Tag Archives: United States

The most important win in US soccer history

US players celebrate Landon Donovan's goal v. Algeria (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Sure, that could be hyperbole. And I could be wrong in less than a week. But for now, the United States’ 1-0 victory over Algeria on 23 June 2010 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, is the biggest win in US soccer history.

The victory, sealed by Landon Donovan’s injury time goal at 91 minutes, was a long time coming. In the last game, a comically bad decision by Koman Coulibaly denied Maurice Edu a winner and the US a victory. But the result – a comeback draw – was still acceptable. Today, in the 20th minute, Clint Dempsey was called offside. Wrongly. The soccer gods were against the US for some reason. To add more insult to injury, the soccer gods rewarded a thoroughly unimpressive England team with a goal from Jermain Defoe. But the US didn’t give up. They kept doing the things that the soccer gods appreciate: work hard, pass crisply, keep shooting. Finally, the soccer gods rewarded them for their effort: Clint Dempsey’s low blast ricocheted off Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi and into Landon Donovan’s path. Donovan slotted it home, lighting Loftus Versfeld Stadium in red, white, and blue.

With that goal, the US won its World Cup group for the first time since 1930. It advanced to the knockout stage, and erased the awful memories of 2006. I submit that this win is more important the famous win over England in 1950. To be sure, the 1950 win was less expected (although the US was still seen as a pretty big underdog; witness the newspaper coverage). While the draw was a surprise to some, it was not a surprise to the players.

This US team expects to win games and expects to hang with the soccer elite. This game, the last in the group stage, shows that the US means business. They’ll have a chance to prove that again when they play Ghana on Saturday.

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Jobbed in Joburg

Koman Coulibay looks stunned that he's refereeing a World Cup match (David Cannon/Getty Images)

It’s probably a good thing that I waited this long to write about the US/Slovenia match in the World Cup. Then again, I saw the replays again a few minutes ago, which made me angry again. Almost as angry as I was when it actually happened. But, now that I’ve cooled down, I can safely come to a few conclusions.

1. The referee, Koman Coulibaly, was terrible. Actually, he was beyond terrible. This was, easily, the worst refereeing performance of the World Cup (and that’s saying something given the card-happy Spanish referee’s performance in the Germany/Serbia match). Coulibaly had an awful game. He called phantom fouls and ignored real ones (yes, I realize the game is fast: referees, however, are trained for that and only the best [in theory] get to appear on World Cup pitches). He looked nervous. He looked thoroughly unprepared for the match’s intensity and its speed. All of that, of course, culminated in the horrifying call that denied Maurice Edu the winning goal. I doubt (hope?) Coulibaly will have any more games to referee in this World Cup.

2. The United States came very close to killing itself. The US, going as far back as 2 years, has a terrible habit of conceding early goals. The team under Bob Bradley almost always plays from behind. That needs to stop. I don’t know what the problem is, but the back four is more than a little suspect. I like how Steve Cherundolo has played. He’s been a force on the right. Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, while periodically effective, have been abused by speedy forwards. Carlos Bocanegra has not made any mistakes, but he hasn’t been exceptional, either. Bradley needs to consider playing a defensive midfielder for extra cover. Perhaps that will release the other midfielders and the forwards to attack.

But that doesn’t really solve the problem. The US needs to come out committed to defense for the first 20 minutes of the next game (against Algeria). They need to build a wall and then progress from there. The only acceptable outcome is a clean sheet against Algeria. It has to happen.

3. Slovenia deserves to be in the World Cup and will present a challenge to England. Put simply, England must win to progress. England cannot underestimate Slovenia’s skill on the ball or its defensive abilities. And since neither Wayne Rooney nor Emile Heskey has gotten off the schneid yet (really, only Steven Gerrard has looked impressive), I’d be worried if I were England. On the other hand, the US exposed some weaknesses in Slovenia’s defensive wall, perhaps giving Don Fabio a template.

Michael Bradley celebrates scoring his fantastic tying goal (Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

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On chemistry

Clint Dempsey scores v. England (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Chemistry is a nebulous thing in sports. It’s almost mystical, and it’s responsible for both good and bad things. Look to other sports, like basketball, and chemistry between teammates is seen as a vital part of collective success. Often, part of chemistry is one’s willingness to subvert personal goals for those of the team. In soccer, the same concept exists, usually framed with some sort of pithy argument that “the sum of a team’s parts is greater than each individual player.”

