Confederations Cup: Close only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades

The saddest part about today’s Confederations Cup final, which finished 3-2 in Brazil’s favor, is that the US should have won the game. They got the breaks – Kaká’s header was clearly a goal on replay – and they were out in front. The problem was the Brazil outclassed them in the second half. And, even though the US didn’t really miss Michael Bradley in the first half, they missed him dearly in the second.

With all that said, close wasn’t enough.

The US played a perfect first half. They found space and kept possession. Landycakes, as he has for the entire tournament, played like a man possessed. I may have to retire the Landycakes nickname, which would be a shame. Most importantly, they made their chances count. That was a continuation of the strategies applied in the game against Spain. The problem is that in the second half, Brazil was able to both build up their attack and finish it; that was the crucial difference between Spain and Brazil.

I’m not sure what to make of the US side. One of my goals was to try to gauge exactly how good the US could be. Assuming they qualify for the World Cup, I would have to say that how far they get in South Africa next summer depends mightily on their group. Perhaps, if they get a more difficult group, they’ll come out fighting right away. The squad seems like it has multiple personalities: one when they play lesser teams and one when they play better teams. In fairness, the latter only appeared just recently.

It would be instructive to go back to the World Cup Qualifiers in March when this whole “allow a goal or two in the first 20 minutes” thing first started. It seems to me that poor marking was the problem. In the Confederations Cup, their marking improved substantially – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Onyewu and Demerit are big-time centerbacks – mainly because (a) their back line improved; and (b) the central mids tracked back. Playing Landycakes as sort of an attacking midfielder just to one side gave him the freedom to roam and really showed what he can do (no, he’s not a striker; accept it and move on). It also demanded that the two central mids track back: Michael Bradley was born for that role because he can run all day; Ricardo Clark appears set to claim the other spot. So long as the mistakes that happened in the second half today don’t happen again (i.e. center backs pushing too far up and people not realizing who they’re marking), the US can hang with Brazil and Spain and others.

Until then, though, they’ll be able to put together one half but not two. The goal for the rest of the CONCACAF qualifiers should be nothing less than total domination. I don’t care that it’s hard to play in Estadio Azteca; the US must beat a Mexico side that is, in truth, not very good. Further evaluation will come at the end of the CONCACAF qualifiers.

With all that said, congratulations to Brazil (even though they used the thoroughly despicable Daniel Alves) and congratulations to the US for putting in a good game.

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