Gosh, so many places to start on this one.
Quickly, for those new to this publication, I’m generally an optimistic commentator. I favor technical analysis and like to look for the unsung heroes of a match.
All I could say when this game was over was one word: bizarre.
Bizarre from Donovan and Dempsey talking righteously about “going to there to win” in the days leading up to the contest and then not rallying the troops throughout.
Bizarre from the calypso U.S. national anthem through the announced American starters.
Bizarre from a swerver from Ricardo Clark from outside the 18′, deposited in the right center netting…for the game winner and only goal.
Bizarre through the US sitting tight and again staving off an onslaught from an inferior team to preserve a win.
The best analogy I can come up with on short notice here, is if you asked your kids to bake a cake. You lay out all the ingredients–break the eggs, measure the flour, preheat the oven. You come back one hour later and the cake is cooling. Great!
Only the cake is cooling…on the floor and barely edible, the kitchen is in shambles, your son/daughter is covered in melted chocolate chips and batter, the mixer is broken, the spatula got chewed up by the garbage disposal, and….you get the picture.
You’ve got your cake–they baked a cake, but all you can mutter is “Oh my, look at the mess you’ve made of this.”
Well, that’s how I feel about the U.S. performance and about my critique of Bob Bradley. And remember, I’ve had Bob’s back.
(Note, I don’t have a kid but I can gaurantee you if he’s from my gene pool the kitchen will be a disaster.)
Let’s just start at the beginning and work our way through.
The message all week from the players and coach was playing to win, Herm Edwards-style–so the line-up selection is completely bizarre to me.
– A return of Ricardo Clark to the starting line-up which only created midfield confusion.
– No Brian Ching. I’m not favoring him to start. However, if you’re game strategy is punt the ball over the middle of the field–he’s your best target man.
– No Benny Fielhaber. Obviously gave way to Rico, but wasn’t our offense revved up in Salt Lake City?
Bizarre. What was it?
Countless times, you had Davies dumping the ball to….hello anyone home? You had a ball to space made by Clint…only no one filled it.
Here’s a key moment that is indicative of the US troubles all day: 47th minute (right after a halftime lecture?), Mike Bradley is on the left side in the offensive half. He has possession and four white shirts are standing around in traffic ahead of him. He dribbles laterally and then loses the ball with no options. Huh?
And, perhaps the biggest bullet point here, what is Ricardo Clark doing all the way up the pitch initiating offense–did I miss some transformation? I know I didn’t because he was a turnover machine today. Shouldn’t that at least be Mike B’s role out of the two?
No one was on the same page in the front six.
I only need to write about one thing here. 35th minute, Howard is saved by the limbo bar. The US, shocked into action, goes on a 45 second tear where Altidore and Davies, in the T&T right corner, press on defense after a torrid offensive possession. Then that intensity was gone.
While questioning Bradley–which I honestly don’t usually feel is productive–I’ll bring up a point I made in the Haiti game of the Gold Cup.
Who’s the field marshall? Beyond Howard, who is the leader on the pitch, the communicator on the field? Who’s the guy that maintains possession to calm an offensive onslaught by the other team? The guy who people look to for direction when they’re not sure where to position themselves? The guy who hollers at people the simple instructions to slow the pace and get things back on track?
That guy–and Donovan and Boca are leaders, but not vocal ones–didn’t do his job today or worse, wasn’t named by Bob Bradley. Is there one…because the Yanks sorely missed that presence today.
Okay, onto the rest of the review. Remember two things as we continue. The Yanks still got their cake and the US struggled primarily from poor team play and leadership–not individual efforts.
Best Play of the Game: (Tim Howard) I’m going to go with Tim Howard’s acrobatic save on the first T&T free kick in the 1st half. As a goalie, you’re not supposed to save the one that the wall is there to protect. I’ll discount wall positioning here as the kick was tremendous. Howard was more than it’s equal.
Most Unheralded Play of the Game: (Clint Dempsey): My brother sent me this note: “I really don’t want to award anything to Clint, but at the 80:10 mark Clint makes a crucial play.” Clint hustled to block a ball that was going to gift a possession to T&T just short of the offensive 18′. I’ll add in that Clint flat-0ut kicked it up a gear on a counterattack by the Soca Warriors at the 12 minutes gone in the game–just adding the extra defender to that rally snuffed the attack.
Golden Shinguard: (Tim Howard) Without Big T, this is a draw or a tie. It’s as simple a selection as that this time.
Here’s what TSG was looking for as key differential points before the game:
Uh, yes, we go Clint again…but this time it’s a Bob Bradley decision.
The Clint saga continues. Dempsey, and rightfully so, will be much maligned after this game. He was disinterested, complained, fouled out of frustration, passed to no one on multiple occasions–not to mention trying some circus moves to get past back defenders–how do you nutmeg a guy whose feet are moving and is running with you, Clint? Probability of success, very low.
However beyond this Deuce is a vet and the body language he exhibited, in my opinion, was detrimental to the team. Look, I know he’s not the most emotional guy, but his demeanor brought me down as a fan. Take a look at Dempsey’s possession in the 66th minute. He lays the ball of into space expecting Ricardo Clark to join the attack in that space. Clark fails to recognize and CD has a beyond-frustrated look on his face–not a veteran play.
More Bob Bradley: How do I get Stu in there earlier?
While other publications are slowly getting on the Stu bandwagon that we assembled from scratch way back when, we’re way ahead on getting him more playing. Yes, he’s phenomenal off the bench, but his heady, dynamic, confident play should command more pitch time now. There is no doubt. Start him Bob.
Discounting Davies injury, does Altidore pair Ching or Davies up top?
I covered this above, but Davies and Altidore certainly showed flashes of a brilliant partnership. I know I’m going to get raked over the coals here, but don’t they remind you of Anelka and Drogba? C’mon, just a little. With a few near misses today, you should be excited about that combo for a very long time.
