Look, if you’ve been scouring the internet for information on the Gold Cup finale, I’m sure you’ve found plenty of info that tries to explain what will make the difference in the US winning and losing to Mexico. I’m here to tell you they are all wrong. Well, at least partly wrong. I’m sure some of them are partly right. But not me. I know what’s gonna happen, so this is the piece to read prior to kickoff. Here are some guarantees for the most important US soccer match for the next three years.
Chill Out. Landon Donovan is Gonna Start
Which Team has Better Endurance?
Any tournament like this is a test of more than just skill, but also a test of fitness. Both the United States and Mexico have played a lot of matches over the past few weeks. Two interesting differences exist, however. For the first two weeks, Mexico only had a roster of 17 players as a result of its doping scandal. A possible result of this is extended playing time for the core players, resulting in a bit more fatigue. Second, Mexico’s semifinal match went into overtime. Luckily for them, they scored twice early in the first extra time period. Still, the extra 30 minutes on the field could make a difference. It will be interesting to watch which team has sharper passing and more energetic movement early on in the match.
Can we Knock Javier Around?
Once Again, Bob’s Substitutions Will Be Huge
His starting lineups have been inconsistent, but Bob Bradley has been spot on with his adjustments after the halftime period in this tournament. The question is, who will be the difference in this game? I will offer two names, both in the midfield. Maurice Edu and Freddy Adu. We saw on Wednesday what Freddy is capable of doing to our offense, which has a tendency to get cluttered in the middle of the field. His vision and ball skills can open up the entire field for our team. Maurice Edu, however is more likely to make a huge impact. Why? Two reasons. One, he is extremely well rested, something the other members of our midfield cannot claim. Second, Mo has made a habit of scoring extremely clutch goals both for his club, Glasglow Rangers and the USMNT(see Koman Coulibaly). This could be another chance for him to make his mark as a substitute.
This rivalry is probably as balanced right now as it has been since the US destroyed Mexico in the 2002 World Cup round of 16. The young talent is clear and evident on the side of the Mexicans, though the United States have proven to be spirited as usually and have brought some fresh blood of their own. I expect this to be a high scoring affair, different than most recent US matches, with Chicharito scoring once and Giovani Dos Santos providing the other for the Mexican side. This will be Juan Agudelo’s coming out party, as he will score early for the Yanks and then follow that up by setting up Michael Bradley to send the game to extra time. In extra time, I look to our team’s best player, Clint Dempsey….our new leader, to put a header in off of a corner to give the US a 3-2 win and return trip to the Confederations Cup. The difference will the slightly more rested legs of the US team as well as the fact that the game is played on US soil.
First things first. I must address Landon Donovan. As I was well aware, if Landon played a big role in a win today, I knew my article would look shoddy and ridiculous at best. I was well aware of that when I wrote it and I’m aware of that now. And to be honest, I’m ok with that. I’m not going to back down from the general premise that Landon’s role with the US men’s team is very likely on the decline, even not as rapidly as I first hypothesized. His apparent replacement for the future, Alejandro Bedoya, played well once again with a great deal of energy, but with his opportunities didn’t seem as seasoned or decisive as Donovan. That will come. The skill is there. Luckily for me and all of the rest of us, Landon did come to play today and made what can only be described as a pinpoint, delectable pass that allowed Clint Dempsey’s foot to win the game for the USA. Without Landon on that play, who knows what the result would have been.
The obvious secondary storyline that developed out of tonight’s game is the re-introduction of the American public to FREDDY ADU!!! OMG HES SO CUTE! KTHXBAI!! Well, I can’t say I wasn’t shocked when the announcers first noticed Freddy warming up on the sideline. While I thought we’d see Freddy, I thought it would occur a few games ago in the group stages when things weren’t so pressure packed. Instead, he didn’t even make the 18 in any of the group games. To me, that combined with his recent inclusion and tonight’s playing time suggests one of a few things. Either Bob Bradley really felt like the US had a chance to get stalled offensively in the past two games and Freddy had the possibility to unlock the opposing defense, or second, that Freddy has improved over the course of the past few weeks of being in training. In reality, it’s probably a combination of both. I was amongst the masses joking on twitter early in the game about seeing a Freddy substitution, but I honestly never thought it would happen. To hear that he was entering the game increased my heart rate and gave me a huge conflict of emotions. In one sense I was ecstatic to see him get another chance. In the other sense, we needed to win this game and I wasn’t sure if his substitution would help. Luckily, Bob Bradley knew what he was doing. Adu offered up 3 or 4 really bright spots including the pass that sprung Landon and led to Clint’s game winning goal. For that, he will be covered heavily for the next 3 days leading to the final with Mexico. Honestly, I don’t know whether Bob will use him again in the final, but whether he does or not, Freddy has shown he still has a future with the national team.
