Fernanando Torres on loss to USA: “Not the real thing”

From NY Times:

“They beat us in the Confederations Cup and it was, I think, not the real thing so we had 27 shots on target but we couldn’t score,” said Spain and Liverpool striker Fernando Torres. “But it will be nice to play against them.”

I’m a Liverpool fan and I’ve always liked Torres, but this really irks me. I know it wasn’t a world cup, but we did beat them in a tournament they were taking fairly seriously.

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Dear Bob Bradley: Sweatpants?

Bob Bradley's sweatpants

Dear Bob Bradley,

What does it take to get you to wear something more that sweatpants to work? More than the Confederations Cup Final, apparently. You’re Ivy League, Bob. You know how this is done. Show a little respect for the game and throw on a suit and tie every once in a while.

If you have any questions, just ask Pep Guardiola.

Sincerely,

Project 2o1o

[Project 2010 now lives at Project-2010.net. Come see the new & improved site!]

Article Commentary: Jamie Trecker’s summer review

It’s been a while since I’ve done an article commentary, so I thought I’d take on Jamie Trecker’s latest article about the USA’s summer results.  I’m not Trecker’s biggest fan, but this commentary isn’t as much about bashing his article as it is about spurring a little debate.  Trecker questions how successful this summer was for the Yanks, and it’s an good conversation to be had.  I’d be interested to hear what you all think in the comments section below.  Here are some select bits for discussion:

But a look at the results of the thirteen games played by the Americans played over the past two months reveals that unfortunately the bad times outnumber the good.

I’ll spare you the grammatical commentary…  You could argue that the bad outnumber the good.  I’m not sure if the bad outweigh the good, though.  I would say the highs–perhaps limited to victories over Egypt and Spain–are far more significant than the bad–losses to Brazil, Italy, and away to Costa Rica–which were, you must admit, expected.

And, in both those finals, they’ve conceded eight goals in the second half.

That number is a little disturbing.   But to be fair, 5 of those goals came with our C-team on the field.

The coaching staff has not prepared the team to compete at the highest level. If the Americans hope to perform well at the World Cup next year, U.S. Soccer needs to make a change.

Despite our anti-Bradley posts in the past, the Spain victory, if nothing else, proved that a coaching change isn’t necessary for success.  One could argue it would help.  But there is absolutely no way it will happen.

The USA has also had an unusually high number of players ejected.

This was probably the most disturbing part of the Confederations Cup.

The USA’s biggest wins came against Grenada (4-0 on July 4th to open the Gold Cup), Egypt (3-0 to reach the semifinals of the Confederation Cup, with help from Brazil) and Spain (2-0 in the Confed Cup). Their other wins all came against Honduras (3), a team that has not won against the USA in eight years, and Panama, and that one required a penalty kick in extra time. And, they were held to a draw against Haiti.

I’m a little confused as to why the Gold Cup is so prominently featured in the analysis of this summer’s action.  I don’t see what our C-team’s results against Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Grenada, and Mexico say about US Soccer as a whole–good or bad.

But even [the US’ solid back line] is a mirage of sorts. The improved back four of Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Oneywu and Bocanegra did blank Spain, too, but was shredded by Brazil in the second half of the final.

Am I the only one who doesn’t think the back line looked that bad against Brazil?  I think the problem stemmed more from our midfield’s inability to hold possession.  If you let Brazil attack for an entire half, they will probably put some goals in.

The way Mexico destroyed the makeshift back four Sunday added further to the argument that the Americans might consider playing five at the back with Steve Cherundolo wide right, Spector, DeMerit and Oneywu forming a trident, and Bocanegra playing wide left.

Just so we’re clear…you are saying, because Heath Pearce, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, and Jay Heaps contributed to letting 5 goals in against Mexico, we should play five in the back, with Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, and Carlos Bocanegra (note: there are precisely 0 repeat players between the two groups). 

[On Mexico’s Gold Cup victory] This wasn’t a “learning experience.” You don’t learn anything from having your head handed to you by your biggest regional rival — save for the fact that you made some very poor selections on your side.

I would argue the exact opposite.  The Gold Cup loss was nothing but a learning experience–in fact, it was very clear that this whole tournament was nothing but a learning experience from the moment the roster was announced.  We got to see which players could put in decent performances against bad teams, mediocre teams, and in the case of Mexico, pretty good teams.  We learned which players could help us out in qualifying, and which didn’t belong in a US shirt ever again.

