Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Goalkeeper - Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann
Defenders - Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson
Midfielders - Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Stuart Holden, DaMarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres
Forwards - Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, Robbie Findley
I think the only minor upset here was that Robbie Findley made the roster over Brian Ching. Bob Bradley seemed to indicate that Ching didn't make the roster because his hamstring was still bothering him, but I thought he looked extremely solid last night. Findley is still a bit of an unknown quantity and a very different type of striker than Ching. Findley is supposed to be the player with blazing speed who can push the ball forward and cause trouble for back lines. So far, Findley has failed to do that at the international level, but word from camp (via Bocanegra) is that Findley has been the best of the forwards, abusing the US defenders. Personally, I think that says a lot about the slow feet of the US defenders.
I liked every other move that Bob Bradley made, so I was extremely happy with the 23-man roster. There's a lot of versatility among the players selected, but there's also good talent. Every one seems useful in his own way. It will be up to Bob to pick the right matchups against each opponent in order to gain an advantage.
I am guessing the starting lineup against Turkey on Saturday will look like this:
Tim Howard - Goalkeeper
Jonathan Spector - Right Back
Oguchi Onyewu - Center Back
Jay DeMerit - Center Back
Carlos Bocanegra - Left Back
Clint Dempsey - Right Mid
Ricardo Clark - Center Mid
Michael Bradley - Center Mid
Landon Donovan - Left Mid
Jozy Altidore - Forward
Robbie Findley - Forward
I think Coach Bradley has a real love for Rico Clark, hence him being chosen. Ditto Robbie Findley. At any rate, the game against Turkey will be much better than last night's game. Rest assured of that.
- Heath Pearce - Left Back - Pearce was in a battle with Jonathan Bornstein for a roster spot, and Bornstein certainly left the door open with his play in the first half. Bornstein's passing was not particularly sharp and he got caught out of position a few times and was forced to foul. However, at least he made the smart foul, as opposed to Pearce, who failed to stay goal-side of an offensive player on one goal (incorrectly pleaded to the ref for an offside call), and who later tried to make a brash sliding tackle in the box, but got neither the ball nor the player, opening up the chance for another Czech goal. Pearce was also miserable with his crosses going forward... he just had a terrible night, and I can't see Bob Bradley bringing him to South Africa.
- Sacha Kljestan - Center Mid - Completely ineffective and didn't seem to play with any heart. Sacha had a few good passes, but was never useful in the final third of the field, which is exactly where he needed to shine. To make things worse, the fourth goal for the Czechs can be attributed to some reckless play by Kljestan where he gave up the ball in a bad spot, leading to a break away goal for the Czech team.
- Oguchi Onyewu - Center Back - He may still be recovering from his injury, and I'm not sure if that will be enough of a reason for Bob Bradley to excuse his poor play or not. Gooch just looked slow and his passing, which has never been great, was worse than normal. He did well to block a shot early in the game, but later let his team down by allowing a Czech player to climb up his back for a goal on a set play. Gooch is usually one of the strongest aerial threats in the game, so to see him get beat so easily was definitely out of the norm. I would not be entirely surprised to see him get left off of the 23-man roster if Bob Bradley doesn't think he'll be back to full strength in time for the World Cup.
PLAYERS WHO HELPED THEIR CHANCES
- Clarence Goodson - Center Back - Goodson played the entire game and really looked sharp. His passing was solid, he never really got beat defensively, he was a beast in the air, and he even helped set up the 2nd goal for the US team by winning a header in the Czech box on a set play. Goodson's last two games in a US uniform have both been excellent, and I think you can count on seeing him on the 23-man roster.
- Herculez Gomez - He's not the biggest striker, but he continues to show a nose for the goal. Gomez put away an easy header from Goodson for the second goal of the game for the United States. However, the goal isn't what makes me believe that Gomez really helped his chances to make the 23-man squad. Herculez made sure to make a nuisance of himself while he was on the field and showed that he has the speed to fill Charlie Davies' void. He seemed like he would make a very good compliment to Jozy Altidore.
