Gold Cup: Eunuchs Lifted into Final

To put my thoughts on last night’s game on a bitter simmer...and, as with all things simmered, this will be long.

The U.S. lost. On every level but the final score, we lost last night. Canada carried about 2/3 of the game and played with greater intelligence and precision. The blown offside call thwarted the Canadian rally in the end, but that may be better understood as a unique and plain symbol of a game in which Fortune, by and large, favored the undeserving.

And before going any further, I want to get in this: Sunday’s final is going to be fucking torture.

Now, where to begin?

As implied above, Canada certainly looked the better team - more certain in their approach and execution. They moved the ball far more effectively and, with the exception of long, crossing passes and wayward passes aside, to places where the receiving player was 90% certain to get it. Apart from the two times we laudably broke through - and on the couple occasions where we nearly did - the Maple Leaf’s defense ably contained the American attack, especially our forwards.

On the American side, we destroyed more ably than we created. The outstanding disturbing element in our game last night, however, came with our passing; I saw so many short, bobbled, indecisive - just flat-out worthless - passes; no less a problem were the series of clumsy attempts to dribble out of trouble in the defensive third, our players stabbed and/or entirely missed clearances, and the general air of panic. When we didn’t botch short passes, we resorted to long balls too often and too soon, especially out of the back; this evidenced some anxiety about playing through the Canadian midfield, particularly in the first half.

We did have some good spells and, not coincidentally, we scored our goals during one of them. Frankie Hejduk did score a peach and he looked at least as shocked to score it as I was to see him do so, but our play in the stretch before it made that, and Donovan’s penalty kick, possible. But Hejduk’s goal was more noteworthy in that it shows our capacity to build from the back and establish possession in the opposition half. The goal did come, if memory serves, from a set-play, but we earned that set-play by making the Canadians chase us in dangerous parts of the field. And that’s the pisser: we can do it. And, when the Canadians had to chase the game a little to start the second half, we did well with that...till our legs gave way to jittering fatigue, that is.

The maddening, and not a little eerie, reality is the fact the game played out precisely as expected, particularly within the context of the 2007 Gold Cup tournament; the game unfolded almost as if scripted. We score - once, twice, it doesn’t matter - and simply cannot maintain and hold things together. It almost begs the question of what scares American players so goddamn much about scoring?

As most attacks before them, the Canadians stretched and scrambled most of the back four - Hejduk, somewhat surprisingly, stood as the exception - the difference being that they could exploit the gaps. Given when the Maple Leaf’s finally managed their actual breakthroughs, I assume fatigue played a role; it’s more likely, however, that fatigue - and rather stupid attrition - hit our midfield by the end, thereby exposing a rickety defense. The inability of our more offensive players to maintain possession and kill the game meant more time spent chasing, hence more fatigue, etc. It’s a grand, knock-on effect in the end and the pieces keep falling till they run into - and, last night, over - a defense that has yet to cohere - and, in terms of the specific personnel, perhaps never will.

Looking back on the tournament as a whole, the U.S. turned in exactly one comprehensive performance - the win over El Salvador. We’re now in the final against the team arguably best equipped to exploit the highly apparent disorganization that has featured except that one game; then again, in our favor, the Mexicans have hardly lit up defenses poorer than ours. But still....anyone feel like we’re a solid favorite?

The hard reality is, even if we win the final, this tournament leaves me feeling LESS secure about the future of the U.S. Men’s National Team. We have very real problems to sort out, starting with our back line; we need to get that sorted out to alleviate some worry about what happens when the up-field players can’t swing their part.

That's the free-flowing part: time to turn to player rankings and such. For the record, a 5.0 rating denotes a performance that didn’t hurt or appreciably help. Before that, however, let’s dispense with the honors for the game:

Man of the Match: Canada’s Ian Hume. He came onto the field like a one-man shot of adrenaline, not only scoring the Leaf’s goal, but adding vital bite to the Canadian midfield.

