Let the Second Guessing Begin | a USA Match Reaction

We all knew going into this one that Saprissa would be a tough nut to crack--our record there is nothing short of disastrous. The coach had to know. The players had to know. They needed to be mentally ready for a cauldron and prepared to keep things compact and simple until the game had settled into a rhythm they could pick up. So can we check any of those boxes? Nope. Not a one. Bob decided to experiment with the formation. The players came out slow and unprepared. Sure, they eventually settled into some decent possession play, but by then they were already down, and all that possession didn't lead to any chances of significance. So where to place the blame? Let's address that in our talking points...

* Anatomy of a defensive disaster. Put out two fullbacks with a heavy touch and more speed than tactical sense, so that they can race around chasing shadows and being pulled out of position, thus necessitating cover from your central defense and midfield. Add a cluster of holding midfielders that seem to have been instructed not to go in strong with their tackles and a defensive mid that was nowhere to be found in the section of the field he was meant to be clogging. Now add some inspired attackers and clinical finishing for the opposition. Result = ouch.

* Wynne may never be ready. Sure, his speed and strength are good for MLS and against lower-tier opposition, but he's showing no sign whatsoever of developing anything resembling defensive smarts. Add in his sad lack of technical ability, and you've got a player who would have been an excellent right back for the US...10-15 years ago. His speed does make him an attacking threat, but when he can't control the balls that pick out his runs, that makes him pretty much useless. And why were we playing with two attacking fullbacks on the road in a stadium where we never win? While we're on the subject of fullbacks...

* The Experimentalist. In my preview, I put Beasley at left back too. Not out of desire, but out of necessity. Who else are you going to put there? Pearce is crap, Bornstein is unseasoned and not a terrific defender to boot, and I was sure Spector would be on the right. In retrospect, the better option would have been pushing Bocanegra onto the left and using somebody else to partner Gooch in the middle. Hindsight is 20/20. The saddest part of the whole affair is that, in those patches of nice possession we did have, the experiment was working. Beasley was connecting with the midfield, overlapping and popping up in good wide positions, ready to be picked out by balls through. The fact that his control was terrible and that his defensive liabilities far outweighed his offensive threat aside, there were indications that this experiment could work. But it has a time and a place. Perhaps a time and a place where Beasley is match sharp, we're not on the road in Central America, and we have a third defender who stays home plus a defensive midfielder who isn't always a step late and pulled out of position? Speaking of Pablo...

* A step behind. Sure, you can fault Torres for not getting stuck in enough on the first goal, but Pablo, ostensibly your defensive midfield hard man, was there too, impotent as the attacker skated on through. And where was he when the cross for their second was cut back into that gapping void between defense and midfield? All game long he seemed both tentative and a step too slow, with not enough juice in the old legs to get him where he needed to be. There's a case to be made for experienced heads on the road in such a harsh setting. But there's also a case to be made, particularly on a field where the ball moves so quickly and sometimes unpredictably, for a more athletic and energetic option. That's why I thought we could see him paired with Junior in a two holding-mid set. Unfortunately, Bob had other "ideas"...

* I should have gone to bed. Honestly, I came out of that first half thinking, "Wow, that sucked. But we're only two down. We can still get something from this." So I stayed up to watch what I thought would be an improved effort in the second half. Then I saw that Bob had subbed out Torres, one of the only two players (the other being Altidore) who looked likely to unlock the Ticos defense in the first half. And to bring on Kljestan? What the hell? Our defensive midfield was terrible, our fullbacks awful, our attack stagnant outside of Torres and Altidore, and you bring off Torres. Why? Was he too much of a defensive liability? Then why bring on Kljestan, who doesn't offer you anything more in that department, never met an effort he couldn't half-ass, and is wasteful with the ball to boot? I'm going to address the Torres situation more fully in a subsequent post, but I just don't understand why you would pull one of the only players who looked like he was up for this game.

* Missing in action. So who was supposed to provide the sharp, pointy end of the stick? Altidore was shaky to start, but began to grow into the game. Donovan and Dempsey? MIA. Donovan's disappearing act was pretty much predictable, but Dempsey? As much as I love and value him as a player, he looked tired and disinterested. And Donovan's attacking "threat" consisted of running right at defenders and being shocked that they stripped the ball from him. Oh, and bitching at the refs. And his teammates. Anybody still wondering why he doesn't have that captain's armband anymore? At what point does his wilting act on the big stage get him benched? That will also be addressed in the aforementioned "subsequent post."

