US take on El Salvador tonight

Just a reminder for those of you sick of curling and figure skating, the US take on El Salvador tonight at 7 p.m. ET in Tampa, Florida.  Tune in to ESPN Classic to support your national team.  (Side note: It appears our U-17 men are also playing today.  They’re going up against Mexico at 4:15, also in Tampa, Florida.)  Hopefully our team will show a little better this time than they did against Honduras.  And hopefully we’ll see at least a few players step up and solidify their World Cup roster spots.  Expect a Bradley’s Babes later shorty after this game. 

Just in case you have a little time to burn before tonight’s friendly, here’s a little light reading from Soccer By Ives.  It’s an interesting piece full of Bob Bradley quotes.  Here are a couple highlights:

Read more…

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Marsch made Assistant Coach – Good for US Soccer?

Beckham vs. MarschFor what our opinion’s worth (and we realize that it isn’t much), no, Marsch’s appointment is not good for US Soccer. And as it turns out, we aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Paul Gardner over at Soccer America wrote a piece recently called U.S. Coach: No Experience needed. In this article Gardner touches on Marsch’s lack of international experience, unlikable personality, compulsion to foul, and his hatred of Brazilians, among other things. Whether Bradley’s appointment of Marsch is a signal that he condones Marsch’s behavior and attitude or is simply willing to overlook it, this is bad news. Especially considering his team’s disciplinary problems that were well documented over the summer.

Read more…

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.

Fire Bob Bradley

We’ll admit that we have never been Bob Bradley’s biggest fans, but we’ve also tried to refrain from calling for his head.  That was until the Brazil match.  Given the US’s performances over the past few weeks, it has become doubtlessly clear that our current coach is not the man for the job.  While all of our problems can’t be attributed to Bradley, we have a number of problems for which he is either partially for fully responsible:

SQUAD SELECTION – If you look at our history of posts, it’ll be pretty apparent that we tend to disagree with Bradley most of the time–we’d prefer more opportunities for Cooper and fewer for Hejduk, for example.  These are admittedly minor disputes.  But Bradley continues to make more and more indefensibly poor decisions.  Players like Pearce, Johnson, and Kljestan have been given numerous opportunities long after they lost their form.  The worst of all is Beasley.  Bradley’s decision to give him a start against Brazil–three games after it was abundantly clear that he should not be seeing the field any time soon–is absolutely unforgivable.

TACTICS – I don’t like the 4-5-1.  One can make a valid argument about why this is a perfectly fine formation, but it’s becoming quite clear that the US are unable to execute it effectively.  Even against poor opponents, most of our goals come from set pieces–not from the run of play.  It is extremely hard to score goals when you play a formation and set of tactics that are designed solely to stifle the opposition.  Against top competition (England, Spain, Argentina, Italy, and Brazil), we have now allowed 9 goals and scored only 1 off a penalty.  Egypt is comparably talented (arguably less), yet they are able to take the game to teams like Italy and Brazil.  This is because they are willing to take a risk and play creative, attacking soccer.  To those who say we don’t have the tools, I would retort, despite what we see in Bradley’s system, (Michael) Bradley, Feilhaber, Torres, Adu, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore would benefit greatly from a more offensive approach.

While it is very difficult to find an effective system that utilizes all of the best available players in their preferred positions, it is important to mold your tactics and formation around the players you have available to you–not the other way around.  These have become the norm: Dempsey as a right winger; Donovan as a left winger; Beasley as a left back; Bradley as a strict defensive midfielder; Kljestan as a defensive midfielder; Altidore as a lone target striker; Bocanegra as a center back; etc.  There is no reason that we should have so many players playing out of position on a regular basis.  As a coach, Bradley should be most concerned with figuring out how to get the most out of each of his players, not how to jam them into his preferred formation.

MOTIVATION – In 3 of the last 4 games, we have given up the first goal in the first 7 minutes.  In 4 of the last 5 games, we have gone down 0-2, 0-3, 0-1, and 0-3 before scoring a goal (if we scored at all).  The team is obviously not coming out of the locker room ready to play.  Obviously Bradley can’t be blamed entirely for this, but it is a clear problem that he has failed to address.

