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!

Advertisements

Gold Cup recap

The Gold Cup is over.  While the final was certainly a disappointment, it’s important to recognize the purpose of this edition of the tournament–it was an opportunity to evaluate our fringe players, hopefully identifying who should (and should not) be considered for the 2010 roster.  Here’s our take:

 

HELPED THEIR CAUSES:

Troy Perkins (G) – It would probably be more accurate to say that he benefited from Luis Robles hurting his cause.  Yes, he had problems with distribution at times.  Yes, he let in 5 against Mexico.  But right now, he looks like the front-runner for our #3 GK spot.

Heath Pearce (D) – He seemingly had fallen out of the left back race before the Gold Cup.  He played pretty well, for the most part.  Could potentially sneak in as a back-up left back.  Finding a club that will play him is a must.

Chad Marshall (D) – He looked composed for the US.  He has passed Califf in the pecking order and should definitely be considered for the 2010 roster.

Jimmy Conrad (D) – I was always a little confused why his name wasn’t in the center back conversation.  He’s pretty good, and he showed it in this tournament.

Clarence Goodson (D) –  Too bad for him, two other centerbacks equalled his performance.  Regardless, he has proven himself as a reliable back-up.

Steve Cherundolo (D) – Limited playing time, but he showed why he was a lock at right back before he got hurt and Spector took his chance to impress in the Confederations Cup.

Stuart Holden (M) – Showed flashes of the creativity that the US midfield is sorely lacking.  At times, he looked like a genius.  Other times, he was giving the ball away and crossing wildly.  The potential is obvious.

Kyle Beckerman (M) – Gives the ball away more than you’d like, but he showed good composure on the ball, impressive workrate, and the ability to shoot from distance.  Too bad there are so many players sitting ahead of him on the depth chart.

Benny Feilhaber (M) – Very limited playing time, but he showed what a player of his quality can do (and should do) when put into a game against weaker CONCACAF opponents.  He is clearly a front-runner for one of those center mid slots.

Robbie Rogers (M) – Started out very well, ended very poorly.  Not many people were talking about him as a potential World Cup team member before the tournament, but competent natural wingers are hard for us to come by these days.

Charlie Davies (F) – Similar to Benny Feilhaber, he highlighted the gulf in class between the first team and second team in his limited time on the field.

 

HURT THEIR CAUSES:

Luis Robles (G) – Put in an absolute shocker against Haiti.  Perkins isn’t so far ahead of him that he’s out of the race, but he’s definitely got some catching up to do.

Jay Heaps (D) – Was this guy ever really in contention for a roster spot?  I’m glad that this MLS vet got the opportunity to represent his country, but he should never suit up for the US again.

Michael Parkhurst (D)– I’ve never been a big fan of this guy.  And with Marshall, Goodson, and Conrad all putting in good performances, it’s hard to see how he will even come close to cracking the 23-man roster.

Colin Clark (M) – Looked pretty bad against Haiti.  Seems like a non-factor at this point.

 

NEUTRAL:

Jon Busch (G) – Was not given the opportunity to help or hurt his cause.

Freddy Adu (M) – Not as good as you would have liked, but not bad, either.  Needs playing time if he wants to make it to South Africa.

Santino Quaranta (M) – Not a bad showing.  Helped the US past Honduras.  I just don’t see him making a case for a roster spot.  That said, he is still only 24 years old (wow.), so it’s hard to call him a lost cause.

Sam Cronin (M) – Not quite there.

Brad Evans (M)– Meh.

Brian Ching (F)– Thought about putting him under “Helped Their Causes,” but what did he really show us?  He showed us what we already knew: he can hold the ball well, distribute well, and draw fouls, but he can’t take his goal-scoring opportunities.  He’s probably the starter right now, but you’d hope Davies and Altidore would be the clear favorites with one more year of development.

Davy Arnaud (F) – Looked alright at times, but I can’t imagine this guy making the roster.  His last two matches were pretty bad, and I’d be surprised if he got too many more looks (if any). 

Kenny Cooper (F)– Failed to make the most of his opportunities to impress.  He may very well be our #4 true striker at the moment (I’m excluding Landon from this list), but if he fails to improve significantly over the next year, and no one else steps up, I can’t imagine he’ll be coming along for the ride–we’ll probably only take Ching, Davies, and Altidore.