As mentioned above if you are going to boom it up the pitch, you need to consider Ching.
Speaking of the backline Bob, how does this head scratcher end up: Boca? Bornstein, Cherundolo? …even Agoos?!
I liked the backline selection by Bob. While I think Chad Marshall will be an impact player in 2010, there was merit to sitting him on the road against the aerial attack of T&T.
Bob, got the backline right for the game in my opinion–though the individual performances were suboptimal in some cases.
C: Bob Bradley – 3
Bob, I gave you a 7.5 in the loss to Mexico. I’m giving you a three today and it’s not because of your sloppy attire. On that attire, though, the common expression goes “act as if”–act as if your beyond successful, act as if your team is number one…etc.etc. Let’s lose the sweats.
Nothing worked. Yes, the USMNT won, but let’s not kid ourselves–they looked the equal of the last team in the group and this could have easily been a loss. Man U (Van Der Saar), Chelsea (Cech), Liverpool (Reina) resort to the abilities of their goalies to win games, they don’t rely on them as the USMNT does with Howard.
Worse, the USMNT played with no intensity. Even if the game plan is not working and there is no way to adapt fast enough–the US has to play with more of a killer instinct. The Yanks were the more talented team on the pitch in Port-Au-Spain, they didn’t act as if or play as if.
That falls to the coach.
And not to belabor the point, but what is Ricardo Clark doing up the pitch generating the offense. He wasn’t comfortable in that role, nor did he excel. Sure, he scored the game winner, but answer this follow-up: Nine times out of 10 is Clark the man you want taking that shot?
C: Tim Howard – 8
A few game-winning saves are now commonplace for the US netminder. Choose his positioning well every time. Some challenges on outlets today, but the tradeoff is more than worth it.
LB: Jonathan Bornstein – 7
Think this is too high a rating? Consider the following. T&T went right at Bornstein to start the game and he acquitted himself well on foreign soil. He covered some miscues on the right to end the first half. Deflected a dangerous corner after the half. He got up on attack and tracked back quickly.
Not enough? After no success in the first half against JB, T&T challenged almost exclusively down the right–Spector’s–flank in the 2nd.
The best of the back four on the day and that’s not hyperbole.
CB: Carlos Bocanegra – 5.5
As TSG mentioned in the preview, Boca is the hands-down best mental player, but the Warriors gave him fits all day in the air and on the ground. Got rounded twice. Tough day for Boca. Not terrible, but tough.
CB: Oguchi Onyewu – 6.5
With Boca’s left boot, Gooch moved over to the right central and had a good game. Battled Kenwyne Jones (and the refs) all day long and stepped up when called for. Some challenges with communication with Spector, but those are out of lack of reps.
CB: Jonathan Spector – 5
Key the bizarre theme here. Struggled with the speedy Edwards, but won the battle. His play was highly inconsistent. I noted the following in the opening minutes of the 2nd half:
46th minute: Spector–in the middle of the pitch–fails to close down a very capable attacker who shoots the ball wide.
Could have been a big play the wrong way.
51st minute: Spector stands up Edwards on a drive to the corner.
Could have been a big play the wrong way.
Not a factor on offense and fell asleep on the looping volley that stung the crossbar in the 1st. A mixed bag and opening for Cherundolo now.
RM: Clint Dempsey – 4
Disinterested most of the day. Carried himself poorly. Improved when allowed free reign, but not enough to get the rating here up any higher.
CM: Mike Bradley – 5
I’m chalking up Mike’s turnovers to the lack of direction on who goes where when in the game planning. Looked good in the first half. Was he on the pitch in the 2nd?
CM: Ricardo Clark – 5
This rating would have been lower if not for the game winner and the fact that someone pushed him all the way up the pitch. Consistently lost possession and looked confused on where to attack and create space on offense.
Thankfully in the 61st minute, Rico got to sing his redemption song down in the islands (I’ve been waiting to use that atrocious joke the entire column)
LM: Landon Donovan – 6.5
Not as good a game as he is capable of, but he was not the worry of BB or the Yanks. Struggled on set pieces.
ST: Jozy and Davies – 6.5
I’m putting these guys together, because their play was nearly identical. Varying degrees of intensity all game long, but neither showed any fear and both were aggressive when getting service and attacking. Both looked hungry in the first half and fatigued in the second.
Oh, one more note on Davies. The commentators took Charlie to task for shooting in the 72nd minute on a feed from Benny instead of putting up a service to his teammates in the box. What I saw was Davies inside the box driving to knock one home instead of chipping (a tough angle) a service among the trees of T&T defending their goal. Thought it was a good decision on Charlie’s part.
Benny Feilhaber – 6.5 (coulda, woulda, shoulda)
Don’t get me started here. Did you see how narrow the Soca Warriors were on both offense and defense in the middle of the pitch. On offense, their mids were just a short distance from their counterparts to link passes. On defense, they closed down the US mids many times with more than one defender. Why? Because they knew the US midfield couldn’t link together passes in the midfield effectively. You know who would have helped that.
Stu Holden – Inc.
Brought excitement and drove yet another perfect cross on a rope into the box. I’ve seen enough; he needs 90.
Brian Ching – Inc.
Ill-timed yellow card to TSG right here. We left Ching out upon our original publishing of the piece. Courtesy of commentor Dylan who pointed this out, I’ll include his commentary here:
“I know he wasn’t in long. and as someone who is set in opposition of Ching’s playing time, he did come in and played his roll well. If anything he is a guy I want brought in in games near the end that we are winning, because he win balls sent up field and lay them off nicely, and though that’s about it.”
All in all a discomforting performance for the US though they got their cake and sit atop the group leaderboard.