DISCIPLINE – Again, this cannot be blamed entirely on Bradley, but there is something very wrong with a team that consistently tackles hard and lunges in late.  Not only are we giving up too many free kicks in dangerous positions, but we’re receiving far too many yellow and red cards.  You don’t want to let teams like Brazil and Italy walk all over you, but keeping 11 men on the field should be a priority.

WHO WE SHOULD BRING IN – I know this is vague, but it should be a proven coach from outside the US Soccer system.  The problem with the USSF is that it’s the ultimate “good old boys” network–everyone seems to be a lifer.  For years, our only hope to stay competitive was to play a stifling brand of soccer that usually keeps games close against superior competition (and unfortunately keeps games close against inferior competition, too).  Everyone in the system is intimately familiar with this style (NOTE: Wilmer Cabrera might be the exception to this rule), and it is not the style that’s going to take us to the next tier in world soccer.  We need a fresh perspective.  We need someone who doesn’t already have a set of favorites.  We need someone who is willing to approach the USMNT (not the entire USSF, mind you) and rebuild it from scratch, best utilizing the tools we have available to us.  A big task–yes.  But with about a year until the World Cup, it is still possible to accomplish this task.  I’d say, if we’re going to get rid of Bradley, we should do it right now.  If, however, we’re only planning to replace him with the next in line in the USSF, I’d say don’t bother.

This brings me to another point–the idea that we need to have someone who knows the “quirky” US system. I don’t buy this at all. In fact, I want someone who knows nothing about the system. I don’t understand why, when so many people acknowledge that there are so many problems with player development in this country, these same people demand someone who “gets it.” All that does is further the problem.

Let’s look at former San Jose Earthquake Guus Hiddink as an example. (Yes, I’ll admit it. He would be my dream choice. And yes, I know he’s not available.) Do you really believe that the player development infrastructure in South Korea is the same as it is in Holland or Russia? I really doubt it. Yet he went to South Korea and Russia, shook things up, and got these teams playing as a unit and above their ability. While Russia has good individual talent, as a whole they are not much better off (if at all) than the US.  Yet they were able to make a great (and entertaining, unlike some teams…cough…Greece…cough) run at Euro 2008, fearlessly running at supposedly superior teams. I realize that Hiddink is arguably the best manager in the world, and that not every new foreign coach would have this effect, but that is not my point.  He was able to succesfully step into unfamiliar systems and shake things up. And it would seem that not knowing the system–the ability to approach his job with a fresh set of eyes–was key to helping him accomplish this.

WHY BRADLEY PROBABLY WON’T GET FIRED – There seem to be two ways to get fired from the US head coaching position:

1. Fail to qualify for the World Cup

2. Fail to get out of the group stage of the World Cup

The first is extremely unlikely to happen, so almost all coaches get at least 4 years to implement their systems.  Confederations Cup, Gold Cup, Copa America, and other like competitions don’t mean too much to the USSF.  As long as we continue our streak of World Cup qualifications, all is OK.  Here’s the scary part…

If, by some miracle, Bradley gets us to the knock-outs of the World Cup, prepare yourselves for four more years.

“Soccer is Ruining America,” claims Stephen H. Webb. Wow…

…my money was on fast food and guns.  Shows what I know.

Let’s face it–Monday’s loss to Italy was heartbreaking.  The last thing we need right now is another divisive article about the merits of Frankie Hejduk, Bob Bradley, and the 4-5-1 formation.  Now is a time for unity.  I’ve been sitting on this article for quite some time now, waiting for a day just like today.  If nothing else, my fellow American soccer fans, we can all agree on this: Stephen H. Webb is an idiot.  Just who is Mr. Webb?  He is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College.  He is the author of such recent books as American Providence and Taking Religion to School(ugh).  Most importantly, he is an unabashed hater of soccer.  This article is ridiculous.  In all seriousness, it is so unbelievably, mind-blowingly dumb that I’m almost convinced it’s some form of parody–yes, it is really that outrageous.  Regardless, I’m going to take a shot at it.  If you’re up to the task, you can join in by using the comments section below.  Here we go…

Soccer is running America into the ground, and there is very little anyone can do about it. Social critics have long observed that we live in a therapeutic society that treats young people as if they can do no wrong. Every kid is a winner, and nobody is ever left behind, no matter how many times they watch the ball going the other way. Whether the dumbing down of America or soccer came first is hard to say, but soccer is clearly an important means by which American energy, drive and competitiveness are being undermined to the point of no return.