 

Let’s summarize by breaking this down into four categories:

Locks (if the roster were chosen today):  Troy Perkins, Chad Marshall, Steve Cherundolo, Benny Feilhaber, Charlie Davies, Brian Ching

Legitimate Contenders: Heath Pearce, Jimmy Conrad, Clarence Goodson, Stuart Holden, Freddy Adu, Robbie Rogers

Long Shots: Luis Robles, Michael Parkhurst, Kyle Beckerman, Kenny Cooper

No Shots: Jon Busch, Jay Heaps, Logan Pause, Sam Cronin (for 2010), Brad Evans, Colin Clark, Santino Quaranta, Davy Arnaud

USA 0 – 5 Mexico

I sure can pick them.  Since I am originally from Omaha, NE, and I recently graduated college from Wesleyan University in central Connecticut, I haven’t had too many opportunities to watch the USA play in person over the years.  In fact, I’ve had only two.  The first was in 2005, when a half-strength USA lost 1-2 to a second-team England (it was a Kieran Richardson brace that did it, if that tells you anything).   And now this.  I get to watch the likes of Heaps, Pause, and Arnaud go down 0-5 to Mexico.  Yes, I was there to hear the chants of “Si se puede!” turn to “Si se pudo!”  (Sorry for any misspellings.)  I was there to get drenched by the volcano of beer, Pepsi, and barbecue sauce (?) that errupted every time Mexico scored a goal.  I was there to witness the worst ever defeat to Mexico on US soil.  Considering I was in the top tier, in the cheapest seats available, I’ll leave the detailed commentary to those who are in a better position to write it (maybe I’ll throw something in after I re-watch the game on TV).  For now, I’ll do my best to help my fellow American soccer fans take something positive from this match:

-0-5 sounds a little more lopsided that it actually was.  The game was pretty evenly matched (I believe it slightly favored the Americans) for the first 55 minutes.

-Blame the ref!  That yellow card on Pause for his late shot was bad.  The red card on Heaps was worse.  And that penalty was absolutely horrible–it completely swung the game in Mexico’s favor.  Note to Americans: When playing in Mexico City, remember that an elbow to a defender’s face = penalty.  (In all seriousness, while the penalty call was bad, one would hope that a national team could deal with adversity a little better.)

-We still have the “This was our “C” team!” excuse.

-Expectations were getting a little unrealistic.  Our success in the Confederations Cup left us feeling invincible (except, of course, for 45 minutes against Brazil, but does that really count?).  American fans should be happy to take a point from Mexico City, and they certainly shouldn’t expect a win.  Perhaps this loss, even though this team will have very little overlap with the one that plays in the Azteca, will bring us down to Earth.  That’s not so bad.

-There was nothing big on the line here.  The powers of CONCACAF left the big guns at home.  The winner isn’t going on to the Confederations Cup.  This game was only about pride.  While ours suffered a bruise, besides a friendly, there probably isn’t a better time to lose to Mexico.

Congrats on your win, Mexico.  But let’s put things in perspective:

1-9-2.

Jumping on the anti-Beckham bandwagon UPDATE

Well, MLS announced today that they have fined Beckham $1000 for “[engaging] in conduct that can be interpreted as encouraging fans to come out of the stands.”  Although the amount of the fine is pretty meaningless–obviously $1000 to Beckham is the equivalent of about 1 cent to me–it’s the message that matters.  In my opinion, the message isn’t strong enough.  Doing something that “can be interpreted as encouraging fans to come out of the stands” isn’t quite the same as “trying to pick a fight with home supporters.”  Better than nothing, but still pretty weak.  Enough of this nonsense, let’s get back to US Soccer…

I’m planning on going to the Gold Cup final on Sunday.  Expect some sort of game recap, a tourney recap, a Q&A, and the first edition of our World Cup roster predictions in the coming week.

Gold Cup roster update

There have been a lot of additions and departures with the current Gold Cup roster. It’s all been pretty hard to follow. Here is the list of who is thought to be in camp for the next game (though there are more players who could be called in for the weekend):

Goalkeepers: Troy Perkins, Luis Robles, Jon Busch
Defenders: Heath Pearce, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, Jimmy Conrad, Jay Heaps
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Robbie Rogers, Logan Pause, Stuart Holden, Colin Clark, Brad Evans, Davy Arnaud, Sam Cronin
Forwards: Charlie Davies, Kenny Cooper, Brian Ching, Santino Quaranta

