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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Man of the Match [8.12.09 vs. Mexico]: Oguchi Onyewu

MAN OF THE MATCH:  This was clearly a two-horse race.  While Charlie Davies did score the USA’s lone goal, he failed to put away his golden opportunity to get the go-ahead in the second half.  Overall, a good performance, but we had to give the nod to Oguchi Onyewu.  He continued his beastly ways in the back, showing everyone why he was picked up by Milan.  If he can continue his good run of form, he’ll have a real shot at cracking his club’s squad.

GOAT(S) OF THE MATCH:  It’s hard to single out one player here.  Clint Dempsey comes to mind for performing his disappearing act.  Our outside backs (Cherundolo and Bocanegra) got burned all day long.  And our center mids (Bradley and Clark) couldn’t hold the ball or distribute effectively.  While I disgree with some of Bob Bradley’s lineup choices–I would have prefered starts for Altidore, Spector, and Feilhaber over Ching, Cherundolo, and Clark–they weren’t clear missteps.  His biggest failure, in my opinion, was in the predictability of his substitutions, and for this reason, he deserves some of the blame.  It’s hard to believe he’s managing the game when he makes similar substitutions at similar times, regardless of scoreline or momentum.  That’s not to say his substitutes never contribute.  But look at Mexico or Brazil, for example–in both cases, their coaches made halftime adjustments and second-half substitutions that swung the game unquestionably (and ultimatley) in their favor.  Bradley failed to counter this both times out, and I’m starting to question whether or not he is capable of doing that.

[Article Commentary] Trecker: USA, ‘big game’ jinx

Jamie Trecker recently concluded his three-part series on why the USA needed to become the second team ever to win in Mexico City.  Since we failed, US Soccer is obviously doomed.  I’m sorry to keep going at Trecker, but since this is related to the last two I’ve commented on, it seems logical to discuss the final chapter.  After this one, I’ll give Jamie a break for a while–I promise.

The USA has done it again.

Two weeks after a humiliating 5-0 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final at Giants Stadium, the USA lost their third straight big game, dropping a 2-1 decision at the Azteca in a World Cup qualifier.

This argument is getting a little old, but I have a hard time calling the USA’s Gold Cup loss a “big game”.  It wasn’t.  If it were, we would have had more than one starter also start in the Mexico qualifier.

The Americans, of course, have never won a game at the Azteca. Lifetime, the Americans are now 0-23-1 at the stadium. Mexico also has not lost a game there since 2001, when they were upset by Costa Rica (their only loss ever in qualifying at the famed stadium).

So why is it a huge surprise/massive disappointment that we lost?

And yet, this was a bad loss for the Americans. All eyes were on this U.S. team after its surprising run to the Confederations Cup final.

Really?  You think casual soccer fans cut out of work early to watch the game on Mun2?  “All eyes” is a pretty gross exaggeration.

And consensus was that this was a weakened Mexico side, ripe for the taking.

This is the first I’ve heard of this.  Yes, they were without Senor Barcelona, but they are a pretty strong team, currently on a good run of form.

…even more troubling than the Americans’ penchant for losing big games is the manner in which they continue to do it.

Once again, the USA failed to control the midfield game, failed to see its ‘stars’ show up, and failed to put together a complete game.

Midfield control is a huge issue.  As good as Clark may be, he still can’t hold and distribute that well.  He’s a ball winner.  Until we find a center mid to pair with Bradley (and I would argue that we have a few in our system, like Feilhaber and Torres), we’ll struggle to win the midfield battle.  If you looked at pre-game analyses from the US Soccer media, they had the midfield battle as a clear win for the Nats.  Player-for-player, we look better than Mexico.  But without someone like Claudio Reyna (I know that’s a lot to ask)–someone who can hold the ball and control the pace of the game–it’s going to be really hard for us to win possession/midfield battles, despite our individual talent.  [Enter: Jermaine Jones?]

The Americans looked solid enough in the first half, despite conceding a goal to Israel Castro in the 19th minute, but then began to fray as the match went on. By the second half, the USA had lost all sense of shape and purpose, and it cost them dearly.