This was supposed to be easy–a pop-up the likes of which even Luis Castillo couldn’t miss.  But honestly, there are so many misinformed, downright stupid statements here, I don’t even know how to respond.  Wow.

What other game, to put it bluntly, is so boring to watch?

I know this one!  Answer: any game you don’t take the time to understand.

The linear, two-dimensional action of soccer is like the rocking of a boat but without any storm and while the boat has not even left the dock.

Two-dimensional action?  Apparently Steve’s assessment of soccer is based on the Football Manager match viewer. Watching the dots is about appreciating nuance, Steve–not action.

Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without any bullets in their guns.

I think you can do this for any sport.  I’ll give it a shot.  Baseball: Think of an escaped convict running in a circle and the prison guards are not allowed to tackle him…and forget bullets, they don’t even have guns.  Bam.

For those who think I jest, let me put forth four points, which is more points than most fans will see in a week of games—and more points than most soccer players have scored since their pee-wee days.

Goals scored in MLS last week: 23.  Goals scored by Fernando Torres since his pee-wee days: it is conservatively estimated at 912.

1) Any sport that limits you to using your feet, with the occasional bang of the head, has something very wrong with it. Soccer is a liberal’s dream of tragedy: It creates an egalitarian playing field by rigorously enforcing a uniform disability.

Wait.  Isn’t that the definition of any sport?  Hockey: everyone has to hit the puck with a stick.  Basketball: everyone has to throw the ball through a small metal hoop.  Without an “egalitarian playing field” and a “rigorously enforced uniform disability,” it wouldn’t be a sport.  It would be work.

We have the thumb, an opposable digit that God gave us to distinguish us from animals that walk on all fours.

I would argue that big brains and unique palates help, too (other primates have hands, after all), but that’s another argument.

When you are really angry and acting like an animal, you kick out with your feet. Only fools punch a wall with their hands.

Kicking a wall, on the other hand…  Steve.  Get to the point.  You must be building up to something big here.

Do kids ever say, “Trick or Treat, smell my hands”?

There it is.  Well played.

Did Jesus wash his disciples’ hands at the Last Supper? No, hands are divine (they are one of the body parts most frequently attributed to God), while feet are in need of redemption.

Jesus.  Okay.  Counter argument: if hands are divine, why should they be subjected to such lowly activities as hurling objects without a sound utilitarian purpose?  That sounds like foot work, to me.

SUMMARY OF POINT #1: Hands are God’s most important gift to man.  Therefore, feet should not be used in sports–that would be downright disrespectful.  It can be deduced from the text that Mr. Webb is leading the charge against the field goal, most track-related sports, and competitive jump rope.  It can also be deduced that Mr. Webb is a huge fan of team handball, a.k.a. “sacerdotal soccer”.

2) Sporting should be about breaking kids down before you start building them up.Take baseball, for example. When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes and outs.

As we all know, all children pop out of the womb not only know what goal kicks, offsides, and red cards mean, but how to juggle a soccer ball.  OK–all sarcasm aside–recent studies in Brazil are showing that this might actually be the case.

Striding up to the plate gave each of us a chance to act like we were starring in a Western movie, and tapping the bat to the plate gave us our first experience with inventing self-indulgent personal rituals.

Because if there’s one thing wrong with America, it’s soccer.  Not self-indulgence.

We also spent a lot of time in the outfield chanting, “Hey batter batter!” as if we were Buddhist monks on steroids.

Do you really want to bring ‘roids into this discussion?

SUMMARY OF POINT #2: Unlike soccer, baseball is long, hard, and boring (thus the need for chants to “make time go by,” as he says).  Hence, soccer sucks.

3) Everyone knows that soccer is a foreign invasion, but few people know exactly what is wrong with that.

