Pardon the headline. It's nothing personally directed at US fans and their treatment of Bob Bradley, but rather a lame pop-cultural dig at "Darth" Torrado in the photo below...
I'm a bit late to the party, having just finished watching the second half of the USA's 2-1 loss to Mexico after watching the first half live yesterday, so I won't do much rehashing of the same tired stuff being trotted around the blogosphere. Suffice it to say, the result was disappointing, particularly after having been up a goal, but was also just about what I expected (excuse me for cursing my inability to pull the trigger on predicting a score yesterday because 2 or 3 to 1 was where I was leaning, I just couldn't settle on 2 or 3). So let's hit some talking points...
* A time and a place for Dolo. Anybody else get sick of watching every Mexico attack in the first half taking the scenic route down their left flank? Me too. Look, in a game where we're going to at least have a decent chunk of the possession, I like Cherundolo just fine. He's good with the ball at his feet, can cross, and even hits some nice balls over the top on occasion. But he's not a "defend-first" fullback, which was probably the one area where you might have forgiven Bob for erring on the side of caution. Of course, having said that, in the second half, the attacks were more evenly split and Mexico were getting less joy on Dolo's flank, particularly when Holden came on to offer an assist in midfield...Wait! Was that a subtle dig at Donovan and Dempsey? You be the judge...or, alternatively, read on...
* Ooooh, unlucky! How many of you have heard that nugget directed your way in the wake of a heavy touch? I think the more proper expression should have been, "Oooooh, somebody needs to work on their first touch" or "Oooooh, focus your ass on trapping the damn ball!" Having never played in smog at altitude, I don't know if the problem was oxygen starved brains keeping the ball from sticking to feet, but the US looked heavier than usual in their touches. Doubly damning was how often passes went horribly astray or directly to Mexican players when a bit of respite in the form of sustained possession would have been a decided boon. And how many damn times did the defense "clear" the ball to a Mexican midfielder smack dab in the middle of the field about 35 yards from goal? Basics, people! Defending 101. Ugh!
* The usual suspects. Seriously, how many of you were surprised at how lopsided the officiating job was? Really? Sure, I was hugely frustrated as well, particularly when (1) a foul on Donovan went uncalled, and three Mexican touches later, the ball was in the net, (2) the linesmen's inability to recognize any foul committed by a Mexican player (think their relative proximity to the hostile crowd played any part in that?), and (3) Mexican players consistently getting away with "hands to the face," if not worse...
...with nothing in the way of punishment forthcoming from the official. But this kind of crap is just about par for the crooked CONCACAF course. Of course, Mexico were the better side (that's the other "usual" suspect in this instance--Mexico in the Azteca). I just wish I had more respect for them, but it's just not going to happen as long as they're choking and punching their opponents. How about a little class?
* Rethinking the front lines. You know what worried the Mexican defense? The speed and doggedness of Charlie Davies. You know what didn't? Brian Ching. I know, I know, this is where I get all the hate mail about how damn hard Chinger works and how much his holding and linkup play and "go team!" spirit invigorate the side. And yes, Ching can be an effective player against some teams. But Mexico in the Azteca? Puh-lease, Bob. Pace and incisiveness shall set you free (on goal)!
* Missing in action. But at least Ching was putting forth an effort. What about our twin reborn wing heroes of the Confederations Cup? Where was the fantabulous counter-attacking midfield play of Dempsey and Donovan? Okay, that's a bit unfair on Deuce. I didn't think he was all that and a bag of chips in South Africa either, despite picking up ill-deserved tourney honors, and he could probably do with a spell on the pine to build the hunger and effort again, but Donovan? Whither the much-ballyhooed Mandon? The Mexicutioner? Where was that guy? Looked to me like he was too cool for school, attempting the whole "conserve the energy for one righteous blast into the Mexican gut" just to prove his "quality" and how much more of a "mature" player he is. Too bad that meant lame wing defense and zero offensive contribution. I've been really impressed by his league and international play this summer, but he'd better rule the El Salvador game with an iron boot or it's back to Kapitan Kissypants for Mandon.
Speaking of which, we're in a spot of trouble here folks...third in the group, just a point clear of Mexico in the dreaded play-in spot. There's almost no danger of us finishing outside the top four, but that #4 spot means a play-in against the #5 from South America, no easy chore. That said, we've got two winnable games at home (El Salvador and Costa Rica) and one that could go either way on the road (T&T), so we shouldn't need anything from the other road match (Honduras), which is probably a good thing. In fact, maybe I'll break out the Nostrodameter and see where the chips might fall in a later post. But for now, in the spirit of thinking ahead, how do we line up against El Salvador next month?
Davies and Altidore up top.
Donovan and Holden on the wings.
Bradley and Feilhaber in the middle.
Spector, Boca, Marshall, and Dolo across the back.
Timmy in net.
We're going to have possession in midfield. We don't need Ching to hold or win balls in midfield, we need darting runners and finishers (building the goal difference can't hurt either if things stay as close as they are in the Hex). I wouldn't mind Dempsey seeing pine until he rediscovers some grit, and Holden didn't look intimidated at all to my eyes. In fact, he hustled his ass off defensively (as you'd expect from a sub), hit a few good crosses (one of which really should have been finished), and played a much tidier game than some of the veterans. I've never been a huge fan of his game, but I'll admit that now I want to see more.
Feilhaber should provide more spark in midfield when he has time and space in which to operate, and we don't really need a dedicated destroyer freeing Bradley to contribute at both ends. At the back, Onyewu will be missing through card accumulation, but Marshall looked an able replacement in the Gold Cup against mid-tier CONCACAF opposition. DeMerit is decent if we're looking for simple, hard-nosed defending, but Marshall adds a bit more technique and genuine danger from set plays. On the flanks, I've said that there is a time and a place for Dolo, and so this match should prove. Spector, I'd argue, is a better option than Pearce or Bornstein, even on his less favored side, though Pearce did show decently at times in the Gold Cup and might be viable as well.
Well, that's about the long and the short of it. Disappointment reigns, but we've taken another tiny step (we held a lead in Azeteca!) forward. I could take a moment to hammer Bradley for negative tactics, but how else are you going to play in that environment? The truth is, we didn't give up too many clear chances, and did create a handful of our own--we just couldn't take them. Yes, Ching was probably a mistake, and I would have been tempted to try Feilhaber instead of Clark from the start in order to maintain more possession, but I think some of the players on the field didn't bring as much as I would have expected, and I'm not sure you can blame Bob for that failure.