On paper, the United States had no business hanging with England in each team’s World Cup opener. The English team is an all-star team while the US had 3 (maybe 4) truly world-class players at the moment. As a result, England was favored. A draw was a good result for the US. To get the formalities out of the way, England captain Steven Gerrard scored at 4 minutes while winger Clint Dempsey responded for the US at 40 minutes (yeah, the goal was lucky but it still counts). Where does chemistry come in?

England looked very much like a team that had been hastily thrown together, like an all-star team. Don Fabio is an excellent manager but he made two crucial mistakes: one was playing Robert Green (Joe Hart would have been my first choice); the second was starting James Milner on the wing. Milner is a hard man central midfielder, but England’s problem is that both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard like to play in the middle. In fact, Gerrard and Lampard are basically the same player. Sadly, not even Don Fabio had the stones to leave one of them out so Milner played on the wing when he should have been filling the Owen Hargreaves role as a central, defensive-minded midfielder.

But that’s neither here nor there. The real problem was one of communication and, indeed, teamwork. England is composed of excellent players but they don’t know how to play together. To a degree, England suffers from the same disease as Mexico: it assumes a haughty air in competition as if other teams should wilt in their presence. That is, in a word, idiotic. Yes, England invented the game but that doesn’t mean they get a pass every time they play; they have to earn the win. In this case, England was like Mexico in another regard: it didn’t respect the US ability.

Everyone knows about Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have tremendous potential and are just now tapping into it. The other players are good to very good or, like Altidore, long on potential but short on experience. But they’ve been playing together for three years. That has to have some benefit, even if you don’t give chemistry and almost mystical meaning. Chemistry gives players the guts to play long balls or to give-and-go with anyone on the team. Chemistry integrates the new players, like Edson Buddle and Robbie Findlay, easily. The England squad has cliques and the permanently frosty Gerrard/Lampard relationship. That has to influence how a team plays. Logic says so; if you don’t want to play with someone, you’re not going to make the effort to ensure maximum effort at all times.

England is a good, bordering on great, team. It falls on Don Fabio to put everything together. He can’t panic. He can’t listen to the tabloids. What he needs to do is be the calming influence and decide on a squad, and stick with it. Bob Bradley does that and it’s working.

Or maybe the US just really, really likes playing in South Africa.

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The final friendly

Edson Buddle scores versus Australia

The United States defeated Australia by a score of 3-1 today in South Africa in the final friendly for both before the World Cup begins. The score, however, is not the big story. By the game’s very nature and its timing, the more important news is that nobody got hurt and US manager Bob Bradley appears to be set on a sort of depth chart. I’m rather disappointed that he didn’t use more substitutes – in particular, neither Landon Donovan nor Clint Dempsey should have played the full 90 minutes – but I am pleased that Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, and Herculez Gómez got playing time.

1. Tactics. The US looks like its going with a 4-4-2 base. I imagine that both Donovan and Dempsey will have a little more freedom to roam on the wings as both like to move into central positions. Dempsey looked dangerous whenever he got forward, much like last year’s Confederations Cup (in which he scored 3 goals). The problem remains the back four. As much as I love Jay DeMerit, I think he’s trying too hard. He’s moving too far out of position when he tracks his man out of the box (when the US is on defense). Oguchi Onyewu looked a bit awkward in the 30 minutes he played, though some of that can be attributed to the shoddy pitch. So how can the US protect the back four? It looks like Michael Bradley will have to be more of a defensive mid than usual, though his incredible fitness will allow him to push forward. In general, the midfielders, especially the central midfielders will have to help out and protect the defenders. With Buddle, Findley, and Gómez looking fine, the biggest problem is the defensive line.

2. Fitness. The US played well in the first half but lost steam in the second. That, boys and girls, is a fitness problem. Bradley is going to have to use his substitutes judiciously and I think Gómez is going to be a kind of supersub. The same can be said of José Francisco Torres and Stuart Holden (though both will probably play wide, which means not a lot of playing time since neither Donovan nor Dempsey will come off very often). Ominously, the team’s fitness isn’t likely to get a lot better in the next couple of days.