But the night was about the defense. Panama rarely looked dangerous and I can’t be sure how many of their shots were actually what I would consider dangerous. The organization, led by Carlos Bocanegra, was more than adequate. The outside defenders offered up an offensive threat. There were no huge gaffes. I’m sure Tim Howard was yawning half of the game. They were the Men of the Match. If I had to choose one, I’d go with Bocanegra because of the collective effort. They will need to be that good against Chicharito and Dos Santos on Saturday if the United States is to win back the Gold Cup.
On to the ratings:
Tim Howard: 7 Tim is our most consistent player. He has the most ability to dominate a game of anyone on our team. Tim is the closest thing we have to a world class player. While he only had a few balls to deal with tonight, he dealt with them well and quickly put out the fires before the built into something really fearful.
Steve Cherundolo: 7.5 The location of Chewy’s first half pass that landed on Agudelo’s head was, in a word, sublime. He’s turned into a master at delivering crosses from the right side to the point that, whenever a pass doesn’t land in the dangerous area, it’s a surprise and a disappointment. Sure, Steve’s not the fastest or most athletic, but overall, he’s our best defender. He had another effective night, as did the rest of our defense.
Clarence Goodson: 6.5 Clarence has turned out to be a more than effective center back, especially when paired with Bocanegra’s experience and organization. Still, normally he’s good for a “gaffe and a half” per game that results in either a goal or a magnificent save from Timmy. Tonight, there were no real noticeable gaffes. For that alone, he gets a thumbs up.
Carlos Bocanegra: 7 It’s a real credit to El Capitan that the US hasn’t given up a goal since he moved back to the center. That alone is worthy of praise.
Eric Lichaj: 8 It’s not an overstatement that his presence is literally changing the entire face of United States soccer. Can you tell me the last time an American left back was an adept defender AND offered adequate to good support on offense? If you can, then you are completely full of shit, because that’s never existed. He is balancing the field, and his ability to recover(based almost solely on his above average speed) has been more than impressive. Tonight, his one on one defending stood out for its strength, quickness, and sureness. He’s becoming a huge asset to our team when a week ago, we weren’t sure if he was good enough to be a substitute.
Michael Bradley: 5.5 Michael didn’t really distinguish himself as he has done recently. His sliding tackles are still among our best, rarely leading to cards and winning the ball more often than not. Unfortunately, his passing and decision making today looked like his first few appearances for Aston Villa as opposed to the normally sharp leader of our midfield. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t his usual self.
Jermaine Jones: 6.5 It wasn’t as good as the past few games, but Jermaine’s game definitely had some very bright spots. There were a few runs where his pure effort beat out the defenders down the left flank. In fact, what’s surprising to me is the speed that he has shown in the past few matches. When he runs, he’s so big, but each stride carries a lot of ground, sort of akin to Vince Young or Terrelle Pryor in the football world. The only thing that knocked him down today for me were some errant passes. Offensively, he offers a great deal of vision out of the defensive midfield. He sees some passes that neither Michael Bradley, Rico Clark, nor Mo Edu have proven capable of seeing in the past few years. Tonight, however, those passes were either overshot or just off target. Luckily, he controlled himself well tonight and did not pick up the lethal yellow card that would have kept him out of the final.
Alejandro Bedoya: 5.5 Alejandro Bedoya has a bright future with our national team. His effort is relentless. He is quick, technical, and, to be completely honest, just a bit out of his league right now. He is perfect for our team right now, because his energy and movement create space and opportunities, but his finishing is just not up to par. I think that once his mind settles down a bit, he’ll be much more effective, because the foundation is there for him to contribute for a long time.
Sacha Kljestan: 4 Look, I’ll be completely honest and say I’m not a huge fan of Sacha. Still, I can admit that over the course of this tournament, he has acquitted himself well. Just not as well as everyone has made it out to be. He puts himself in the right positions. He has a creative spark and imaginative vision that can offer a great deal to our offense. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it happen in my opinion. The final pass is always lacking. He hesitates when a shot is available. His foot reaction is a second slower than his mind. And when he gets the ball in a dangerous position, one on one with a defender, he almost always gives up the ball. He’s the guy that has 9 out of 10 links of the chain, but can never get that 10th chain link to connect. Plus he has an awful mustache.
