U.S. v. Guatemala: That Was What...Exactly?

In keeping with usual practice, what appears below comes before reading a single line of anyone else’s scribblings (the theory* behind this is explained below, in case you’re curious).

United States 1 - 0 Guatemala
Big Picture
Sloppy. Sloppy and ugly. Wait. Sloppy, anxious, and ugly. A few more adjectives probably apply, but those get at the meat of things. The CONCACAF rankings peg the U.S. Men (Yanquis) at #2 in the region and Guatemala at #10, but the proverbial Man from Mars wouldn’t have thought as much - at least not in the second half. We started strongly enough - and a few Yanquis had strong nights throughout - but we had surrendered the upper hand in this game well before Oguchi Onyewu received his marching orders. All in all, the players on the field looked nervous as I felt watching them.

Bottom line, though, we won. We played well enough, had just enough moments of brilliance, as well as the proper mix of share of timely interventions and lucky bounces, to win this important, opening game. The down side: at this point, we don’t look like a team that’s going to win this tournament.

Moving on to details:

- I friggin’ HATE watching the Yanquis play Guatemala. Just drives me nuts. They are U.S. Men’s Bolton Wanderers. Since it’s possible I’m not current on my EPL bogey-men, let me rephrase that: they are the team your guys really should beat, but against whom they always, always struggle. While the Guatemalans’ use of gamesmanship is both expert and maddening, the real rub is their prodigious ability to keep their shape combined with having just enough talent on hand to catch out a good team.

- That said, our defense pulled off the impressive trick of blocking my throat with my heart; they achieved the feat with a generally harried appearance. On a couple occasions, my heart even tried to make an escape - think the near-own goal by Carlos Bocanegra and the joint flubbing of a series of Guatemalan long-balls over the top early in the second half. Apparently, my heart had the good sense to try to leave the room rather than sit through those 25 minutes of torture.

- Speaking of, nearly everyone noted Onyewu’s unsettled performance. There was, of course, the red card, but that only slapped a big, red exclamation mark on a rocky evening. Regarding the card, it’s possible that Onyewu shouldn’t have picked up that first yellow, but, on the second, the ref simply had no choice. And it’s not like the man didn’t know he had the card...a detail that should have made that hip-check the last course of action.

- The subject of the officiating does, however, bear noting. I can’t dredge up the man’s name right now, in spite of hissing it to my wife late in the second half. While he didn’t have much choice with Onyewu, the ref did seem a little card-happy when it came to the Yanquis. This only grew upsetting after seeing U.S. players carded for the first offense, while DaMarcus Beasley endured three consecutive fouls without a single Guatemalan player getting so much as whistled.

- The officiating does, however, open a pathway to some praise for the commentary - I know...weird, right? Late in the game, Christopher “You’re From Where Now?” Sullivan offered an insight that might have made the officiating seem less bizarre. He noted that the ref seemed to be letting certain kinds of contact go unpunished; if memory serves, it involved using one’s arms a certain way and then getting the legs involved. I wasn’t watching the officiating on the same level so I can’t say whether he was on to something, but I appreciated commentary that spoke on that level of detail.

- For a spell in the first half and until the Guatemalans got hold of the game from the start of the second half till about the 80th minute, players started bypassing the midfield and sending high, hopeful balls over the top, or long, semi-desperate leading passes down the wings. Not surprisingly, we lost a good deal of possession through these tactics. Bad idea.

- We did look good for a couple stretches. For instance, we started strong (either that or the Guatemalans ceded too much of the ball) and closed the first half so strongly that the start of the second half felt a lot like a let-down.

- But the part of the game that most impressed me came with the end, when, perhaps, the Guatemalan side wore out. Still, we pushed into their half for much of the closing ten minutes and kept possession better than we had at any point during the rest of the second half...

U.S. Player Ratings
...y’know, in order to keep this from sprawling indefinitely, I’m just going to rate the U.S. field players and call it good (suddenly, I understand why people do this). By way of scale, it’s a 1-to-10 affair, with 5.0 signifying entirely adequate play that involved doing no harm, but also doing little in the way of noticeable good.

Tim Howard, 6.0: Didn’t have a lot to do, but did it well enough. I like that he’s a yeller. All ‘keepers should be yellers as far as I’m concerned (I’m looking at you, Troy Perkins).

Frankie Hejduk, 4.5: Nice headlock tackle, Frankie. Columbus is rubbing off on you. In all seriousness, his defending was tolerable (and would have yielded a “good enough” 5.0), but his passing and forays forward had me yelling, “NO!” at the screen.

Carlos Bocanegra, 4.5: Just too nervous, as evidenced by nearly slicing in an own-goal, and passed too long, too often.

Oguchi Onyewu, 3.5: Frankly, “Gooch” played unsteady, uncertain, barely controlled soccer. And going in for obstruction so clearly that he may as well waved the linesman's flag for him and while carrying a yellow, that was just a dumb play.

Jonathan Bornstein, 5.5: My comparative bright spot in the back line.

Benny Feilhaber, 5.0: Apart from a flash here or a decent, defense-upsetting pass there (few and far between), Benny seemed relatively anonymous out there. Came on stronger during the second half, but a pretty unremarkable outing.

Michael Bradley, 5.5: Roughly the same applied here as to Feilhaber, but I caught more of Bradley disrupting.

DaMarcus Beasley, 6.0: Take a good first half and add some useful things in the second on both sides of the ball and Beasley did pretty well for himself.

Landon Donovan, 6.5: He was the Yanqui’s man of the match for me. Yeah, a few free-kicks really sucked, but he did more than most to keep the Guatemalans honest in the back. Oh, and does anyone know what happened between him and Ruiz?

Clint Dempsey, 6.0: Great awareness on the goal in terms of separating from his marker; he did it so well he had one of the Guatemalan defenders jumping in frustration. Deuce had a decent day in general, though he held the ball too much on a few occasions.

Taylor Twellman, 5.5: Good day on the whole, not least on the assist to Dempsey’s goal (incredibly, he outran someone from behind to play that in). He would have ranked higher - by quite a bit - if it weren’t for boning that header on goal...after calling off Dempsey. But his worse habit was trying to pass with his head too often; it was great when it worked, but he also killed a lot of plays when he didn’t hit these little passes just right.

Eddie Johnson, 5.0: While he didn’t do much in terms of breaking down the Guatemalans, he made some smart plays in keeping possession toward the end.

Jay DeMerit, 6.0: I think he did very well in stabilizing the back-line when the U.S. went a man down; the overall picture felt more composed. He should start against Trinidad and, if he performs well there, he should get the start till he loses it.

Did we have another sub? We must have, right? Can’t recall who right now, which probably means they did OK. All for now. Looking forward to Saturday - enough so that I’ll probably post over the weekend.

- Crap. Credit to Jeff Carlisle for reminding me that Steve Ralston came on as a sub. Moreover, he did fairly well - call it a 5.0. But he gains at 0.1 on that ranking for corralling Bocanegra late in the game.

(* OK, here’s the theory behind the commenting before reading. If I write down what I think I saw, it teaches me something about what I’m seeing and not seeing when I watch a game. That way when I do go back and read everyone else’s stuff, I get a stronger sense of what I’m not catching in games.)

1 comment:

Blue Blooded Journo said...

I really think the team was out of whack due to the short amount of time they were in camp together. Twellman looked discombobulated at times and if EJ scores a few against T&T's C team, he may see a lot of pine after the group stage.

MLS really needs to start their season two weeks earlier and take two weekends off leading into these competitions so the Nats can have another full camp each year.

It can be done. Just play games during the after instead of at night during March.