3. The pitch and environment. The pitch was awful. Players slipped all over the place and the ball jumped around (though some blame the ball). I really hope the other stadiums are better (the friendly was played in a non-World Cup venue, which made sense since only about 7,000 people were there) and last year’s Confederations Cup gives me hope: there were no turf issues then. That said, the environment was really good though the vuvuzelas are insanely annoying. For some odd reason, I don’t remember them being as annoying last year.

Are there any conclusions to be drawn from this match? I think the only safe thing to say is that the US strikeforce is better than I thought. All three strikers that played today played well. Other than that, there were no real surprises and what you see is what you get. I think Bradley will give Donovan and Dempsey a little more freedom against England in an effort to tie up the English wingers and force them to track back but other than that, the die is cast.

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Now we’re bringing out the heavy hitters

Brad Pitt joins the US World Cup bid

Brad Pitt has joined the US bid for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. I’m reasonably certain that the bid committee will be more impressed by him than any of the other big wigs (including Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry “The Kiss” Kissinger, and Drew Carey [so the US has that crucial European blue collar demographic sewn up]). And I’m being serious.

Though he needs to shave before the presentation on 2 December 2010.

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World Cup 2010: Group C jerseys

In part 3 of a series, I’m looking at Group C’s jerseys.

Algeria home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

Yes, that’s a fox on the shoulder (Algeria’s nickname is the Desert Foxes). Yes, it looks silly. Yes, it’s completely and totally awesome. One of the main things I liked about the 2006 World Cup was the trend of putting animals on the shirts, especially for African teams (the team nicknames are conducive to such design elements). I like how the fox is there but it’s not garish, as if it’s sneaking up on Algeria’s opponents. It is the flair that, say, the Nigerian jersey was missing. The rest of the shirt is simple and to the point, so bravo to Puma for not screwing it up.

England home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

You want simple? Umbro gives you simple. Derided as a schoolboy shirt when it was released, the England shirt has grown on me. I like the name and number font, as well (I’ll post action pictures when the World Cup gets underway). I like the collar and I love the Three Lions crest. This is the epitome of a modernized retro shirt.

Slovenia home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

I like Slovenia’s colors. I like the crest. I do not understand the Charlie Brown stripe in the middle. Maybe it’s meant to reflect mountains. Maybe it’s a graph of Greece’s economy now and in the future. Maybe it’s a sine wave of some sort, designed to paralyze opponents like Monty Python’s joke that kills. Whatever it is, I kinda like it, even if I don’t understand it.

USA home jersey for the 2010 World Cup

Let’s get this out of the way first: the home jersey is significantly better than the away jersey. I love the subtle stripe on the home shirt and hate the huge white beauty pageant stripe on the away shirt. There is something to be said for having two different designs. Then again, that’s not the Nike way (or the American way, for that matter; look at US sports and their home/away jerseys). The rest of the shirt is excellent: clean lines and good colors. Contrast where there needs to be contrast. Nike did good with this shirt, except for the away stripe. That annoys me to no end.

On the whole, Group C is the best looking group so far. We’ll see what the others bring to the table in the next few days.

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World Cup 2010: US 2-1 Turkey

Goodson v. Turkey

Clarence Goodson v. Turkey (Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)

In the end, the United States pulled out a victory over a rather good Turkish side.

In the end, manager Bob Bradley turned to his first XI to salvage a result.

In the end, we learned that, despite the positives of the last year or so, the US still has a ways to go.

The international friendly versus Turkey was, to a degree, an exercise in experimentation. The roster now set, the players should have been relaxed and ready to show what they could do. And, for good or ill, that happened. Old stalwarts like Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan, and Jozy Altidore showed why they’re starters. They all played well during the match. Others, like Benny Feilhaber and Clarence Goodson, may prove to be hopeful picks by Bradley. That is, the manager is hoping that they show more good than bad in South Africa. I remain unconvinced that Feilhaber was a good choice, though I don’t think he’ll play very much. Goodson, though, has to be better. Without question, the biggest problem for the US going into South Africa is the back four.

