26 June 2010

United States 1-2 Ghana aet

Cherundolo DeMerit Bocanegra Bornstein
Donovan Bradley Clark Dempsey
Altidore Findley

Paintsil Mensah Jonathan Sarpei
Boateng Annan
Inkoom Asamoah Ayew

KP Boateng 5'
Donovan 62' (pen)
Gyan 93'

Well that wasn't how it was supposed to happen.

The 90 minutes of regular time were fairly true to form. The first half was standard USA when favored: unsteady and soon behind thanks to individual errors. In this case it was an awful goal conceded in the 5th, with mistakes from Clark, DeMerit, and Howard. Clark feebly gave the ball away in midfield, Boateng charged forward while DeMerit strangely retreated too far into his own box, and Howard was beaten at his near post.

The US was outnumbered in midfield but still tried to play through the center given Donovan and Dempsey's proclivities to cut inside. Ghana played at a higher tempo, clearly boosted by the "home" crowd. To his credit, Bradley quickly changed matters, taking off Clark (who picked up an egregiously petulant yellow right after the goal) on the half-hour mark, and slowly but surely, the US started to blunt Ghana's domination in the middle; the Africans had two-thirds of the possession in the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the US had one first-half chance after a Ghana giveaway put Findley through, only to see his tame shot too close to Kingson.

But, just like against Slovenia, the US responded after the interval. Just start every USA game with 45 minutes off the clock and a deficit, and tell Bob Bradley he's got to make a change. This time, he took off the underwhelming Findley for an additional midfielder in Feilhaber, who ostensibly went out left with Dempsey moving up as a second striker. And it could have paid dividends immediately with the USA's best move so far: Dempsey to Altidore to Benny, only to see Kingson come out well to block Feilhaber's attempted close-range chip.

But after increasing US dominance with Ghana retreating, lovely feet from Clint Dempsey won a penalty which Donovan duly converted, sending the keeper the wrong way and his shot nestling in off the post. From there, you'd expect the US to take advantage of the momentum and tiring Ghanaian legs, but it wasn't coming. Bradley shot too close to the keeper in the 76th while Altidore's slipping shot curled just wide of the far post five minutes later. Unlike the stereotype (and regularly seeing Kingson, Mensah and Paintsil play in England, there usually truth in the stereotype), Ghana's defense was excellent, and it was probably the best game I've seen Kingson play. Usually unsure on crosses and bouncing shots, the keeper made absolutely no mistakes today.

Given the drama that surrounds US matches, extra time wasn't exactly surprising. Gomez came on for the disappointing Altidore, who did little other than use his strength to hold up play; he provided next to no threat in front of goal, and comparisons to Heskey look increasingly valid. And it was Ghana's lone striker who struck less than three minutes in, splitting the center-backs on a punt forward, with DeMerit again partly culpable when caught too high up the field. Gyan held off Bocanegra and slotted past Howard. Unexpected to say the least.

Seemingly trying to replicate Ghana's go-ahead goal, although also very tired, the US was limited to hoofing it toward Dempsey and Gomez, few of which came anywhere near threatening. In the heat of the moment, I'm struggling to this of any US shots in extra time until the 120th minute, when Gomez headed Cherundolo's cross towards Dempsey, only to see his volley quickly closed down. As infuriating as it was, Ghana's time-wasting had to be expected – you see it time and time again in situations such as this. And thus, the US is on their way home after being one of the darlings of the tournament. I'm interested to see how ESPN will spin this one.

Work ethic and a never-say-die attitude will only take you so far, especially when the star of the team disappoints outside of his equalizer from the spot. You can only make so many stupid first half mistakes without paying for it.

But the post-match criticism of Bob Bradley is already annoying me. Admittedly, I'm as baffled by his love of Clark as the rest of you, but other than the starting XI, he did nothing – nothing – wrong today. He took Clark out earlier than almost any other manager would and made the right substitution during the break to fix the first half problems. For those calling for his head: can you name me any other US-based manager who's better? And, unlike England (or Ghana, for that matter), the US needs a homegrown manager because of the national team's continuing reliance on MLS players.

More important were mistakes on goals (DeMerit involved in both, albeit far less on the first), Donovan's invisibility and pout worthy of Gerrard on his worst day, and the US' lack of an out-and-out goalscorer (Hi Charlie Davies!). Say it quietly, but Ghana deserved to win. They won the tactical battle in the first half and the fitness battle in extra time. This was easily their best match of the tournament so far.

I'm sorry to see my countrymen out – they had an excellent tournament, exceeding (my) expectations, especially Michael Bradley – but they've only themselves to blame today.


Anonymous said...

Was ready to post an angry comment after seeing your tweet about this article as I was expecting some (somewhat) anti-American, anglophile nonsense but, pretty much spot on. Well played sir. Keep up the good work.

nate said...

I'm not anti-American, or anti-US, I swear. I like seeing the US do well. I'm just not that patriotic about sports. It's soccer, not war. Doesn't mean I can't be fair.

Honestly, as much of an anglophile as I am, I think I'm still meaner to the English team. Deservedly, I might add. As you may have guessed, the tweet was tongue in cheek since I know the majority of my readers are very pro-USMNT, and I sympathize with how you're feeling right now, even if I'm not as gutted.

Manton said...

This is the worst sports loss I have ever suffered. Honestly. I lived through the Yankees in '01 when they kept finding away to win, to the Devils giving up two goals in 1:20 in game 7 on home ice, to BC beating my BU Terriers 5-0 in the NCAA tourney, and nothing compares to this. Watching two Gold Cups, a Copa America, two rounds of qualifying, and the dare-to-be-great Confed Cup, I can't believe it's just...over.

