Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thoughts on U.S. Men's National Team Win

After last nights last semi-final match, a number of thoughts come to mind, many of them good.

First, the U.S. attack was creative, and the combination of Altidore, Cooper, Adu and Kljestan with support from Mastroeni and Clark lit up the Guatamalan back line. Bob Bradley looked at this two starting strikers and let them be themselves in attack. Bradley has favored in the past of having a up top striker, like Brian Ching, play with his back to goal and feed people like Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey. I think in the past Bradley has asked Altidore and Cooper to do that as well and that is not what suits their playing style. Both Altidore and Cooper are too creative for that role and it limits them. With Altidore and Cooper moving around so much, I think it put the Guatamalan defense on the back foot and they didn't know how to defend against it. With two big, strong, fast strikers, the U.S. could do a fair amount of damage in the hexagonal.

Second, I have to say I like Goodson and Parkhurst in the middle of defense. Parkhurst was his usual quietly effective self. I didn't see him get beat once and he covered for Bornstein well. John Thorrington, whom I always think of as a midfielder actually played a very solid right back, bombing up and down the wing on attack and defending well. I don't know how this back line would have done against Carlos Ruiz but Parkhurst has seen Ruiz enough to know how to defend against him and Goodson probably could have handled him as well. Will Goodson and Parkhurst replace Onyewu and Bocanegra? Probably not, but both made a case for inclusion in the team to provide some depth. Given Bradley's predilication for big central defenders, Parkhurst probably won't be a factor in the remainder of qualifying unless the U.S. jumps out to an insurmountable lead in qualifying. Goodson on the other hand has some size, he looks skinny but has wiry strength.

Third, Rico Clark showed up last night and was move of a presence than I figured was going to happen. Mastroeni did a lot of the field general work, but Clark contributed. He still needs to work on his first touch, but he wasn't absent like he has been in the past.

Over all the team played very well and I think every player really made a case for themselves to be included in the January Camp to get more exposure. I know we are talking about a win over Guatamala (who has never won on U.S. soil) in November, in Colorado, so we have to measure the success accordingly. But this crew of inexperienced players shut all the naysayers and doomsayers up well and that is a positive sign.

Now for the bad. Freddy Adu can't seem to get any love from Bob Bradley--even after excellent play which saw Adu working on defense as well as being creative in attack. Even after scoring a brilliant free kick. Even after providing offensive fireworks, this is what Bob Bradley had to say about Adu--via Goff:
"One of the most important things with Freddy is making sure that he understands that while it's really nice that a lot is said and written about him, none of it matters when he walks in the door to the national team. The understanding of how to earn the respect of his teammates, and how to do things on the field that will help us win, those things come first. I'm sure that's also much of what he is trying to piece together at Monaco. This is what happens when the level gets higher with top clubs. It's a growing process, we talk about it with him often, and we hope that he continues to move along."
So, Adu plays well and can't even get a little love.

I was surprised, and a little upset, that Bob Bradley substituted out of the game three of his most creative players to replace them with Conor Casey, Brian Ching and Davy Arnaud. I didn't see Cooper or Altidore slowing down. Adu looked a little tired, but I think he could have finished the game. What is it about Bob Bradley that makes him want to stifle these young, gifted, creative players? Along with Kljestan, this trio looked to bring the most offensive flair this team has seen in a long time and Bradley sits them. That is nothing against Casey, Ching or Arnaud, but it just seems like if Bradley wanted to see something from his bench, he would have been better off putting Sean Franklin or Corey Gibbs onto the pitch and see how they manage to work with a winning scoreline and contain an attack.

Bradley's halftime comments to ESPN's John Harkes and JP Dellacamera (who by the way are the best TV team out there for the U.S.) also focused very heavily on the negative, i.e. our first touch has to be better, we are too slow on defensive recovery, etc. It was like Bradley was watching a different game. Yes, the U.S. generally needs to work on their first touch, they don't react quickly when they lose the ball, I am not saying Bradley is wrong, but the U.S. was seriously unlucky to not be up by one or two goals by halftime. Cooper hit the post, Altidore, Cooper, and Kljestan has other good chances. Rico Clark's first touch made what looked to be a great chance get away. The Guatamalan keeper made a couple of good saves. The U.S. was applying a lot of pressure on the Guatamalan midfield, and back line, forcing a lot of turnovers and generally making a nuisance of themselves. But instead of focusing on the positive for the fans, Bradley went all technical and negative. Just about every shot of him, it looked like someone had peed in his Wheaties and he had this sour look on his face. Cheer up Bob, you have led the U.S. to 21 wins in your tenure and your team was playing well.

Next up is the ten game Hexagonal Round. the top three teams in the hexagonal will go to the World Cup. the fourth place team will play the fifth place team from CONNEBOL (South america) for the right to move to South Africa. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and the U.S. will vie, with the qualifying draw to take place on Saturday (not tomorrow like I said).

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