The Agony of Defeat | a USA Match Reaction

If you were following me on Twitter, you would have seen my reaction, as it happened, in all its knee-jerk, frazzled-nerve, obscene glory. From the disbelieving joy of the first 45 to the creeping, inevitable gloom as we closed on 90 minutes, it was all there. So the way I'm going to play this is...I'll (1) summarize my tweetage from this match and (2) do a second post, probably later today, bringing together my grand thoughts on the entire Confederations Cup experience and what it means for the US going forward. Got it? Good, let's hit the talking points...

* Donovan's righteous anger. You know that old saw that goes, "Donovan only plays well when he's angry"? Well, if you were watching the pre-game exchange of pleasantries, you witnessed (or maybe it was just my imagination?) Donovan prepping the big smile and leaning in to be friendly with Lucio (presumably a, "Hey, remember when I was on loan with Bayern?"), only to be completely cold-shouldered. At that point I wondered if Donovan might not come out with the proverbial chip on his shoulder, and if that might not be the best thing the US could wish for. But then I realized, and I think many of us who question Donovan's heart and commitment in general realized, that he had been in consistently excellent form for much of the tournament. Not just in the usual bits and flashes either, but a regular danger displaying insane energy that would see him on the back line with a clearing header one minute (but wait, isn't he only 5'2" or something?!?!) and blitzing through defenders leading the break the next. Here's hoping he's finally decided to don the mantle that's been his for the taking for a long while now. And I just wonder if a few Euro-noggins were turned...

* Speed up top. If Donovan is going to be a consistent contributor on the wings (there will be much more on this in the Confed Cup wrap-up post), that means we don't see him up top, which makes Charlie Davies all the more valuable. Speed on the break makes us a much more formidable counter-attacking side, and, given that we're not a "pass it about and break them down" side against any but the minnows and small fries of CONCACAF, on the break is where I'd expect to find us against more formidable opposition. That said, while Davies did actually get his head up once to find Donovan for 2-0, I wish he didn't have the blinders on so often. It's nice for a forward to have that single-minded, "go for goal" attitude, but at the international level, I think he needs to be more ready with the pass as well. The other big problem is: who do we go to if Davies is injured, tired, out of form, or suspended? Any other burners with big engines and loads of attacking intent? Anybody? Bueller?

* The killer goal. Ah, to inhabit the Land of What Might Have Been! Let's face it, the goal right at the start of the second half was a double-whammy of the highest order. Not only did it settle Brazilian nerves, alleviate their first half frustrations, and allow them to play an entire half knowing they just needed one more goal to take things to extra time, but it was a crushing blow to the US. Since losing to Brazil the first time around, they had not conceded another goal in the tournament, blanking Egypt and Spain on their miracle run. But when one finally went in, it couldn't help but severely dent American confidence. It also piled on the pressure as they players knew that they'd be under siege the entire half and couldn't concede. The wags among you may say that we faced the same pressure in the semifinal up 1-0 to Spain, but I'd argue that our confidence, and Spanish frustration, remained high as we hadn't conceded anything to them. Scoring the second in the later stages boosted us and sunk them. In the final, we scored our second early to raise confidence, but saw it rocked back by that early goal in the second, after which we seemed to fade. 2-0 proves, once again, the most dangerous lead in soccer.

* A Solomonic Whistleman? Of all the refs we had in the Confed Cup, the guy we had in the final called the most even and consistent game. But he was also loathe to influence the game too much as he let a retaliatory swipe from Kaka go unpunished and didn't deal a second yellow to Brazil's left back for a particularly violent foul. That said, I also only noticed a few of the sort of "take no prisoners" dive-in, full-blooded tackles that saw the US punished so heavily in this tournament. Was that a reaction from the US players learning that they just can't get away with that stuff, or did it come down from on high with Bob issuing words of caution?