- Stuart Holden & Mo Edu - Center Mid - Both of these guys were always expected to make the plane to South Africa, so it was just good to see that they still wanted to bring their A-game. Holden's crossing was not up its usual par, but he did well possessing the ball and breaking things up defensively. Mo Edu had a bit of a lucky goal, but he did well to scrap and put it away. Besides that, Edu showed versatility starting at center mid and finishing at center back. His passing was crisp and he did well in breaking up some Czech possession. Both of these guys are key to the future of US soccer.
- Brian Ching - Striker - He's 32 years old and he probably can't go 90 minutes anymore at the international level, but he's good for 60-70 minutes and plays with wisdom. No one on the US squad holds the ball up as well waiting for the offense to catch up to him, and nobody does so well when it comes to winning fouls. I don't think Ching took any shots on goal, but he was always in the mix on the offensive end, making a spectacular nutmeg pass to Herculez Gomez, who should have shot better but put the ball straight into the keeper's arms. I've said it before and I'll say it again... Ching has a useful skill set that no one else on the US team has, and it might be useful to start him opposite Altidore and then replace Ching with Gomez as our super sub at the 60 minute mark.
- DaMarcus Beasley - Left Mid - Beasley looks like he is back to full speed after several years of injury issues. And when Beasley is at full speed, there are few playes who are faster than him. His touch looked good and he was active/involved all over the field. I really liked what I saw from him and I think he could be useful to the US team in South Africa.
I'd expect you will see almost all of the starters on Saturday as the US takes on Turkey at 2pm. Once the 23-man roster is announced, friendlies become more about preparing your starters for the World Cup. Turkey is a pretty good team. FIFA ranks them at #29 in the world, and they have some players who play for prestigious clubs around Europe. Bayern Munich's Altintop is a tricky player who plays on the wing and could cause some trouble for our defense. This game will be a much better barometer as to weather the US team will be effective in South Africa (haha, barometer... weather... get it?).
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
- Jonathan Bornstein v. Heath Pearce - Left Back - There probably isn't room on the roster for 2 extra left backs. Pearce has more experience, more height, and seems less prone to mental blunders. Bornstein is the better athlete and the better man-to-man marker. I am looking for Bornstein to win the job as Pearce is basically a less impressive version of Carlos Bocanegra, whose starting job is not being questioned. Bornstein is also capable of playing a midfield role on the wing, adding to his versatility (and Coach Bob Bradley loves himself some versatility).
- Chad Marshall v. Clarence Goodson - Center Back - If they're all healthy, you can go ahead and book tickets to South Africa for Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay DeMerit. That most likely only leaves one more spot for a center back, and I am guessing it will be Clarence Goodson. Goodson has been in better form recently than Marshall. Marshall is an inch shorter at 6'3", but he's about 20 lbs thicker. Theoretically you would like Marshall to be the one to win the job because of that, but Beanpole Goodson is the better choice right now and has been starting for a Norwegian club, IK Start. Clarence is excellent in the air and gives you some of the same strengths as Onyewu. Goodson had the lone goal in the most recent friendly against the Netherlands and he's the type of player who could actually mark a giant like England's Peter Crouch on a set play.
- DeMarcus Beasley v. Robbie Rogers v. Alejandro Bedoya - Left Mid - The spot behind Landon Donovan on the left side of midfield will be hotly contested. I envision 2 of these 3 players sitting at home watching the World Cup. Beasley gives you great speed, familiarity with players on the team, and experience, having played in 2 previous World Cups, but nobody really knows how good his form is right now since he hasn't played for his club team in weeks. Bedoya on the other hand is a young up-and-comer playing his club soccer in Sweden and blasting onto the scene with a strong showing against the Dutch on the last friendly. Rogers is both young and talented, but seems to wither in the clutch, and ultimately I see him heading home. I really think that the player who has the best showing against the Czechs will be the one to book their ticket, and I'm going to guess that player is DeMarcus Beasley.
- Sacha Kljestan v. Jose Francisco Torres - Center Mid - This is another tough battle to call. One of these players will most likely head home, although I could theoretically see both of them being left off the final roster in favor of Bedoya or Rogers. But my gut tells me Bob Bradley will want another midfielder who players centrally more often than not, and that player would be either Kljestan or Torres. I like Torres better. He makes fewer mistakes with the ball and has a cleaner, tighter game. Kljestan has good skill, but he needs room to operate, and he won't get that room against the level of talent present in Group C. For every magnificent pass from Sacha there are 5 boneheaded passes to take its place. I like Torres as an option on the bench instead, and I am guessing Bob Bradley feels the same.