Trecker is manipulating the facts of the match to fit his pre-written narrative (“A Tale of Two Halves”).  The fact is, the USA controlled the game up until the Charlie Davies goal.  Almost immediately after, Mexico took control of the game, and attacked almost non-stop.  The only time the US looked remotely dangerous after the 10-minute mark was around the 60th or 70th when Davies was sprung on a few attacks–he even looked like taking the lead with that wide-open header.  I’m sorry, Jamie, but this is not another “classic” USA second-half blow-up.  Mexico simply dominated 90% of the game.

Many fans will question Bradley’s decision to start Steve Cherundolo and Brian Ching — two players who underwhelmed at the Gold Cup, over Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Spector.

I’ll be one of those.

…while Ching was unable to impose himself on the game as a target man.

To be fair, how much service did he get?

More fans will question Bradley’s substitutions. Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber and Altidore came on and did little with their allotted time.

The problem with Bradley’s substitutions is that you can almost pick them out before the game.  I probably would have guessed: Feilhaber for Ching and someone for Clark (probably Holden or Torres) in the 60s, followed by Altidore for Davies around the 75th.  Far too predictable.  Never have anything to do with the game.  In-game management is definitely Bradley’s biggest weakness.

Landon Donovan made one great pass — to Charlie Davies to score the opening goal in the 8th minute — and then vanished.

He did have swine flu…

Did Moreno (the referee) give the homers some calls? Yep — just as every home team gets, including the USA.

This game can’t be blamed on the ref, but I think you’re fooling yourself if you believe the USA gets the same advantage in their home matches.  That’s just plain silly.

So now the question is who will pay for this one?

The answer to that question is depressingly familiar. U.S. Soccer seems unable or unwilling to make a change at the top, so it won’t likely be the coach. Fans have been making excuses for the players for a generation, so those guys are likely to get a bye as well.

But outside the insular world of American soccer — the only place where Brian Ching is seriously considered a viable international talent — the reaction will be one of disdain and disgust.

…or ambivalence.  It has become clear that Jamie Trecker occupies a universe in which everyone in the world gives a shit about our Gold Cup losses and World Cup qualifying campaign.  In reality, people in other countries probably care as much about our qualifier in Mexico as I do about their countries’ games (not so much).  A 2-1 loss to a decent team on the road is nothing extraordinary.

Keep in mind that sports fans have been burned repeatedly by the hype. They keep tuning in after being told they’re going to see something special. And every time (outside of the Spain match), they’re presented with a group of guys who can’t win the big game.

The fact is, these performances — if left unchecked — will kill the sport in America. That fact seems lost on soccer executives, who keep claiming that these failures are “learning experiences.”

They’re not. They’re confirmation of America’s inability to grow up and take this sport seriously. And that’s why the USA will continue to lose the big game.

I’ve said it every other time I’ve responded to one of his articles, so I guess I may as well say it one more:  Your articles are the reason for this hype, Jamie.  Every time we have a “big game”, we get an article from you about how it’s a must-win.  So important that, if we lose, “the sport will never be taken seriously in America.”

I hate to break it to you, but most of our losses have been learning experiences.  That’s why we’ve gone from World Cup absentees to World Cup fixtures.  That’s why we’ve gone  from struggling to get fans out to games to selling out stadiums.  That’s why we’ve gone from Mexico’s whipping boys to powers of the region, and the kind of team that can beat the world’s best, on a good day.

I’m all for accountability.  I’m not a fan of Bob Bradley.  But it is ridiculously stupid that Jamie really believes a loss in Mexico City should be the final nail in the coffin.  Nobody–and I mean nobody–can waltz into Mexico City and expect to come out with a win.  It’s one of the most difficult environments you’ll encounter in the soccer world–well over 100,000 fans, altitude, and horrible air quality are huge advantages in the Mexico’s favor.  I would go as far as to say that the US will never get to the point where they can expect 3 points from their away tie with Mexico.

Well, there you have it.  Feel free to comment on Trecker’s latest article in the comments section below.