Points one and two were mere child’s play.  Now it’s time for the xenophobia.

More than having to do with its origin, soccer is a European sport because it is all about death and despair.

While it’s true that soccer as we know it is a European invention, but it should be noted that foot-and-ball games existed from the Americas to East Asia long before colonialism or globalization.  That is one of the great appeals of this game–it has roots almost everywhere.

Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less you score.

Actually, they did, and it’s called baseball. We all know that six-inning little league games are much higher scoring than their MLB counterparts.  I’d be interested to see any professional baseball player’s high school numbers.  I would be amazed if you could find a player who hit for a lower average than he does in the majors.

Even the way most games end, in sudden death, suggests something of an old-fashioned duel.  How could anyone enjoy a game where so much energy results in so little advantage, and which typically ends with a penalty kick out, as if it is the audience that needs to be put out of its misery?

Most people actually watch and study a sport before they write a lengthy article bashing it.  Mr. Webb is not one of these people.  It’s not over yet, but I can tell you already that this is the fundamental problem with Mr. Webb’s analysis of the game: he simply doesn’t (nor does he care to) understand it.  It reminds me of this time I watched Cobra on Telemundo on a lazy Saturday afternoon (I don’t speak Spanish, by the way).  Here’s the difference between Mr. Webb and me–I didn’t attempt to write a review afterwards.

SUMMARY OF POINT #3:  God loves hands but hates foreigners.

4) And then there is the question of sex. I know my daughter will kick me when she reads this, but soccer is a game for girls.

As if nebulous, ungrounded arguments weren’t enough, Mr. Webb now feels the need to resort to playground-worthy insults.

As a display of nearly death-defying stamina, soccer mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.

I love baseball as much as the next American, but you have admit it there isn’t much physical confrontation in the sport.  Soccer is a rough sport filled with concussions, torn ligaments, and broken limbs.  Skirmishes in baseball are resolved by the cowardly sucker-punch known as the beaner.

SUMMARY OF POINT #4: Soccer is for girls.  Amazing.

I’ve had enough.  I’ll let the last couple paragraphs slide.  But I’ll leave you with this…

What I find most frustrating about this argument is the author’s convenient reliance on double standards.  Baseball is great because it’s so hard to accomplish your goal of hitting the ball; soccer is horrible because it is so hard to score a goal.  Football is great because it requires so much physical exertion; soccer sucks because…it requires so much physical exertion.  Getting ejected for shoving in baseball is just;  getting penalized for shoving in soccer is un-American (despite the same being true for basketball).  I have a sincere question for the author:

Honestly, Professor Webb, if one of your students handed in a paper that was so poorly researched, so filled with holes, and so willfully ignorant, would you hand out a passing grade?  If not, why do you hold yourself to lesser standards?  If so, find a new job.

Stuck on the tracks: USA no better than in 2006?

This post originally ran on our sister blog, Fire Alexi Lalas. Since it is related to the USMNT, we thought we’d re-post it here on Project 2010.

Steve Davis recently had an article appear on Soccernet, “Current U.S. team no better than 2006 version.”The title alone was enough to make me re-open FAL.  Here are my favorite parts:

As the national program goes, the belief is that it’s long been on the incline.

Sounds about right.  And I’d add that this belief is supported by statistical evidence and common-sense evaluation.

Quick history review: The peach-fuzzed Americans defined “pedestrian” at the Italy 1990 World Cup. But, ciao! They were there! And that team was easier on the eyes than its gangly, mid-’80s siblings.

Mmhmm…

The Americans were unartful but certainly not terrible as World Cup 1994 hosts — although that faux denim kit certainly qualified as an all-timer in the long, sad history of bad ideas.

I’d take the faux denim over the Cameroonian unitard, but that’s just me.  Go on…

The daffy 3-6-1 formation and a poison locker room not withstanding, talent had improved by France ’98. Then things blossomed splendidly at World Cup 2002 in South Korea/Japan, as then-coach Bruce Arena’s boys exploited the quirkiness of a tournament off European soil.

