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School of Hard Knock(out)s: Lessons We Need to Learn

June 27, 2010

It has been a wild roller coaster ride for the USMNT. There have been highs, lows, and everything in between. But now the dust has settled, and we are out. We certainly weren’t a disappointment, but we also didn’t live up to our full potential. That means it is time to do some soul searching. In four years when we (hopefully) make the sojourn to Brazil, Landon Donovan will be 32 and Clint Dempsey will be 31. I still think they will be in the squad, but by then they won’t be the focal point of it. So what lessons can we take forward from this World Cup?

Lesson 1: The midfield pairing for the future is Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu. Both have excellent qualities defensively, and Bradley trusts Edu enough to go forward and make late runs into the box, which is where he is the most dangerous. When they play together, it simply feels like a more balanced midfield. With Ricardo Clark, Bradley plays deeper and it puts us on the backfoot in terms of controlling the midfield.

Lesson 2: Benny Feilhaber needs to be a part of our plans going forward. Against Algeria and Ghana he was one of our most dynamic players. His passing and his touch were excellent, as were his vision and his movement. When he comes in the side, everyone seems to improve and become more composed on the ball.

Lesson 3: Charlie Davies is far more important than we thought. It is clear that Bob Bradley wanted to use Robbie Findley in the same way he used Charlie Davies at the Confederations Cup. Davies’ movement and speed helped create space for Altidore to operate, but he also had a scoring edge. Findley completely lacks that edge. In perhaps the clearest chance we had against Ghana, with all the time in the world, Findley shot it straight at Richard Kingson. More than that, he is wasteful with the ball in dangerous positions. When he receives the ball out wide, he doesn’t look to play the ball into the box early. His passing, despite that one assist against Turkey, is off. But Davies offers that vision, and dovetails extremely well with Jozy up top.

Lesson 4: We need to plan better for games. In some cases (i.e. against England), our game plan was excellent. Bob Bradley made the right decisions and played with the right formation. But in the game against Ghana, he played a the same 4-4-2 we have been playing, with Bradley and Clark playing alongside each other sitting deep, and Donovan and Dempsey playing narrow up the field. This played into Ghana’s hand, with their 4-3-3. In the central midfield they had us outnumbered, and in the wide area of the pitch our defenders were largely alone because of how far up Donovan and Dempsey were playing. We need to show more adaptability from game to game, knowing our opponents and having a plan in place to put us in a position to win the game.

Lesson 5: Something is wrong for us at the beginning of games. I know we seem to play better as underdogs, but that doesn’t necessitate giving up a goal in the first ten minutes of every match we play. In 3 out of 4 matches we played in this World Cup we went down early and had to fight and claw our way back into the game. We didn’t win a single match out of those 3. Clearly something is wrong, but Bob Bradley doesn’t seem to be able to fix it. Whatever it is, it needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed immediately. We simply can’t play at the level we want to if we keep doing that.

Lesson 6: We need to develop some defenders. I like a lot of our defenders, they play hard, but at this level we need more than that. We need talent. Jonathan Bornstein played well in the two matches he started, but he was horribly inconsistent in the build up to the tournament. Heath Pearce looked awful. Clarence Goodson looked solid, but nothing more. Jonathan Spector has a bad season at West Ham, and needs to improve his form. Those four are our most likely replacements for the defense we have right now, and it doesn’t give me a warm and cozy feeling. Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegro, and Jay DeMerit are all over 30, and probably won’t be around for Brazil. We need four new guys to step up and make the roles their own.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 28, 2010 9:26 AM

    Agrred on all points especially with improving the defense and not going down early. Hopefully we use the next four years for development and fulfill some of the promise and potential we show in this year’s World Cup.

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