USA 2, Ghana 1 – Pentagram

What a game!  What a weird, wonderful, and at times frightening game!  Some will claim the USA turned back the clock about 30 years with a gritty, ugly, gut-check win.  Some will note that Juergen’s tactics and substitutions pretty much worked to a T.  And down at the Dublin Pub, with most of our YMCA U8 Soccer Team looking on (occasionally), we were starting to get a very bad feeling when Ghana continued to whip in crosses and come closer with their outside blasts.  The tying goal seemed inevitable…   And then Graham Zusi to John Brooks…


Juergen’s success with his subs continues…  With Germany’s pasting of Portugal, the Group of Death suddenly seems navigable – even with the injuries.  So on to five points about this opening World Cup Win…

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Randomsville Saturday

We have no theme.  We’re random on a Saturday.  It’s comics, soccer, football.  Let’s start with this:

That ending just makes way more sense…  And. of course, the biggest news out of Comicon in San Diego was the Superman-Batman movie announcement.  Odds that Superhero movies have moved on from the general public wheelhouse by then?  I don’t know…  Maybe they should enlist Jeph Loeb to co-script.

I think I need the ‘Because I’m Batman’ t-shirt.

In other news, we did not get tickets to the USA-Mexico World Cup Qualifier at Columbus Crew Stadium in September.  They had to do a lotto for the chance to buy overpriced tickets, and neither me nor my co-worker friend were selected.  Now U.S. Soccer was very gracious and even offered a merch discount on my next purchase…

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Pentagram: 3 points from Jah-mon

A year and-a-half into the Juergen Klinsmann experience and and we’re starting to have the same criticism of him as we often leveled on his predecessor, Bob Bradley.  He’s over-reliant on certain of his guys.  He gets the tactics wrong or can’t get the team to adjust.  He plays too many friggin’ defensive midfielders!

Where we are now as a result:  tied atop the standings of our World Cup Qualifying group with one round of two games to play.  Tied with Jamaica and Guatemala, but not looking all that convincing, with lots of questions on the horizon.

Last Friday’s 2-1 loss in Kingston followed by Tuesday’s 1-0 win in Columbus split both the points and the goals evenly with the Jamaicans.  As a pragmatist, this is just fine – especially when factoring in the lack of Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan due to injury.  But when considering how the USA played and how Klinsmann coached, well…  Next year’s hexagonal round of qualifying (assuming we handle tiny Antigua on the road and Guatemala at home next month) looks a whole lot rougher.

Five points in a double-Jamaican rum shot pentagram… Continue reading

Pentagram: Four Points Earned

Herc is now your #9

The US Soccer Team took its first steps on the road to the World Cup Finals in Brazil.  And they’re tired already.  Last Friday’s 3-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda, followed by Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Guatemala, served the reminder that qualifying, while mandatory, ain’t easy.  It’s the same old mantra for qualifying out of our region:  win at home, draw on the road.

Juergen Klinsmann will take the results.  He will also have to take some of the criticism, because the team looked pretty underwhelming and was actually pretty fortunate not to lose that last game.  The players were obviously tired, from Juergen’s demanding fitness schedule following long club seasons.  Roster/player selections were an issue, as were some of the deployments and tactics.  While we applaud the overall strategy and philosophy the coach is trying to implement, a year in and we’re still wary…

But the team is off until September, when it will play Jamaica twice in five days.  Win at home, draw on the road, get to the next round.  Still, we need to improve depth and the offensive gameplan to win the Hex and arrive at Brazil in position to make some noise.

Five points in the pentagram…

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Lessons from Fake Tourney

Starters v. Brazil

If you’re a die hard US Soccer Fan, the last two weeks, with three friendlies and roller-coaster results, provided must-see viewing and grist for the soccer-analytic-mill in a big way.  We saw the debut of the ‘Where’s Waldo’ jerseys, the A-Team pretty much in place, and Donovan and Dempsey on the field for the same time since Juergen Klinsmann took over.

Coach Klinsi wanted to treat this three game stretch leading up to the two World Cup Qualifiers (June 8 against Antigua and Barbuda, June 12 at Guatemala) as a tournament.  If so the U.S. might have made it out of the first round on goal differential, beating a disinterested Scotland 5-1, losing to Brazil 4-1, and drawing Canada 0-0.

More important was the way the US played (at times) pressuring high, carrying the ball forward quickly, and working the quick combos to generate scoring chances.  The team showed a capability to play the positive attack-minded soccer Klinsmann has been talking about since he took over.

Unfortunately, they also showed long stretches of passing and possession futility, lack of depth at key positions, and problems getting Donovan and Dempsey involved simultaneously.

Depth the key:  Most of us really like the style of play we’re starting to see.  It was on display against the Scots and throughout the second half against Brazil.  But three games over 12 days – a schedule similar to any FIFA tournament – exposed a lack of depth while seeming to exhaust key players.  Have a look at the team photo above.  Six of those ten field players will be 30 or above when the World Cup kicks of in 2014.  Seven players if you add Dempsey.  Sure, players in their lower 30s often operate in their prime, but you can’t expect them to do so again and again on short rest.  In a tourney like the World Cup, you need to be able to rotate guys in and out – not only to change tactics but to keep them fit enough to contribute. Continue reading

Clint in the Groove

While Clint Eastwood was hawking Chryslers in the Superbowl, across the pond in London, Clint Dempsey continues to prove his mettle as the best American Soccer player.  Saturday he scored on this rocket, which was somehow initially ruled an own-goal (soon to be corrected, one would hope):

Dempsey has always seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder.  His attitude and grit are attributes that have long been associated with U.S. players.  He also has a ton of skill and has developed an upper level understanding and instinct for scoring and setting teammates up.  Sometimes, when you watch him play for the national team you get the idea everyone else (except Landon) is three steps behind him.

At any rate, he became the all-time leading Premier League scorer for Fulham earlier this year.  He’s scored 16 goals for them in all competitions so far.  He has one more year on his contract, which could mean a big money move for him this summer (so Fulham can avoid letting him go for free).  Clint’s said he wants to play in the Champion’s League, and few would argue he’s up for it.  In fact, you could slot him in to any team in England – any team:  Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool – and he would start and thrive.  That’s the kind of player he is.

The Brits like him too.  Check out this themed photoshop gallery starring Clint from last week:

Pentagram: Return of the Freddy

The US Soccer Team defeated Panama 1-0 in Houston last night to advance to the Gold Cup final in Pasadena.  There they will find Mexico and the matchup everyone envisioned for this regional championship.  Last night’s match was no beauty pageant as both sides fatigue from the last two weeks showed prominently.  But Coach Bob Bradley pulled the strings again with a solid 4-5-1 gameplan, again bringing Landon Donovan off the bench to save his legs, and this time it was a familiar face, a guy lost in the wilderness and absent for two years who finally unhinged the stingy Panamanian defense.  That’s right:  Freddy Adu.

The Return of the Freddy comes after Adu’s two plus ineffectual years of bouncing around in Europe (earning a nice paycheck) without much playing time.  He went on loan to a second division side in Turkey this past Spring and started playing again – and playing well.  Coach Stoneface called him for the Gold Cup (minor controversy) and some of us wondered if he’d even make the 18 man gameday roster, let alone the field.  But by all accounts he’s practiced hard, run hard, and adopted the team mentality so prized by Bradley and his staff.  And thus…

Yeah, that’s the Fred on the setup ball.  Five points in the Pentagram…

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