I see where this is going and I have to step in before we get there.  World Cup 2002 holdsa special place in my heart.  Not only did we make it out of our group, but we came an uncalled hand ball away from a 1-1 game and a man advantage with the semi-finals on the line.  (Instead we got inaccurate lectures on intentional versus unintentional hand balls blah blah blah, I’m getting off topic.)  I understand why American fans look back so fondly, but to even suggest that that team was more talented than the current version is insane.  Let’s face it, people (I’m looking at you, Ives Galarcep ), you are really making comparisons to three of five games in the World Cup finals–not the team as a whole or their entire body of results.  Let’s take a broader look at the 2002 World Cup campaign.

QUALIFYING: The U.S. finished 3rd in the hex with 17 points, only three points clear of Honduras (who beat us 2-3 on our soil, our last home loss in qualifying, by the way!).

FRIENDLIES: 0-1 in Italy.  2-4 in Germany (Keller did an amazing job just to keep it this close).  1-2 in Ireland.  0-2 to Holland at home.  I’ve never liked assigning meaning to friendly results (nothing is only the line, coaches experiment with lineups, etc.), but 0-0-4 against European teams in the lead-up to the Cup isn’t impressive.

WORLD CUPGame 1:  Portugal – we go up 3-0 in the first half and come very close to dropping points.  3-2 W.  Game 2:  Korea – we manage a draw with a team that looked much better for most of the game.  1-1 D.  Game 3:  Poland – We get hammered by the group’s whipping boys.  Korea had a lock on the knockout stage, but decided to put in a late game-winner against Portugal anyway.  Thank god.  1-3 L.  Game 4:  Mexico – 2-0.  How many times has this happened since?  Game 5:  Germany – hard-fought loss.  Robbed of a penalty/red card that could have potentially put us into the semi-finals.  0-1 L.  It was a good campaign, but we were far from dominant and a little bit lucky.  Overall record: 2-1-2.  Goal differential: 0.

SQUAD:  People will point to players like Reyna, O’Brien, McBride, and Friedel as proof that this team was better.  All great players.  But let’s not forget some of the other World Cup participants:  Agoos, Berhalter, Regis, Llamosa, Wolff, Jones…  None of these players, even in their prime (which in the case of Jones and Agoos was certainly not 2002), would be starting today.  Most–if not all–would struggle to make the 23-man roster.  I’d throw Hejduk on that list if we didn’t have a coach that was so in love with him at the moment.  Current Hejduk is far behind Cherundolo and Spector (I’d even place him slightly behind Wynne).  Young Hejduk, like it or not, was not much better.  Still reckless.  Still bad on the ball.

Sorry, Steve.  Go on…

Then came 2006. Arena kept saying all was OK, that conceding early goals just made things appear worse than they were — never mind that his team was, in fact, conceding those early goals. You could argue that qualification had come easier, that breaks had broken unfortunately in Germany and that the player pool was, despite it all, deeper than ever. None of that would have been an absurd stretch.

Agreed.

I see no reason to believe that the national team has improved even a smidgen since 2006. Beyond a Lady Luck-blessed, cinchy draw, I simply can’t find evidence to suggest that South Africa 2010 will play out any more favorably than the stumble through Germany 2006. And how’d that work out for everyone?

Here we go…

You could even argue that things have regressed a bit.

Yes, if you ignore the improvement of our core players, use Pablo Mastroeni as a point of comparison, and conveniently ignore past results, you could definitely make that argument.

…the Yanks were one big, brave Carlos Bocanegra moment from being perched way too precariously [in the Hexagonal standings].

That’s one way of putting it.  Another: the U.S. was some competent finishing away from a comfortable win.  Want to talk individual results?  In the first game of the semi-final group of qualifying, the U.S. was an 89th-minute goal away from losing to a team that didn’t even make it to the Hex!  What does this mean?  Not much.  Just like cherry picking one mediocre result from this year doesn’t say much about our current crop of players.

There is really no spot on the field where the Americans look even marginally better than 2006.

Do you really want to go there?

Essentially, three members of the back four are the same in Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Oguchi Onyewu. If you argued that Cherundolo and Bocanegrahave benefited from another three seasons in good leagues, I’d retort that they both turned 30 this year. So we’d call it a wash — then probably find our neck muscles aching from nodding in agreement that left back remains the same sore tooth it’s always been.

