The Great Escape | a USA Match Reaction

Well, well, well. And where exactly did that "stars aligning" moment come from? The US wins 3-0 and sees Brazil do the same, leading to three nations locked on three points after the group stage, with the US and Italy edging Egypt on goal differential (-2 to -3), and the US edging Italy on goals scored (4 to 3). Some alternate headlines...
  • Take that, Joe Red! (dismissed as I'm loathe to jump on the Rossi hatred bandwagon)
  • Bob's Your Uncle! (unless you're Michael Bradley; dismissed as I still question Bob's subs and don't think Dempsey should have been on the pitch, even if he did score a lovely, violently-noggined goal)
  • The Biggest Fathers Day Gift of All (delivered by Junior to his pop and by the USMNT to all of us who happen to be fathers and fans; dismissed for being a bit too long for even my lax standards)
So what's an internet blogger to do now? Bob makes a Lazarus-like comeback that has us all scratching our heads with not much to complain about, right? Right..?

Not exactly.

Look, it was a fantastic win, but there are caveats. So let's hit some talking points and take those questions on board as we do...

* We're stuck with Bob. Well, I guess that pretty much assures that any chance we had of Bob getting the boot just went down the proverbial drain. Nothing against Bob. I think he's a really good coach...for MLS, and will probably be a great option to be the big man for the 10 years with a hopefully more broad range of experience. I still think he got a bit (okay, more than a bit!) lucky here. I'll gladly chow down on the crow if we make it out of our World Cup group (and it'll probably be a damn sight easier than this group was), but I just don't see it happening (again). Bad decisions in this one? How about starting Dempsey? Yes, his capper put us through and was a fantastic piece of noggin-work, but he was also caught trying to dribble out of the box and generally held the ball too long, shot too early, and failed to produce any real danger through much of the match, much as he did in the previous matches. I would have liked to have seen Torres in his place. Need another? Why bring on Casey, a big man with lazy tendencies, when dribbling runs were giving a tired Egyptian defense fits? Wasn't this the perfect situation for Freddy Adu to exercise his particular talents?

* Bullets dodged. Egypt had more than a few good opportunities, as you knew they would, but being without their two best attackers surely helped when it came to dodging said bullets. That said, the defense looked more sure against the often direct play of Egypt than they were against Brazil and in the second half against Italy. Between the two fullbacks, Spector was the more solid, though I liked some of Bornstein's attacking thrust. I wonder if Spector gets tried on the left when Hejduk/Cherundolo are fit to play on the right? Or maybe we can play Frankie there, as his crossing isn't particularly dangerous? DeMerit has had head-slapping moments filling in for Bocanegra, but the more direct play of this game suited him pretty well, and his (often physically brutal) efficiency was encouraging. He's never going to be a great option against highly technical teams, but then, none of our central defenders are. DeMerit is efficient and hard-nosed depth of reasonable quality, though I'd prefer more and better options (wouldn't we all?).

* In the bucket. Junior has fantastic energy and range, and his ability to get on the end of things in the box is one that we should be exploiting. I think that was one of the problems against Brazil. He had to do so much work covering for Kljestan defensively that he couldn't contribute on the other end enough. With Clark for cover, he was free to break out, as he did on that penetrating run, dish, and finish for the second. Potentially, I think he and Edu are of a similar two-way mold and will probably be competing for the same spot, and while I like Clark and think he has an intriguing future, the enticing combination in the middle is Bradley with Jermaine Jones. That could be one hard and energetic midfield combo that covers serious turf, but I wonder about Jones' effect on the locker room.

* Is Davies the answer? Doubtful. I loved his energy and willingness to go for goal (even when ill-advised--see a few sentences later), and his speed was causing problems. That speed and energy should make him a great late-game option off the bench, but I'm still not convinced that he's done enough to grab a automatic starting berth. The major shortcoming? His blinders. He goes for goal relentlessly, even at the expense of better options. Case in point? A dash, late in the first half, down the left when both Egyptian defenders go for him, leaving the trailing Jozy in acres of space all alone. But Davies has eyes for only one thing...the net. That served him well in the almighty scramble a few minutes earlier when he grabbed his street-fighter's goal, but what value would a second just before the half have carried..?

