Thud! | a USA Match Reaction

Let's be honest. After the stirring fightback against Argentina, you always knew the heavy legs and emotional comedown were going to cost the US against a side built to grind out results. While there were significant flaws, the performance was actually better than I expected and, save for a set piece let down and a possible missed PK call by the ref, the song might have been a more satisfying one come the final whistle.

Talking points?

* The US will never be a top-tier team with Jonathan Bornstein in the side. Too excitable on the ball. Poor technique. Miserable in the air. Sure he can run for days, but then he needs to, considering how terrible his positioning is. Ugh to the power of whatever high number you choose to insert here. Fullbacks in the modern game, particularly the international game, need to be solid on the ball as a starting point because so much possession cycles through them with the midfield and center of the pitch normally choked off. This becomes doubly important in games where the US has the majority of possession against a team sitting deep.

* By contrast, Tim Ream should start any game where the US can reasonably expect to control the ball and the tempo. Not every pass or touch was perfect, but his calm on the ball and ability to slot passes through narrow gaps, and over distance to boot, makes him a huge asset in such games. Forget the substantial number of dots connected on the ground — I lost count of the number of times where what looked like a boot clear, and would have been such had Onyewu, DeMerit, or Bocanegra been the hoofee, found the feet or chest of a target upfield. Add in the two sticky situations (a slip with nobody behind him and a Paraguay forward closing in plus Bocanegra's ill-advised ball toward goal along the goal line) that he handled with admirable aplomb, and you've got all the important boxes checked on your technical center back examination card. I'm not saying he's right for every situation. He doesn't dominate physically or aerially, and it didn't look like they were even sending him forward for set pieces. But against most of CONCACAF, I'd be inclined to pencil him into the first XI.

* I said it in the Argentina reaction post, and I'll say it again here. For a team that relies on set pieces as much as we do, the loss of Holden is going to be a major blow to our Gold Cup hopes. Donovan's set pieces are like his play in general: flashes of magic separated by long spells of mediocrity or worse. Holden's balls are consistently dangerous, and the big boys who get on the end of such balls are going to be feeding on scraps this summer.

* Agudelo's feet are incredibly quick. Watch them. Astonishing that he's so strong at fighting off defenders for the ball to hold and distribute as well. Eighteen, huh? I'm trying to hang onto my pessimism and "ware the hype machine!" stance, but...damn.

* I can't decide which one annoys me more, Dempsey's flopping and griping and never seeing a shot he didn't like (while only managing about one in seven or less on frame, though damn if that one isn't usually out of the top drawer) or Donovan's magical disappearing act for massive chunks of the game. Having to take set pieces was sometimes your only reminder he was on the field. I guess Dempsey making sure he's involved, for good or ill, has to put him in better stead, doesn't it? And he's still quality on the ball (even if he holds it far to long at times).

* Speaking of holding too long. Can Jermaine Jones stay well down the depth chart please? I feel like I'm on a one-man crusade against the poor dude, and I'm a touch worried that I don't see more hue and cry about this, but he just doesn't inspire confidence. I don't know if it's his sometimes petulant behavior. Or the times it doesn't seem he cares enough to hold onto the ball, to make the tackle, to bust a gut getting forward. Edu and Junior weren't flawless in the first half. Both squandered possession, often in bad areas, but there was more dynamism in midfield and the front line was linked better to the back. Tired legs were obviously a factor, but so was Jones.

* Chandler keeps impressing. Again, not terrific, but you see the tools and the promise there (and the ability not to shank every cross to the middle of next week...hi Frankie!). Likewise, Lichaj looked good getting forward without sacrificing defensive responsibilities when he came on. They may still be behind Dolo on the depth chart, but I think the future at right back is pretty secure. Now if only one of them could slot in on the left, we might be cooking with gas...

