Tuesday, June 29, 2010

And then there were 8

Of the 8 group winners, 7 advanced. The exception? Of course, the US National Team. Why did the US fail to hold form? Well, a giant part was head coach Bob Bradley's baffling starting lineup. The US has many good-to-great midfielders on the team. None of them is named Ricardo Clark. The US has a number of average-to-good defenders on the team. Not one of them is named Jonathan Bornstein. They also have a few okay forwards on the team. Not one is named Robbie Findley. Unfortunately, 3 players in the US starting 11 against Ghana were named Clark, Bornstein, and Findley. Bornstein actually did ok for himself. The other 2...no. Just no. After the England game, I said Clark and Findley should be replaced. For all the good Bob Bradley did in these 4 years for US Soccer, these 2 lineup decisions against Ghana is sufficient grounds to not ask him back for this next 4 year cycle. Absolutely unbelievable.

The next story was bad refereeing on goal scoring plays for Sunday's games. The England disaster convinced me beyond a doubt that FIFA needs goal line officials or replay. That's a hard call to make when no official is standing on the goal line, so let's add an official on each end line near the goal. Sure it might only come into play once or twice a tournament if that, but you can't botch a goal call, it totally changes a game. The Argentina debacle was absolutely inexcusable. There is no way the linesman could miss that Tevez was offside. Either he fell asleep or he's blind, and either one is inexcusable for an official on this stage. Heck, the offside position was so glaringly obvious, the referee himself should have been able to see it. As a US Soccer fan, I hate Mexico and enjoy seeing them suffer, but that was an awful missed call.

I am incredibly excited for Argentia-Germany and Brazil-Netherlands. That's a lot of talent and a ton of offensive firepower in 2 quarterfinal matchups. Argentina-Germany will be the match of the World Cup.

Brazil was simply too good for Chile, who is still the only South American team to lose at this World Cup (to Spain and Brazil, no shame there). Of the 8 quarterfinalists, 4 are from South America. Considering they only qualified 5 teams overall, that's impressive. I thought Africa's teams would make a move, but instead South America has taken advantage of the UEFA teams' habit of underachieving compared to when the World Cup is held on European soil.

The Paraguay-Japan snoozer has been called the most boring game of the World Cup. I saw England-Algeria senator (I deserve a medal for staying with that one for the whole game), and there could not have been a game that was as boring as full of inept offense as that one, so I am officially calling shennanigans.

Spain is simply a joy to watch. Their possession game is very pleasing on the eyes, and as soon as you stretch yourself out to try and deny them possession, they pounce. That being said, Portugal played a whale of a game, coming up with some good chances on counters, and their keeper was amazing, singlehandedly at times keeping Portugal in it.

And we even got a penalty shootout, so we saw it all. It may be an awful way to be eliminated, but it is fun to watch.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A few thoughts from Sunday's games

- I would argue that the soft goal given up by Algeria's keeper is substantially worse than the one given up by England's keeper. Not that the play was that much easier a play, but Robert Green gave every keeper a warning, and Algeria's keeper still made a lazy play on that ball and cost his team a point.

- Serbia was a darkhorse (and Sports Illustrated's) pick to win Group D, but they lost a player to a red card and gave up a penalty on a terrible handball, giving Ghana, playing without best player Michael Essien, 3 points.

- Germany looked like the best team to play so far. Take that with a grain of salt as the Netherlands, Brazil, and Spain have not played yet, but only Argentina even looked in their ballpark. You could argue that Argentina looked more talented, but their lack of discipline puts them a notch below the Germans.

- The flipside of that is Australia looked terrible. Old and slow is not harsh enough. Apparently they essentially brought back their 2006 team that got to the round of 16, but they all aged like cheap beer. And they were the top qualifying team out of Asia. South Korea must have been asleep. Japan just isn't that good. And North Korea is on track to lose by 30+ to Spain.

USA 1 England 1

The result (though gifted to the US from England) was a good one. How the US got to that result...not so much. For about the 37th time in the past 2 years, the US put themselves very behidn the 8-ball by giving up a goal in the first 5 mintues of the match. Ricardo Clark fell asleep and Oguchi Onyewu got caught in no-man's land on a defelcted pass which led to a goal for England.

At that point, England played a pretty cautious game, putting a couple of sustained attacks together but not putting much pressure on the US midfield. The US put some quality offense together, but nothing that resulted in a shot on net. Then, in the 40th minute, Clint Dempsey put a couple of spin moves on his defender, getting enough space to let loose a shot from 20-25 yards out. English keeper Robert Green didn't get his body behind the ball, and it bounced off of his hand and behind him into the net, giving English tabloids fodder for at least the next 4 years, depending on how far England advances in this tournament. The US weathered England's pressure until halftime and went in to the half all square.

In the 2nd half, the US competed well with England for the first 10 mintues, culminating in Jozy Altidore's bout of brilliance that was saved by Green off of the post. Up until this point, the US was playing with England, England was better, but it wasn't a huge discrepancy. From this point on, England started attacking the US in the midfield more, and the US wasn't handling it well. England was carrying possession, getting the only close chances. Luckily Tim Howard was equal to the task.

With 20 minutes left, the US went into full-fledged survive with the tie intact mode. This made for lots of nerves on the part of their fans, but they did get the job done. The US now has to transition to carrying play against Slovenia and Algeria, especially with Slovenia's 1-0 win this morning.

