad trying to prove their still the best in CONCACAF. Adding an extra degree of difficulty will be a decidedly pro-Mexican crowd despite the game being played on American soil.

-

Another clash with El Tri for the Gold Cup crown

Another clash with El Tri for the Gold Cup crown

Here’s what we are looking for from the US Team:

  • Brian Ching to get back on the score sheet — he’s had a good work rate and has helped create goals in the knockout rounds, but we’d like to see him find the back of the net
  • How will Kyle Beckerman fair against Torrado – with distribution going wide for the US on the attack, can Beckerman continue to make the smart play when called upon and stay with the Mexican midfielder
  • Jimmy Conrad picking up right where he left off – focused and fearless as the captain of the  US squad

“11 at the Whistle:

G: Troy Perkins

D: Heath Pearce, Jimmy Conrad, Chad Marshall, Jay Heaps

M: Robbie Rogers, Sam Cronin, Kyle Beckerman, Stu Holden

S: Brian Ching, Davy Arnaud

Disclaimers

  • Jimmy Conrad could remain a spectator with Clarence Goodson having another go
    Despite our best efforts we can’t find any reports to suggest Conrad isn’t fit to take the pitch. While Goodson has been strong, the veteran gets the start, but won’t be allowed to Twitter at halftime
    Likelihood: 25% Conrad on the pine at the whistle (assuming he is fit)
  • Logan Pause stays in the midfield over Cronin (or Quaranta)
    Bradley might go with the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” philosophy and start the veteran for a third consecutive contest despite Pause being a non-factor in the knockout stages thus far
    Likelihood: 50% Pause gets the nod
  • Kenny Cooper at striker
    Cooper has produced when given the opportunity, but his ability to immediately get into the flow of the game as a sub may be the reason to Bradley saves him for the second half.
    Likelihood: 25% Cooper and Ching combo to start

Jimmy Conrad Gets a Twitter Red Card

Jimmy Conrad unknowingly created a little controversy via his Twitter page yesterday, but we here at TSG say, “HA HA HA!”  A few games removed from El Tri coach Aguirre kicking a Panamanian player, Jimmy was hoping for the best after he learned that the US and Mexican teams would be flying together to New York.

Innocuous, right?...I guess not.

Innocuous, right?...I guess not.

Well Jimmy Conrad’s Twitter account no longer exists (booooo!) and Mexican soccer fans are up in arms. (Well, at least some of them.)

Let’s hope there is no “Twitter Policy” coming from US Soccer. Let the players speak their minds! What do you think?

Check back late tonight for the preview of the Gold Cup Final!

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