Fire Alexi Lalas

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Jamie Trecker: USA, “big game” jinx

Another article I wrote for Project 2010

Jamie Trecker recently concluded his three-part series on why the USA needed to become the second team ever to win in Mexico City.  Since we failed, US Soccer is obviously doomed.  I’m sorry to keep going at Trecker, but since this is related to the last two I’ve commented on, it seems logical to discuss the final chapter.  After this one, I’ll give Jamie a break for a while–I promise.

The USA has done it again.

Two weeks after a humiliating 5-0 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final at Giants Stadium, the USA lost their third straight big game, dropping a 2-1 decision at the Azteca in a World Cup qualifier.

This argument is getting a little old, but I have a hard time calling the USA’s Gold Cup loss a “big game”.  It wasn’t.  If it were, we would have had more than one starter also start in the Mexico qualifier.

The Americans, of course, have never won a game at the Azteca. Lifetime, the Americans are now 0-23-1 at the stadium. Mexico also has not lost a game there since 2001, when they were upset by Costa Rica (their only loss ever in qualifying at the famed stadium).

So why is it a huge surprise/massive disappointment that we lost?

And yet, this was a bad loss for the Americans. All eyes were on this U.S. team after its surprising run to the Confederations Cup final.

Really?  You think casual soccer fans cut out of work early to watch the game on Mun2?  “All eyes” is a pretty gross exaggeration.

And consensus was that this was a weakened Mexico side, ripe for the taking.

This is the first I’ve heard of this.  Yes, they were without Senor Barcelona, but they are a pretty strong team, currently on a good run of form.

…even more troubling than the Americans’ penchant for losing big games is the manner in which they continue to do it.

Once again, the USA failed to control the midfield game, failed to see its ‘stars’ show up, and failed to put together a complete game.

Midfield control is a huge issue.  As good as Clark may be, he still can’t hold and distribute that well.  He’s a ball winner.  Until we find a center mid to pair with Bradley (and I would argue that we have a few in our system, like Feilhaber and Torres), we’ll struggle to win the midfield battle.  If you looked at pre-game analyses from the US Soccer media, they had the midfield battle as a clear win for the Nats.  Player-for-player, we look better than Mexico.  But without someone like Claudio Reyna (I know that’s a lot to ask)–someone who can hold the ball and control the pace of the game–it’s going to be really hard for us to win possession/midfield battles, despite our individual talent.  [Enter: Jermaine Jones?]

The Americans looked solid enough in the first half, despite conceding a goal to Israel Castro in the 19th minute, but then began to fray as the match went on. By the second half, the USA had lost all sense of shape and purpose, and it cost them dearly.

Trecker is manipulating the facts of the match to fit his pre-written narrative (“A Tale of Two Halves”).  The fact is, the USA controlled the game up until the Charlie Davies goal.  Almost immediately after, Mexico took control of the game, and attacked almost non-stop.  The only time the US looked remotely dangerous after the 10-minute mark was around the 60th or 70th when Davies was sprung on a few attacks–he even looked like taking the lead with that wide-open header.  I’m sorry, Jamie, but this is not another “classic” USA second-half blow-up.  Mexico simply dominated 90% of the game.

Many fans will question Bradley’s decision to start Steve Cherundolo and Brian Ching — two players who underwhelmed at the Gold Cup, over Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Spector.

I’ll be one of those.

…while Ching was unable to impose himself on the game as a target man.

To be fair, how much service did he get?

More fans will question Bradley’s substitutions. Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber and Altidore came on and did little with their allotted time.

The problem with Bradley’s substitutions is that you can almost pick them out before the game.  I probably would have guessed: Feilhaber for Ching and someone for Clark (probably Holden or Torres) in the 60s, followed by Altidore for Davies around the 75th.  Far too predictable.  Never have anything to do with the game.  In-game management is definitely Bradley’s biggest weakness.

Landon Donovan made one great pass — to Charlie Davies to score the opening goal in the 8th minute — and then vanished.

He did have swine flu…

Did Moreno (the referee) give the homers some calls? Yep — just as every home team gets, including the USA.

This game can’t be blamed on the ref, but I think you’re fooling yourself if you believe the USA gets the same advantage in their home matches.  That’s just plain silly.

So now the question is who will pay for this one?

The answer to that question is depressingly familiar. U.S. Soccer seems unable or unwilling to make a change at the top, so it won’t likely be the coach. Fans have been making excuses for the players for a generation, so those guys are likely to get a bye as well.

But outside the insular world of American soccer — the only place where Brian Ching is seriously considered a viable international talent — the reaction will be one of disdain and disgust.

…or ambivalence.  It has become clear that Jamie Trecker occupies a universe in which everyone in the world gives a shit about our Gold Cup losses and World Cup qualifying campaign.  In reality, people in other countries probably care as much about our qualifier in Mexico as I do about their countries’ games (not so much).  A 2-1 loss to a decent team on the road is nothing extraordinary.

Keep in mind that sports fans have been burned repeatedly by the hype. They keep tuning in after being told they’re going to see something special. And every time (outside of the Spain match), they’re presented with a group of guys who can’t win the big game.

The fact is, these performances — if left unchecked — will kill the sport in America. That fact seems lost on soccer executives, who keep claiming that these failures are “learning experiences.”

They’re not. They’re confirmation of America’s inability to grow up and take this sport seriously. And that’s why the USA will continue to lose the big game.

I’ve said it every other time I’ve responded to one of his articles, so I guess I may as well say it one more:  Your articles are the reason for this hype, Jamie.  Every time we have a “big game”, we get an article from you about how it’s a must-win.  So important that, if we lose, “the sport will never be taken seriously in America.”

I hate to break it to you, but most of our losses have been learning experiences.  That’s why we’ve gone from World Cup absentees to World Cup fixtures.  That’s why we’ve gone  from struggling to get fans out to games to selling out stadiums.  That’s why we’ve gone from Mexico’s whipping boys to powers of the region, and the kind of team that can beat the world’s best, on a good day.

I’m all for accountability.  I’m not a fan of Bob Bradley.  But it is ridiculously stupid that Jamie really believes a loss in Mexico City should be the final nail in the coffin.  Nobody–and I mean nobody–can waltz into Mexico City and expect to come out with a win.  It’s one of the most difficult environments you’ll encounter in the soccer world–well over 100,000 fans, altitude, and horrible air quality are huge advantages in the Mexico’s favor.  I would go as far as to say that the US will never get to the point where they can expect 3 points from their away tie with Mexico.

Well, there you have it.  Feel free to comment on Trecker’s latest article in the comments section below.

Note:  I thought it was interesting that in Jamie’s analysis, he didn’t hit on one of the biggest problems I had with the game–the ill-preparedness of the US team.  The balls were constaintly sailing long (I presume this is because balls travel farther in the thinner air), and our team seemed winded about 30 minutes in.  I’m surprised the team’s poor preparation hasn’t been discussed more by the American soccer media.

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Trecker, Mexico “last chance for the USA”

This article commentary originally ran on sister blog Project 2010.  Check out the site for more US Soccer-related content.