I'm starting to get annoyed and frustrated all over again, so I'm just going to cover some quick hits and then go sulk...

* Why, when you've been playing a two holding mid set that would have been ideal in this setting, do you trot out a narrow diamond with just Mastro in the d-mid hole and the flanks wide open for tactically inept fullbacks to try and address?

* How can a team with some big bodies that excel at finishing set pieces fail to take advantage of dead ball situations? Do we even work on those anymore or does our status as the scintillating "Giants of CONCACAF" preclude such base endeavors?

* Did Junior really deserve that yellow? If anything, yellows should have been issued to Kljestan and Boca, who both had ugly tackles overlooked.

* Did the refs really not know that Costa Rica wears red? I guess they figured it out at halftime and switched shirts.

* How can a four-back set leave so much room on the flanks? DC United's three-back set, one that includes freakin' Marc Burch, doesn't give up so much space.

We're in a bit of trouble here. I don't think anybody would have been expecting more than a draw in Costa Rica, but the manner of the defeat is worrying. Bradley absolutely needs a big effort and a result in Chicago against a tough Honduras side. If we drop that one, we've got a trip to the Azteca on the cards and the potential to leave nine points in a row on the table, potentially entering the final stretch of four games in the dreaded #4 play-in spot. Time to buckle down, trade in our "giants of CONCACAF" cards, and focus on doing the things that we do best, playing collectively with energy and capitalizing on set pieces. Anything less, and we might fall victim to the same sickness that is currently ravaging the Mexican national team.


  1. What a drubbing! Maybe there is something to be said about conventional wisdom - bunker down - play your tried and true.

    I, like everyone else, was intrigued when Bob threw out his regular formation and threw in some players we didn't expect to see starting on the pitch. Turns out it was the wrong thing to do.

    When you have a short camp with 11 guys to prepare for a road game in a place where we have never won, might not be the time to try something you haven't done before.

    The fullbacks were awful, although I would disagree with you on who was relatively better. You couldn't actually call Beasley a fullback because he never seemed to be occupying that space. It was wide open -- all game. He contributed nothing on the attack except for his keen back passes to Tim Howard from midfield. I wanted this experiment to work. It didn't. Wynne at least showed energy and effort -- albeit without touch or deftness.

    I thought Mastroeni was the right pick for defensive mid, but you are right - his day is done. This was a performance that does not merit a callback because it offered nothing in terms of leadership or bite.

    Like you I gasped when Bradley subbed out Torres instead of Beasley, but then I rmembered that Torres had put in 90 over the weekend and 90 more a few days earlier so maybe he was gassed or Bob wanted to save him for Honduras.

    There was really not much he could do in terms of subs. Where do you go when you've started with an offenive formation and go down 2 nil. You can't bunker down and the guys who are supposed to add offensive spark are already on the field. You throw in the remaining guys on your bench that can attack -- and that was Klejstan, Adu and Davies.

    One final note. I don't want to hear anyone say that Ching and Hejduk don't bring anything to this team. We really missed them last night.

  2. I think we missed Hejduk more than Ching (Good God, can you believe that I, of all people, wrote that!?!).

    When things were starting to go awry, we needed one of our veterans to step up and settle the troops, spark a bit of spirit, get them working as a collective. That's where the energy and passion and experience that Hejduk brings to the party come in.

    Instead we had Donovan and Mastroeni bitching at each other, and (reportedly, though this is second-to-third hand information, and not obvious from the televised perspective) the vets ganging up on Torres, rather than providing encouragement or (gasp!) calling each other out for awful play (Beasley, Mastro) or going MIA (Dempsey, Donovan).

    Frankly, I think we need somebody external to the whole incestuous USSF to have a crack at the job, to weed out the overrated, underperforming, technically/tactically inept, and mentally "soft" dross--to view the player pool from a fresh, unbiased perspective, and to bench those who need to be benched. And it needs to be somebody with the reputation and charisma to suppress (and impress) those egos who've been issued free passes for far too long.

    And before anybody says anything stupid...NO KLINSMANN!