Onyewu and Bocanegra look far better than they did in 2006–they have, after all, had the benefit of playing side-by-side for three more years.  I’m not a fan of our reliance on set pieces, but both have also improved significantly on scoring off corners and free kicks.  On Cherundolo–I’m willing to call that one a wash, but Jonathan Spector (not to mention Simek, when healthy), a player who gets starts in the Premier League, is a significantly better backup than we’ve had in the past.  Left back is still a problem, but Bornstein is showing promise.  And how about this line-up:  Bocanegra (LB), DeMerit (CB), Onyewu (CB), Spector (RB).  Since Bocanegra had an outstanding season at LB for Rennes, I think he’s more than capable of solving our problems.  Unfortunately, Bradley doesn’t seem interested in this.  I’d argue that DeMerit is a better defender than Eddie Pope was three years ago–let’s not forget that he was our starter in the World Cup.  Or how about this lineup (when Cherundolo is healthy): Spector (LB), Bocanegra (CB), Onyewu (CB), Cherundolo (RB).  Let’s be honest–our left-back woes have been largely a result of Bradley’s unwillingness to move past Pearce.  We have the tools.

Michael Bradley has no doubt matured as a player in three years. That’s one of the pluses. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that the United States feels his absence; he was suspended for Saturday’s game because he had collected too many yellow cards.  Ricardo Clark was a force Saturday, a testament to how effort and simplicity can rule. But Bradley’s passing and his instinctive midfield drive would have nicely complemented Clark’s rangy ways.

You could make that argument about the top players of almost any team.  Take for instance Brian McBride during the 2006 campaign.  It is actually quite clear (as demonstrated by your praise of Clark) that we can cope with the loss of Bradley now better than we could have coped with the loss of McBride then.  The central midfield is easily our deepest position–players like Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, and if you’re willing to play slightly more offensive soccer, Sacha Kljestan, Jose Francisco Torres, and Freddy Adu can all fill in (not to mention newly acquired destroyer Jermaine Jones).  Who were the attacking subs from WC 2006?  Eddie Johnson (who had a downright awful 2006 MLS season), Josh Wolff (undersized, never that good), and Brian Ching (decent player then, better player now).

Pablo Mastroeni is 32 and looked every bit of it on Honduras’ goal Saturday, hopelessly chasing the play from behind. So you really can’t look at the central midfield as a whole and stamp it “improved.”

Let me get this straight.  Your argument for ’06’s midfield being better goes as follows: 1. It would suck if Michael Bradley didn’t exist.  2. Our second best central midfielder from ’06 can’t hack it any more.  Point two is completely correct.  The problem is our second best central midfielder from ’06 is now sitting about sixth best among defensive midfielders alone.  Most American soccer writers agree that his international career is (or should be) over.   And let’s not forget, you’re using a guy who didn’t even make the Confederations Cup roster as a point of comparison.  Let’s also not forget who our number three was in ’06–Ben Olson.  Really?  ’06 Ben Olson would be around #11 on our central midfield depth chart today.

In fact, given coach Bradley’s continued dependence on Mastroeni, and considering Claudio Reyna isn’t around to slow pace and create space, there probably has been a decline.

I would agree that Bradley holds us back in some ways, but this doesn’t diminish the progress we’ve made elsewhere.  Regarding Claudio Reyna, there was a time when he could control the pace of the game and distribute the ball precisely.  That was not the Claudio Reyna at WC06.  ’06 Claudio was a liability.  I’m sure you can remember the constant injury and fitness worries and his giveaway that led to Ghana’s game-winner.

But something happens when [Clint Dempsey] slips into a U.S. shirt; he never quite seems to figure out what he wants to be.

I agree to some extent.  Part of the problem is that Bradley has him playing a different position for country than he plays for club.  But you have to admit–Clint Dempsey is a far better player now than he was 3 years ago (when he took part in the 2006 World Cup).

Landon Donovan is the same player from four years back.

