USA World Cup Scrub

Yedlin = the Future

A couple of days since the USA Soccer team exited the World Cup – beat by a better team in Belgium, but defiant and unbroken in the end.  Everyone has acknowledged the brilliance of Tim Howard, the heart and drive of the field players, as well as their lack of possession and  finishing.  As much as the Team America was outplayed on the ball by Beligum, had Wondolowski and Dempsey scored on a couple of key chances, we could well be talking about one more game against Messi and Argentina.  SI.com’s Grant Wahl summed up the match very nicely (as usual).

Meanwhile, as mass attention begins to drift away from the team, the die hard American fans have begun the debate on strategy and tactics.  We made it out of the Group of Death – unexpected by most.  But we did so playing typically gritty, defensive-minded and opportunistic soccer.  This is not how Jurgen Klinsmann said we would play.  Did we make it to the knock-out rounds because of the coaching staff’s approach and preparations, or in spite of their tactics and roster selections?   Continue reading

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Power of the Cup

“Who would win?” my son asked me.  “Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi vs. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.  It’s two-on-two.”

“No goalkeepers?” I replied.

“Zusi and Bradley get Tim Howard.  The other guys get Brad Guzan.  Three-on-three.”

“Why Landon?” I asked him.

“Well, you keep saying he should be there with the team…”

That’s my boy!   For the record, I took Dempsey, Donovan, and Guzan.

This discussion took place out of the blue last week.  Before the World Cup, my eight-year-old son barely knew the U.S. Soccer team.  He knew a few of them, but now he knows the entire roster.  He’s interested, engaged.  He and his sister sat and watched nearly all of each group stage match – two of them out at sports bars/restaurants, one in town.  He can’t get enough World Cup.

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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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World Cup Couch Weekend

The big day is Monday – USA v. Ghana at 5:00 CST.  But today and this weekend (just in time for Father’s Day) we have World Cup Viewus Maximus.   Four games today, three games tomorrow.  No overlap, all available to watch on ABC and ESPN.  It’s like Sweet Sixteen weekend – all the games are on, all of them are important – only with higher stakes and it only occurs every four years.  Have a seat on the couch or head out to your favorite sports bar.

So far we’ve seen some bad refereeing decisions (Brazil penalty, Mexico disallowed goals) and a shocking dismantlement of the Spaniards by the Dutch.  The games this weekend all have some intrigue and reasons to watch.

  • Colombia v. Greece – 11:00 Sat:  Without Falcao, Colombia aren’t as fun, but they’re still pretty fun.  Will the Greeks come to play or will they bunker down?
  • Uruguay v. Costa Rica2:00 Sat:  Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani are worth a look.  Let’s hope Suarez’s knee is really OK.  The Ticos of Costa Rica are from our region and feature exciting players like Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz.  They’re definitely the underdogs in this group.
  • England v. Italy – 5:00 Sat:  Euro Old Guard powers square off.  The winner has the inside track on this group; the loser blames the weather and gets scorched by their home country’s media.  A lot to like here Ballotelli and Pirlo against Gerrard and Rooney.  This is one to watch.
  • Japan v. Ivory Coast – 8:00 Sat:  Which Japan shows up?  The technical swashbuckling samurai or the overmatched, over-pressured team of last summer?  Ivory Coast features big names like Drogba and the two Toures (Yaya and Kolo).  This is a potentially great match-up and we could see either of these teams winning the group or completely bombing out of the tournament.
  • Switzerland v. Ecuador – 11:00 Sun:  Can the Swiss take the heat?  The weather and Ecuadorians will oblige them.  Is Ecuador for real or are they just the beneficiary of playing all their qualifiers at a very altitude?
  • France v. Honduras – 2:00 Sun:  Hondo, our other regional cousins (we don’t claim Mexico) are big underdogs here.  Many of their players are MLS guys.  France has star power, skill, and talent, but you don’t know if they’ll show up to play or end up on strike.
  • Argentina v. Bosnia-Herzegovina – 5:00 Sun:  Messi, Higuain, Aguero for Argentina.  How will they play together?  Will Messi exert some leadership and lead this team like he can?  Bosnia will certainly try to bunker and counter but they do have Dzeko and Pjanic in the attack.

Here’s hoping for some great play, plenty of goals, and fewer bad calls this weekend.

