Archive for the ‘USA vs. Ghana’ Category

Op-Ed: Pass The Damn Ball!

The USMNT need more players like Holden. Players who are comfortable and safe with the ball.

Guest contributor John Nyen, wrote an interesting piece that TSG published on why one should be more excited about Tim Ream and Eric Lichaj versus Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.

He maintained that the USMNT needed to shore up their defense in order for them to win more games. Though the US scored 5 goals, they also let in 5 and ultimately went home, earlier then expected.

Where as I do agree that the best form of offense is defense, I think the number one problem for the USMNT is not offense or defense, age or youth or formations. It’s the ability to complete a pass on a consistent basis.

If one looks at passing stats from the past World Cup, the USMNT ranks second lowest in passes completed out of the teams that made it into the group stage (1175) and out of the 32 teams, ranked 26th in percentage of pass’s completed at 67%.

Basically a third of the passes made by the USMNT went astray or were intercepted. They did have a better percentage with their shorter and medium length passes at 72% and 73% respectively, but that didn’t put them in the top of half of the teams that went to South Africa.

Ball possession is one of those overblown stats. We’ve all seen many matches, when the team who had the majority of ball, leaves the pitch as losers (Spain against both the US and Switzerland come to mind). There is a difference though between not possessing the ball, but playing good bend not break defense and losing the ball when in possession a third of the time.

When you get caught in possession or gift the ball to an opponent with a bad pass, your team gets caught out of position. This enables the offense to take advantage of space and can attack more freely and create goals. Obvious huh! but it’s the reason the USMNT give up so many goals (first goal against Ghana for example). If it wasn’t for Howard, who saves the USMNT time and time again, there would be many more goals being let in.

Also, the majority of the USMNT’s goals, are scored on quick breakaways where only a few passes are required or long/longish balls in a route one style (Bradley’s goal against Slovenia). This method is effective as a counter punch, but the lack of consistent passing would explain why no US striker has scored in a World Cup in a long while.

The USMNT’s best passers of the ball are also their most dangerous players. Donovan and Dempsey and now Holden are comfortable on the ball and rarely give it away cheaply. Problem is their team mates do, so a goal in which the USMNT works the ball around for a minute or so, looking for a hole in their opponents defense is a rarity.

Still needs to work on his passing and distribution before he becomes an elite full back.

In my opinion, all US players, especially the ones going to the camp need to work on their ball control and passing. Even players playing in the EPL like Lichaj and Spector, give the ball away too easily and for a defender especially, that’s a cardinal sin.

If the USMNT can hold the ball up and pass it around with ease and accuracy (doesn’t have to be Tika Taka), their chances at the next World Cup dramatically improve, because one thing is certain. If their opponents don’t have the ball, they cannot score.

Pass completion….something I’ll be looking at this Saturday when the USMNT face off against Chile.

Associated from the archives:

• Paging Bob Bradley: Let’s Get Holden & Feilhaber More Run!

Homeward Bound: Ghana Sends States Packing

A little late, but “quick reaction” on the United States 2-1 loss to Ghana today:

The States with promise...

• The Yanks Tempt Fate One Too Many Times with Fatal First Frame Error

While a lot “went wrong” for the States on the first goal, the root of the goal comes down to a failure to protect the ball in the midfield by starter Ricardo Clark.

As soon as Clark made the giveaway and before the result, my mind immediately harkened back to Clint Dempsey’s June 6, 2009 turnover against Honduras in the qualifier last June in Chicago. On that play, Deuce tried to make a move in midfield, got dispossessed by Carlos Costly and the counter was on for Honduras….and successful.

In a game dominated by a tug-of-war in midfield, the Clark’s error proved costly as Kevin Prince Boateng blew through the States’ “defense,” worked a slow Jay DeMerit and shot near-side post beyond Tim Howard who, out-of-position, looked like he was expecting a pass.

It’s the type of play that the Yanks had seemed to eradicate from their play. It’s the type of play that the Yanks defense always has difficulty contending with, but there it was again today wreaking havoc on the Yanks’ World Cup continuation plan.

• No Space Down the Flanks, The Yanks Lack of Forward Movement & Finishing Stifled the Attack

Only flashes today...

TSG posed the question in our preview, “Can the Yanks Get Loose Down the Flanks?”

The answer, a unequivicable “No.”

Whether by design or not, the Yanks’ starting forwards, Robbie Findley and Jozy Altidore, could not gain space or, perhaps more importantly, clear and open space for Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey to attack Ghana’s defense.

In fact, it appeared that both Findley and Altidore were too narrowly focused in attack, lacked sophistication in their movement, and therefore compromised opportunities from the get-go.

With John Paintsil pinching in centrally, the Yanks desperately needed to work the outside flanks with their strikers–not the interior–to push Ghana back and create chances. Didn’t happen.

Altidore, as well, appeared to be running, or not running, on half a tank from the start.

Same troubles...

Findley lack of final ball creativity and execution once again did him in.

This–and a poor time to cite this–was the game that Charlie Davies was missed sorely.