The U.S. Man of the Match: Frankie Hejduk, hands down - he’s the inspiration for the title to this post. He played like he had balls on loan from half the team...too many of whom played as if they’d loaned out theirs.

Kasey Keller, 4.0: Damn, did he have issues with decisiveness. And starting him over Tim Howard still has me scratching my head.

Frankie Hejduk, 8.5: If his passing and crossing were better, he’d go higher. But Hejduk shut down the Canadian left, tackled like a demon, stretched the Canadians going forward and he scored a goal. It flat-out sucks he misses the final...even though I’m pretty sure he left his legs on Soldier Field last night.

Carlos Bocanegra, 4.5: Lucky not to have been sent off for the tackle on de Guzman. His interventions on defense connected poorly too often, whether with his body on a player on with his feet to the ball.

Oguchi Onyewu, 4.0: He bumbled when playing out of danger more than once and drifted out of position too often. I’m ready to look elsewhere.

(By way of general comment, Onyewu and Bocanegra are not the central defensive pairing of the future. There’s a palpable lack of organization in general in the back that relies too much on desperate, pack defending that has our players to get in one another’s way.)

Jonathan Bornstein, 2.5: I don’t want to see this guy in a U.S. jersey for a couple years, period; I wouldn’t lose sleep over never either. Last night exposed all my worries about his penchant for getting beat - Bernier ate him alive in the first half - and his, frankly, shitty traps in bad places.

DaMarcus Beasley, 6.0: Add a flash or two on offense - he did well to cause the penalty - to overall sound defensive work and harassing of the Canadian back line and you get a good overall game. Not as good as he can be, but good.

Michael Bradley, 5.5: He would have scored quite a bit higher, but that was about the dumbest goddamn red card I’ve seen this year. Apart from that, however, Bradley was strong and active, one of our better players out there.

Pablo Mastroeni, 6.0: Until Hume came on for Canada, I thought both Mastroeni and Bradley did really well. Pablo tired by the end, but, before that, he played the d-mid role pretty well.

Landon Donovan, 5.5: The odd thing is, Donovan kind of did what people want him to last night: force the game. Trouble is, he didn’t do it all that well; he carried into dead ends too often, didn’t pass early enough, etc. It’s depressingly remarkable that he was still our most dangerous player. His PK technique is weird - and I don’t mean his ritual; it’s the bombing it up the middle thing.

Eddie Johnson, 4.0: Will someone please pull the plug on the EJ Experiment? He lacks confidence and aggressiveness at this level, pure and simple. Did he run at anyone? Not that I recall. Did his passing push the offense? Rarely. Take away the time Donovan played him behind the Canadian defense - a great, alert run that petered out with, yep, a lack of aggression - and his rating goes lower.

Clint Dempsey, 5.0: He may actually be our best passer, but he was a step off last night. The moves he had been making all tournament to keep possession didn’t work last night. He just looked flat. (UPDATE: I finally read a report or two, which reminded me of the good things Demspey did - much of which goes back to the "best passer" line, but which also include his near-miss header - and acknowledge I rated him too low: so revise this to read, Clint Dempsey


Benny Feilhaber, 4.5: Needs to orient his brain to a possession game...or cede the job to someone who can. Feilhaber didn’t actually perform badly, but he should have recognized the need to slow down the game instead of pushing it forward.

Taylor Twellman, 6.0: I can’t believe this, but, in the short time Twellman was on the field, he was the only one who seemed to appreciate the need to keep the ball in the Canadian end of the field. He wasn’t always successful, but at least he tried.

Ricardo Clark, 5.0: He barely merits ranking, though I’m tempted to ding him for reaching his foot up to a ball in our penalty area that he needed to control more decisively.

Bob Bradely, 3.5: Yep, the coach gets a number because, in my view, he impacted the game in all the wrong ways. Where were the subs? Clint Dempsey appeared stumbling tired by the 70th minute, if not early, and Donovan looked ready for a breather; Eddie Johnson never started and should have been subbed by the half. Clark should have come on sooner for Mastroeni, he started Keller over Howard for reasons that beg explanation, etc.

