After 135 minutes of some of the most uninspiring soccer we’ve seen from the USA since…well, I guess Costa Rica…the Nats were able to turn things around with a 3-0 victory over Egypt. And just like that, after losing two and accumulating a -5 goal differential, we’re out of the group stage. Wow! I think it’s appropriate that we take a minute to appreciate the unlikelihood of our advancement:
-We needed a minimum of a 3-0 victory over Egypt.
-We needed Italy to lose by 6 minus the goals we won by against Egypt (i.e., if we win by three, we needed them to lose by 6-3 (3 goals)).
-Egypt had to miss a wide-open header with very little time left for the US to respond.
-Brazil had to keep Italy from scoring one of their many second-half chances.
-A referee wrongly had to use video replay to award Brazil a PK versus Egypt in game one, taking a crucial point away from the African champions.
-We were fortunate enough to face Egypt without their best player.
-And we’re pretty sure this had to happen, too: Niño con Helado.
Amazingly, with the odds stacked overwhelmingly against us, the Nats prevailed! Just what did this victory earn us? How about the right to call ourselves Confederations Cup semi-finalists (and perhaps better), an opportunity for redemption against the best team in the world, and the pleasure of sending Rossi back “home”. It was certainly a great day for American soccer.
That said, I don’t think the 3-0 victory against a depleted Egyptian side completely forgives our previous two results. We didn’t expect the US to win these games–they were, after all, going up against two of the four best teams in the world–but we expected a little more effort from our boys and a few more offensive risks from Bob Bradley. I know it’s kind of ridiculous to criticize a coach about a 3-0 result, but even in victory, I found some of Bradley’s decisions to be confusing. The man plays a stubborn, negative game. We needed a minimum of a 3-0 victory, and he rolled out yet another two-defensive-mid formation. He started Dempsey despite his string of poor performanes. Yes, Deuce scored the game winner, but he’s obviously worn out. Why not bring him in as a late game sub and give a creative, offensive-minded player an opportunity (Torres? Adu?)? And Guzan. Guzan had a great game and made some key saves, but this was the biggest head-scratcher of all. Why wouldn’t you start your best player unless you assume you’re not going to advance and you want to give someone else an opportunity to gain some experience?
Don’t get me wrong–I’m happy that we made it through. (I am, after all, a USMNT fan first and a Bradley hater second.) But let me ask this question: If before the tournament someone said to you, the USA’s three results will be 1-3 to Italy, 0-3 to Brazil, and a 3-0 victory over Egypt, would you get excited? You would probably be shocked to find that 3 points and a -2 goal differential was enough to get us out of our group. Making the semi-finals is an exciting accomplishment, but I don’t think that in itself excused the previous poor play.
All that said, let’s take a look at the important lessons we learned from this year’s Confederations Cup thus far:
-DaMarcus Beasley is done until he can regain his form. He was given more opportunities than he should have been and he put in an absolute shocker against Brazil. If he can sort out his club career, he will have a shot at WC2010–but that’s a big “if”.
-Sacha Kljestan is in the same boat. He’s got talent, but he’s struggled with Chivas USA this year and hasn’t ever shown much in meaningful games for the USMNT.
-Dempsey is off his game. The problem is less severe than Beasley and Kljestan, but we need to give this guy a break.
-Dare I say Spector could challenge a healthy Cherundolo for the starting right back spot? He’s performed so well over the past four games, it seems like a real possibility.
-Landon Donovan showed why he’s widely regarded as the best player this country has produced that decided to play for our national team. I’d like to see him take more shots, though. (Is it just me, or are all of our players looking to lay it off 1-v-1? I’m pretty sure it only worked 1/6 times.) Regular starters Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, and Oguchi Onyewu also looked good.
-Jay DeMerit is a very good center back. I am now convinced that our first-choice back line should include him and have Bocanegra at left back.
-Jozy Altidore works much, much better when paired with another striker up top.
-The 4-5-1 does not stop top-level teams from scoring goals on us.
In the end, this tournament is a learning experience. Hopefully our players and our coach can learn the necessary lessons from the competition and emerge a better team.
Filed under: Post-Match Commentary Tagged: | bob bradley, brazil, Carlos Bocanegra, clint dempsey, confederations cup, damarcus beasley, Egypt, italy, Jay Demerit, Jonathan Bornstein, Jonathan Spector, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Oguchi Onyewu, Sacha Kljestan, soccer, Spain, Steve Cherundolo, Tim Howard, US Soccer, usmnt