Jose Francisco Torres’ goal vs. Puebla

See his free kick goal at the 4:15 mark. If embedded video doesn’t work, click here:

Match Preview: 6.21.09 vs. Egypt

MATCH_PREVIEWThe final first round games are about to kick off, so we thought we’d throw our ideal lineup out there. If for no other reason, it will give us the right to say “I told you so” in the event of a loss today. If we win, on the other hand, we will obviously never speak of this again.

———Altidore—–Davies———–
—————Donovan—————–
Torres——————————Adu
—————-Bradley—————–
Bocanegra–DeMerit–Onyewu–Spector
—————-Howard—————–

I’m so late with this post that they’ve probably already announced the actual lineups, but I’m going to post this anyway. I want to go watch Alexi Lalas blow my mind during the pregame show, so I’ll keep it quick.

• We need more offense. Not just to have any hope of advancing today, but in general. Why has Egypt been fun to watch in this tournament and we haven’t? They attack. It’s no coincidence that they’re in a better position than us today. Our solution? Let’s try playing with less than two defensive midfielders for once. We’ve thrown in a couple more offensive-minded players (Adu and Torres) for good measure. This fresh blood would hopefully inspire a little more competition for places among the team.

• We like Bocanegra on the left side, where he plays in France. DeMerit has shown that he can hold down the center spot, and though Bocanegra is a good central defender, we feel we get more of our better players on the field (and in their proper positions) if we have him on the left side.

Grant Wahl on next move for US Soccer

Project 2010’s love affair with Grant Wahl continues:

“Here’s what I want to see [at the Gold Cup]: Freddy Adu being handed the keys to the U.S. midfield, told that he’ll play in every game and given the freedom to show what he can do. I can understand why Adu hasn’t been starting for the U.S. (he hasn’t played enough at club level; not that Jozy Altidore or Benny Feilhaber have, either), but the Gold Cup is the perfect setting to put him on the field and give him a chance. It would be good to see José Francisco Torres out there, too. It’s hard for me to fathom why it was Sacha Kljestan (red card, ineffectual) instead of Torres who started against Brazil.”

We could not agree more. Read the whole article here.

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.

Match Preview [6.18.09 vs. Brazil]

MATCH_PREVIEWSince it’s the eve of our clash with Brazil, it only seems right to throw out our ideal line-up.  If for no other reason, it will give us the right to say “I told you so” in the event of a loss tomorrow.  If we win, on the other hand, we will obviously never speak of this again.  Ever.

————–Altidore——–Davies—————–

Donovan———————————–Dempsey

—————Torres———-Bradley—————

Bocanegra—-DeMerit—–Onyewu——-Spector

———————–Howard————————

Some thoughts on the lineup:

-Carlos Bocanegra enjoyed a successful season at Rennes as a left back.  Since we seem to have trouble finding a left back who can both attack and defend (then there’s Heath Pearce who can’t seem to do either particularly well), slotting in Bocanegra seems like an ideal solution.  Obviously we have to sacrifice our best center-back tandem, but Jay DeMerit’s recent performances against Italy and Honduras have shown that he’s a strong and capable defender.  The only other drawback is the loss of Bornstein’s pace.  While Bornstein is a bit better on the offensive side of the ball, Bocanegra is undoubtedly a stronger defender–something that will obviously be important against Brazil’s potent attack.  This would be the most defensively-sound back four we’ve fielded in recent memory, and hopefully it would allow us to take a slightly more offensive approach in the center of midfield.  This leads me to my next point…

-As I am not a fan of the 4-5-1 formation, the only real question I had about the midfield was “Torres or Feilhaber?”  While Benny’s solid defensive presence would be a plus in this game, he simply didn’t show enough against Italy.  Torres would offer better distribution and attacking presence, picking out the inevitable holes in this attack-happy team’s defense.

-While I’d probably rather start Ching/Altidore or Ching/Davies up top, this is obviously not an option.  Altidore and Davies have the speed and nose for goal that Ching lacks, but neither has Ching’s ability to win balls, hold, distribute, and draw fouls.  Altidore put in a solid performance against Italy, and while I still don’t think he’s an ideal target man, I have confidence he can fill the role effectively enough.  I’d be very happy to see this duo–even though there’s a chance they’d be ineffective for the aforementioned reasons, I think it’s more likely (if used properly) that they could burn Brazil’s defense pretty badly, especially if we get some good offensive play out of the central midfield (again, a reason for Torres).

Enjoy the game and be sure to check back tomorrow for post-game thoughts and our Man of the Match (with illustration!).  Until then…

U! S! A!    All! The! Way!

2010 Starting XI Taking Shape

It’s hard to believe, but the World Cup is only a year and a half away.  That means it’s time for a little speculation.  Here are some thoughts on how the roster is taking shape and what we expect to see in South Africa:

After the Sweden match, Sacha Kljestan has taken the lead in the race to be Michael Bradley’s central-midfield partner, in most American fans’ eyes.  But after Wednesday’s showing against Mexico, he only confirmed my worries about his play.  He’s a decent attacking player, but he gives the ball away far too often.  I think Torres will prove to be a better option.  Bradley’s a good ball winner.  Torres can actually hold and distribute.

As far as the left back situation goes, Pearce is losing his luster.  In a defense that has performed very well for the US, he has been mediocre, at best.  If he doesn’t start securing more playing time, I think we’ll have to swing Bocanegra out left.

Here’s what I’m thinking for 2010:

—————-Altidore————————-

Beasley————-Donovan—-Dempsey
——————-Torres————————-
——————-Bradley———————–
Bocanegra———————–Cherundolo
—————Onyewu—Marshall————
———————Howard———————

If Simek manages to stay healthy or Spector plays consisently (and on defense), either could challenge on the left.  Put simply, Bocanegra, Onyewu, and Cherundolo will start–it’s up to a center back or left back to step up and fill out our back line.

As far as Bradley-style lineups go, this one looks pretty solid.  But obviously, if I were running things, it would look more like this:

——————-Altidore—Cooper————————
Beasley————-Donovan——————-Dempsey
————————Bradley———————————
yadda yadda yadda…

Cooper’s not there yet, but his pairing with Altidore showed some real promise.  I think another year of development (and perhaps a move to a bigger club) will be enough for him to secure the #2 slot in the US’ forward depth chart.