- Edson Buddle v. Herculez Gomez v. Eddie Johnson v. Robbie Findley - Striker - 4 players for 2 spots, and it's anybody's guess who will get them. Johnson and Findley have the most experience with the national team, with Johnson having a huge advantage there. Eddie has been playing well for his Greek team, Aris Salonika, putting in several goals towards the end of the season. Robbie Findley is well-liked by Bob Bradley, but has never been able to stand out at the international level. However, you could almost say the same for Johnson, as he has not been a consistent scorer for the USMNT since around 2005. I like one of these two to go to South Africa, and my best guess is Johnson. That leaves one spot for a USMNT newbie, going to either Buddle or Gomez. Both are having tremendous success right now for their club teams. Gomez plays in arguably the better league in Mexico, while Buddle plays for a solid team in MLS, playing alongside Landon Donovan for the LA Galaxy. Gomez is lightning-in-a-bottle fast and furious. Buddle has size, strength, and the ability to score multiple ways. Ultimately, I think that Buddle's relationship with Landon Donovan will be what gets him on to the 23-man roster, and I'm totally fine with that. I'd love to see what Buddle can do in a super-sub role.
(Speaking of soccer, my intramural team plays tonight at 8:15 for the chance to move into the quarterfinals for the Copa Bruce... a fun, single-elimination tournament for teams from the 2nd division to the 7th division and even the Veterans division, loaded with 40+ year old players. We play a team from the veteran's division tonight... I'm sure they will be crafty and physical, yet terribly slow. Our team, Great Scott, currently resides in the 3rd division and is looking to move up to 2nd division after winning the 3rd this season. Just wanted to brag on that for a sec. Okay I'm done.)
Friday, May 21, 2010
I'd rather talk about the largest sporting event in the world. Besides that, I play soccer and I like to watch soccer. I would be admittedly less interested if the USA squad had zero chance of advancing past the first round, and I'd have no interest whatsoever if the USA team didn't even make it to the World Cup Finals (or what most people know simply as "The World Cup"). However, those statements are not the case. The US team has a very good chance to get out of the first round and even cause some noise in the knockout stage. Could they win it all? Yes. By comparison, the Atlanta Hawks had a chance to win the NBA championship... they are a good team with some nice components, but it's just not very likely.
If you don't like soccer, suck it... I'm going to talk about it anyway.
The World Cup works like this: There are 8 groups labeled A through H. In each group, there are four teams. For example, the United States is in Group C along with England, Slovenia, and Algeria. Each team in the group will play each other once in the first round of the tournament. A team earns 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss. At the end of the first round, the scores in the group are tallied up and the top 2 teams from each group move on to the knockout stage. There are a bunch of tiebreakers if two or three teams all have the same point total. The first tiebreaker is how the teams fared in head-to-head play. If they tied in head-to-head play, then I think it comes down to goal differential, then goals scored, etc. In the knockout stage, there can be no ties, so teams will be "seeded" and matched up against one another, then will have to win to move on. If a team doesn't win in regulation time, then they will go to 2 extra periods. If they are still tied, the game will go to penalty kicks, 5 for each team. This happens more often than you would think... Italy won the World Cup final game on penalty kicks in 2006.
Now let's talk about the 3 other teams facing the United States in Group C:
- England - an undeniably tough team, but a lucky draw for the United States. Why do I say that? Because only one other team that we could have drawn from the same "pot" is a better matchup for the US, and that team is the World Cup host nation, South Africa. But for the record, the host nation has never failed to move on to the knockout stage. I won't go into why the draw works out this way, but the United States could have faced Brazil, Spain, Holland, Argentina, Germany, or Italy instead. Since England has a style of play that the Americans are comfortable playing, this was a fortunate draw. England is fast on the wings, physical in the center, and has one of the most gifted players in the world in Wayne Rooney. They also have a Cleveland Browns-like penchant for choking and won their last World Cup around the same time the Browns won the NFL championship (I believe around 1961... not curious enough to fact check here, but I know I'm close for both teams). However, I think the new coach for England is doing a wonderful job there, and I fully expect them to win the group. This could be the year that they pull a 2004 Red Sox and beat their curse, but I am guessing that they will bow out in the quarterfinals.