Our old friend Jamie Trecker is back at it,this time claiming a win in Mexico is a must.  A win would obviously be fabulous for the reasons highlighted in Trecker’s article, among others, but I’m with reader Josh (see comments in our last Trecker response) when he says he’s a little tired of people expecting a win in Mexico, as if some dramatic shift has occurred in American soccer, now making us favorites when we travel to Costa Rica and Mexico.  No way.  Optimism is nice, but realism is necessary.  Approaching tomorrow’s qualifier with a realistic set of expectations not only makes the likely lows more bearable, but the potential highs more exciting.  We’re not Brazil, and I would argue not even the giants of South America could waltz into the Azteca expecting to win.  Here we go–Trecker, Round Two:

Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier at the Azteca would be special in any calendar year.

In fact, a Mexico vs. USA game hasn’t needed any extra hype since the Americans started taking qualifying for the World Cup seriously back in the late 1980s.

Nevertheless, Wednesday’s showdown between the region’s powers is bigger than usual.

Only because of articles like this.

Bluntly put, it’s a last chance for the USA this year in three significant areas.

I don’t even need to read the reasons to see this is an overstatement.

First, it’s the USA’s last chance to influence FIFA powers before the 2010 World Cup draw.

I hate to say it, but this ship has probably sailed.  Had we won the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup, then a win in Mexico City could have given us an argument for seeding.  Since we’ve failed on the two former, there’s no argument to be made.

Also, and I hate to downplay the significance of what should be a fun match to watch, Mexico aren’t highly ranked.  Unfortunately for us, a road win in Mexico city wouldn’t reflect as strongly in our ranking as it probably should.  It doesn’t take into account our history at the Azteca.  It doesn’t take into account the smog or altitude.  It reads as #12 team beats #30 team on the road in a World Cup qualifier.  For better or worse, FIFA has *attempted to* remove subjectivity from these sort of assessments.

Let’s be honest — FIFA saw the United States’ meltdowns this summer. Sepp Blatter and co. were in South Africa to see the USA cough up a 2-0 advantage in the Confederations Cup final against Brazil and they were at Giants Stadium for that humiliating 5-0 loss against Mexico.

I know this was kind of addressed with my last comment, but I just think it’s funny that Trecker thinks “Sepp Blatter and co.” sit around, judging every game.  Yeah, they probably watched the Confederations Cup final.  If anything, I’d say they were more impressed by the fact that we could take the game to Brazil than they were displeased at our inability to close it out.  Even after the Spain win, I’d be very surprised if “they” expected us to come as close as we did in the final.

If the Americans don’t get some help in seeding they will likely be drawn with the rest of CONCACAF and the Asians. Effectively that means you have no chance to face one of the weaker nations in the 32-team field. It offers the disheartening possibility of landing in a group with, say, Argentina, France and Ivory Coast.

This is actually pretty funny–you’d think Trecker would do a little more research before publishing this stuff.  You know, there’s a reason the USA has been drawn out of the same pot as the rest of CONCACAF in years past, and it’s not because “they” decided we were all equally good (or bad).    Perhaps you noticed that every team in Pot B for the 2002 draw was European.  And in the 2006 draw, every team in Pot C was European.  And the USA is always grouped with CONCACAF and teams from either Asia (2006) or Africa (2002).  This is because FIFA does not seed teams beyond the first tier (unless they changed this policy this year).  They do this because if you put the USA in Pot B, Mexico in Pot C, and Costa Rica in Pot D, you could potentially wind up with a group (however unlikely it may be) with all three CONCACAF teams.  Similarly, you could wind up with a group (or groups) that are 100% European.  I believe this makes Trecker’s first point completely irrelevant.

The best you can hope for in the bottom row is to be drawn against the host South Africans, and that will be no picnic if it happens.

I don’t think the game against the seeded team in any group in any World Cup is a picnic.

Second, it’s the last chance to catch and hold the attention of the U.S. sports fan.

This is a valid point–a win against Mexico would grab the attention of some of the casual American soccer fans.  Hold it?  I doubt it.

The women’s soccer bubble has burst as well. A team that drew a capacity crowd to the Rose Bowl in 1999 has virtually disappeared from the public mind in 10 years. Success in Pasadena did not create a groundswell of interest in soccer, after all.

This is part of the reason I doubt it.

A win at the Azteca and there will be reason to think some momentum exists to carry into the World Cup next summer. A loss, especially a bad one, will consign soccer to its usual position as an after-thought among Americans.

Yes, a win at the Azteca would allow the hype machine to roll on–it, along with the Confederations Cup, would probably be the center piece of all the pre-World Cup shows.  But to pretend that a win–one game–would change anything in a dramatic fashion is just naive.  The growth of soccer in America is not something that can be accomplished overnight, let alone over 90 minutes.  It’s going to take years, decades, probably a couple generations.  Yes, it will get US Soccer on SportsCenter.  Yes, casual sports fans will talk about how the US Soccer team is kind of good now.  But when football season rolls around, US Soccer will be only slightly more relevant than it was last year, win or lose.

Third, it’s one last exam for the current squad and staff.

Yep, one last exam until the next last exam on September 5th…then the next last exam on September 9th…

Bob Bradley is apparently fireproof. He’s a nice man, to be sure, but you know by now how we feel about his team prep and squad decisions.

Haha…OK–Jamie and I aren’t totally dissimilar.

If Bradley is smart, he’ll play a virtual 5-3-1-1 with a three-man triangle in front of Tim Howard. He’ll also have to remind his wide backs that they need to stay at home because every lung-bursting run in the Azteca takes its toll.

For those who don’t remember, Jamie’s argument for a five-man back line centers around our 5-0 loss to Mexico.  This back line included Chad Marshall, Clarence Goodson, Heath Pearce, and Jay Heaps.  Because of their dismal performance, Trecker believes we should play a back line of Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay DeMerit.  My response: Huh?  How are the two groups related?

Does Mr. Trecker not remember how poorly our team played with a lone striker?  1-3 to Costa Rica.  1-3 to Italy.  0-3 to Brazil.   What happened we started playing with two strikers?  3-0 against Egypt.  2-0 against Spain.  2-3 to Brazil.  So how do we win in Mexico?  Let’s not do what got us the three most impressive attacking performances of recent memory.  Let’s do the thing that got us two goals in three blowout losses (both of which were penalties).  In fact, let’s take one of the midfielders from those losses and replace him with an extra defender–that should keep the goals rolling in.  Lord knows Brazil didn’t put three in on us because we were struggling to hold possession–it was because we needed a fifth defender back there.

Up front the team can rely on Landon Donovan for a big game.

I don’t think any game plan that requires one of the players to have a “big game” is a very good one.  A good game plan is one by which if all players play at their normal capacity, the team should get a result.

So, a win can take this team to a place where many fans have argued it has long belonged. A loss means many will write off this summer’s high points as another example of American soccer over-selling and under-delivering.

Articles like these are what’s responsible for the over-selling of American soccer.  Articles like these that not only claim a win should be expected going into the Azteca–a stadium in which we have never won, located in a country in which we’ve never won!–but anything less would be a failure that would inevitably doom American soccer to bad Cup draws and obscurity.

Here’s my proposal:  Let’s go into Wednesday’s qualifier with realistic expectations.  Let’s not hype it to the point that anything less than the improbable is completely unacceptable.  Let’s ask for a strong performance.  Let’s be happy with a point.