Clint Dempsey: 6.5 What can you say about Clint. He’s our best field player by a mile right now. He comes through when we need a goal. He creates dangerous opportunities. And he’s skilled in a way most Americans aren’t. Tonight wasn’t his most dangerous, but he came through when it counted. He is on the verge(if he can take over on Sunday) of taking this team as his own. And today, he immediately deferred to Landon and subsequently Freddy for setting up his goal.
Juan Agudelo: 6 The kid is gonna break through soon. I hope it’s Saturday. He’s a little too aggressive at times when the numbers tell him he should pass, but that audacity is exactly what we need in a forward. He has energy, he earns free kicks, and he puts a ball or two every game either on target or very close.
Landon Donovan: 6 For the first 10 minutes after he entered, Landon looked exactly the same as he did for the past month. Listless, unmotivated, and camouflaged. Then, off of a perfect delivery from Freddy Adu, Landon looked the defender in the eye, the defender backed off, and Landon attacked. He went straight at the net and put a perfect ball on the foot of Clint Dempsey for the Yanks only goal. He had a few moments after that as well, but this was his only real shining moment. It shows that Landon still has a lot of ability to make a huge difference for our team, but I’ll be watching against his favorite opposition, Mexico, for any sort of consistency from Landon. Is he now the USMNT curveball that is best used off the bench or is he one of our “must play” stars?
Freddy Adu: 6 Hell, Freddy would have gotten a 4 just for getting on the field. No one really expected this tonight. Instead, Freddy did more than that. He delivered the FIRST over the top ball of the night for the US team, and it just so happened to be a perfectly placed curling ball that went over the defender and right into the path of a streaking Landon Donovan. Later, Freddy did a nice job on two separate occasions of controlling the ball and killing some clock. He struggled a bit in defense, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. In fact, it was nice to see him tackle a Panamanian on a few separate occasions. He’s not done yet.
While I know this site has been completely dead since summertime last year, I obviously got an itch yesterday that needed to be scratched. I have no clue how often I’ll be posting, nor do I know how long this will last. Either way, I’m gonna tinker with it a little bit more than recently.
As for today’s match, I expect to see a very similar lineup to the one we saw against Jamaica on Sunday. The overall effect was positive, and the main difference will be the inclusion of Landon Donovan. I’m interested to see if he proves me completely wrong(it would surprise me none if my first post in months is completely shattered a day after it was written). Here’s the projected lineup:
GK: Tim Howard
No surprise here.
D: Cherundolo, Goodson, Bocanegra(c), Lichaj
No Surprises here either. Lichaj has been a rare bright spot at left back for a team that normally is at a loss for any sort of offensive spark out of the back. I wouldn’t be to see Tim Ream get back in the game as a sub, just to get that bitter taste out of his mouth from the first Panama match. It’s also important that Cherundolo’s shoulder be ok. If that’s not the case, you’ll probably see Lichaj out right, Bocanegra out left, and Ream back in the middle.
DM: Bradley, Edu
My first surprise comes in the defensive midfield with the inclusion of Edu as opposed to Jermaine Jones. This has nothing to do with a knock on Jermaine’s play. In fact, the entire reasoning is the fact that he’s our best chance against Mexico and we need to protect him since he already has a yellow. Furthermore, it was rumored that he had a few knocks left over from the Jamaica match. Mo Edu will be more than serviceable and should be able to play well enough to get the win.
M: Donovan, Kljestan, Dempsey
Here I have subbed Donovan in for Bedoya, who 0nce again played with a great deal of gumption on Sunday. I still would expect Alejandro to be a key sub if the game is still close around the 65th minute. While I wasn’t overly impressed with Sacha’s play, he did fit the role of creator better than anyone else has in our 4-2-3-1 formation, so I think he gets the nod again.
There’s a chance that Wondo gets the start here(Bob, I’m begging you not to do that) to save Juan’s legs, but he’s a young player, our best chance to score up top, and he’ll be able to handle the quick turnaround a lot better than most.
There shouldn’t be much of a drop-off tonight, especially with the boys just having lost to Panama last week. We shall see soon how good my predictions are.
As we all know, people in the news & particularly those in the business of blogging are “successful” when their opinions get attention. Most often this is accomplished by embellishment and overreaction, something of which I normally try to avoid. So if the title of this article seems a bit reactive…irrational…even offensive, please forgive me. It’s an honest thought that I’ve been bouncing around in my head over the past few days.