• Bob Bradley Got This One Wrong

If you credit Coach Sweats with the comeback against Slovenia and the line-up that enabled the win against Algeria, then he must be condemned for some of his selections today.

Obviously, Bradley realized his Clark error–about 20 minutes or so too late–when pulling the former Dynamo player from the pitch in a rare 1st half substitution. The claim may be made that Clark was pulled because he had earned a yellow card, however it’s in Clark’s DNA to make poor tackles after making errors. The first mistake was having Clark in the starting eleven in a match that absolutely demanded that midfielders be able to play both ways.

Bradley also erred, in my opinion, in keeping a spent Jozy Altidore on the field. While Altidore thrilled and earned chances, too often his stagnation in the front of the pitch clogged the middle and helped Ghana shutdown U.S. possession.

Finally, the Herculez Gomez selection was poor in my opinion, against a physical and disciplined defense, Gomez does not possess the 1-on-1 game to create chances for himself against superior competition. There is no doubt in my mind that Edson Buddle should have been tried.


Bradley can be commended upon his insertion of Benny Feilhaber who–despite missing an outside-footed chip chance–played a phenomenal and calm game in possession. One can continue then with Feilhaber’s impact on the game in the midfield, that Stu Holden, able to play the middle or the outside, could have helped as well.

In fact, this game demanded Holden, however Bradley was out of substitutions.

Bob Bradley’s World Cup will be judged ad nauseum over the next few weeks, this game won’t be the highest rated.


• Clint Dempsey Shined

The Deuce from London had a stellar game from the States today. Needing carriage in the middle of the field, needing chances and not possessing world class speed with the ball, Dempsey was a revelation for the Yanks when they were out of ideas.

His efforts kept the Yanks in the game.

Michael Bradley also continued his world beater status. Steve Cherundolo came back down to earth on his wing, but Jonathan Bornstein was solid on his.

• The Yanks Got Bossed In Central Defense

Ghana has not scored from the run-of-play in World Cup 2010 coming into the game, the Black Stars ran right up the middle of the Yanks’ defense today, once on a fatal error and another time on beautiful piece of skill by Asamoah Gyan to account for their scores.

Beyond this the Yanks’ defense was surviving, but two errors were too much on the day.

• A Lost Opportunity, But Solid Effort

The World Cup. Every four years. The States had a beatable opponent today and they let a game slip. That said–and this may be the fan in me–the Yanks controlled the game for stretches and did their country proud.

Redemption 2010: USA vs.Ghana

In a late twist of fate and ecstasy, the United States gallantly and finally slipped one through the posts on Wednesday and emphatically punched their ticket to World Cup 2010, 2nd round.

Dempsey buried this chance in the Yanks' 2006 Cup loss to the Black Stars...he'll need to be efficient on Saturday

Up next for the Yanks? The Ghana Black Stars, Africa’s last team remaining in the tournament and the United States slayer in the final group game in World Cup 2006.

Ghana, who most expected would wilt in a tough Group D without their midfield quarterback Michael Essien, did the exact opposite.

With a steely win over trendy final four pick Serbia in the opening round and a draw against an undermanned Australia side, Ghana strode into the final game against UEFA powerhouse Germany with the group lead and with group scenarios in their favor.

A 1-0 loss coupled with Australia’s narrow win over Serbia sent Ghana through to face the Group C-winning States.

Ghana deploy in a 4-1-4-1 with Asamoah Gyan, the lone striker, the key

Ghana employs a disciplined 4-1-4-1 formation that drops the fierce, but slight Anthony Annan–a more athletic Wilson Palacios or, better, a reincarnation of former England great Paul Ince–in the holding role traditionally held by Essien above an extremely seasoned defense.

How seasoned is the backline? From left to right it reads: John Paintsil, (a starter at Fulham in the EPL) John Mensah (formerly of Lyon and now shepherd of Sunderland’s defense), Jonathan Mensah (an extremely powerful and strong central defender who has stepped in for injured Isaac Vorheh) and finally Hans Sarpei (a shifty and sound player out of the Bundesliga).

Only Jonathan Mensah, no relation to John, is inexperienced, but he’s also candidate to start next year at Serie A side Udinese. He’s athletic and certainly no slouch–watch the Germany game.

The back four is smart, tough, athletic and by my review only cracks when having to face spurts of tough pressure against the run-of-play. Against Serbia, especially, the fundamentals and cover of the defense was…..exceptional.

Ghana is not to be trifled with in the air (Jonathan Menshah, #8)

The Black Stars like to control things ahead with Annan in their midfield. They’ll play the ball around looking for chances to serve up to striker Asamoah Gyan (we’ll talk about his impact shortly), who’s making a run against the grain of the opponent’s defense.

The midfield should have been a strength for Ghana, but Chelsea star (and my favorite soccer player) Michael Essien went down with a knee injury and volatile Inter Milan tracker Sulley Muntari has had a love-hate relationship with the team and coaching staff.

Muntari cursed the coaching staff after the Australia match, but was not Anelka’d back to the homeland. He’s, to date, been coming off the bench.