Bottom line, the result was good, but if the US does not improve its play in its next 2 games, they will not get out of their group.

G - Tim Howard: Made some very strong saves, though was caught by Wayne Rooney's shot in the 2nd half that went just wide. Add in his likely bruised ribs suffered around the 30th minute, and he was the man of the match for the US. Grade: A

D - Steve Cherundulo: Played well both defensively and when he went forward. Was single-handedly responsible for England's 1st half sub as their midfielder on his side could not handle Cherundulo and could only resort to fouling him to stopping his pushes forward. Once that substitution was made, Cherundulo's forward pushes were effectively kiboshed. Grade: B

D - Jay DeMerit: Was assigned to make Wayne Rooney's life miserable, and succeeded greatly, as Rooney had to keep going further and further back towards the midfield to get the ball. His comunication with Onyewu wasn't always great and led to some freeze-ups that could have been deadly, and got caught out of position and was forced to handle the ball to avoid a break on his goal in the 2nd half, which earned him a yellow card. Grade: B+

D - Oguchi Onyewu: A tale of 2 halves, as Onyewu needed some time to shake off the rust. Got caught in no-man's land on England's goal, but by the end of the game he was ruling the air against lanky giant Peter Crouch and inserting himself into English attacks to break them up. By the end, he was even taking chances that only a fit and confident Onyewu could take and be successful with. Very good sign going forward for the USA. Grade: B-

D - Carlos Bocanegra: Bocanegra played very well. There was some concern over his lack of speed being take advantage of by England's wingers and possibly Rooney, but Bocanegra played a strong game. Not much for going forward, but I'm guessing that was more by design as Clint Dempsey spent most of his time on the left, and for all of Dempsey's positive qualities, he's useless as a defender. Grade: B-

M - Landan Donovan: Donovan didn't pull his disappearing act from 2006, but he also wasn't really leaving a definite stamp on this game. He had bouts of good play, but nothing that really freed up teammates for runs at the goal. His performance on set pieces was fine, but again, no moments of real brilliance. This grade will sound harsh, but for top talents like Donovan, much is expected. Grade: C

M - Michael Bradley: Did a great job defensively against England's midfield, busting up attacks and forcing England out wide. Did a pretty good job with the ball as well, maintaining possession. Quite a few times when the ball was advanced to the forwards, there was no support from the midfield in time, leading to turnovers. How much of this was by dictation from his dad (the coach) I don't know, but all 4 midfielders share some blame for it. Grade: B+

M - Ricardo Clark: Fell asleep on England's goal as his man notched it. Was uneven defensively, at times combining very well with Bradley to clog the middle of the field and at times seeing his man help generate decent chances on Howard. Did not offer much offensive support, which is not altogether unexpected. I will be surprised if he is starting in the next 2 games, as the US will need to press on the atack more and that is not Clark's game. Grade: C-

M - Clint Dempsey: His goal was a gift but he was also the first US player to actually force England's keeper to actually do anything. Given that England's goalkeeping has been an ulcer on their team for at least 12 years, the lack of tries on net was disappointing. Dempsey made a couple of things happen, but like Donovan, there wasn't much generated. His effort on defense was higher than I've seen in awhile, but liek I said above, his usefulness on that side of the ball was only marginally affected. Grade: B-

F - Jozy Altidore: Caught offsides too often, but generated the nicest chance on goal of the night, taking it right at and blowing by his defender. His shot was a good one, and his decision to shoot and not try to make the extra pass should be commended (that has been a problem for the US team). Did a pretty good job with possession, but was letdown by his midfield support often. Didn't work great with Findley, I think more of the blame lies with Findley but Altidore gets some too. Grade: B

F - Robbie Findley: His speed didn't generate enough problems for the English defense to compensate for his rustiness and inability to play off of Altidore, Dempsey, or Donovan well. I believe we'll see him as a sub when offense is needed late in the game going forward. Grade: D+

Sub - Edson Buddle: Unfortunately, by the time he came on for Findley, the US had decided to stay back in a shell to try and preserve the tie, so there wasn't much to see from Buddle. Grade: INC

Sub - Stuart Holden: Came on later than Buddle, taking Altidore out and pushing Dempsey up to forward. Missed on 2 or 3 passes that could have set up an offensive chance (or at least given the defense a breather with some possession). Looked like he took to long to get up to the pace of the game. Grade: C-

Coach - Bob Bradley: Got the result he needed. The US keeps coming out of the gates slow and he has to find a way to change that going forward, as it's enough of a pattern to reflect on him. The way he used Bradley and Clark was excellent, and if Clark doesn't fall asleep on Gerrard's goal, the US could have stolen one. Must adjust his tactics for Slovenia and Algeria, though, as this type of effort against those 2 squads will yield no advancement. His jedi mind trick on England's keeper was a nice touch though the lack of tries on target from anywhere close to the box was disappointing. Grade: B

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

This was too good not to share

Read this story about Seahawks rookie WR Golden Tate getting busted with his hand in the cookie...err, donut jar.

Maybe Seattle can pay Tate in donuts for this year and save some salary cap space.

My favorite part:
That's definitely wrong. We've talked about it, addressed it. He's remorseful and all that. I do understand the lure of the maple bars.

I can see Pete Carroll stopping mid-halftime speech and scarfing down a couple of maple bar donuts to re-energize.