Thursday, June 22, 2006

Well, That Was Disappointing

The US suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Ghana in the third and final game of the group stage for the US and will leaving the land of sauerkraut finishing last in the Group E. Overall, it was a disappointing World Cup for the US. The team had been hyped by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, its coach and many other people as the best US team ever. But, in the opening game the Czech Republic mopped the floor with the US. In the second game versus Italy, the US came out and showed some heart and ended up with a tie, although it is tough to say how the game would have turned out if there had not been so many red cards.

It's hard to believe this was the best US team ever now after it failed to advance from the group stage this year and the 2002 team reached the quarterfinals. However, it must be noted that this was a much more difficult group than the one it faced in 2002.

In the next few days there will be quite a few post-mortems on this team, much of it will be quite reactionary and I will provide mine now. In the order of the games played I think we can give an overall grade of (1) utterly miserable, (2) gutsy and determined, (3) average to slightly below average. A lot of people will be griping about bad calls in games 2 and 3 that went against the US and this cost the team dearly. This may be true (and I think the US got the wrong end of the deal on a few crucial calls) but it wasn't why the team is going home. The blame must fall on the players and the coaches.

It is quite clear after these three matches that the US is in desperate need of offensive polish and midfield creativity. Only one goal was scored by a US team member in three games and it had but a handful of shots on goal. A WC match cannot be won that way. In the next four years the US needs to develop somebody that has the ability to create their own opportunities and be dynamic in the final third, someone like Didier Drogba, Miroslav Klose, or Wayne Rooney (it doesn't need to be one of the best strikers in the world but definitely somebody that worries the opposition). This could be Eddie Johnson, but I'm not sold he has the skill to reach that level. Maybe Clint Dempsey who showed real potential in the last two games. Maybe somebody new. Heck, maybe we could just naturalize somebody from Brazil like Japan, Spain and other countries have. It seems clear now that Landon Donovan doesn't have the chops to step into this role. He crumbled under the pressure.

In the midfield, the US is solid but doesn't have a dominating influence. The team needs a player that can dominate the ball and create opportunities for the forwards. This may have been the biggest hole in this team. Nothing really seemed to be created by the midfield, rather it was used to slow things down to a deliberate pace and just try to cross balls into the box. Maybe Freddy Adu can do this. Who knows.

The defense of the US seemed ok, but had too many fouls and mistakes. I was ready to be sold on Oguchi Onyewu but he didn't close the deal. He looked a little slow for international play and had too many fouls, but he played solidly for the most part. In the goal, the US will be fine. Keller definitely looked ordinary this year, but to be fair he had some really tough shots to defend. Tim Howard will be the man for the next two WCs I think and that's good for the US.

And finally, my final thoughts are reserved for the US coaching staff. I may be a little harsh here given how soon after the US exit I am writing this but oh well. For all the good Bruce Arena has done for the US in the last 8 years, these 3 matches have shown his time has come. The man was able to create a system and develop the players after the '98 debacle to make an unlikely quarterfinal run in '02 and that is great but I don't think he is the one to take them over the top. His mindset is still the one where the US needs to play stifling defense to win anything. This may be partly true but the team has to score to win as well and it seemed that Arena wasn't worried about this with his line-ups. Each game was a 4-5-1, which I assume was designed to slow the pace and try to prevent the other teams from building an attack. But, it clearly didn't work and our offense suffered.

Arena's inability to adjust his system, especially with a nonexistent offense was disturbing. Was he that scared of giving up goals? Was he scared that we didn't have an offense? What was it? He also didn't have much creativity when it came to adjusting his selections to try and get something going. How come Eddie Johnson only played 60 minutes when it was clear that he really wanted to be out there and was creating chances? How come he played Beasley in a uncomfortable position? Moreover, how come his team came out so flat? There are just too many questions regarding his decisions for him to stay on with the national team.

In all, this was a disappointing but maybe not that unexpected result. Obviously, some changes are needed and hopefully 2010 will be better for the US.

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