- Slovenia - it's a tiny country which was once part of Yugoslavia. When I say tiny, I mean that population-wise, it's as big as the Hampton Roads area of Virginia... roughly 2 million people. They are the smallest country in the World Cup, however they are stout defensively and only gave up 4 goals in the last qualifying round prior to the World Cup Finals. Their most notable player is midfielder and team captain Robert Koren. He can score the occasional goal, but he's more known as a playmaker and orchestrator of the offense. However, like I said before, this team is known for their defense. The back 4 are solid, but not many people know their names (including me). Expect the USA to defeat them, but a tie shouldn't surprise you either.
- Algeria - Algeria managed to upset the favorites from their African qualifying group, Egypt, to book their ticket to the World Cup Finals. Algeria plays with flair and passion, but they do so with a weak squad. You should expect the United States to score more goals against Algeria than in either of their other two matches. Algeria is also known for having a bunch of hotheads... they were eliminated from the African Cup of Nations because they had 3 players get red-carded IN THE SAME GAME against Egypt (Egypt's revenge against Algeria for knocking them out of the World Cup picture, as they won 4-0). Algeria's best known player is probably Nadjir Belhadj, a left back who is more offensively focused making runs up the sideline than defensively focused. Algeria has a few players who can shoot it from distance, but shouldn't be able to mount much of an attack otherwise. Expect the US to defeat them in a game the US needs to win to move on.
- Tim Howard - Contrary to what you might think, the success of the US starts with its goalkeeper, Tim Howard. You will notice that I didn't put Landon Donovan here. You might think I have a little bias being a goalkeeper, myself, but I think most people in the know would say the same thing. Howard is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and personally I would put him in the top 5 because I weigh shot-blocking and positioning much higher than other parts of a goalkeeper's duty, such as commanding the back line of the defense and distributing the ball on goal kicks and punts. The team will live and die depending on Howard's ability to come up with a few clutch saves.
- Landon Donovan - I think it's fair to say Donovan is the second most important player to the success of the US squad. Donovan has a sublime combination of speed, technical skill, and passing ability. At the international level, he is known more for his ability to create opportunities for others than for being the one to put the ball in the back of the net. Coach Bob Bradley typically chooses to deploy Landon in the midfield on the left wing, where he is free to either cross the ball with his left foot or else tuck inside and shoot or create havoc with his right foot.
- Clint Dempsey - If there is any player on the US squad who is known for being "clutch", it is Clint Dempsey. He scored the only goal for the US in their lackluster showing in the 2006 World Cup, and he has scored several key goals for his club, Fulham, in the English Premier League. He is a player with exceptional foot skill and has the ability to finish either inside the box, from long range, or with his head. His trickery with the ball can sometimes lead to bad giveaways, and that's really his only major flaw as a player. He's a potent offensive force.
- Carlos Bocanegra - Boca is the captain of the US team and one of its most tenured players. He has the versatility to be deployed both in a central defender role or as a left back, but you can rest assured he will be a starter. Carlos is also known for occasionally putting the ball in the back of the net on corner kicks and set plays where he comes forward from his defensive position to use his best asset... his aerial prowess.
- Oguchi Onyewu - Although his name doesn't sound very American, he is very much so. At 6'5" and 215 lbs, he is the size of an NFL free safety, and can hit like one too. In fact, he has a reputation for picking up fouls due solely to the fact that he's huge and other players can't withstand his awesome power. "Gooch" is just recently returning from injury, so his training sessions and play against the Czech Republic on Tuesday will go a long way towards showing Bob Bradley that he is ready to resume his starting role.