Five Points from the Send-off Series

Less than a week from today, the U.S. Soccer team will take the field for their first World Cup match against Ghana.  That will be at 5 pm CST on Monday, so plan to leave work early.  Juergen Klinsmann has had his team together for three-plus weeks, he’s controversially cut Landon Donovan, and he’s  led the team to three wins in the send-off series against progressively more difficult opponents. The 2-0 win against Azerbaijan was a snoozer.   The back line didn’t have much to do, the offense looked rough amidst tired legs, and Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson  go the goals.  The next game, against Turkey, was more instructive.  Here the back line looked a little disorganized and loose, while Jermaine Jones had too much to do at the base of the diamond midfield.  But the offense looked better, more fluid, and the Bradley-to-Johnson goal was as good as you’ll see:

2-1, USA, with more for the coaches to think about.  This past Saturday, the team took on Nigeria, who will also be in Brazil and are easily the best opponent of the three.  This 2-1 win was pretty convincing, and should have us all feeling a lot more positive.  The defense looked stout, the attacking movements were there, and Jozy Altidore scored twice to break out of his slump.  If you had asked what we wanted out of the Nigeria game, those preceding three points are it.

So now it’s on to the grand stage.  The wait is nearly over.  It’s gut-check time.  Insert additional cliche here.  Ghana, Portugal, and Germany are on the horizon.  Here’s your U.S. Soccer Send-off Series Pentagram, with five points to consider…

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Our 23 vs. Klinsi’s

Since Jurgen Klinsmann cut Landon Donovan while trimming his World Cup roster to 23 players this past week, Beemsville has run the reaction gamut:  disbelief, anger, sadness…  But mostly disbelief.  Veteran soccer commentators like Alexi Lalas and Grant Wahl will tell us an emotional reaction is to be expected (and it’s a good thing for U.S. Soccer); after all, Landon has been the face of the National Team for going on a decade.  He’s the greatest player our country has ever produced, scored more goals, had more assists, and come up clutch in big moments throughout his career.  Has he slowed down a step?  Sure.  But since he was quicker than virtually everyone else to begin with…  And since his game is also based on intelligence, technique, timing…  Well, we still can’t believe Jurgen made this call.

Still can’t believe we’re going to line up against Ghana in less than a month, and Number 10 won’t be on the pitch (or at least on the bench).  We’ve listened to a few podcasts, read a ton of articles, and from Taylor Twellman to Brian Sciaretta, we can’t find one person who thinks this was the right call.

What does this say about Jurgen?  He’s certainly a man with a plan.  He’s certainly said all kinds of stuff about earning it, competing, etc., but as Alexi Lalas said, it comes down to personal preference.  And that preference seems to favor the young, and untested.  The problem we have here, is it once again throws the coaching staff’s judgement into question.  Is Jurgen trying to win now or is this part of his construction plan for the next cycle?  Is this to make the World Cup more about him?   Because as of right now, every match played is a referendum on the Landon cut.

So let’s have a look at the Klinsmann 23 and compare it to the final Beemsville 23 from earlier this month:

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Camp Cali Thoughts

Fair warning:  this blog will definitely take on a World Cup feel over the next couple of months…  Speaking of which, ESPN aired the first of an excellent documentary series last night:  Inside U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil.  Really interesting profiles of the team and coaches, with great access and inside footage.  If you’re only a casual fan of the team or only pay attention around World Cup time, this series will definitely get you more familiar with our team and what they go through to qualify.  ESPN will no doubt be replaying this many times, so check your program guide.

Meanwhile, Jurgen Klinsmann’s 30-man squad convened today for training camp in Stanford.  They will go at it a couple of weeks before playing three friendlies – the send-off series – against Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria.  Sometime during this stretch, Jurgen will cut the squad down to the required 23.

Here’s how the coach’s 30 differed from the Beemsville picks

We had Jay DeMerit, Tim Ream, Juan Agudelo, and Eddie Johnson in our 30.  Der Coach called in Joe Corona, Brad Davis, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Brooks instead.

Jurgen has never called in Jay, so no surprise there.  Call it a difference of opinion.   The others we can sorta, kinda see as well.  Brooks and Yedlin are two for the future.  If nothing else, they can come to camp, press other guys, and see what it will take for the next cycle.  Corona is an interesting choice in that he’s been given multiple chances and hasn’t really taken advantage.  It seemed like the Gold Cup last summer showed that Corona wasn’t quite fleet enough to play wide, and not quite physical enough to play central in this crowded midfield.  Brad Davis is the most interesting choice.  He’s the veteran, with a great left foot.  If you want a left-footed veteran to come in the last 20 minutes and provide service, he’s your guy. Continue reading