Maddening. That's the only way to describe it. Having to play almost an entire match a man down against a talented side that the US was going to have to play well against to get a result anyway is no recipe for success. However, the sending off wasn't the only problem in the US's 2-1 tournament-ending defeat at the hands of the Nigerians. But let's start the talking points with it anyway lest it become the virtual elephant in the room . . .
* I still haven't seen a definitive replay that convinces me that Orozco deserved red for his alleged elbow. I'm not viewing this through red, white, and blue goggles either. To me, it looked like the Nigerian was all over him, and Orozco had his arm raised to shield him off and may have shifted it a bit, but he didn't pull back and let fly with malicious intent. Certainly not enough to drop the Nigerian player and cause him to grab at his collarbone, neck, or whatever else he was claiming that Orozco intended to do harm to. The ref had the the best view, so we'll have to give him the benefit of the doubt, but based upon his subsequent calls, I'm going to be mildly distrustful of his ability to make judgement calls. Honestly, what's with letting the ticky-tack stuff go for the most part, but then calling a foul throw? And the penalty he awarded the US seemed awfully similar to a couple of fouls (on either side) that went uncalled. It's usually the reverse--call the foul in the middle of the field, but not in the box. Guilty conscience, perhaps? Is it time to welcome our new FIFA-mandated robo-ref overlords yet?
* Of course, the US going out might have been a bit of a blessing for Nowak in a couple of ways. First and foremost, it frees him from having to come up with a replacement for Orozco in the quarters. With four defenders and a converted mid, he was never going to have many options, a problem that presented itself in this match by forcing Rogers to play left back. The second benefit for Piotr is that now he's free to interview for the vacant LA Galaxy job, where he's supposedly near the top of the shortlist. But that raises another interesting point . . .
* How in the hell is Nowak going to deal with a Galaxy side where he's forced to play the kids because the cap won't let him pack the field with veterans? Honestly, and I do thank McBride for his years of service to the USA, but he was miserable in this tournament and in no way deserved the minutes he got. Just look how much more dynamic and dangerous the US attack got when Davies finally saw the field. Hell, Davies managed to head one off the bar, drive past the defense and force a corner, and create room for his own shot in the limited minutes he spent on the field. Say what you will about running at tired defenders, but what might we have done with a strike force of Davies and Altidore? Of course, hindsight is easy, but I don't think anybody watching the US will have thought that McBride was a valuable part of the US success on the field. Heck, he wasn't even winning the majority of his headers and holding the ball up well, two of his great strengths. The blame has got to fall on Nowak though. He's the one who kept an ineffectual McBride on the field when perhaps there were better options on the bench. That's a Nowakian syndrome that DC United fans have long been far too familiar with.
* Any other goats? How about Stuart Holden? He almost single-handedly cost the US the game against the Netherlands by failing to cross to Kljestan for a tap-in and then compounded the mistake by committing the foul that led to the free-kick equalizer for the Dutch. And in this game, he did it again when a Rogers cross dropped to him, unmarked, in the six-yard box in the 52nd minute. Holden's response? Get caught in two minds and fail to control the ball, knocking it wide of the post with a Hejduk-quality trap. Sure, the ball was at a bad height for him, and it just cleared a defender, which may have left Holden unsighted, but he's got to at least get that chance on frame for a desperate US side with precious few open looks at goal. Time for Houston to trade him to Chivas, cause he's a Goat for sure.
* Let's finish up with my mandatory "Fullback Watch." Marvell Wynne continues to be a mystery for me. He makes me really, really nervous defensively, though his speed often compensates for his poor positional sense and decision making. But when he gets unleashed on the right flank and blows past defenders, he certainly lives up to the name "Marvell". It's just a shame he hasn't learned to cross yet. Still, he's added a bit more ball-control to his game since turning pro, so perhaps there's hope yet that he'll magically acquire the skill to play at the full international level. First things first, though--become one of the best right backs in MLS--then we'll talk about the full National Team.
Ugh. Just ugh. This was a tough group, to be sure, but to have advancement snatched away from us by a poor challenge late in the second game hurts like hell. And to have that pain doubled by having to play shorthanded for virtually an entire match when we need a result makes it so much more frustrating. It hasn't been the best of weeks for a United + USA fan, has it? Well, I guess there's always the US Open Cup final to look forward to.