In my view, there are two very good defenders on the US roster: Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra. Onyewu is bordering on world class but he’s coming off a severe knee injury. His mobility might be hampered. Bocanegra is useful because of his versatility and his intelligence. His speed may let him down against the fastest players but so long as he’s in proper position, Tim Howard (a legitimate world-class keeper) should be able to bail him out. That, boys and girls, leaves two more places and, sadly, Howard isn’t Doctor Octopus. To be fair, Steve Cherundolo looked far better than Jonathan Spector and I think Jay DeMerit is better than he showed. So defending for the US will be more about positioning and minimizing mistakes than anything else. There won’t be any Dani Alves-style attacking runs (unless Bradley loses his mind and plays Beasley at left back again).

But that’s okay. The US doesn’t play the Brazilian/ Barcelona style. The US plays a more Italian style, with a focus on possession and defense (granted, both Brazil and Barça prize possession; really, everyone should focus on possession since you need the ball to score. I suppose I’m just making little generalizations that may or may not be absurd. But I digress.). The US isn’t going to win 6-1 or 5-4; they want to win 2-1 and 1-0. Unfortunately, that puts a lot of pressure on the back four and Tim Howard. I know Howard is up to the task but I’m not sure the defenders can last for 3 opening round matches and (hopefully) part of the knock-out phase.

I want to be proved wrong.

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World Cup 2010: US roster announced

US manager Bob BradleyBob Bradley announced the United States World Cup squad today, and there were a couple of surprises.

Following his good performance against the Czech Republic, I was very happy to see Herculez Gómez selected. He’s an under-appreciated player who’s going to get a chance to shine on soccer’s biggest stage. I’m also glad Edson Buddle was selected. Because Bradley had to replace Charlie Davies, his hand was somewhat forced in choosing less experienced strikers. But there are surely worse players than Buddle and Gómez, both of whom have a serious propensity to score in bunches, at the World Cup. Including Maruice Edu, Stuart Holden, and José Francisco Torres was also a good move by Bradley. I’m a big fan of all three players. Edu and Torres should provide speed off the bench while Holden and Torres will bring creativity and technical skill to the pitch.

On the other hand, I have no idea why DaMarcus Beasley made the team. The only reason I can think of is that he’s a Bradley favorite. I also think Benny Feilhaber is a bit of a reach, given what he’s shown in the last couple of years (or lack thereof). The talent is certainly there for Feilhaber but he doesn’t seem to know how to put it together. I’m hoping I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

With all that said, I’m looking forward to matches against Turkey and Australia to see how the team does, now that the dust is settled.

The entire squad, with those whom I would start in bold (4-4-2):

Keepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, José Francisco Torres

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findlay, Herculez Gómez

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Landon Donovan in Mexican lottery commercial

This is a couple of days old but well worth posting. I think this is great. Good of Donovan not to take himself too seriously; same goes for the Mexican lottery.

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US roster versus Slovakia

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Michael Bradley

Bob Bradley announced the US roster for the friendly against Slovakia on 14 November. Some big names – Landon Donovan – are missing because the LA Galaxy are in the playoffs (a good reason to miss the game, in my opinion, esp. since this is a friendly and Donovan will most definitely be on the World Cup roster). Otherwise, it’s an interesting roster with some old faces and some new. I’ll update my World Cup ladder after this match and the other match on 18 November against Denmark.

My starters are bolded.

Brad Guzan, GK,  Aston Villa

Marcus Hahnemann, GK, Wolverhampton (England)

Troy Perkins, GK, Valerenga (Norway)

Carlos Bocanegra, D, Rennes  (France)

Jonathan Bornstein, D,  Chivas USA

Steve Cherundolo, D, Hannover (Germany)

Jimmy Conrad, D, Kansas City

Clarence Goodson, D, IK Start  (Norway)

Frankie Hejduk, D, Columbus

Chad Marshall, D, Columbus

Heath Pearce, D, Dallas

Jonathan Spector, D, West Ham

Michael Bradley, M, Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany)

Clint Dempsey, M, Fulham

Benny Feilhaber, M, Aarhus (Denmark)

Sacha Kljestan, M, Chivas USA

Dax McCarty, M, Dallas

Robbie Rogers, M, Columbus

Jozy Altidore, F, Hull City

Conor Casey, F, Colorado

Jeff Cunningham, F, Dallas

Eddie Johnson, F, Fulham

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