Recap: Gold Cup first round

I headed over to Nevada Smith’s on Saturday night to watch the USA take on Haiti.  I’ve always been a little reluctant to watch games there because it tends to attract this brand of American soccer fan that I find particularly annoying–the fan who wishes he were born English.  Symptoms of this condition include: the desire to argue with anyone who uses the word “soccer”; the inability to watch an MLS game in its entirety (usually coupled with the desire to make fun of the low quality of play to anyone who will listen); the necessity to call the referee “wanker” at least once per match; etc.  It took me about five minutes to realize that not only was I standing by one of these guys, but I was standing by the king of them all.  Most leave it at, “Aw, dude, the ref is a total wanker!”  This guy went well beyond that mere child’s play.  “FAWKEEN’ELL!!”  “FAHFUCKSAKE!”  “FUCK OFF, MAN!!!”  “FAWKEEN CUNT!”  “FAWKEEN WANKAH!”  His accent was so convincing, in fact, that I thought there was a chance he might even be British.  Not the case.  At halftime, I overheard him talking to an Englishman wearing a West Ham polo.  “Aw, man, we may hate each other in six months from now [writer’s note: ???], but tonight we can agree to pull for the stars and stripes.” 

“Uh huh.”

“Aw, man, West Ham?!  Let’s sing some West Ham songs.  I know a few!”

“That wouldn’t make sense.  We’re watching a USA game.”

Shot down.  But our drunken compatriot didn’t leave it there.  Later on in the second half, the Englishman tried (unsuccessfully) to start a “Come on you Eagles!” chant:

“Come on you Eagles!  Come on you Eagles!”

[American footie fan gets within an inch of Mr. West Ham’s face, sticks arms out and sings screams:]

“STEVEN GERRARD-GERRARD!!”

This guy was amazing.  He was screaming so loud, I was astonished he could muster a whisper, let alone another “FAWKEEN CUNT WANKAH!” by the end of the game.  Most would have buckled, but this guy was a champ.

I know what you’re probably thinking at this point.  I’m deep into a tournament recap and I’ve failed to mention a single player’s name, result, or anything of the sort.  But that’s just it: after watching the last game of the group stage, the most entertaining thing I’ve seen so far were the antics of that guy at the bar.

Enough with the nonsense.  Here’s the one real lesson we’ve learned from the first round:  there is a monumental gulf in class between our first team and our B team.  There have been some promising performances–Robbie Rogers, Stu Holden, and Chad Marshall, come to mind–but most have been totally forgettable.  I know I was probably expecting too much going in, but I really thought Jay Heaps and Colin Clark could at least hold their own against Haiti.  The fact that Kyle “Battlefield Earth” Beckerman–a player who has no business playing in any meaningful games for the United States–could step into that game and look decent shows just how weak this team is.

I am a fan of MLS.  I appreciate everything it has done for American soccer and what it will continue to do for us in the future.  But any player who is a career MLS-er is faced with a huge problem–they’ve been playing a game for their entire lives that takes place at about half the speed of international soccer.  While Jay Heaps, Colin Clark, and Logan Pause struggled to keep up with the competition in the first round, even the more viable options for future call-ups–Kyle Beckerman, Luis Robles, and Michael Parkhurst (yes, the latter two are playing abroad)–were mediocre at best.  (Some will point out that the first team contains MLS-based players.  I would counter that these players are the few exceptions who are capable of playing in bigger leagues.  Ching might be the exception to this exception, but I see him as a place-holder between the McBride and Altidore generations.)

Perhaps the gulf in class is best demonstrated by our second game against a less-than-full-strength Honduras team.  What was a neutral game, arguably favoring Honduras for the first 60 minutes, was completely turned around by Benny Feilhaber (soon to be our fifth-choice center mid after the arrival of Jermaine Jones) and Charlie Davies (arguably our third-best striker).  These two were clearly in another class and were able to tilt the game in our favor.

The point of this analysis is not to be alarmist.  The USA has enough depth (just barely) to remain competitive, even when faced with some injuries.  The point is also not to make fun of the MLS.  But at the end of this competition, what we’re really looking for is a group of players who can step up and challenge for 2010 roster spots.  Unfortunately, not many people have shown the ability to do that.  I could see Chad Marshall displacing Danny Califf.  I could see Robbie Rogers making it in as a back-up winger.  Maybe–just maybe–if Adu goes another year without significant playing time, Stu Holden could sneak his way into the field of 23.  Beyond that, none of the non-Confederations Cup participants (with the obvious exceptions of Cherundolo and Ching who were both injured) have shown that they’d be able to compete at the international level.  I’m happy for career MLS-ers–those who have dedicated their careers to growing soccer in America–getting the chance to represent their country, but I cringe thinking of a scenario in which we’d actually have to rely on them.

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.