Tuesday, June 17, 2014

United States 2, Ghana 1

Some thoughts on the USA's 2-1 win over World Cup nemesis Ghana:

- It really was wonderful to be on the right end of an (absurdly) early goal. Too often under Bob Bradley the US would start slow and give up a goal in the first 5-10 minutes of the match, then have to chase the match from there. This time the shoe was on the other foot, as Ghana was down a goal less than a minute into the match.

- That goal was a perfect embodiment of Clint Dempsey. As Bruce Arena once put it, "He tries sh**." Dempsey will turn and attack even when it seems to be a low-percentage play. Sometimes it's maddening, but sometimes it's brilliant.

- Jozy Altidore is not the best player on the team, but he is top-3 in terms of being the most indispensable player on the team. No one else on this roster can play the holding forward position like Jozy. Not Wondolowski, not Johannsson, and not even Dempsey. Part of the US' inability to sustain much in the way of possession was due to Altidore's absence. He does yeoman's work holding balls sent to him from the midfield, giving the two-way players a chance to get forward and sustain an attack. Without Altidore, too many of those balls were quickly lost, turning the Americans over and forcing them to go right back on the defensive.

- Another big reason for the lack of possession in the USA's game was Michael Bradley playing the worst game I've seen from him in a US uniform. His defending was sound, but his passes were listless and off-target. The bad news is as Bradley goes, so does the US, if he's off they will struggle to possess the ball, and will struggle even more to mount imaginative attacks. The good news is Bradley is a rock for this team (I'd argue he's their best and most important player), and I fully expect a bounce-back performance against Portugal.

- I have given Jermaine Jones a mountain of flack in this space, so I have to say this after the Ghana game: Jones was likely the man of the match. His distribution was solid (Michael Bradley took on the role of repeatedly giving away the ball in his own end) and his defending was terrific (without the hijinks that usually earn him quick yellow cards). I have frequently decried his safe starting spot in Jurgen Klinsmann's starting 11, but in this game Jones (along with many others) made his manager look like a genius.

- DaMarcus Beasley looked out of his depth at left back as Ghana was attacking his flank all night. Part of that is Ghana's speed (which Portugal cannot replicate), but part of that is that he's a limited defender, especially given his slight frame. Unfortunately, as Timmy Chandler's spot-on impression of a dumpster fire in the send-off, pre-World Cup games showed, there isn't another decent left back option on the roster.

- The bottom line is two-fold:
1) The United States have put themselves in a very good position to advance with this result.
2) If the US wishes to get any further results at this World Cup, they will need to play significantly better.

- I will go into this more in the next couple of days, but winning this game is a terrific boon for the US. Since 1998 (when the World Cup expanded to 32 teams), 46 teams have won their opener. Of those 46 teams, 39 (84.8%) have advanced to the knockout stage. Contrast that with 21 of 36 teams (58.3%) who played to a draw in their opener advanced out of the group stage.

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