Note:  I thought it was interesting that in Jamie’s analysis, he didn’t hit on one of the biggest problems I had with the game–the ill-preparedness of the US team.  The balls were constaintly sailing long (I presume this is because balls travel farther in the thinner air), and our team seemed winded about 30 minutes in.  I’m surprised the team’s poor preparation hasn’t been discussed more by the American soccer media.

Trecker, Mexico “last chance for the USA”

Our old friend Jamie Trecker is back at it,this time claiming a win in Mexico is a must.  A win would obviously be fabulous for the reasons highlighted in Trecker’s article, among others, but I’m with reader Josh (see comments in our last Trecker response) when he says he’s a little tired of people expecting a win in Mexico, as if some dramatic shift has occurred in American soccer, now making us favorites when we travel to Costa Rica and Mexico.  No way.  Optimism is nice, but realism is necessary.  Approaching tomorrow’s qualifier with a realistic set of expectations not only makes the likely lows more bearable, but the potential highs more exciting.  We’re not Brazil, and I would argue not even the giants of South America could waltz into the Azteca expecting to win.  Here we go–Trecker, Round Two:

Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier at the Azteca would be special in any calendar year.

In fact, a Mexico vs. USA game hasn’t needed any extra hype since the Americans started taking qualifying for the World Cup seriously back in the late 1980s.

Nevertheless, Wednesday’s showdown between the region’s powers is bigger than usual.

Only because of articles like this.

Bluntly put, it’s a last chance for the USA this year in three significant areas.

I don’t even need to read the reasons to see this is an overstatement.

First, it’s the USA’s last chance to influence FIFA powers before the 2010 World Cup draw.

I hate to say it, but this ship has probably sailed.  Had we won the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup, then a win in Mexico City could have given us an argument for seeding.  Since we’ve failed on the two former, there’s no argument to be made.

Also, and I hate to downplay the significance of what should be a fun match to watch, Mexico aren’t highly ranked.  Unfortunately for us, a road win in Mexico city wouldn’t reflect as strongly in our ranking as it probably should.  It doesn’t take into account our history at the Azteca.  It doesn’t take into account the smog or altitude.  It reads as #12 team beats #30 team on the road in a World Cup qualifier.  For better or worse, FIFA has *attempted to* remove subjectivity from these sort of assessments.

Let’s be honest — FIFA saw the United States’ meltdowns this summer. Sepp Blatter and co. were in South Africa to see the USA cough up a 2-0 advantage in the Confederations Cup final against Brazil and they were at Giants Stadium for that humiliating 5-0 loss against Mexico.

I know this was kind of addressed with my last comment, but I just think it’s funny that Trecker thinks “Sepp Blatter and co.” sit around, judging every game.  Yeah, they probably watched the Confederations Cup final.  If anything, I’d say they were more impressed by the fact that we could take the game to Brazil than they were displeased at our inability to close it out.  Even after the Spain win, I’d be very surprised if “they” expected us to come as close as we did in the final.

If the Americans don’t get some help in seeding they will likely be drawn with the rest of CONCACAF and the Asians. Effectively that means you have no chance to face one of the weaker nations in the 32-team field. It offers the disheartening possibility of landing in a group with, say, Argentina, France and Ivory Coast.

This is actually pretty funny–you’d think Trecker would do a little more research before publishing this stuff.  You know, there’s a reason the USA has been drawn out of the same pot as the rest of CONCACAF in years past, and it’s not because “they” decided we were all equally good (or bad).    Perhaps you noticed that every team in Pot B for the 2002 draw was European.  And in the 2006 draw, every team in Pot C was European.  And the USA is always grouped with CONCACAF and teams from either Asia (2006) or Africa (2002).  This is because FIFA does not seed teams beyond the first tier (unless they changed this policy this year).  They do this because if you put the USA in Pot B, Mexico in Pot C, and Costa Rica in Pot D, you could potentially wind up with a group (however unlikely it may be) with all three CONCACAF teams.  Similarly, you could wind up with a group (or groups) that are 100% European.  I believe this makes Trecker’s first point completely irrelevant.

The best you can hope for in the bottom row is to be drawn against the host South Africans, and that will be no picnic if it happens.