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Jamie Trecker’s summer review

This originally ran on our sister blog Project 2010.  Since it is in the Fire Alexi Lalas format, I thought I’d re-post it over here.

It’s been a while since I’ve done an article commentary, so I thought I’d take on Jamie Trecker’s latest article about the USA’s summer results.  I’m not Trecker’s biggest fan, but this commentary isn’t as much about bashing his article as it is about spurring a little debate.  Trecker questions how successful this summer was for the Yanks, and it’s an good conversation to be had.  I’d be interested to hear what you all think in the comments section below.  Here are some select bits for discussion:

But a look at the results of the thirteen games played by the Americans played over the past two months reveals that unfortunately the bad times outnumber the good.

I’ll spare you the grammatical commentary…  You could argue that the bad outnumber the good.  I’m not sure if the bad outweigh the good, though.  I would say the highs–perhaps limited to victories over Egypt and Spain–are far more significant than the bad–losses to Brazil, Italy, and away to Costa Rica–which were, you must admit, expected.

And, in both those finals, they’ve conceded eight goals in the second half.

That number is a little disturbing.   But to be fair, 5 of those goals came with our C-team on the field.

The coaching staff has not prepared the team to compete at the highest level. If the Americans hope to perform well at the World Cup next year, U.S. Soccer needs to make a change.

Despite our anti-Bradley posts in the past, the Spain victory, if nothing else, proved that a coaching change isn’t necessary for success.  One could argue it would help.  But there is absolutely no way it will happen.

The USA has also had an unusually high number of players ejected.

This was probably the most disturbing part of the Confederations Cup.

The USA’s biggest wins came against Grenada (4-0 on July 4th to open the Gold Cup), Egypt (3-0 to reach the semifinals of the Confederation Cup, with help from Brazil) and Spain (2-0 in the Confed Cup). Their other wins all came against Honduras (3), a team that has not won against the USA in eight years, and Panama, and that one required a penalty kick in extra time. And, they were held to a draw against Haiti.

I’m a little confused as to why the Gold Cup is so prominently featured in the analysis of this summer’s action.  I don’t see what our C-team’s results against Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Grenada, and Mexico say about US Soccer as a whole–good or bad.

But even [the US’ solid back line] is a mirage of sorts. The improved back four of Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Oneywu and Bocanegra did blank Spain, too, but was shredded by Brazil in the second half of the final.

Am I the only one who doesn’t think the back line looked that bad against Brazil?  I think the problem stemmed more from our midfield’s inability to hold possession.  If you let Brazil attack for an entire half, they will probably put some goals in.

The way Mexico destroyed the makeshift back four Sunday added further to the argument that the Americans might consider playing five at the back with Steve Cherundolo wide right, Spector, DeMerit and Oneywu forming a trident, and Bocanegra playing wide left.

Just so we’re clear…you are saying, because Heath Pearce, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, and Jay Heaps contributed to letting 5 goals in against Mexico, we should play five in the back, with Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, and Carlos Bocanegra (note: there are precisely 0 repeat players between the two groups).

[On Mexico’s Gold Cup victory] This wasn’t a “learning experience.” You don’t learn anything from having your head handed to you by your biggest regional rival — save for the fact that you made some very poor selections on your side.

I would argue the exact opposite.  The Gold Cup loss was nothing but a learning experience–in fact, it was very clear that this whole tournament was nothing but a learning experience from the moment the roster was announced.  We got to see which players could put in decent performances against bad teams, mediocre teams, and in the case of Mexico, pretty good teams.  We learned which players could help us out in qualifying, and which didn’t belong in a US shirt ever again.

I agree to some extent that roster selection was bad, but it’s not because we lost.  It’s because too many players were selected that will never factor into the US’ plans.  I have a hard time believing that Jay Heaps would ever be called upon for an important match.  Why not test out a younger, up-and-comer who might be able to contribute down the line?

I thought long and hard about whether Bradley should have called in the Confederations Cup players he had at his disposal for the final.  To me, it would have been a wrong move.  The group of players that got you to the final have the right to play for it.  It would be disrespectful to all-of-a-sudden bring in the “real” players to snatch the glory.  You could argue that a 5-0 loss means Bradley’s faith was misplaced.  I’d argue that bringing in the ringers was lose-lose.

Demerit likely wouldn’t have gotten that chance had Bocanegra not been injured. This long time unwillingness on the part of Bradley to make roster changes, even when they would clearly benefit his team, has been a subject of much debate among fans.

I actually think this is a very good point.  Some writers want to give Bradley credit for finding an ideal back four (Spector, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra).  But this foursome was available to us for a long time.  How did Bradley “find” it?  Cherundolo got hurt, forcing him to use Hejduk; Hejduk got hurt, forcing him to use Spector; Bocanegra got hurt, forcing him to use DeMerit; Bocanegra returned from injured and was slotted in at left back.  I won’t say he had no options here (he could have gone with Marvell Wynne, Danny Califf, and left Bornstein at left back), but it took three injuries for him to arrive at the best defensive quartet we’ve seen…well, maybe ever.  You’d like to think the coach would have a better feel for his players.

The Americans gave away the huge psychological edges they held over both Mexico and Costa Rica.

In the case of Mexico, maybe.  But deep down, they know they beat up on a group of second- and third-choice Americans.  In the case of Costa Rica, no way.  The Americans have never won in Saprissa.  In fact, the last time they played there, they lost 3-0 (2006 qualifying cycle).  The US has traditionally traded results with Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying.

Italy, Mexico and Brazil all pummeled the USA in the second halves of their matches, signaling that as the Americans tire and the adrenalin is replaced by tired legs, the good teams can take full advantage.

Against Italy, we were down a man, which didn’t help.  The Brazil final was at the end of a tightly-packed tournament.  And for the last time, I think the Mexico result is completely irrelevant to this discussion.  Yes, I’m making excuses–none of those results were desirable–but to claim that they demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the American soccer program is an overstatement.

That directly calls into question…the ability of MLS to prepare players for the world game.

I do agree that MLS-ers have some trouble adjusting to the pace of the international game.  There are some obvious exceptions to the “rule” (I guess that doesn’t make it a rule…), but this tournament demonstrated the need of young American players to move to Europe if they hope to compete effectively on the world stage.  Call me a “eurosnob”, if you will.  I’m a big MLS fan.  But I’m also a realist.

After playing six Gold Cup matches, there is only one field player to emerge as a “possible” for the Americans down the road and that is Stuart Holden. To play an entire tournament to ID only a single man is a ridiculous waste of energy and resources.

I disagree.

Where were, for example, Jose Francisco Torres…

Tired, requested a rest.

…and Danny Califf?

Useless.

Why was Freddy Adu allowed to return to Portugal — where, once again, he is not playing?

He requested before the tournament began to leave after the second match.

Why did Kenny Cooper, who finished on the Gold Cup all-tournament list, see so few minutes in comparison to Brian Ching (who may have played himself off the side)?

Ching played himself off the side?  Ching did exactly what he always does: everything but score.  I don’t know why these games would do anything to change Bradley’s opinion of him.  Cooper did start one game, and didn’t look that good.  How he ended up on the all-tournament team is a mystery to me.  He’s got talent, but he needs some refining before he’s ready.  That said, yes, I wish he would have gotten a few more minutes in the Gold Cup.  Maybe one more chance to start.