Of the remaining midfielders, the States face yet another Portsmouth player in Kevin Prince Boateng who made news recently for relegating Michael Ballack to crutches for the World Cup.

It’s up top where the Yanks will have to contend with the biggest goal threat in Asamoah Gyan, but they’ll have the inside track on him. Gyan also fronts Ligue 1 Rennes, Carlos Bocanegra’s club. Gyan is widely considered the next superstar from the Black Stars and with good reason. He’s strong on the ball, extremely smart with technical runs and goes hard to headers.

That said, Ghana hasn’t been able to score this World Cup from the run-of-play. Both goals that Ghana have are penalty kicks. Beyond Gyan, Ghana lacks offensive creativity in the midfield and is also almost too disciplined going forward to take a risk and create an opportunity.

Ghana attack: (Blue=ball movement, Ayew w/ball)

The Black Stars will try to move the ball using the flanks, but in a wholly different manner from the State’s last opponent, Algeria.

Ghana will ping the ball from Annan in the holding role out to one of their wide midfielders. That wide midfielder depending upon what the defense offers has multiple plays including carrying the ball. The ball carrier will typically look for: A run from Gyan traipsing diagonally across the defense, a lead pass to an interior midfielder down the line or an overlap from the defender depending the situation and tempo of the game.

Beyond this Ghana typically lack offensive industry and will work the ball out of the corners, predominantly with service into the box or, less frequently, to a trailing midfielder for a shot right outside the box.

Now, let’s continue with our customary TSG preview.

As usual, we go.

TSG What We’re Looking For.

11 At The Whistle


TSG What We’re Looking For:

Findley, pivotal

• Can the Yanks get loose down the flanks?

With Pantsill and Sarpei pushing up high and making runs for the Black Stars, the best way to counter this is the Yanks’ celebrated counter flanker counter. I expect Robbie Findley to start again with Landon and Cherundolo on the right right and attack Ghana’s left flank where they originated most of their attacks against both Germany and Serbia.

The States, who will deploy in their 4-2-2-2 this game, will use Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey for carriage against the pressing Ghana defenders and hope to unlock their own diaganol runs from Altidore or Findley. That’s how to beat the Ghana defense.

The Yanks are going to need Findley to be better with his final ball in this one for sure.

Gyan: The next Super Black Star

• Where Gyan goes, you follow

A slight variation on the popular supporter’s group chant, huh?

There is no question that Asamoah Gyan is the space creator and catalyst for the entire Ghana offense. Gyan is a strong, swift and aggressive lone striker who will float in the center of the pitch and then lay off a pass for a midfield shot, make a diagonal run down the flank to open space or take a fly pattern between a central defender and a winger.

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The Day The Black Stars Came To Play

TSG writer Brian Mechanick looks back at the regrettable final game for the States at World Cup 2006.

Four Years for Revenge

Run DMB was up for the game, but the Yanks had a letdown

Four years and three days ago, the USMNT experienced perhaps its most painful loss ever. The 5th FIFA ranked USA needed a win over the 48th ranked Ghana side to clinch advancement to the knockout stage. Sadly, the U.S. fell 2-1 that day to the Black Stars, ending the World Cup early for the Yanks.

One full World Cup cycle has passed and the USA meets Ghana again, with whichever team that prevails gaining the right to advance to the quarterfinals. What’s changed in these four years, and what’s stayed the same?

• Here was your starting line-up for the Yanks that day: G: Kasey Keller; DEF: Cherundolo (Eddie Johnson 61’) Onyewu, Conrad, Bocanegra ; MID: Dempsey, Reyna (Ben Olsen 40’), Donovan, Lewis (Bobby Convey 74’); FW: Beasley, McBride

» The U.S. defense is largely the same, with Onyewu, Cherundolo, and Bocanegra all likely to start.
» The Killer D’s of Donovan and Dempsey are still likely to lead the U.S. attack through the midfield, while Beasley is a distinct possibility to feature.

• The Ghana squad has largely been rebuilt from 2006 using the 2009 U-20 World Cup winning squad, but the similarities for the Black Stars are in the back

Kingson is still between the wickets....

» Goalkeeper Richard Kingson is still between the posts for Ghana. Kingson hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in these past four years, earning only four caps in his last two seasons at Wigan Athletic. Add in a goalkeeping howler against Australia this World Cup, and no change might be a bad thing for Ghana.

» The right side of the Ghanaian defense is same as it ever was, with right back John Pantsil and center-half John Mensah. Pantsil did well to make Eddie Lewis look poor while Mensah shut down the American forwards on the day.

• The managers have changed for each side, but the respective nationalities of each teams managers have stayed the same. Bruce Arena has give way to Bob Bradley for the USA, while Serbian Milovan Rajevac has replaced his countryman Ratomir Dujković.

• Tactically, the USA has changed from Arena’s preferred 4-5-1 to Bradley’s 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2) system. The change has made the USA a more positive side, but they have also lost some of the ability to hold possession of the ’06 side.

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