I don’t think the game against the seeded team in any group in any World Cup is a picnic.

Second, it’s the last chance to catch and hold the attention of the U.S. sports fan.

This is a valid point–a win against Mexico would grab the attention of some of the casual American soccer fans.  Hold it?  I doubt it.

The women’s soccer bubble has burst as well. A team that drew a capacity crowd to the Rose Bowl in 1999 has virtually disappeared from the public mind in 10 years. Success in Pasadena did not create a groundswell of interest in soccer, after all.

This is part of the reason I doubt it.

A win at the Azteca and there will be reason to think some momentum exists to carry into the World Cup next summer. A loss, especially a bad one, will consign soccer to its usual position as an after-thought among Americans.

Yes, a win at the Azteca would allow the hype machine to roll on–it, along with the Confederations Cup, would probably be the center piece of all the pre-World Cup shows.  But to pretend that a win–one game–would change anything in a dramatic fashion is just naive.  The growth of soccer in America is not something that can be accomplished overnight, let alone over 90 minutes.  It’s going to take years, decades, probably a couple generations.  Yes, it will get US Soccer on SportsCenter.  Yes, casual sports fans will talk about how the US Soccer team is kind of good now.  But when football season rolls around, US Soccer will be only slightly more relevant than it was last year, win or lose.

Third, it’s one last exam for the current squad and staff.

Yep, one last exam until the next last exam on September 5th…then the next last exam on September 9th…

Bob Bradley is apparently fireproof. He’s a nice man, to be sure, but you know by now how we feel about his team prep and squad decisions.

Haha…OK–Jamie and I aren’t totally dissimilar.

If Bradley is smart, he’ll play a virtual 5-3-1-1 with a three-man triangle in front of Tim Howard. He’ll also have to remind his wide backs that they need to stay at home because every lung-bursting run in the Azteca takes its toll.

For those who don’t remember, Jamie’s argument for a five-man back line centers around our 5-0 loss to Mexico.  This back line included Chad Marshall, Clarence Goodson, Heath Pearce, and Jay Heaps.  Because of their dismal performance, Trecker believes we should play a back line of Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay DeMerit.  My response: Huh?  How are the two groups related?

Does Mr. Trecker not remember how poorly our team played with a lone striker?  1-3 to Costa Rica.  1-3 to Italy.  0-3 to Brazil.   What happened we started playing with two strikers?  3-0 against Egypt.  2-0 against Spain.  2-3 to Brazil.  So how do we win in Mexico?  Let’s not do what got us the three most impressive attacking performances of recent memory.  Let’s do the thing that got us two goals in three blowout losses (both of which were penalties).  In fact, let’s take one of the midfielders from those losses and replace him with an extra defender–that should keep the goals rolling in.  Lord knows Brazil didn’t put three in on us because we were struggling to hold possession–it was because we needed a fifth defender back there.

Up front the team can rely on Landon Donovan for a big game.

I don’t think any game plan that requires one of the players to have a “big game” is a very good one.  A good game plan is one by which if all players play at their normal capacity, the team should get a result.

So, a win can take this team to a place where many fans have argued it has long belonged. A loss means many will write off this summer’s high points as another example of American soccer over-selling and under-delivering.

Articles like these are what’s responsible for the over-selling of American soccer.  Articles like these that not only claim a win should be expected going into the Azteca–a stadium in which we have never won, located in a country in which we’ve never won!–but anything less would be a failure that would inevitably doom American soccer to bad Cup draws and obscurity.

Here’s my proposal:  Let’s go into Wednesday’s qualifier with realistic expectations.  Let’s not hype it to the point that anything less than the improbable is completely unacceptable.  Let’s ask for a strong performance.  Let’s be happy with a point.

USA announce roster for Mexico

Here’s the group Bradey has called up for the Mexico qualifier:

Goalkeepers – Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton)

Defenders – Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

Midfielders – Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca)

Forwards– Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Charlie Davies (Sochaux)

Looks like a pretty good group.  I might have taken Cooper over Casey, but that’s about it.  I’ll do a prefered lineup post sometime soon.

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.

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.