Why was Jay Heaps given more than a single game when it is clear that at his age he couldn’t possibly be a factor in South Africa?

Agreed.

Why was Michael Parkhurst called in to replace the injured Jimmy Conrad — and then not play?

Because he looked pretty bad in the Gold Cup and Goodson looked pretty good.  I would argue that his call-up only due to Conrad’s injury makes him third-choice by default.

Why was Altidore, who didn’t exactly rack up the minutes in Europe, allowed to take the time off after being named to the roster? Why were Conor Casey, Ricardo Clark and Johnathan Bornstein added to the roster, only to not be used?

Perhaps because Bradley had already gotten extensive looks at all of these players in a tournament we actually cared about.

Sadly, coaches have rarely been held accountable by U.S. Soccer for their performances. This time, they should be.

I totally agree with your point.  In the past, I’ve talked about how all coaches are given a free pass since they only have one real expectation: to qualify for the World Cup, which really isn’t that hard.  Perhaps they are expected to make it out of group, too.  But in this case, I think you’re off.  Coaches should be held accountable for coming runner-up in a tournament they regarded as a throw-away from day one?  I just don’t see it.

There’s an August 12 game in Mexico City coming up that must be won if the momentum gained in the Confederations Cup isn’t to be totally surrendered.

Really?  Momentum will be surrendered if we don’t accomplish a task that we have never accomplished–a task that only one team has ever accomplished?!  A win would be nice.  It seems more possible than ever.  But we should be realistic–walking out of Mexico City with a point would be a great accomplishment, and it shouldn’t be expected.

But what do think would have happened Sunday had the final score been, USA 5, Mexico 0?

I think Javier Aguirre would have said goodbye to his players before his last press conference as coach.

Aguirre would have been fired because his B-team failed to accomplish something that no Mexican team had accomplished for over a decade?  I find that very hard to believe.  Jamie–I’m all for accountability, but you’re making far too big a deal of a pretty meaningless game.

Alright.  I’ve had my go, now it’s your turn.  Feel free to comment below!

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Fire Bob Bradley

This post originally ran on sister site Project 2010.  It’s a good piece that addresses a hot subject in US Soccer.  Thus, I have reposted it here.

We’ll admit that we have never been Bob Bradley’s biggest fans, but we’ve also tried to refrain from calling for his head.  That was until the Brazil match.  Given the US’s performances over the past few weeks, it has become doubtlessly clear that our current coach is not the man for the job.  While all of our problems can’t be attributed to Bradley, we have a number of problems for which he is either partially for fully responsible:

SQUAD SELECTION – If you look at our history of posts, it’ll be pretty apparent that we tend to disagree with Bradley most of the time–we’d prefer more opportunities for Cooper and fewer for Hejduk, for example.  These are admittedly minor disputes.  But Bradley continues to make more and more indefensibly poor decisions.  Players like Pearce, Johnson, and Kljestan have been given numerous opportunities long after they lost their form.  The worst of all is Beasley.  Bradley’s decision to give him a start against Brazil–three games after it was abundantly clear that he should not be seeing the field any time soon–is absolutely unforgivable.

TACTICS – I don’t like the 4-5-1.  One can make a valid argument about why this is a perfectly fine formation, but it’s becoming quite clear that the US are unable to execute it effectively.  Even against poor opponents, most of our goals come from set pieces–not from the run of play.  It is extremely hard to score goals when you play a formation and set of tactics that are designed solely to stifle the opposition.  Against top competition (England, Spain, Argentina, Italy, and Brazil), we have now allowed 9 goals and scored only 1 off a penalty.  Egypt is comparably talented (arguably less), yet they are able to take the game to teams like Italy and Brazil.  This is because they are willing to take a risk and play creative, attacking soccer.  To those who say we don’t have the tools, I would retort, despite what we see in Bradley’s system, (Michael) Bradley, Feilhaber, Torres, Adu, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore would benefit greatly from a more offensive approach.

While it is very difficult to find an effective system that utilizes all of the best available players in their preferred positions, it is important to mold your tactics and formation around the players you have available to you–not the other way around.  These have become the norm: Dempsey as a right winger; Donovan as a left winger; Beasley as a left back; Bradley as a strict defensive midfielder; Kljestan as a defensive midfielder; Altidore as a lone target striker; Bocanegra as a center back; etc.  There is no reason that we should have so many players playing out of position on a regular basis.  As a coach, Bradley should be most concerned with figuring out how to get the most out of each of his players, not how to jam them into his preferred formation.

MOTIVATION – In 3 of the last 4 games, we have given up the first goal in the first 7 minutes.  In 4 of the last 5 games, we have gone down 0-2, 0-3, 0-1, and 0-3 before scoring a goal (if we scored at all).  The team is obviously not coming out of the locker room ready to play.  Obviously Bradley can’t be blamed entirely for this, but it is a clear problem that he has failed to address.

DISCIPLINE – Again, this cannot be blamed entirely on Bradley, but there is something very wrong with a team that consistently tackles hard and lunges in late.  Not only are we giving up too many free kicks in dangerous positions, but we’re receiving far too many yellow and red cards.  You don’t want to let teams like Brazil and Italy walk all over you, but keeping 11 men on the field should be a priority.

WHO WE SHOULD BRING IN – I know this is vague, but it should be a proven coach from outside the US Soccer system.  The problem with the USSF is that it’s the ultimate “good old boys” network–everyone seems to be a lifer.  For years, our only hope to stay competitive was to play a stifling brand of soccer that usually keeps games close against superior competition (and unfortunately keeps games close against inferior competition, too).  Everyone in the system is intimately familiar with this style (NOTE: Wilmer Cabrera might be the exception to this rule), and it is not the style that’s going to take us to the next tier in world soccer.  We need a fresh perspective.  We need someone who doesn’t already have a set of favorites.  We need someone who is willing to approach the USMNT (not the entire USSF, mind you) and rebuild it from scratch, best utilizing the tools we have available to us.  A big task–yes.  But with about a year until the World Cup, it is still possible to accomplish this task.  I’d say, if we’re going to get rid of Bradley, we should do it right now.  If, however, we’re only planning to replace him with the next in line in the USSF, I’d say don’t bother.

This brings me to another point–the idea that we need to have someone who knows the “quirky” US system. I don’t buy this at all. In fact, I want someone who knows nothing about the system. I don’t understand why, when so many people acknowledge that there are so many problems with player development in this country, these same people demand someone who “gets it.” All that does is further the problem.

Let’s look at former San Jose Earthquake Guus Hiddink as an example. (Yes, I’ll admit it. He would be my dream choice. And yes, I know he’s not available.) Do you really believe that the player development infrastructure in South Korea is the same as it is in Holland or Russia? I really doubt it. Yet he went to South Korea and Russia, shook things up, and got these teams playing as a unit and above their ability. While Russia has good individual talent, as a whole they are not much better off (if at all) than the US.  Yet they were able to make a great (and entertaining, unlike some teams…cough…Greece…cough) run at Euro 2008, fearlessly running at supposedly superior teams. I realize that Hiddink is arguably the best manager in the world, and that not every new foreign coach would have this effect, but that is not my point.  He was able to succesfully step into unfamiliar systems and shake things up. And it would seem that not knowing the system–the ability to approach his job with a fresh set of eyes–was key to helping him accomplish this.