I agree to some extent that roster selection was bad, but it’s not because we lost.  It’s because too many players were selected that will never factor into the US’ plans.  I have a hard time believing that Jay Heaps would ever be called upon for an important match.  Why not test out a younger, up-and-comer who might be able to contribute down the line? 

I thought long and hard about whether Bradley should have called in the Confederations Cup players he had at his disposal for the final.  To me, it would have been a wrong move.  The group of players that got you to the final have the right to play for it.  It would be disrespectful to all-of-a-sudden bring in the “real” players to snatch the glory.  You could argue that a 5-0 loss means Bradley’s faith was misplaced.  I’d argue that bringing in the ringers was lose-lose.

Demerit likely wouldn’t have gotten that chance had Bocanegra not been injured. This long time unwillingness on the part of Bradley to make roster changes, even when they would clearly benefit his team, has been a subject of much debate among fans.

I actually think this is a very good point.  Some writers want to give Bradley credit for finding an ideal back four (Spector, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra).  But this foursome was available to us for a long time.  How did Bradley “find” it?  Cherundolo got hurt, forcing him to use Hejduk; Hejduk got hurt, forcing him to use Spector; Bocanegra got hurt, forcing him to use DeMerit; Bocanegra returned from injured and was slotted in at left back.  I won’t say he had no options here (he could have gone with Marvell Wynne, Danny Califf, and left Bornstein at left back), but it took three injuries for him to arrive at the best defensive quartet we’ve seen…well, maybe ever.  You’d like to think the coach would have a better feel for his players. 

The Americans gave away the huge psychological edges they held over both Mexico and Costa Rica.

In the case of Mexico, maybe.  But deep down, they know they beat up on a group of second- and third-choice Americans.  In the case of Costa Rica, no way.  The Americans have never won in Saprissa.  In fact, the last time they played there, they lost 3-0 (2006 qualifying cycle).  The US has traditionally traded results with Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying.

Italy, Mexico and Brazil all pummeled the USA in the second halves of their matches, signaling that as the Americans tire and the adrenalin is replaced by tired legs, the good teams can take full advantage.

Against Italy, we were down a man, which didn’t help.  The Brazil final was at the end of a tightly-packed tournament.  And for the last time, I think the Mexico result is completely irrelevant to this discussion.  Yes, I’m making excuses–none of those results were desirable–but to claim that they demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the American soccer program is an overstatement.

That directly calls into question…the ability of MLS to prepare players for the world game.

I do agree that MLS-ers have some trouble adjusting to the pace of the international game.  There are some obvious exceptions to the “rule” (I guess that doesn’t make it a rule…), but this tournament demonstrated the need of young American players to move to Europe if they hope to compete effectively on the world stage.  Call me a “eurosnob”, if you will.  I’m a big MLS fan.  But I’m also a realist.

After playing six Gold Cup matches, there is only one field player to emerge as a “possible” for the Americans down the road and that is Stuart Holden. To play an entire tournament to ID only a single man is a ridiculous waste of energy and resources.

I disagree.

Where were, for example, Jose Francisco Torres…

Tired, requested a rest.

…and Danny Califf?

Useless.

Why was Freddy Adu allowed to return to Portugal — where, once again, he is not playing?

He requested before the tournament began to leave after the second match.

Why did Kenny Cooper, who finished on the Gold Cup all-tournament list, see so few minutes in comparison to Brian Ching (who may have played himself off the side)?

Ching played himself off the side?  Ching did exactly what he always does: everything but score.  I don’t know why these games would do anything to change Bradley’s opinion of him.  Cooper did start one game, and didn’t look that good.  How he ended up on the all-tournament team is a mystery to me.  He’s got talent, but he needs some refining before he’s ready.  That said, yes, I wish he would have gotten a few more minutes in the Gold Cup.  Maybe one more chance to start.

Why was Jay Heaps given more than a single game when it is clear that at his age he couldn’t possibly be a factor in South Africa?

Agreed.

Why was Michael Parkhurst called in to replace the injured Jimmy Conrad — and then not play?

Because he looked pretty bad in the Gold Cup and Goodson looked pretty good.  I would argue that his call-up only due to Conrad’s injury makes him third-choice by default.

Why was Altidore, who didn’t exactly rack up the minutes in Europe, allowed to take the time off after being named to the roster? Why were Conor Casey, Ricardo Clark and Johnathan Bornstein added to the roster, only to not be used?