* Death to the sole striker? So, what do we think? Does this game convince Bob that he needs to be playing two up top, or will we see Jozy all alone against Spain the next time out? Having the second striker definitely pays off when it comes to having bodies in the box (first goal; having multiple targets for Donovan on the second) and more outlets for a defense under pressure. Likewise, it gives the wide-midfield runners (Donovan and Dempsey) both (1) more targets to pick out when they're on the run and (2) more off-the-ball movement going forward to pull defenders out of position for those same runners to exploit on their own. Speaking of runners, while I wasn't terribly impressed with Dempsey, this was the best game I've seen from Donovan in a long while, and, however much I may question his ability to step up to the plate at times, he certainly did here and did it with a remarkable amount of stamina and quality.

A couple of moments that linger in the old gray cells...

* Donovan, on 15 minutes, bursts through the defense but opts to square the ball for a run that Jozy had already abandoned rather than putting a shot on frame. Is Donovan to blame for not taking the initiative and having a go at goal, or is Jozy's breaking off the far-post run to cut inside suspect? Considering the reward Donovan provided for Junior busting a gut going forward and several other abandoned runs by Jozy that others were looking to slip him through on, I'm going to side, shockingly for me, with Donovan. I almost jumped out of my chair for joy when he decided to keep the next one, darting through everybody to get in on goal. Though the keeper cut out the move, I was delighted that he wanted to take that opportunity on. I wonder if he turned any Euro-scouts' heads?

* Altidore, on 51 minutes, settles the ball and fires on goal, only for the shot to be cleared off the line by a chest-shoulder-biceps combo. Egypt have already been whistled for one handle on the line in this tournament, but this one goes uncalled. It's tough because the ball bounces off the Egyptian defender's chest onto his arm, but his arm definitely prevents the ball from crossing the line. Kudos to the US for not bagging it and trying to blame the Whistlemen later, but it highlights what seems to me to be a lack of respect from the referees for our players. If a more feted player turns to the ref pointing to his hand, does the whistle blow? If Kljestan and Clark have bigger names or bigger clubs, do they get the benefit of the doubt on their reds? If players with more rep than Dempsey and Donovan take deliberate elbows to their noggins, do the Egyptians see red? Blaming the refs is a suckers' game, but that subtle bias has hurt us before in World Cups...

So what now? Oh, only Spain. Probably the best team in the world at the moment. We haven't exactly shone against the big name teams in this tournament, but at least we'll get a shot at taking honors when we inevitably face South Africa in the third-place match (defeatist, moi?). I wonder what Bob does against Spain. Is it back to one up top? Does Dempsey's goal keep him on the field despite a lackluster and, at times, quite suspect performance? Howard is due to stand on his head any day now, though he'll have to be superhuman to keep out the Spanish. Then again, Spain have often stumbled in the elimination rounds of major tourneys...

Nah, the stars couldn't align for us twice could they?


  1. I was enjoying this game on its own merits until Bradley scored the second goal and I saw the Brazil-Italy score. That just upped the excitement level!

    I have to admit I have generally liked what Bradley has done but was getting increasingly worried after El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Brazil. I'm still worried, but the 4-4-2 is much more suited to the players we have and they seem more comfortable and sure of themselves when we play it.

    It certainly works better when we have a legitimate destroyer like Clark eating up space in front of the central defenders and freeing up Bradley. Certainly better than Klejstan in that role. Jermaine Jones could be an interesting addition in that ilk;with better technique. I also like Feilhaber and Edu sitting back in the bucket though they are not pure destroyers and offer more to the attack like Bradley.

    Davies was good up front and has finally made his case to be a more regular part of the attack. I think Casey was put in for a swan swong and we are not likely to see him again. Ching will be back and Cooper will press his case at the Gold Cup. Same goes for Torres and Adu. It looks like they are being lined up for a lot of playing time as a significant share of the EuroYanks head back to their clubs after the Confed Cup.

    I feel better about the effort; feel great about the result - but still fret about being able to put a string of solid games together resulting from consistent play, effort and organization.

  2. 4-4-2 is the answer, or at least two forwards. Good stuff up there, just want to mention the strongest point of agreement.