WHY BRADLEY PROBABLY WON’T GET FIRED – There seem to be two ways to get fired from the US head coaching position:

1. Fail to qualify for the World Cup

2. Fail to get out of the group stage of the World Cup

The first is extremely unlikely to happen, so almost all coaches get at least 4 years to implement their systems.  Confederations Cup, Gold Cup, Copa America, and other like competitions don’t mean too much to the USSF.  As long as we continue our streak of World Cup qualifications, all is OK.  Here’s the scary part…

If, by some miracle, Bradley gets us to the knock-outs of the World Cup, prepare yourselves for four more years.

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“Soccer is Ruining America,” claims Stephen H. Webb. Wow…

…my money was on fast food and guns.  Shows what I know.

Let’s face it–Monday’s loss to Italy was heartbreaking.  The last thing we need right now is another divisive article about the merits of Frankie Hejduk, Bob Bradley, and the 4-5-1 formation.  Now is a time for unity.  I’ve been sitting on this article for quite some time now, waiting for a day just like today.  If nothing else, my fellow American soccer fans, we can all agree on this: Stephen H. Webb is an idiot.  Just who is Mr. Webb?  He is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College.  He is the author of such recent books as American Providence and Taking Religion to School(ugh).  Most importantly, he is an unabashed hater of soccer.  This article is ridiculous.  In all seriousness, it is so unbelievably, mind-blowingly dumb that I’m almost convinced it’s some form of parody–yes, it is really that outrageous.  Regardless, I’m going to take a shot at it.  If you’re up to the task, you can join in by using the comments section below.  Here we go…

Soccer is running America into the ground, and there is very little anyone can do about it. Social critics have long observed that we live in a therapeutic society that treats young people as if they can do no wrong. Every kid is a winner, and nobody is ever left behind, no matter how many times they watch the ball going the other way. Whether the dumbing down of America or soccer came first is hard to say, but soccer is clearly an important means by which American energy, drive and competitiveness are being undermined to the point of no return.

This was supposed to be easy–a pop-up the likes of which even Luis Castillo couldn’t miss.  But honestly, there are so many misinformed, downright stupid statements here, I don’t even know how to respond.  Wow.

What other game, to put it bluntly, is so boring to watch?

I know this one!  Answer: any game you don’t take the time to understand.

The linear, two-dimensional action of soccer is like the rocking of a boat but without any storm and while the boat has not even left the dock.

Two-dimensional action?  Apparently Steve’s assessment of soccer is based on the Football Manager match viewer. Watching the dots is about appreciating nuance, Steve–not action.

Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without any bullets in their guns.

I think you can do this for any sport.  I’ll give it a shot.  Baseball: Think of an escaped convict running in a circle and the prison guards are not allowed to tackle him…and forget bullets, they don’t even have guns.  Bam.

For those who think I jest, let me put forth four points, which is more points than most fans will see in a week of games—and more points than most soccer players have scored since their pee-wee days.

Goals scored in MLS last week: 23.  Goals scored by Fernando Torres since his pee-wee days: it is conservatively estimated at 912.

1) Any sport that limits you to using your feet, with the occasional bang of the head, has something very wrong with it. Soccer is a liberal’s dream of tragedy: It creates an egalitarian playing field by rigorously enforcing a uniform disability.

Wait.  Isn’t that the definition of any sport?  Hockey: everyone has to hit the puck with a stick.  Basketball: everyone has to throw the ball through a small metal hoop.  Without an “egalitarian playing field” and a “rigorously enforced uniform disability,” it wouldn’t be a sport.  It would be work.

We have the thumb, an opposable digit that God gave us to distinguish us from animals that walk on all fours.

I would argue that big brains and unique palates help, too (other primates have hands, after all), but that’s another argument.

When you are really angry and acting like an animal, you kick out with your feet. Only fools punch a wall with their hands.

Kicking a wall, on the other hand…  Steve.  Get to the point.  You must be building up to something big here.

Do kids ever say, “Trick or Treat, smell my hands”?

There it is.  Well played.

Did Jesus wash his disciples’ hands at the Last Supper? No, hands are divine (they are one of the body parts most frequently attributed to God), while feet are in need of redemption.

Jesus.  Okay.  Counter argument: if hands are divine, why should they be subjected to such lowly activities as hurling objects without a sound utilitarian purpose?  That sounds like foot work, to me.

SUMMARY OF POINT #1: Hands are God’s most important gift to man.  Therefore, feet should not be used in sports–that would be downright disrespectful.  It can be deduced from the text that Mr. Webb is leading the charge against the field goal, most track-related sports, and competitive jump rope.  It can also be deduced that Mr. Webb is a huge fan of team handball, a.k.a. “sacerdotal soccer”.

2) Sporting should be about breaking kids down before you start building them up.Take baseball, for example. When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes and outs.

As we all know, all children pop out of the womb not only know what goal kicks, offsides, and red cards mean, but how to juggle a soccer ball.  OK–all sarcasm aside–recent studies in Brazil are showing that this might actually be the case.

Striding up to the plate gave each of us a chance to act like we were starring in a Western movie, and tapping the bat to the plate gave us our first experience with inventing self-indulgent personal rituals.

Because if there’s one thing wrong with America, it’s soccer.  Not self-indulgence.

We also spent a lot of time in the outfield chanting, “Hey batter batter!” as if we were Buddhist monks on steroids.

Do you really want to bring ‘roids into this discussion?

SUMMARY OF POINT #2: Unlike soccer, baseball is long, hard, and boring (thus the need for chants to “make time go by,” as he says).  Hence, soccer sucks.

3) Everyone knows that soccer is a foreign invasion, but few people know exactly what is wrong with that.

Points one and two were mere child’s play.  Now it’s time for the xenophobia.

More than having to do with its origin, soccer is a European sport because it is all about death and despair.

While it’s true that soccer as we know it is a European invention, but it should be noted that foot-and-ball games existed from the Americas to East Asia long before colonialism or globalization.  That is one of the great appeals of this game–it has roots almost everywhere.

Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less you score.

Actually, they did, and it’s called baseball. We all know that six-inning little league games are much higher scoring than their MLB counterparts.  I’d be interested to see any professional baseball player’s high school numbers.  I would be amazed if you could find a player who hit for a lower average than he does in the majors.

Even the way most games end, in sudden death, suggests something of an old-fashioned duel.  How could anyone enjoy a game where so much energy results in so little advantage, and which typically ends with a penalty kick out, as if it is the audience that needs to be put out of its misery?

Most people actually watch and study a sport before they write a lengthy article bashing it.  Mr. Webb is not one of these people.  It’s not over yet, but I can tell you already that this is the fundamental problem with Mr. Webb’s analysis of the game: he simply doesn’t (nor does he care to) understand it.  It reminds me of this time I watched Cobra on Telemundo on a lazy Saturday afternoon (I don’t speak Spanish, by the way).  Here’s the difference between Mr. Webb and me–I didn’t attempt to write a review afterwards.

SUMMARY OF POINT #3:  God loves hands but hates foreigners.

4) And then there is the question of sex. I know my daughter will kick me when she reads this, but soccer is a game for girls.

