Confederations Cup: What We Learned

Sorry–this is a little late, but I think it’s an important discussion to have…

We’ve all read plenty of articles praising the Nats for their improbably run to the Cup finals, so we’ll spare you the discussion of their “grit” and “heart.”  (Funny–I was always led to believe that  Frankie Hejduk was our sole source of these invaluable commodities.)  This is not to diminish the accomplishments of our team, but the Confederations Cup is ultimately a learning experience and we are going to treat it as such.  Here is a look at the lessons learned from South Africa:

POSITIVES

-Landon Donovan seems more comfortable in his role as playmaker than ever before.  He looked fantastic throughout the tournament, even in the games where the rest of the team didn’t.

-Tim Howard is looking better than ever.  His back-up Brad Guzan looked good against Egypt.  The steadiest position in American soccer looks to stay just that going into 2010.

-The defense is really beginning to take shape.  Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, and Jonathan Spector all had fantastic tournaments.  Our worries about left back have been eased since Bradley has finally given Bocanegra a shot at his natural position.  With a healthy Cherundolo, the US will also have the option to move Spector to the left and Bocanegra to the center.  Hopefully this means the end of Hejduk for the national team–even his strongest supporters have to admit he’s no higher than third-best at right back at the moment.

-Central midfield is looking good.  Michael Bradley enjoyed a good tournament.  Ricardo Clark looked good defensively and more comfortable on the ball than in past appearances.  Benny Feilhaber is starting to look like his old self.  With a healthy Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones in the mix, this might be our deepest position.

-Clint Dempsey recovered from a slow start to bag three goals and Bronze Ball honors.  Fantastic turnaround.

-We’ve found a formation that allows us to score goals from the run of play.  In our first seven halves using this formation, we beat Egypt, Spain, and Brazil by a total of 7-0.  Yes, we gave up three in the eighth half, but we looked far more productive and dangerous than we ever did in the 4-5-1 (in which we were outscored 1-6, by the way).

-Altidore looked a little rusty and Davies has a ways to go, but our forwards actually looked dangerous when paired together.  Give these two another year to develop and we could have a very good striking tandem going into the World Cup.

NEGATIVES

-Bob Bradley should be credited for turning this team around.  But the man still manages the game as if it were Football Manager 2009.  Is no one else disturbed that he tends to make similar subs at the same time every game, regardless of what’s happening?  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But if we just surrendered a 2-goal lead to Brazil, why are we bringing on an out-of-form Kljestan and Bornstein for Altidore and Feilhaber?  His in-game management and negative style continue to frustrate me.

-Three red cards.  As much as we love to claim the ref is out to get us, we can only blame ourselves for getting into these situations.  When it comes down to it, as a team, we tackle too hard and too late.  We’re going to continue to have discipline problems if we don’t address this soon.

-Michael Bradley is too aggressive for his own good.  Not only is he a yellow-card machine, destined to receive at least one ban per tournament, but he’s starting to carry it off the pitch.  He went on an angry rant about USMNT critics.  He confronted the referee who issued his red card against Spain after the game.  In the end, he left the tournament with an additional four-game ban.

-The 4-5-1 continues to be a nightmare and, even with the success of our two-striker formation, I worry that it will still be Bradley’s go-to formation for important matches against top competition (especially when we have a healthy Brian Ching back).  I hope I’m wrong.

-When our players are in front of goal, too often they are looking to lay it off for a teammate instead of taking their chance.  There are times for that, and there are times to take the shot.  A lot of golden opportunities we blown because of this timid play.

-Bornstein is not the answer at left back.  He’s just not good enough defensively.

-Kljestan looks horrible.  He has become a liability.  He can’t pass.  He can’t hold.  He shouldn’t play again until he gets things in order.

-Beasley.  This one is just depressing.

-How the two previously mentioned players have found the field as much as they have while Torres and Adu sat on the bench is a little frustrating.  Yes, they’re young.  No, they don’t have much experience.  But age and experience weren’t helping DaMarcus and Sacha–you have to draw the line at some point.  Let the youngsters have their opportunities.

-Vuvuzelas.  My proposal: let South African fans bring the monotone horns to their team’s matches, but ban them from all others.  I’d hate to have to watch next summer’s tournament on mute.

OVERALL

A good showing for our boys.  We played our best soccer in the end.  Even though we finished 2-0-3, if you break that down into halves, we were 6-0-4–not bad considering who we played.  There are a lot of lessons to take away–both positive and negative–and if our coach and team are willing to learn from this experience, we could set ourselves up for a successful campaign in next summer’s World Cup.

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