Landon Donovan playing for the MLS Cup champs in 2005: 12 goals, 10 assists.  Landon Donovan playing for the worst team in MLS last year: 20 goals, 9 assists.  Pretty clear sign of improvement

Jozy Altidore shows promise but will be only 20 at the South Africa World Cup. Beyond prodigies named Messiand such, teams just don’t spring into a World Cup leaning on 20-year-old strikers.

Jozy would be the second best striker in the 2006 pool and would have contended for a starting spot alongside Brian McBride.  You’re right that world-class teams don’t often enter World Cups relying on 20-year-olds, but we aren’t a world class team.  I would guess that Jozy, by 2010, would be good enough to get called up by most teams participating in the World Cup–obviously not Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy, or any other elite team, but most teams (like the USA) that occupy the lower tiers of world soccer could use him.

Part of the problem has been Bradley’s curious reliance on a core of certain individuals — regardless of their form. Bradley has strained so diligently to make things predictable around the U.S. camp — including an effort to shrink the first-team pool to help fuse familiarity — that he hamstrings himself.

Totally agree, but I don’t think this demonstrates a lack of progress in American soccer.  It’s simply evidence that Bob Bradley is a mediocre coach.  Familiarity is important, but E.J. and Pearce–to name two–have been given far too many chances.

How else to explain Eddie Johnson’s previous, repeated call-ups when he was playing about as often as Franz Beckenbauer — and The Kaiser retired 25 years ago!

Zing!

How else to explain why, during last week’s dreadful, ambivalent 3-1 fiasco against Costa Rica, we had to watch guys like Beasley,Altidore and Freddy Adu, none of whom were playing regularly with their clubs? These were the conquerors who were somehow supposed to muster the confidence, rise to the moment and tame a place called the Monster’s Cave?

Altidore started because Ching was injured and he didn’t do too bad.  Adu came off the bench and put in a solid performance.  Beasley sucked, so I’ll give you that one.  But I’d just like to point out that we lost 3-0 last time we played in the Monster’s Cave during the 2006 qualifying cycle.  2002 cycle?  2-0 loss.  You could argue that that shows a lack of progress.  I’d say it can just as easily be explained away by our injury problems and Bob Bradley’s questionable formation/squad selection.  The true American first team would have been competitive in this game against a better Costa Rica team than faced in the 2006 cycle.

We’ve come that far from Arena’s decree that players who were fit, in form and on the field at club level would earn caps?

Arena was better than Bradley when it came to favoritism, but you can’t tell me he was immune.  He ignored much of our European talent in favor of MLS-ers (Chris Albright?  Eddie Pope?  Really?) and continued to give E.J. time long after his hot streak had cooled.

Clark was Bradley’s best player Saturday, yet he was called only when Maurice Edu was revealed injured. The Houston Dynamo’s buzz-saw midfield has been most responsible for the club’s May resurrection. And yet, BennyFeilhaber had been dusted off and granted the original call, ahead of Clark.

Clark’s performance demonstrated our depth at the “unimproved” central midfield.  I understand point, but you have to admit we have an awful lot of options and Clark hadn’t exactlyproven himself at the international level before Saturday (and he’d been given plenty of opportunities).  Benny Feilhaber, on the other hand, was one of our most promising players before he performed his disappearing act.  Now that he’s getting regular minutes again, I’m all for him getting call-ups.

Previous American versions wore a useful chip on their shoulder. Other countries didn’t respect the Yanks, and every match day was a fresh opportunity to stick it in their soccer snob faces. That will seems to have wandered…The talent pool hasn’t improved significantly since then.

I’m not sure we’ve earned the respect of other countries yet, but I have to ask…What exactly did this magic chip do for us?  I’ve already discussed our performance in the 2002 cycle (widely regarded as the pinnacle of American soccer to date).  How about the 2006 cycle?  Some results from the lead-up to the 2006 World Cup: 1-4 at Germany, 1-1 to Jamaica at home, and 0-1 to Morocco at home.  World Cup results?  0-3 to Czech Republic, an impressive 1-1 draw to Italy, and with the opportunity to advance, a 1-2 loss to Ghana.