All right. I'm sure something I've forgotten will come to me as I'm drifting off to sleep tonight, but those are my initial impressions coming out of the game. We're a good team, technically and tactically sharp. With the glaring exception of left back, we've got quality throughout the team. The big hole, and it's the one that punishes us time and again in games against tactically disciplined, compact teams with reasonable technical skill, is in creating good chances. We fashioned a few, but nowhere near enough considering the possession we enjoyed. True, much of the finishing was wasteful, and the international game, particularly when evenly-matched opponents play on two days rest, rarely yields many chances. That said, the lack of a cutting edge, of the ability to finish chances or even half-chances, doesn't become a major factor when the hand wielding the blade doesn't put it consistently in positions to hurt the opposition.


  1. There's considerably more consistency to Donovan's game now, your criticism of him is archaic and generally wrong. He didn't have the same impact last night that he had in some of our World Cup games, but he was rarely absent.

    I agree on Dempsey, mostly. He was a creative dynamo last night but at the same time, he should have realized he didn't have his shot and become more willing to distribute quickly rather than create off the dribble and take shots.

    Jones inspires plenty of confidence (except that one missed interception). What you don't seem to realize is that his game is not to be a dynamic box-to-box midfielder; he's a deep-lying destroyer. He has the quality to spray balls out from about 4 yards in front of the back line and win possession through biting tackles, but he's NEVER going to be the Michael Bradley type. Or Stuart Holden type, for that matter. It's just not his game, and no one is complaining because everyone recognizes that.

  2. The one thing I'm really noticing is the lack of team speed. Altidore seems so slow and ponderous. I'm not trying to pile on the guy because he's young and definitely has talent, but he looks like he's running in quicksand at times.

    I also agree that Chandler has looked impressive.

  3. How's the weather up there on your high horse, Steve? Must be nice to always be right...

    RE: Donovan: Can't agree with you. He goes missing far too often. Sorry if you don't see it or find this an "archaic" argument. Doesn't make it any less true from my perspective. You're welcome to yours.

    RE: Jones: Before tossing those big "NEVER" and "everyone" internet bombs, please review Jones' entire career, not just how he plays now. Time was, Jones was very much a "dynamic box-to-box midfielder." While he now plays a more sedate role, that doesn't make the "NEVER" bomb any less misplayed, nor does it relate to my point. I'm not arguing his role in the tactical scheme of things or his technical merits as a player, I just get a bad feeling watching some of his petulance, nonchalance with the ball, and only occasional willingness to really commit to tackles (usually in association with the petulance). He's a good player and deserves to be in the mix; I'm just not so certain there aren't better options. Just my intuition and an opinion. Take it or leave it.

    PS: I'm tempted to call you out on the US's need for a pure d-mid at this point, but I'll let that lie because I don't agree with you that he's a "deep-lying destroyer."

    Isn't it wonderful that we all have our individual subjective takes and that everything doesn't have to be an absolute?

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. @Dennis
    I don't think Altidore's issues are physical. I think he just needs more competitive minutes and match-sharpness. That's what makes him look a step slower, in my opinion. Wouldn't hurt if he didn't try to bulldoze ahead every time he got on the ball either, though blunting that instinct completely would be a mistake.

    Can't agree with you on team speed. I thought we looked pretty quick, both on and off the ball.

  5. I guess it is foolish to criticize team speed in comparison with a side like Argentina. The U.S. did look quicker against a relatively plodding Paraguay team.

    I agree about Altidore needing minutes. Everytime I watch Villarreal I hope to catch a glimpse of him. On the flipside of that, though, Bradley hasn't been getting any minutes either and he's looked really sharp in these past 2 matches, showing an excellent workrate (which I know is different than speed).

    Keep up the good work. I like your blog, sir.

  6. Thanks, Dennis.

    You might want to watch Bursaspor in Turkey if you're hoping to catch a glimpse of Altidore as he's on loan there for the rest of the season. ;-)

  7. re: Altidore on Bursaspor
    No wonder :)
    Thanks, man.

    He was on Villarreal earlier this season, I swear...