That's it. It's all led to this.

And I feel horrible.

But I think this is exactly what makes me a true footy fan. Watching LFC has certainly prepared more for this whole run. So now, like countless other nations, I look longingly towards Brazil in 2014. See you again...when I'm 28. Ugh.

KEfarnham said...

I think a lot of US fans were getting ahead by looking at the "easy" path to the semifinals. I always new that a young, fast, and physical Ghana would pose a significant threat, but make for a good game.

PS-I hope all of this talk of needing a forward doesn't hide the fact that it was our defense that let us down most of the time during the tournament. I don't want a whole crop of young American kids only practicing their stepovers/flicks when we could really use some Skrtel, Agger, Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Vidic types coming through the ranks.

TimC said...

...Or Subotics...

Ultimately, we will look back on this squad and conclude that they peaked a summer too soon. Injuries really killed this team and, the tough part is, since the injuries occurred in the run-up to the tournament Bradley got caught having to decide on guys who might not have been match ready. I'm sure Clark springs to mind for many and I think it can be argued that Onyewu, too, just wasn't ready to go. Missing Davies, obviously, was killer, but at least Bradley wasn't stuck having to play him when he wasn't fully ready. The lack of depth, particularly at the back, caught up to us tonight.

KEfarnham, you bring up an interesting point about the defense. It would be optimistic at best to think that this defense, given their age, will be returning for the 2014 cycle. Guys like Bocanegra, Onyewu, and DeMerit are likely to be near the downside of their careers in four years. There are some promising names in the pool such as Castillo and Gonzalez that are sure to get chances but they, like the rest, are unproven. The USA should return a dangerous strike partnership in Davies and Altidore and the midfield will be anchored by Bradley with guys like Edu, Clark, and Holden being supported by the aging Donovan and Dempsey. But, if the USA is to qualify atop CONCACAF and get out of the group stage again in Brazil, the successful overhaul of the back four will be crucial.

TimC said...

Oh, and we'll probably need to find a guy to replace Bradley as manager, too. Not going to be easy given how well he has performed overall for these past four years.

nate said...

Yeah, KEFarnham and TimC are exactly right on the defense front, not that I'm any sort of expert on up-and-coming Americans.

Dunno enough about MLS (or Yanks Abroad in lesser Euro leagues) to opine about young defensive prospects, but only Spector and Bornstein are u-25 on this roster. Other than getting Edgar Castillo to play for US (he hasn't decided, has he?) and the aforementioned Omar Gonzalez, I can't think of anyone I'd tip for a step-up. How old's Zak Whitbread these days? Are we still waiting for Marvell Wynne to make the leap? That's scary. Man, I bet seeing Neven Subotic in the Serbian squad is infuriating.

Compare to u-25 midfield: Bradley, Torres, Holden, Edu, Rogers, Benny. Set there. Altidore and Davies will def be a viable partnership in 2014. Keeper's set with Guzan even if Howard can't go at age 35. And I still think Bob Bradley should have the USMNT job as long as he wants it.

There are a lot of positives to take from this tournament for the Americans, and some very good talent that will remain in the squad.

Honestly, outside of defense, I'm less worried about the next generation of Americans than the next generation of England NT (not like you care about that now, I know).

nate said...

Maybe I should have googled Castillo before posting. Evidently he is USMNT, playing second half of Denmark friendly last year.

That's what I'm here for. Excellent soccer information and analysis. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Glad you did a write up of this match, Nate. Always like hearing your opinion.

I'm sad. I was really sad that the US was knocked out of the tournament, but it's truly sad seeing the end of an era. Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey; those guys' careers for the USMNT is essentially over for meaningful matches. I've thought Donovan was the best US player for a while, and I have to say, he had a great tournament. Nate, I do see your point that he was pretty invisible in the Ghana match, but I think overall, he had a great tournament, especially compared to 2006...

Overall, a successful tourney for the US. I always knew that things would have to fall the US's way for them to go deep, and things just weren't meant to be. I think there are two things that a team needs to be successful in a tournament like this. A solid defense and a little luck. And if you make your own luck, the US certainly worked hard enough. But the defense was as leaky as the Titanic, if only at times. The US did entertain though; amazing comebacks to win the group. In the Ghana match, the US was tired. Sure, Ghana had the same amount of physical rest, but mentally, the way the US got through the group had to be draining, and the heavy legs and sloppy play showed in extra time. (Take nothing away from Ghana; you were right Nate, they definitely deserved to win. They outplayed us.)

Oh. And Bob Bradley would be my candidate for Manager of the Tournament (if there was one). Perfect. Gutsy. He made all the right moves, and wasn't afraid to make changes when things weren't working out. (And Nepotism Jr. didn't do too bad either, glad to see you mention that, Nate!)

Just out of curiosity, what would you think of Bob Bradley becoming the manger of Liverpool?

nate said...

Bob's where he should be. He's gone up miles in my view in the last couple of years, and I've a ton of respect for him, but he's only coached Americans/in the American game. Doubt that'd go over well at Liverpool. Especially with the current ownership situation.

And yes, probably was a little harsh on Donovan, especially considering this tournament compared to 2006. Can't help myself sometimes, especially when he's the team's talisman.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. It's also a big switch from managing a national team to a club side. And you're probably right about the whole ownership issue.