America’s problems in this World Cup:
1. The central defense was awful early in the matches. DeMerit and Onyewu got caught too far up in the 4th minute against England: Gerrard slips behind them for a goal. They got caught too far back against Slovenia in the 13th minute: Birsa has room and blasts one past Howard. DeMerit whiffed on a clearance against Algeria in the 6th minute, but we were spared as the resultant shot went off the crossbar.
So one would think that, having noticed that our central defense was weak in all three matches so far, Coach Bradley might make an adjustment. Maybe play with a defensive midfielder in front of the center backs, instead of center mids side-by-side. Maybe find a better combination of center backs (in fairness, Papa Bradley did replace Onyewu with Bocanegra for the last two matches, but Boca-DeMerit in the middle wasn’t much better). Maybe give them a better pep talk or warm-up so they’re ready to play from the first whistle. Maybe even play with a sweeper, as archaic as that seems at the top level.
Apparently not. Five minutes in, one of the Boateng brothers took the ball away from Clark (who was supposed to mark Gerrard in the first match), took it right at DeMerit (who missed a clearance against Algeria and was rescued by the crossbar), and shot it past DeMerit and Howard into the net. And for good measure, Cherundolo and DeMerit let Gyan blow past them for the game-winner just three minutes into extra time.
Homework for 2014: find better center backs, and find somebody better than Ricardo Clark to put in the midfield alongside Baby Bradley.
2. The forwards played poorly overall. The finishing was weak, and we should’ve had more goals against Slovenia, Algeria and Ghana. Of our five goals that counted, none came from the forwards. Of the two goals that were wrongly disallowed, neither came from a forward.
Findley was totally useless. It looks like he was put on the team for his speed–fine, make him a late-game sub when the other teams’ backs are tired. Altidore has enough size and speed to wear down a defense during a game (well, maybe not “enough” but more than anyone else on the American roster). Altidore wasn’t great, but he was far more effective than Findley. Hopefully he’ll play better and we’ll make better use of him in future World Cups.
Pairing Gomez with Altidore seemed like a much more dynamic combination–I’d love to know why Gomez didn’t start against Ghana.
This is a nation of 310 million people. We can’t find two decent strikers to put on a field at the same time, never mind four to put on a roster?
3. The team was generally lethargic in the first half of each game, and far more energetic in the second half. Bad news: soccer is not designed for easy comebacks. The odds of winning after giving up the first goal are slim. Methinks the team mom needs to hand out the Twinkies and Capri Sun before the game, and Papa Bradley needs to come up with a better pre-game routine.
I am torn. I’m proud of our team for hanging on and fighting back in all four games, and these were exciting games. But at the same time, I’m kind of underwhelmed. After all, we were finally expected to advance from our group, but we only did so with nearly miraculous endgames against Slovenia and Algeria. And after winning our group, the teams standing between us and our first semifinal berth since 1930 were Ghana and either Uruguay or South Korea–not any of the major powers. We should have done better. It feels like a blown opportunity.
Now that my initial arcade-game-based predictions are shot to hell, I’ll have a look at the remaining games…
Remaining Round of 16 games: Holland over Slovakia, Brazil over Chile, Germany over England, Argentina over Mexico, Japan over Paraguay, Spain over Portugal. Quarters: Uruguay over Ghana, Brazil over Holland, Spain over Japan, Argentina over Germany. Semis: Brazil over Uruguay. Argentina over Spain. Final: Argentina over Brazil. I’ll try again when these turn out to be wrong.