- Michael Bradley - He may be the coach's son, but he's earned his spot in the starting lineup. Michael has an intense demeanor both on and off the field, so it's no surprise that he plays with hustle and passion. He has a good blend of speed and power, and is capable of scoring goals (put in 17 in a season for Herenveen in the Dutch league in 2007-2008). Bradley is also an asset defensively where he can tackle with the best of them. His only negative aspect is his fondness for picking up yellow cards... goes hand in hand with the intensity. He is not going to wow you with his foot skills, but he moves the ball effectively when it's at his feet.
- Jozy Altidore - The most exciting player for the future of the US team. Altidore is big and strong, but is also skillful with the ball. Oh, and he's only 20 years old. So expect him to be around not just for this World Cup, but for the 2014, 2018, and possibly 2022 World Cup. Being so young, Jozy is prone to mental lapses and squandered chances, but his ability to create a goal at the appropriate time (see his goal against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup) is rare among forwards for the US team. He has a tendency to ramp up his play against better competition, so expect to see him full-tilt at the World Cup.
- Brian Ching - An oldie but a goodie. At 32 years old, this will be Ching's last World Cup, but he brings the same components to the table that he always has. He's never been a gifted finisher and he was never going to shock you with his speed, but he battles hard to win the ball and holds it up well once he does. He's the kind of striker that can buy your team time to get forward and attack, and he will win a handful of fouls for your team creating set play chances near the opponent's box. A player like Ching is always useful to have.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Take a peak over at the NBA playoffs and you will see the best player in basketball nursing a sore elbow and fluctuating between utterly dominant and invisible. LeBron James seems to be able to turn it on any time he wants to... but he only seems to want to about 50% of the time. The solid group of role players around LeBron is faltering as well. Mo Williams is bricking wide-open shots that he made all throughout the regular season. Delonte West is having brain farts at a frantic pace, probably because he's been thinking about how cool he looked with 3 illegal handguns strapped to his body as he whipped down the highway on his motorcycle. Anderson Varejao, one of the best offensive rebounders in the league in the regular season, seems to have the ups of my 81 year old grandfather, with the speed to match. With 3 games left, no Cavalier fan feels safe, and I think we are all quietly terrified of facing Orlando in the next round.
These recent events only add to years of misery as a fan of Cleveland sports franchises. I lived through the talented Indians teams of the 90s when the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, and Kenny Lofton were practically an unstoppable force. Except that even with 2 World Series appearances, the Indians squandered their chances. In 1995 they just couldn't match up with the starting pitching of the Atlanta Braves. Who could? Maddox, Glavine, Smoltz... all in their prime. That's a murderers row. The real shame was losing the 1997 World Series to the Florida Marlins. The Fish managed to scrape together enough cash to buy their way to the championship, but not without the help of Senor Smoke, Jose Mesa, who blew the save and the game (game 7 of the series) with a very unclutch performance. Those Indians teams define how I view Cleveland sports... no matter how talented they are, they will find a way to lose when it really matters.
The Cleveland Browns are nowhere near competing at a high level, and that's somewhat strange considering that they've been rebuilding since 1999. I think the correct word is "retooling" not "rebuilding" when the changes you make don't necessarily imply success. Most of this can be blamed on the Browns' drafts since 1999. Take a look at the first round picks from '99 to '08: Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, William Green, Jeff Faine, Kellen Winslow II, Braylon Edwards, Kamerion Wimbley, Joe Thomas, Brady Quinn. Only one of those players is still on the Browns (Joe Thomas) and only two have made the pro-bowl (Edwards and Thomas). Braylon Edwards had one good year, and fell back into oblivion. Honestly, Joe Thomas was the only good pick in that era. The second round picks aren't any better, but I'll spare you from them. Browns fans are dying a slow and painful death, and only new team president Mike Holmgren is capable of giving us the antidote. All we're asking you to do is to not waste our draft picks, Mike... can you do that?
I've placed all of my hopes of Cleveland ever winning a championship on the broad shoulders of LeBron James. I can't take any more losing... this is supposedly the best team Cleveland has ever had in any sport, capable of matching up against any team no matter what players they have. I will learn whether the curse of Cleveland is real or not by who ends up holding that championship trophy. If it's not LeBron James, you can kiss him goodbye, along with the hope I have in Cleveland ever winning a championship in any sport.