As for the talent pool, I think this argument would be best hashed out with a game.  Let’s pretend the World Cup were starting next week and we were able to pick a roster.  Everyone is healthy.  All of the players from the 2006 team are put in a time machine, transported to today, and considered in the squad selection.  Here’s who I think we should take (2006 players in bold):

GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard, Kasey Keller, Brad Guzan

DEFENDERS: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Jimmy Conrad, Jonathan Spector, Jonathan Bornstein, Eddie Lewis

MIDFIELDERS: Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Jose Francisco Torres, Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey, Freddy Adu

FORWARDS: Brian McBride, Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies, Brian Ching

PLAYERS LEFT BEHIND FROM 2006 ROSTER: Chris Albright, Gregg Berhalter, Bobby Convey, Marcus Hahnemann, Eddie Johnson, Pablo Mastroeni, John O’Brien, Ben Olson, Eddie Pope, and Josh Wolff.  (Not to mention the younger versions of Howard, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo, Donovan, Dempsey, and Ching.)

Even if you regard repeat players as “washes,” we’re still taking 10 new players to just 5 of the old group (8 repeats, of which I’d say only one (Beasley) has failed to improve/gotten worse).  Of those 5, I would say only Brian McBride is a lock to start–Beasley and Reyna would also have had solid cases.

We aren’t there yet.  There’s plenty of room to improve.  Despite what the FIFA rankings might have led you to believe before the 2006 World Cup, we were never among the world’s elite.  Although we haven’t improved much (at all?) on the coaching front, our talent pool has continued to deepen, and it looks to continue on that path with a steady stream of new young talent (Gyau, McInnerney, Renken, Adu, Altidore, Torres, etc.) still developing.  We may not have world-class talent yet, but we do have the proper pieces to make a talented team capable of a run like Turkey’s in the last European Cup.  Whether or not Bradley’s brand of defensive soccer will get us there is another question…

R.I.P Frankie Hejduk?

One of Frankie Hejduk's trademark tackles

One of Frankie Hejduk's trademark tackles

Back on June 13th, we released our Imposter! Frankie Hejduk article in the leadup to our first qualifier in Guatemala City.  And on August 14th, we re-released the same article (with a new forward) in reaction to his inclusion in the Havana roster.  Although I never really understood what people saw in Frankie, his presence became even more perplexing after he crossed the threshhold between young surfer dude and embarrassing sufer dad.  At last, after years of eye rolling, some of America’s soccer writers are starting to catch on.

In their post game analyses of the US-T&T match, Ives Galarcep (Soccer By Ives), Bruce McGuire (DuNord), and Jeff Carlisle (Soccernet) all criticized Hejduk’s performance.  Of course, they had to preface their statements with praise for his “positive attitude,” “hustle,” and “dogged pursuit of the opposition.”  But after that, they didn’t hold back.  In particular, they attacked his inability to cross, going as far as to call it “shocking.”  Frankie only scored 3/10 in both Carlisle and Galarcep’s ratings, making him the lowest on the team.  And who was their suggested replacement?  None other than Marvell Wynne–the very same player we pegged in our original article over four months ago.  It seems, perhaps, that the days of the Frankie Hejduk apologist are numbered and we couldn’t be happier.  Let’s hope that Bob Bradley catches on and lets go of this aging right back.  For full quotations, see below:

  • IVES GALARCEP:    Frankie Hejduk (3).  You love his hustle but hate his lack of skill. It was his poor  pass that led to the breakout and eventual Russell Latapy goal. He mis-hit crosses and turned the ball over repeatedly. The performance makes you pray for Marvell Wynne to start getting minutes.”
  • BRUCE MCGUIRE:     “I have always respected Frankie Hejduk for his tireless effort, positive attitude and dogged pursuit of the opposition. But last night the USA needed a right back who could simply cross the ball. And Frankie has never ever been able to do that properly. He had at least 6 great chances to make big plays happen and the team got nothing at all from it. That is unacceptable. I have a strong belief that Marvell Wynne could have gotten the job done.”
  • JEFF CARLISLE:     D, Frankie Hejduk, 3 — Defended competently enough early on, but was shocking with his distribution. It was his giveaway that sparked T&T’s first goal.”