As if nebulous, ungrounded arguments weren’t enough, Mr. Webb now feels the need to resort to playground-worthy insults.

As a display of nearly death-defying stamina, soccer mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.

I love baseball as much as the next American, but you have admit it there isn’t much physical confrontation in the sport.  Soccer is a rough sport filled with concussions, torn ligaments, and broken limbs.  Skirmishes in baseball are resolved by the cowardly sucker-punch known as the beaner.

SUMMARY OF POINT #4: Soccer is for girls.  Amazing.

I’ve had enough.  I’ll let the last couple paragraphs slide.  But I’ll leave you with this…

What I find most frustrating about this argument is the author’s convenient reliance on double standards.  Baseball is great because it’s so hard to accomplish your goal of hitting the ball; soccer is horrible because it is so hard to score a goal.  Football is great because it requires so much physical exertion; soccer sucks because…it requires so much physical exertion.  Getting ejected for shoving in baseball is just;  getting penalized for shoving in soccer is un-American (despite the same being true for basketball).  I have a sincere question for the author:

Honestly, Professor Webb, if one of your students handed in a paper that was so poorly researched, so filled with holes, and so willfully ignorant, would you hand out a passing grade?  If not, why do you hold yourself to lesser standards?  If so, find a new job.

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Stuck on the tracks: USA no better than 2006?

Steve Davis recently had an article appear on Soccernet, “Current U.S. team no better than 2006 version.”The title alone was enough to make me re-open FAL.  Here are my favorite parts:

As the national program goes, the belief is that it’s long been on the incline.

Sounds about right.  And I’d add that this belief is supported by statistical evidence and common-sense evaluation.

Quick history review: The peach-fuzzed Americans defined “pedestrian” at the Italy 1990 World Cup. But, ciao! They were there! And that team was easier on the eyes than its gangly, mid-’80s siblings.

Mmhmm…

The Americans were unartful but certainly not terrible as World Cup 1994 hosts — although that faux denim kit certainly qualified as an all-timer in the long, sad history of bad ideas.

I’d take the faux denim over the Cameroonian unitard, but that’s just me.  Go on…

The daffy 3-6-1 formation and a poison locker room not withstanding, talent had improved by France ’98. Then things blossomed splendidly at World Cup 2002 in South Korea/Japan, as then-coach Bruce Arena’s boys exploited the quirkiness of a tournament off European soil.

I see where this is going and I have to step in before we get there.  World Cup 2002 holdsa special place in my heart.  Not only did we make it out of our group, but we came an uncalled hand ball away from a 1-1 game and a man advantage with the semi-finals on the line.  (Instead we got inaccurate lectures on intentional versus unintentional hand balls blah blah blah, I’m getting off topic.)  I understand why American fans look back so fondly, but to even suggest that that team was more talented than the current version is insane.  Let’s face it, people (I’m looking at you, Ives Galarcep ), you are really making comparisons to three of five games in the World Cup finals–not the team as a whole or their entire body of results.  Let’s take a broader look at the 2002 World Cup campaign.

QUALIFYING: The U.S. finished 3rd in the hex with 17 points, only three points clear of Honduras (who beat us 2-3 on our soil, our last home loss in qualifying, by the way!).

FRIENDLIES: 0-1 in Italy.  2-4 in Germany (Keller did an amazing job just to keep it this close).  1-2 in Ireland.  0-2 to Holland at home.  I’ve never liked assigning meaning to friendly results (nothing is only the line, coaches experiment with lineups, etc.), but 0-0-4 against European teams in the lead-up to the Cup isn’t impressive.

WORLD CUPGame 1:  Portugal – we go up 3-0 in the first half and come very close to dropping points.  3-2 W.  Game 2:  Korea – we manage a draw with a team that looked much better for most of the game.  1-1 D.  Game 3:  Poland – We get hammered by the group’s whipping boys.  Korea had a lock on the knockout stage, but decided to put in a late game-winner against Portugal anyway.  Thank god.  1-3 L.  Game 4:  Mexico – 2-0.  How many times has this happened since?  Game 5:  Germany – hard-fought loss.  Robbed of a penalty/red card that could have potentially put us into the semi-finals.  0-1 L.  It was a good campaign, but we were far from dominant and a little bit lucky.  Overall record: 2-1-2.  Goal differential: 0.

SQUAD:  People will point to players like Reyna, O’Brien, McBride, and Friedel as proof that this team was better.  All great players.  But let’s not forget some of the other World Cup participants:  Agoos, Berhalter, Regis, Llamosa, Wolff, Jones…  None of these players, even in their prime (which in the case of Jones and Agoos was certainly not 2002), would be starting today.  Most–if not all–would struggle to make the 23-man roster.  I’d throw Hejduk on that list if we didn’t have a coach that was so in love with him at the moment.  Current Hejduk is far behind Cherundolo and Spector (I’d even place him slightly behind Wynne).  Young Hejduk, like it or not, was not much better.  Still reckless.  Still bad on the ball.

Sorry, Steve.  Go on…

Then came 2006. Arena kept saying all was OK, that conceding early goals just made things appear worse than they were — never mind that his team was, in fact, conceding those early goals. You could argue that qualification had come easier, that breaks had broken unfortunately in Germany and that the player pool was, despite it all, deeper than ever. None of that would have been an absurd stretch.

Agreed.

I see no reason to believe that the national team has improved even a smidgen since 2006. Beyond a Lady Luck-blessed, cinchy draw, I simply can’t find evidence to suggest that South Africa 2010 will play out any more favorably than the stumble through Germany 2006. And how’d that work out for everyone?

Here we go…

You could even argue that things have regressed a bit.

Yes, if you ignore the improvement of our core players, use Pablo Mastroeni as a point of comparison, and conveniently ignore past results, you could definitely make that argument.

…the Yanks were one big, brave Carlos Bocanegra moment from being perched way too precariously [in the Hexagonal standings].

That’s one way of putting it.  Another: the U.S. was some competent finishing away from a comfortable win.  Want to talk individual results?  In the first game of the semi-final group of qualifying, the U.S. was an 89th-minute goal away from losing to a team that didn’t even make it to the Hex!  What does this mean?  Not much.  Just like cherry picking one mediocre result from this year doesn’t say much about our current crop of players.

There is really no spot on the field where the Americans look even marginally better than 2006.

Do you really want to go there?

Essentially, three members of the back four are the same in Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Oguchi Onyewu. If you argued that Cherundolo and Bocanegrahave benefited from another three seasons in good leagues, I’d retort that they both turned 30 this year. So we’d call it a wash — then probably find our neck muscles aching from nodding in agreement that left back remains the same sore tooth it’s always been.