The reasons for such internal banter are threefold. First, the movement created by the USMNT in the Jamaica match was spunky, generally sharp, and aggressive in ways that are abnormal for these Yankee eyes. The occurred most notably during Landon’s “enjoyable” 60 minutes on the bench. The second reason for my thoughts are the obvious decline in LD’s play since the end of the world cup. At times he looks disinterested, at times he seems to shy away from the spotlight, and at others he simply doesn’t seem to have “it”. There are number of possible explanations for this, but it’s hard not to see a difference. Lastly, the next World Cup isn’t for 3 more years. By that point, Landon will be 32, and the World Cup is a young man’s tournament. The United States has to start preparing realistically for that moment.
Let me be clear. Landon Donovan is still a pillar for this US soccer team and I don’t expect for him to drop off of the radar anytime soon. In fact, it would likely only be as a result of injury that he would be left off of the 2014 World Cup roster. But it is also clear that this team is no longer completely dependent on his presence to put on an effective offensive performance together. The performances of both Alejandro Bedoya, and maybe more importantly Sacha Kljestan(not to mention the presence of Stuart Holden looming in the injured background) have given the US hope for the future of its creative midfield once both Donovan and Dempsey step to the side. The pertinent question is when the two offensive stars will be willing to take that step to the side.
Clint Dempsey has made it clear that he is in no mood to move over. In fact, he has made it clear that he is just now playing the best soccer of his career and still has intentions of playing in the Champions League. Contrast that with Landon, who has seemed content with his single successful jaunt into the English Premier League and now continues to bide his time in Major League Soccer. It has been a year since he took control of a match for the national team, and while there is still the possibility for two more matches in this tournament, very little of his play has suggested he is ready to take over such a game. Instead, his play has suggested he will play a nice contributory role that will be described with words like “leadership” and “experience” and not so much with words like “dominate” and “goal”.
Landon is the only player left in the USMNT pool who was on the 2002 World Cup roster, the very tournament where he rung the bell declaring himself as the future of US soccer. He started out with a bang, and he reaffirmed his place in US soccer history with his performance last June. But it is truly rare for a player to heavily contribute in 4 consecutive World Cups, and the odds are that Landon won’t be the central strengths of our team next time around. Instead, that will likely be left to younger players such as Michael Bradley, Holden, Jozy Altidore, and Juan Agudelo. Donovan will more than likely be left to a super sub role, something akin to Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s role for Mexico this past year. It’s a role that Donovan showed just a few days ago could make for a very potent American bench.
Clint Dempsey is putting his own stamp on this national team and we have yet to see how Landon will respond. It is entirely possible he will come back with a vengeance and prove every one my prognostications wrong. But indications are showing that maybe this isn’t Landon Donovan’s team anymore. That isn’t a bad thing, though. The team we saw on Sunday is a more complete team than one that depends so greatly on one or two players. The team we saw Sunday is a youthful side that will only grow and become more fierce as they continue to play together. And the team we saw Sunday is important, because it is our future. We should be looking towards the future, because after this coming Saturday, where we will hopefully defeat Mexico, there will not be another meaningful game for two years. If this tournament does nothing else, maybe it will show that we have a bright future, with or without one of our all-time greats, Landon Donovan.
- Role Player already got the West. So I got stuck with the much more shyte SEC East. Without further ado, the teams:
Florida-Hmmm, lets see… really good, semi-obnoxious color scheme, full of bandwagon fans and bandwagon haters, larger than life personalities. Yep, this one is obvious. Florida is Brazil. In most years, Florida is always a “favorite” before the season starts. In most tournaments, Brazil is a favorite before it starts. I also find it interesting the parallels in the god like personalities for both teams. Almost every soccer fan in the world knows who Pele is (and most can identify him). I would venture to guess that there is almost no one (save Maradona) who does not like Pele. Ronaldinho (or his namesake, fat Ronaldo) are also both worldwide known, fully-worshiped or fully-hated personalities. For most people, there is no middle ground for these two. They are either fully-loved and defended to the death, or are loathed with every ounce of a person’s being. The same can be said for the Ol’ Ball Coach Steve Spurrier (loved) and Tim Tebow (loved or hated).
- Writing for this blog has been fun, but frankly, I’m much more of a soccer player, fan and coach than I am a writer – most of us are, given the amount of content posted. So that being understood, while enjoying the beer, burgers, brats and fixins of our great nation’s Independence Day, Fergie’s Fledgling and I decided to take on a challenge set before us by a fellow bloggeur, One Man to Beat, over at Red Cup Rebellion. (I know that was over a week ago. See the first sentence.) We are going to play an association game whereby we discuss the personalities of the 12 SEC schools using the squads from the World Cup 2010. I’ve got the West, and given that our group of bloggeurs consists entirely of Rebel fans, we’ll start with…