* Still in the shallow end. The biggest difference in this match? Benches. While Brazil's starters were no doubt of higher pedigree and quality than our starters, our first eleven matched up really well with them and could fight them at their own level. The difference came when Dunga looked to his bench and saw the likes of Elano and Dani Alves, and Bob looked to his and came up with Kljestan, Bornstein, and Casey. Bit of a drop off in quality, no? But therein lies another question. I asked when Kljestan and Bornstein came on, "Bob knows he's coaching the USA, not Chivas USA, right? Bornstein AND Kljestan on makes you wonder." And I sure wondered what he was thinking when Bornstein popped up driving down the middle on the break, with a man in space to his right and another, though marked, to his left. What did Johnny do? Took a pop from 25 yards. Ugh. And Kljestan's only consistency was in turning the ball over. And Casey did what he's been doing all tournament as a late game sub, jogging and looking disinterested. I'm not going to claim that the likes of Torres and Adu would have delivered a different result, but it sure would have been nice to give them that shot.

That's not all I have stirring in the old gray matter, but at the moment, I'll put those initial thoughts out there to see what y'all think. I have some concluding thoughts from the entire tournament brewing, and I'll get those up, probably this evening. But in the meantime, I'd like to hear from the peanut gallery. What are we supposed to feel? Are we proud that we reached a final and went toe to toe with one of the true giants of world soccer, rocking them back on their heels before being pummeled into submission? Or are we disappointed that, having grabbed a two goal lead at halftime, we couldn't hang on to it in the second half and had to watch in horror as our coach entrusted our survival to the likes of Kljestan, Bornstein, and Casey? Personally, I'm inclined to be delighted with the run to the final, ecstatic with the win over Spain, but distinctly disenchanted by the meek performance in the group stage match against Brazil and the second half collapse in the final.

Your thoughts?


  1. Your analysis is fair. I'm not sure if Donovan was mad, but he sure was motivated. There was certainly enough criticism after the first Brazil match to get the guys angry and keep them angry for a while. What struck me when they were all lined up behind the banner with the refs and Brazil, was how Donovan responded to the Camerounian kid. He leaned in and said something nice to him right after the kid finished reading his remarks. None of the other players did though Clint seemed to be hanging on every word too. I thought that was classy on their part.

    Wth regard to the actual play, the 4-4-2 held up well but this time the wings gave us even more trouble than Spain. Donovan did well, but Dempsey (who played well overall) always seemed to be a step behind the man he was covering or would lose him in the 18. Feilhaber was good, but not the wrecking ball that Bradley can be. The center backs, Clark and Howard held the spine together well, but they were working all the time (along with Spector and Bocanegra) and you knew they would get gassed eventually.

    Davies was effective, but you're right, a few better decisions on a couple of balls might have netted him man of the match for another assist to Donovan or the right tap to Jozy or Clint. Jozy did his body-up thing pretty well, but often looked like he was setting the standard for Casey on how to jog around the pitch. We know that at any point he can erupt, but his volcano only blew smoke yesterday.

    The subs were what they were. I would not have put Klejstan on the field for the same reasons I would not have put Beasley on the field - but there you have it - there were not a lot of options. When you need guys to jump into a collective defensive effort, the first names that come to mind are not Freddy "don't make me track back" Adu or "Where's my man" Torres. Yes they can dribble and make darting passes up the middle, but they're not every good bricks for the bunker. Maybe putting Freddy up top for Jozy instead of Casey would have been better, but Freddy is not a guy who plays well with his back to the goal either. Bornstein was the right call to play defensively -- only it was five minutes too late.

    In any case, the Gold Cup showed that Demerit, Davies, Clark, Feilhaber, and Spector have earned their tickets to the WC. Add in Howard, Guzan, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Cherundholo, Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Edu, Altidore and Ching and you have 16 players that can book reservations. That leaves seven slots of which three will be defenders and one will be a keeper. That means that between, Adu, Torres, Beasley, Klejstan and the impending Johnson, only three will go. Can you see imagine the blog riots if precious Freddy or el nino du jour Torres aren't in (my bet is that they will be given the poor play of Beasley and Klejstan - but they are on the bubble).

  2. Freddy and Torres might have been interesting options precisely because they wouldn't have been in the bunker. Once Brazil got rolling, it was only a matter of time before they breached us for the second (that early goal in the second half should have killed any thoughts of successful bunkering).

    The Brazilian defense had looked particularly uncomfortable dealing with our speed and dribbling on the break, and probably would have been even more so as the game wore on. Why not bring on somebody to test that weakness and keep them honest rather than rely on the fickle winds of fate to keep Brazil's attacking waves at bay for the last 40+ minutes?