Onyewu and Bocanegra look far better than they did in 2006–they have, after all, had the benefit of playing side-by-side for three more years.  I’m not a fan of our reliance on set pieces, but both have also improved significantly on scoring off corners and free kicks.  On Cherundolo–I’m willing to call that one a wash, but Jonathan Spector (not to mention Simek, when healthy), a player who gets starts in the Premier League, is a significantly better backup than we’ve had in the past.  Left back is still a problem, but Bornstein is showing promise.  And how about this line-up:  Bocanegra (LB), DeMerit (CB), Onyewu (CB), Spector (RB).  Since Bocanegra had an outstanding season at LB for Rennes, I think he’s more than capable of solving our problems.  Unfortunately, Bradley doesn’t seem interested in this.  I’d argue that DeMerit is a better defender than Eddie Pope was three years ago–let’s not forget that he was our starter in the World Cup.  Or how about this lineup (when Cherundolo is healthy): Spector (LB), Bocanegra (CB), Onyewu (CB), Cherundolo (RB).  Let’s be honest–our left-back woes have been largely a result of Bradley’s unwillingness to move past Pearce.  We have the tools.

Michael Bradley has no doubt matured as a player in three years. That’s one of the pluses. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that the United States feels his absence; he was suspended for Saturday’s game because he had collected too many yellow cards.  Ricardo Clark was a force Saturday, a testament to how effort and simplicity can rule. But Bradley’s passing and his instinctive midfield drive would have nicely complemented Clark’s rangy ways.

You could make that argument about the top players of almost any team.  Take for instance Brian McBride during the 2006 campaign.  It is actually quite clear (as demonstrated by your praise of Clark) that we can cope with the loss of Bradley now better than we could have coped with the loss of McBride then.  The central midfield is easily our deepest position–players like Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, and if you’re willing to play slightly more offensive soccer, Sacha Kljestan, Jose Francisco Torres, and Freddy Adu can all fill in (not to mention newly acquired destroyer Jermaine Jones).  Who were the attacking subs from WC 2006?  Eddie Johnson (who had a downright awful 2006 MLS season), Josh Wolff (undersized, never that good), and Brian Ching (decent player then, better player now).

Pablo Mastroeni is 32 and looked every bit of it on Honduras’ goal Saturday, hopelessly chasing the play from behind. So you really can’t look at the central midfield as a whole and stamp it “improved.”

Let me get this straight.  Your argument for ’06’s midfield being better goes as follows: 1. It would suck if Michael Bradley didn’t exist.  2. Our second best central midfielder from ’06 can’t hack it any more.  Point two is completely correct.  The problem is our second best central midfielder from ’06 is now sitting about sixth best among defensive midfielders alone.  Most American soccer writers agree that his international career is (or should be) over.   And let’s not forget, you’re using a guy who didn’t even make the Confederations Cup roster as a point of comparison.  Let’s also not forget who our number three was in ’06–Ben Olson.  Really?  ’06 Ben Olson would be around #11 on our central midfield depth chart today.

In fact, given coach Bradley’s continued dependence on Mastroeni, and considering Claudio Reyna isn’t around to slow pace and create space, there probably has been a decline.

I would agree that Bradley holds us back in some ways, but this doesn’t diminish the progress we’ve made elsewhere.  Regarding Claudio Reyna, there was a time when he could control the pace of the game and distribute the ball precisely.  That was not the Claudio Reyna at WC06.  ’06 Claudio was a liability.  I’m sure you can remember the constant injury and fitness worries and his giveaway that led to Ghana’s game-winner.

But something happens when [Clint Dempsey] slips into a U.S. shirt; he never quite seems to figure out what he wants to be.

I agree to some extent.  Part of the problem is that Bradley has him playing a different position for country than he plays for club.  But you have to admit–Clint Dempsey is a far better player now than he was 3 years ago (when he took part in the 2006 World Cup).

Landon Donovan is the same player from four years back.

Landon Donovan playing for the MLS Cup champs in 2005: 12 goals, 10 assists.  Landon Donovan playing for the worst team in MLS last year: 20 goals, 9 assists.  Pretty clear sign of improvement

Jozy Altidore shows promise but will be only 20 at the South Africa World Cup. Beyond prodigies named Messiand such, teams just don’t spring into a World Cup leaning on 20-year-old strikers.

Jozy would be the second best striker in the 2006 pool and would have contended for a starting spot alongside Brian McBride.  You’re right that world-class teams don’t often enter World Cups relying on 20-year-olds, but we aren’t a world class team.  I would guess that Jozy, by 2010, would be good enough to get called up by most teams participating in the World Cup–obviously not Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy, or any other elite team, but most teams (like the USA) that occupy the lower tiers of world soccer could use him.

Part of the problem has been Bradley’s curious reliance on a core of certain individuals — regardless of their form. Bradley has strained so diligently to make things predictable around the U.S. camp — including an effort to shrink the first-team pool to help fuse familiarity — that he hamstrings himself.

Totally agree, but I don’t think this demonstrates a lack of progress in American soccer.  It’s simply evidence that Bob Bradley is a mediocre coach.  Familiarity is important, but E.J. and Pearce–to name two–have been given far too many chances.

How else to explain Eddie Johnson’s previous, repeated call-ups when he was playing about as often as Franz Beckenbauer — and The Kaiser retired 25 years ago!

Zing!

How else to explain why, during last week’s dreadful, ambivalent 3-1 fiasco against Costa Rica, we had to watch guys like Beasley,Altidore and Freddy Adu, none of whom were playing regularly with their clubs? These were the conquerors who were somehow supposed to muster the confidence, rise to the moment and tame a place called the Monster’s Cave?

Altidore started because Ching was injured and he didn’t do too bad.  Adu came off the bench and put in a solid performance.  Beasley sucked, so I’ll give you that one.  But I’d just like to point out that we lost 3-0 last time we played in the Monster’s Cave during the 2006 qualifying cycle.  2002 cycle?  2-0 loss.  You could argue that that shows a lack of progress.  I’d say it can just as easily be explained away by our injury problems and Bob Bradley’s questionable formation/squad selection.  The true American first team would have been competitive in this game against a better Costa Rica team than faced in the 2006 cycle.

We’ve come that far from Arena’s decree that players who were fit, in form and on the field at club level would earn caps?

Arena was better than Bradley when it came to favoritism, but you can’t tell me he was immune.  He ignored much of our European talent in favor of MLS-ers (Chris Albright?  Eddie Pope?  Really?) and continued to give E.J. time long after his hot streak had cooled.

Clark was Bradley’s best player Saturday, yet he was called only when Maurice Edu was revealed injured. The Houston Dynamo’s buzz-saw midfield has been most responsible for the club’s May resurrection. And yet, BennyFeilhaber had been dusted off and granted the original call, ahead of Clark.

Clark’s performance demonstrated our depth at the “unimproved” central midfield.  I understand point, but you have to admit we have an awful lot of options and Clark hadn’t exactlyproven himself at the international level before Saturday (and he’d been given plenty of opportunities).  Benny Feilhaber, on the other hand, was one of our most promising players before he performed his disappearing act.  Now that he’s getting regular minutes again, I’m all for him getting call-ups.

Previous American versions wore a useful chip on their shoulder. Other countries didn’t respect the Yanks, and every match day was a fresh opportunity to stick it in their soccer snob faces. That will seems to have wandered…The talent pool hasn’t improved significantly since then.

I’m not sure we’ve earned the respect of other countries yet, but I have to ask…What exactly did this magic chip do for us?  I’ve already discussed our performance in the 2002 cycle (widely regarded as the pinnacle of American soccer to date).  How about the 2006 cycle?  Some results from the lead-up to the 2006 World Cup: 1-4 at Germany, 1-1 to Jamaica at home, and 0-1 to Morocco at home.  World Cup results?  0-3 to Czech Republic, an impressive 1-1 draw to Italy, and with the opportunity to advance, a 1-2 loss to Ghana.