OK. I’m done. I can’t think of the last time I’ve been so disappointed with a win. It’s games like this that make qualifying for the World Cup look a lot more complicated today than it did in May 2007.


Mark said...

I stumbled onto this post, and I'm glad I did. I don't think I could ask for a more in-depth, honest analysis of last night than what you have here. Out of all 10 people who watched, I'm pretty sure you're easily the best recapper :)

I agree with your appraisal of our players for the most part. You were indeed too hard on Dempsey. He was responsible for our most dangerous opportunities, and it isn't his fault that Bradley didn't recognize that he was about to collapse in a heap and should have been subbed out. I would argue that you were way too lenient with the scores you gave to the middle of our defense.

Onyewu is especially troubling, as he seems to be getting worse everytime I see him. I see a lot of bad habits that may never be reversed, and it's a shame. He will cost us repeatedly if we can't find a suitable replacement. I don't need to remind anyone that he was responsible for a routine clearance header to go right into the path of the most dangerous Canadian player on the field at the end of the game. You are probably the right guy to ask this: who/what is the long-term solution for our back four?

Overall, what's your opinion on the state of the men's team going forward? Objectively, how well do you think the current crop compares with the old guard (circa-Reyna) talent-wise?

The Manly Ferry said...

Glad you liked it...though I just learned to not go back and read my own many typos, run-on sentences, etc.

As for the state of the men's team going forward, it's important to remember we're in transition. We're fortunate in the midfield in that there's a good amount of continuity there with Beasley, Donovan, and, now, Dempsey in the attack; they're used to each other and it shows. The future of central players - especially one to pace the game and another to take over when Mastroeni retires - is the $64,000 question. But overall, I'm comfortable there.

Up top, we're VERY much in transition; McBride leaving dumped our one automatic player. It pains me like hell to say it, but Twellman looks like our best right now - and he was so profligate against Panama. I already dumped on EJ, but would give Ching some more time. I want to see more of Cooper. I don't think we necessarily need to replace McBride in terms of style, so much as consistency. We need someone for the new guys to key off.

The back, of course, is a problem, but Americans have traditionally done well producing defenders; I think the problem now is the mix. For instance, I like Bocanegra, but can think of several glaring mistakes, perhaps too many of them. He needs a wise head beside him badly - perhaps Jimmy Conrad can do it? While I'm completely done with Bornstein, I'm not quite there with Onyewu; he's certainly not elegant and he screws up royal when he tries to dribble out of trouble; with Gooch, I think it's just a matter of trying to find a way to be more effective. I liked what I saw out of DeMerit and I'm very anxious to see what Parkhurst can do; he looked great in his one start (beside Onyewu, it should be noted), but that was El Salvador. Still, Parkhurst played the ball out of the back extremely well, and his positioning is stratospherically better than what we got out of the Boca/Gooch pairing.

Given all that, at this point the current crop of players comes off badly against the Reyna era. Those guys knew their shit and had an effective system. That said, I think the new group can be even better, especially with the improvement to our attack. Howard will carry on fine after Keller and Guzan looks plenty good as well. We need to adjust to some new realities on defense and, perhaps, change our methods for team defending (pressure higher, for example), but that kind of stuff should wash out when the squad has more time together.

World Cup qualifying starts - when? - late in 2008? 2009? So we've got some time to figure this out - and, based on what we're seeing today, we'll need it.

bfos said...

I think your analysis that we were outplayed for 2/3 of the game has more to do with your disappointment in our play than a truly fair assessment to that question.

I'm equally disappointed in our play, but in no way could I say we were clearly outplayed. If fortune had gone anyones way (prior to the 95th) it was towards Canada for not being down 3-0 in the Semi-final match. And that 3-0 score line wouldn't have been a result of luck. We were definitely playing better and making the most (albeit very little) out of our chances.

The team is completely playing beneath all of their abilities, which is sad, and may be a reflection of a poor decision on who we hired as out head coach.