Perhaps because Bradley had already gotten extensive looks at all of these players in a tournament we actually cared about.

Sadly, coaches have rarely been held accountable by U.S. Soccer for their performances. This time, they should be.

I totally agree with your point.  In the past, I’ve talked about how all coaches are given a free pass since they only have one real expectation: to qualify for the World Cup, which really isn’t that hard.  Perhaps they are expected to make it out of group, too.  But in this case, I think you’re off.  Coaches should be held accountable for coming runner-up in a tournament they regarded as a throw-away from day one?  I just don’t see it.

There’s an August 12 game in Mexico City coming up that must be won if the momentum gained in the Confederations Cup isn’t to be totally surrendered.

Really?  Momentum will be surrendered if we don’t accomplish a task that we have never accomplished–a task that only one team has ever accomplished?!  A win would be nice.  It seems more possible than ever.  But we should be realistic–walking out of Mexico City with a point would be a great accomplishment, and it shouldn’t be expected.

But what do think would have happened Sunday had the final score been, USA 5, Mexico 0?

I think Javier Aguirre would have said goodbye to his players before his last press conference as coach.

Aguirre would have been fired because his B-team failed to accomplish something that no Mexican team had accomplished for over a decade?  I find that very hard to believe.  Jamie–I’m all for accountability, but you’re making far too big a deal of a pretty meaningless game.

Alright.  I’ve had my go, now it’s your turn.  Feel free to comment below!

Confederations Cup: Man of the Tournament

3694481957_c72898cab1LANDON DONOVAN [MoM (2)]- Over the years, Landon has developed a reputation for disappearing in important matches.  He hasn’t always seemed willing to take control of our offense, distribute the ball, and run at the oppoing team.  This was not the case in the Confederations Cup.  Landon was a true leader.  He made the team click.  Even in the games where the US was outplayed, Donovan managed to look good.  American fans rejoice–Landon Donovan is starting to look like the player we all thought he could be; Landon Donovan is starting to look like a player who can lead us to success in the World Cup.  No offense to Clint Dempsey, but this should have been the guy receiving the honors after the cup final.

RUNNERS UP

TIM HOWARD [MoM (2)]Some might laugh at the idea of praising a keeper who let in over two goals per game (9 goals in 4 games), but Tim Howard was a monster.  He saved every shot that he could have reasonably been expect to (and several that he shouldn’t have).  He kept us in games when the players in front of him let him down.  While Landon Donovan is the engine of our offense, Tim Howard is the key to our success next summer.

OGUCHI ONYEWU [MoM (0)] – Oguchi Onyewu was a rock in the back.  He won every ball that came his way in the air.  He blocked every shot taken anywhere near him (including a goal-line save).  He stifled the Spanish offense in a way that few defenders could.  He earned a contract from A.C. Milan–the biggest club any (non-goal-keeping) American has ever played for.  He had an absolutely fantastic tournament.  It looks like he, just like Landon Donovan, is starting to peak at the right time.

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.

Michael Bradley to serve 4-game suspension

Grant Wahl is reporting on his blog that FIFA have ruled that Michael Bradley is to serve a four-game suspension for his post-game confrontation of Jorge Larrionda.  Despite the seemingly harsh penalty, it turns out that it doesn’t mean much.  Bradley will be allowed to serve his suspension during the Gold Cup–a competition for which he wasn’t even called up.  This means Bradley will be available for our trip to the Azteca.

Say what you will about the red card (I would agree that it was a horrible, horrible decision), but we here at P2010 have a very hard time feeling sorry for this kid.  He has some serious problems with aggression.  Not only does he seemingly average a yellow card every other game (I honestly don’t remember the last cup competition in which he didn’t have to serve a one-game suspension),  but he seems to be carrying that aggression off the field these days.  During hte Confederations Cup alone, he went on an angry rant about the American soccer media and picked a fight (albeit verbal) with a referee!  Someone needs to put this kid in anger management.  He’s certainly a great player with tons of potential.  I’m just worried he might throw it all away by murdering someone.

Man of the Match [6.28.09 vs. Brazil]: Landon Donovan

Another quick post to get the Man of the Match illustration project up to date..

Landon Donovan gets our man of the match honor for the Confederations Cup final vs. Brazil. In the final, he did what he did all tournament–he controlled the offense, scored goals, ran at the opposition, and showed us all that he is, indeed, capable of playing at the top level.