As for the talent pool, I think this argument would be best hashed out with a game.  Let’s pretend the World Cup were starting next week and we were able to pick a roster.  Everyone is healthy.  All of the players from the 2006 team are put in a time machine, transported to today, and considered in the squad selection.  Here’s who I think we should take (2006 players in bold):

GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard, Kasey Keller, Brad Guzan

DEFENDERS: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Jimmy Conrad, Jonathan Spector, Jonathan Bornstein, Eddie Lewis

MIDFIELDERS: Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Jose Francisco Torres, Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey, Freddy Adu

FORWARDS: Brian McBride, Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies, Brian Ching

PLAYERS LEFT BEHIND FROM 2006 ROSTER: Chris Albright, Gregg Berhalter, Bobby Convey, Marcus Hahnemann, Eddie Johnson, Pablo Mastroeni, John O’Brien, Ben Olson, Eddie Pope, and Josh Wolff.  (Not to mention the younger versions of Howard, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo, Donovan, Dempsey, and Ching.)

Even if you regard repeat players as “washes,” we’re still taking 10 new players to just 5 of the old group (8 repeats, of which I’d say only one (Beasley) has failed to improve/gotten worse).  Of those 5, I would say only Brian McBride is a lock to start–Beasley and Reyna would also have had solid cases.

We aren’t there yet.  There’s plenty of room to improve.  Despite what the FIFA rankings might have led you to believe before the 2006 World Cup, we were never among the world’s elite.  Although we haven’t improved much (at all?) on the coaching front, our talent pool has continued to deepen, and it looks to continue on that path with a steady stream of new young talent (Gyau, McInnerney, Renken, Adu, Altidore, Torres, etc.) still developing.  We may not have world-class talent yet, but we do have the proper pieces to make a talented team capable of a run like Turkey’s in the last European Cup.  Whether or not Bradley’s brand of defensive soccer will get us there is another question…

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Alexi Lalas – the Ginger interview

This is brilliant. Had to post it. No commentary here…I think Lalas’ genius speaks for itself…

(Courtesy of Kick Off Video)

Filed under: Alexi Lalas,

Man City are detroying football?

This is a US Soccer blog and I intend to keep it that way.  But I felt like commenting on this story because it has to do with the state of the global game, of which the USA is obviously a part.  Also, this topic has been bugging me for a while and I have the uncontrollable desire to throw in my two cents.  I’ll keep it brief.

This headline caught my attention today when I was glancing over Soccernet: “Man City are killing football – Copenhagen boss“.  While Ståle Solbakken’s comments can be written off, at least in part, as a little trash talk before his team’s UEFA Cup fixture against Man City, he is hardly alone in his accusations.  I’d just like to make two points on the matter:

1.  Transfer prices have been skyrocketing for years–they were out of control long before Man City came into money.  Let’s not forget, Milan shelled out 22 million Euros for a 17 year old in 2007.  If that seems reasonable to you, it shows just how far we have come.  I can’t deny that Man City are contributing to this fast-growing problem, but they are hardly the source, which is exactly what many will have you believe.

2.  It’s kind of funny how people (Solbakken included) proclaim that money can’t buy championships when it’s been done before.

CHELSEA

Premier League Champions/Runners-up pre-Abramovich: 1954-55 (C)

Premier League Champions/Runners-up post-Abramovich: 2003-04 (RU), 2004-05 (C), 2005-06 (C), 2006-07 (RU), 2007-08 (RU)

On top of this, they added an FA Cup, two League Cups, and their only appearance in a Champions League final.

Solbakken claims Man City will fail in their endeavor because they are not, “by tradition, a big football club.”  While this is true, their two league titles, five FA Cups, two League Cups, and one European Cup are certainly more impressive than Chelsea’s pre-billionaire-owner accomplishments.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  You can buy championships.  It’s been done before, and given enough time, Man City will do it again.

One note: I don’t think exorbitant transfer fees are healthy.  I don’t like the idea of buying championships.  But these are facts of the modern game–not inventions of Manchester City.

Filed under: Current Events, , , ,

FAL Heroes: Steven Wells

“Ridiculing our way to a better soccer culture.”

Well, ridiculing will only get you so far.  Rather than sitting around all day, criticizing the work of actual journalists, fuming over USSF missteps, and laughing at Alexi Lalas, I thought it  might be nice to highlight the voices of reason out there.  Thus, I have created a new section called “FAL Heroes.”

What better way to start off than by looking at Steven Wells’ Q&A with EPL Talk.  His commentary is spot-on.  Rather than interrupting the article with my analysis, I’ll just let you guys read it as is.  I don’t think there is much I could add.

Steven Wells’ Q&A with EPL Talk

Filed under: FAL Heroes, , ,

To all the Frankie Hejduk haters…

While watching the US defeat Mexico (again) on Wednesday, I was keeping an eye on Ives Galarcep’s running commentary.  One of his halftime thoughts kind of struck me:

Will the “Frank Hejduk is awful” people finally relax? He’s not Dani Alves but he can step up and play well when needed.

Fair enough.  If you’re a Frankie supporter (I would argue “apologist” is a more appropriate term), this game was definitely a score for your side and you have every right to rub it in.

Today, I was looking over one of Ives Q&A’s and found this response to what was essentially a “Hejduk sucks–agree or disagree?” question:

Hejduk remains a useful option, and one folks should appreciate rather than criticize.

Again, a perfectly reasonable opinion.  Some–myself included–probably overstate how terrible Hejduk is.  But here’s the thing:  Wednesday nights is about as good of a game as you’re going to get out of Hejduk, and I’d still rate it about a 6-out-of-10.  His pace, stamina, and work rate were all apparent positives, but he still went in for two-footed tackles, gave up dangerous free kicks, and worst of all, HE INJURED HIMSELF.  It still blows my mind how the commentators can look at the replay over and over and all they say is, “look how tough Frankie is!”  It is true: the decades of survival on the tundra before being frozen solid, only to be uncovered by  a team of USSF officials 10,000 years later, really toughened Hejduk up.  But you’d think someone–anyone–would point out that Frankie slid in (with two feet, by the way) two seconds too late.  There’s a bold line between aggressive and stupid and Frankie flew right over it (into it?).  I understand that there are times, like Wednesday, when a Frankie call-up is a necessity.  But I say, barring injuries to both Cherundolo and Wynne, Hejduk should not be starting.

Back to Ives.  Here’s the irony:  that “Frankie Hejduk is awful” crowd that he was talking about…I think before Wednesday’s match, Ives was one of them.  I was looking over an article from our sister blog Project 2010 and I found this quotation in reference to the USA’s loss at T&T:

IVES GALARCEP:    Frankie Hejduk (3).  You love his hustle but hate his lack of skill. It was his poor  pass that led to the breakout and eventual Russell Latapy goal. He mis-hit crosses and turned the ball over repeatedly. The performance makes you pray for Marvell Wynne to start getting minutes.”

Who am I kidding?  I’m sure what Ives meant was that Frankie should still start over Wynne, but Wynne should start getting more minutes off the bench.  My bad.

Filed under: Article commentary, ,

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