USA Reaction Addendum - For Every Action . . .

How's it going?

In the wake of my whining about Bob and Co. after Saturday's narrow 1-0 win in Cuba, an excellent set of reactions to my reaction found its way into the FBF mailbag. You can read the full text of Mr. Anonymous' commentary here, but I'm going to break out my reaction to his reaction to my reaction (dizzy yet?) in this separate post, generously aided by a lack of quality sleep and some major nasal congestion. So, without further danger to my "reaction" membrane, let's hit a few points. And please pardon any nonsensical ramblings . . . You have been warned!

(1) "His target forward situation is a conundrum."

So? Why not just ditch the concept altogether? There's really no natural successor to McHead? So what? We've got the talent to keep the ball on the ground now and exploit the gaps--do we really need to resort to the style of pump and dump that got us the result in Cuba? I know, I know--the field conditions are often terrible in CONCACAF. Sadly, modern footballers (and not just the American ones!) are specialist technical athletes expecting a lush, perfect carpet to roll the ball around on rather than adaptable, thinking creatures with the requisite control needed to master a variety of surfaces and playing conditions--you know, players of the game on whatever godforsaken shore it may wash up upon, playing for love of sport and not just when the game is dropped into a massively expensive stadium surrounded by vulture-like cameras and agents in expensive suits bucking for an extra ten grand a week for their "clients."

That rant aside, I guess I can accept that playing a direct style on cruddy pitches is the way to go--given the tools we have to work with--so we need the big man in the arsenal. Great--Chinger, Casey, or heck, even Dempsey, should do in a pinch. Sadly, I'm afraid that even when we get the decent surface we need to play a high-tempo, possession game that emphasizes speed and creativity, we're still going to be lumping things to a Cro-Magnon forward. Now, if we come out buzzing and passing and creating in bucketloads on Wednesday, I'll apologize in full. But somehow, I don't think that I'll have to.

(2) "I get the Bradley critique but I'm not down on him yet."

I've got nothing against Bob per se. He's certainly a quality coach from an MLS perspective, and seems to be rational, well-prepared, and gets results. My problem is that while the club game is necessarily all about the cash that comes from getting results, I'd like to think that (1) the international game might be held to a higher standard, and (2) getting results doesn't need to involve sacrificing attractive play, particularly in a region where the competition doesn't quite live up to the appellation all the time.

This might seem a bit esoteric, but I don't think that Bob grasps the artistry of the game. He understands the numbers--the formations, the statistics, fitness levels--but while he may well recognize the "art of soccer", I'm not sure he has a clue how to go about implementing and inspiring it. Not that it's such a common skill these days. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the ability is fading from the modern game as it grows into bigger and supposedly better business models.

With that in mind, am I asking for the impossible? Most likely, yes, I suppose that I am. In most other aspects of life, I'm terribly pragmatic. When it comes to soccer, I want a change-- I want a bit of fantasy and some "come out of my seat shouting" moments of inspiration. Those are not the sort of things I expect to see when Skeletor is perched on the bench, seemingly trying to force his skull out through his forehead. And those are not the sort of things that will happen if he continues to bring in the same old warhorses time and again. How about a little variety? How about a little fantasy?

(3) Cooper is just weird. The guy seems to be perfect for Bradley's style of play but Bradley has been pretty dismissive of him up to this point.

Oh, I've got this one just about figured out. See, if you watch FC Dallas highlights, what do you see out of Cooper? Shots. Lots of 'em. From all angles and all distances. The kid likes to whack the ball at the net, particularly from outside the 18, even when the percentages don't favor the shot. That's not Bob-ball. That's a bit of daring, not percentages and "safe" possession.

Closing Thoughts

Still with me? Sorry about that. I had intended a more rational response, but things got away from me a bit, and I let them run free. I have to say that I'm not terribly disappointed with the results either.

Look, I know that Bob is doing the best he can with the situation. He'll probably get all the right results too. And that's all fine and dandy, but still . . . But still I want a little entertainment beyond the inescapable drama of the "will they, won't they?" qualifying dance. Isn't that what we watch the game for: to be entertained, to be transported beyond the realm of the ordinary? If it's all about results and efficiency and numbers and spreadsheets, then I'm afraid we're drifting into the nebulous land of "work", not the shimmering green fields of "play."

Screw work. I want to play.


  1. Good retort with some very valid points. I just want to poke the bear a little more.

    What is Bob Ball and are we playing it? Granted, that of late, we seem to be playing a conservative, defensive formation. In the old days of national team play, we would have matched that with a reliance on quick counter-attacks down the flanks and set pieces to score our goals – hence the need for a classic target forward with a big head.

    We still rely on set pieces for a good deal of our scoring opportunities which is where a Ching and Dempsey can be useful in the box along with the Bradley’s, Edus, Onyewus and Bocanegras.

    The flank play is somewhat diminished of late, however. The guys who tend to run for the corners and cross the ball in the middle are our wingbacks (Hejduk, Cherundholo, Pearce, Orosco, Bornstein). Our outside midfielders seem to hold up the ball rather than push it forward when they get it; and wait for the defensive mids to catch up so they can lay the ball off back to them. The defensive mids usually lay it back of to the central defenders and the play goes from there. This is more possession oriented and is frustrating of late for the following two reasons. First, we have some good outside midfielders and it would be nice to see them push fast up the flanks to push the play or dart inside towards goal. Two, our central defenders and defensive mids are bereft of any creative ideas to relaunch the attack when they do get the ball. It often results in their trying to feed a long ball into the corners or towards the forwards near the box which is a variation on the kick it in and hope offense.

    I don’t think this is what Bradley wants but this is what he is getting. I think his intent is to play more possession soccer and run things through the middle with short passes. It seemed to work better in 2007 (I think because Feilhaber understood how to play the link role better) than it does today and that might have to do with personnel or it might just be that he thinks he needs to muscle through the early qualifiers before opening things up again. If I were to venture a guess, it is a bit of both.

    One thing about the target forward. I don’t think he is looking for a classic big head. To a certain degree, he is looking for someone like McBride who has those traits along with McBride’s skills for holding up the ball and feeding other attackers making runs up the middle. Jozy can do that plus also create space his own space with his strength and foot skills and so can Cooper although not to the same degree. I also think the style of play Bradley wants would accept the frequent shooting and long balls from outside the box. Feilhaber’s goal in the Gold Cup is a good example of that as was Clark’s last year).

    Finally, you can’t think that the tactical style of play is solely influenced by Bradley. It seems to me that the partnership between Bradley and Nowak relies on Bradley’s ability to identify good players and bring them along patiently and Nowak’s tactical abilities for organizing a system of play. At least that is what I am hoping – that Bradley can nurture the talent and Nowak can organize it into the type of quick touch, short passing, attack oriented possession play we saw when United was at its best. We’re not there yet, but I’m hoping it’s a work in progress and we'll get to see some good play.

  2. Thanks for the excellent post-fodder, Mr. Anonymous. As per our usual discourse, my response will be forthcoming tonight or tomorrow morning when I have a chance to fashion an appropriate response.