So which was more shocking for you: Clint Dempsey’s menagerie of missed sitters or Bob Bradley finishing the game with Dempsey as his lone striker? It’s not an idle question. My notes, even from early in the first half, mention Dempsey looking heavy-legged and lacking his usual spark. I think it was about a half hour in that I wondered why Bradley hadn’t started the energetic Bedoya, saving Dempsey, coming off a long club season, for emergency sub duty and the latter stages of the tournament.
Lest the argument be raised about the importance of the game to advancing in said tournament and the necessity of playing your experienced, reliable players, I submit the inclusion of Wondolowski and Lichaj1. Those exceptions aside2, might we be seeing signs of the “devil you know” rot that set in during the later stages of the Arena era, the entitlement years?
Let’s adress that and other questions in the talking points…
The difference between the US and those who’ve been posting massive goal tallies in this tournament? Easy. Finishing. Altidore’s marvelous thunderbolt aside, the US should have had at least four, possible as many as six or seven more. That said, not all of those were flubbed finishes; there were a few decent saves mixed in when the US managed to get shots on target. Despite the often disjointed build-up, lack of sharpness on the ball, and failure to exploit free kicks, the US still could have made it to the far side of five. Of course, Guadaloupe isn’t the best measuring stick, but then, some of these massive goal hauls elsewhere have been against similar opposition.
Following on from that point, and, far be it from me to be optimistic, but I sense a familiar pattern. Logically, from what we’ve seen thus far in the Gold Cup, it wouldn’t make much sense to have cause for hope, but isn’t this the sort of tournament we’ve seen before? The US labors mightily, particularly against minnows, while their rivals cruise to gaudy victories, only for the plodding tortoise that is the USMNT to find their tortured way through. Which would be an almighty shame if it happened because then there’s no impetus to change: be it player selection, tactics, or, ultimately, the man responsible for both.
To lighten the mood for a moment, I was happy to see the change that introduced Lichaj in place of Bocanegra on the left flank. As I said in previous reaction posts, I have no problem with Boca at left back when we’re playing superior or roughly equal opposition. In those cases, emphasizing defense or limiting the back line to one fullback who gets forward often would seem to be a sound (if somewhat faint-hearted) tactical choice. But I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Bradley felt the need to use Boca at left back against Canada and Panama. Those are teams we should be looking to dominate, to exploit for width. Exactly as Lichaj did in this match.
On a related note, should we be worried that the greater threat down the flanks were often Lichaj and Cherundolo rather than Dempsey or Donovan, the presumptive wingers? Whether Bradley dictated their pinching in or whether they did it on their own, the fact remains that we get very little width from either3. For Dempsey I can understand this. He’s better pinching in. I suppose Donovan could be if he’d use more of that heralded vision and pace to get after players and slot balls through. Instead, we get another tepid performance in a match where we need the veteran, the supposed best player on the team, to stand up and take charge4. And those set pieces? My kingdom for a Holden!
Let me close with two moments that I think might go somewhat ignored in the larger frustration of Dempsey’s missed chances. Those were were certainly moments upon which the game hung, but these other two could potentially have been larger factors.
The first was yet another stupid, lazy foul by Jermaine Jones that set up an early free kick chance for Guadaloupe that almost morphed into a disastrous start when the corner that followed was pinged off the bar. Despite one fantastic ball to open a sequence that Dempsey ultimately flubbed, I again had the same frustrations I’ve been harping on incessantly when it comes to Jones. He’s a quality player, but I wonder about the commitment and resulting poor decision-making.
The second was Goodson bumping a Guadaloupe striker who would have been in alone on goal early in the match. The referee chose, probably correctly, to wave play on, but I can easily (particularly in a World Cup qualifier away) see that getting called the other way. Red card and 80 or so minutes of playing a man down in a match you need a result from? Not good.
Neither of these events cost us the match, but both could have proved as instrumental, if not more so, than poor finishing. So perhaps there’s a case to be made here that the undoing of this team may be as tied to decision-making without the ball as it is to failing to get it in the net. We shall see…
And, to a lesser extent, Goodson, though he’s more experienced and presumably farther up the pecking order. ↩
Noting, of course, that Lichaj and Wondo were effectively swapped in for the equally inexperienced Ream and Agudelo, so they are perhaps not “exceptions” per se. ↩
Which is one of the primary reasons why I’ve been advocating for attacking fullbacks. ↩
Note that I’m not advocating dropping Donovan, just considering him more of a complementary, rather than cornerstone, type of player. Less a general than a sniper. Time to move past the time where he’s considered essential to the team performing well. ↩