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.

Confederations Cup: Man of the Tournament

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

RUNNERS UP

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

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

Confederations Cup: What We Learned

Sorry–this is a little late, but I think it’s an important discussion to have…

We’ve all read plenty of articles praising the Nats for their improbably run to the Cup finals, so we’ll spare you the discussion of their “grit” and “heart.”  (Funny–I was always led to believe that  Frankie Hejduk was our sole source of these invaluable commodities.)  This is not to diminish the accomplishments of our team, but the Confederations Cup is ultimately a learning experience and we are going to treat it as such.  Here is a look at the lessons learned from South Africa:

POSITIVES

-Landon Donovan seems more comfortable in his role as playmaker than ever before.  He looked fantastic throughout the tournament, even in the games where the rest of the team didn’t.

-Tim Howard is looking better than ever.  His back-up Brad Guzan looked good against Egypt.  The steadiest position in American soccer looks to stay just that going into 2010.

-The defense is really beginning to take shape.  Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, and Jonathan Spector all had fantastic tournaments.  Our worries about left back have been eased since Bradley has finally given Bocanegra a shot at his natural position.  With a healthy Cherundolo, the US will also have the option to move Spector to the left and Bocanegra to the center.  Hopefully this means the end of Hejduk for the national team–even his strongest supporters have to admit he’s no higher than third-best at right back at the moment.

-Central midfield is looking good.  Michael Bradley enjoyed a good tournament.  Ricardo Clark looked good defensively and more comfortable on the ball than in past appearances.  Benny Feilhaber is starting to look like his old self.  With a healthy Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones in the mix, this might be our deepest position.

-Clint Dempsey recovered from a slow start to bag three goals and Bronze Ball honors.  Fantastic turnaround.

-We’ve found a formation that allows us to score goals from the run of play.  In our first seven halves using this formation, we beat Egypt, Spain, and Brazil by a total of 7-0.  Yes, we gave up three in the eighth half, but we looked far more productive and dangerous than we ever did in the 4-5-1 (in which we were outscored 1-6, by the way).

-Altidore looked a little rusty and Davies has a ways to go, but our forwards actually looked dangerous when paired together.  Give these two another year to develop and we could have a very good striking tandem going into the World Cup.

NEGATIVES

-Bob Bradley should be credited for turning this team around.  But the man still manages the game as if it were Football Manager 2009.  Is no one else disturbed that he tends to make similar subs at the same time every game, regardless of what’s happening?  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But if we just surrendered a 2-goal lead to Brazil, why are we bringing on an out-of-form Kljestan and Bornstein for Altidore and Feilhaber?  His in-game management and negative style continue to frustrate me.

-Three red cards.  As much as we love to claim the ref is out to get us, we can only blame ourselves for getting into these situations.  When it comes down to it, as a team, we tackle too hard and too late.  We’re going to continue to have discipline problems if we don’t address this soon.

-Michael Bradley is too aggressive for his own good.  Not only is he a yellow-card machine, destined to receive at least one ban per tournament, but he’s starting to carry it off the pitch.  He went on an angry rant about USMNT critics.  He confronted the referee who issued his red card against Spain after the game.  In the end, he left the tournament with an additional four-game ban.

-The 4-5-1 continues to be a nightmare and, even with the success of our two-striker formation, I worry that it will still be Bradley’s go-to formation for important matches against top competition (especially when we have a healthy Brian Ching back).  I hope I’m wrong.

-When our players are in front of goal, too often they are looking to lay it off for a teammate instead of taking their chance.  There are times for that, and there are times to take the shot.  A lot of golden opportunities we blown because of this timid play.

-Bornstein is not the answer at left back.  He’s just not good enough defensively.

-Kljestan looks horrible.  He has become a liability.  He can’t pass.  He can’t hold.  He shouldn’t play again until he gets things in order.

-Beasley.  This one is just depressing.

-How the two previously mentioned players have found the field as much as they have while Torres and Adu sat on the bench is a little frustrating.  Yes, they’re young.  No, they don’t have much experience.  But age and experience weren’t helping DaMarcus and Sacha–you have to draw the line at some point.  Let the youngsters have their opportunities.

-Vuvuzelas.  My proposal: let South African fans bring the monotone horns to their team’s matches, but ban them from all others.  I’d hate to have to watch next summer’s tournament on mute.

OVERALL

A good showing for our boys.  We played our best soccer in the end.  Even though we finished 2-0-3, if you break that down into halves, we were 6-0-4–not bad considering who we played.  There are a lot of lessons to take away–both positive and negative–and if our coach and team are willing to learn from this experience, we could set ourselves up for a successful campaign in next summer’s World Cup.

Michael Bradley to serve 4-game suspension

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

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

Man of the Match [7.4.09 vs. Grenada]: Robbie Rogers

Man of the Match: While we saw several good performances against Grenada–Stuart Holden, Freddy Adu, and Chad Marshall, to name a few–Robbie Rogers was the clear winner of this match’s honor.  He ran at the Grenadan defense, provided great service, set up two goals, and scored one himself.  His performance is sure to ease some worries about our depth on the left wing.

Goat of the Match: Anyone who decided to bring a vuvuzela to the game.  Never again.

Match Preview [6.28.09 vs. Brazil]

MATCH_PREVIEWLast game was amazing.  While Spain were clearly a better, more skilled team than the USA, everyone wearing the red, white, and blue put in a good performance.  And believe it or not, we were better on the day.  Even our old foe Bob Bradley deserves credit.  Ever since he changed to a proper 4-4-2, the team has scored 5 goals and all were from the run of play!  He even fulfilled our wish of a Bocanegra-DeMerit-Onyewu-Spector back line.  This team is really clicking right now, and as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke…”  Unfortunately, a questionable red card for Michael Bradley will force us to make at least one change.  (By the way, are we the only ones who have a hard time feeling bad for this kid?  He’s a great player, but he seems to average about .5 unnecessary yellow cards per game.  It was definitely harsh, but Michael needs to work on this bad habit.)  Benny Feilhaber seems like the best choice to start.  If he looks anything like he did at the end of the Spain game, he should fit in nicely.  Then again, Benny does have the ability to disappear in big matches.  Here’s hoping for the best.

This is the lineup we hope to see, and for once, we are confident that we’ll actually see it:

————–Altidore——–Davies—————–

Donovan———————————–Dempsey

————–Feilhaber———-Clark—————-

Bocanegra—-DeMerit—–Onyewu——-Spector

————————Howard————————-

Let’s bring home the trophy, boys.  (And if we’re really lucky, Liverpudlian band the Trophy Boyz might honor us with a commemorative song of this calibre.)

USA announce Gold Cup roster

GOALKEEPERS – Jon Busch (Chicago Fire), Troy Perkins (Valarenga), Luis Robles (Kaiserslautern)

DEFENDERS – Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Jay Heaps (New England Revolution), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaellands), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock)

MIDFIELDERS – Davy Arnaud (Kansas City Wizards), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Colin Clark (Colorado Rapids), Sam Cronin (Toronto FC), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Logan Pause (Chicago Fire), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)

FORWARDS – Freddy Adu (Benfica), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Charlie Davies (Hammarby), Santino Quaranta (D.C. United)

Hmmm…

I’ll spare you the extensive commentary, but am I the only one who thinks there are a few head-scratchers in there?  When Jay Heaps is your second-choice B-teamer, maybe it’s time to start looking to the future and give a younger prospect a look.  I simply can’t wrap my mind around the concept that we might ever rely on someone like that in a meaningful international match.  I’d take a out-of-position, beach-soccer fit John O’Brien over Jay Heaps (OK–I might be taking this a little too far…).