US Team Is Deepest Ever

With the announcement of the US World Cup squad yesterday, the US will be taking its deepest ever squad to a World Cup.

I can already sense the disbelief among many US fans that I just said the US squad had depth. After all we are taking 3 very unproven forwards, we are plagued with injuries to the backline, and face a real void – as usual – at left back.

But this needs to be put into some perspective. The USA has never been deep. We are still a very young soccer nation. So by our standard this is by far the deepest USA squad ever.

This US World Cup team in stark contrast to past US squads, relies almost exclusively on foreign based players. In both 2002 and 2006 the US roster had 11 MLS based players and 12 European-based. In 2002, 11 of the 12 Euro-based players played in top leagues, while in 2006 just 7 played in top tier European leagues. The US this time has 19 of the 23 playing abroad and this does not count Landon Donovan, who played more games in the Premier League this calendar year than MLS. So even if you eliminate Jose Francisco Torres (Mexico), Herculez Gomez (Mexico) , Jay Demerit (England Championship), Benny Feilhaber (Denmark), and Clarence Goodson (Norway) as they don’t play in top European leagues (although Demerit and Feilhaber did play in the Premier League and the Mexican league is very good) that is 14 players playing in elite European leagues. This is not a knock on the quality of MLS, as 17 out of the 23 got their start in MLS. Instead this shows that MLS is developing real talent and that the pool players available to Bob Bradley to select from is not mostly confined to domestic based players.
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Assessing the 4-2 Defeat

The US looked pretty good against the Czech Republic last night and if one were to ignore the scoreboard you would have thought the US to be on the whole the better side. Awhh, but you can’t forget the scoreboard. The US had a number of catastrophic defensive lapses throughout the game – a failure to close down a cross, poor positioning on free kicks, and poor marking that all resulted in goals. However, this game should be put in some context. Almost none of the main players for the US were out there last night and many of the players that received significant minutes won’t make the squad. Bradley was also experimenting throughout the game – especially at the end when some players were playing out of position.

So what did we learn?
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England – Mexico Analysis And What it Means for 6-12

Was that England-Mexico or USA-Mexico? One of the main differences was actually that the US usually has a bit more of the ball against the Mexicans than England did. In fact, the totality of Mexico’s domination in the first half was rather striking. Yet England’s 3-1 victory also had all the hallmarks of a US victory over Mexico. In watching this lackluster game from England US fans should gain some belief – yes we can beat England – however there were also moments to give US fans some pause.

Mexican football specializes in controlling possession, making your opponent chase, and then finding gaps through quick through balls. They often resemble Arsenal or Spanish side in their ability to control the ball. Yet too often Mexico struggles either to create many clear cut chances from their possession and when they do they squander the chances that they create. Against England, Mexico had countless chances, but squandered chance after chance.

England looked genuinely shocked by Mexico’s pace and control. England’s high upfield defensive pressure proved little trouble for the technically gifted Mexicans. And worrisome for England there midfield was frequently cut open and exposed. As the half went on England soon realized that they had little chance of winning back the ball up field and they dropped deeper, putting at times nine players behind the ball. More worrying for England, and something I pointed to the other day, England had tremendous trouble winning the ball back. They lack that natural ball winning midfielder and while Michael Carrick and James Milner – the two who started in the central midfield – can get stuck in, they were frequently overrun.
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Injury Crisis? Assessing the US Central Defenders

Most attention on the US team was focused on the strikers and playmakers. We always tend to focus on goal scorers more than defenders. But in reality Oguchi Onyewu’s comeback was and is much more vital to the US team than Charlie Davies’. Under Bradley the US has thrived defensively. Going into the World Cup, we know there will be times when the American goal will be under total assault, especially against England. Therefore to make a run in the World Cup, similar to the run in the Confederations’ Cup, defensive solidity will be the key. But the backline of the USMNT is not looking in great shape right now.

The team over the last few years has had three centerbacks that are capable of playing in any league in the world: Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay Demerit. It was these three that were on the field against Spain and Brazil last year (with Bocanegra playing at left back). It was these three that gave many US fans confidence. Now, all three are struggling to be at their best for the World Cup due to injuries.

US fans should not throw themselves out of the window just yet. This US team is under an intense media microscope. The ins and outs of each training session are vigorously scrutinized as are the comments of the players and coaches. A player has a slight knock – and it gets reported and becomes a big story. This is a level of scrutiny that is even rare for big time club teams.

However, despite the disclaimer the injuries are concerning. The accomplished Jay Demerit has abdominal strain. And things got even more worrying with the revelation that Carlos Bocanegra actually had hernia surgery at the beginning of May.
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Why Not Camp At Altitude?

Putting the US men’s national team camp in Princeton makes at a lot of sense. Princeton has great facilities – a reason that Bob Bradley sited. It is just outside New York, which encourages the east coast media to take an interest. The Daily Show for instance sent John Oliver to tape a segment. It is also close to two sites for friendlies in Hartford and Philadelphia.

But my question is that aren’t there other places in the United States that could more accurately reflect the conditions that US will face in South Africa? England are training in the alps in Austria and Algeria are training in Switzerland to get them used to the altitude and to try to emulate the temperature. One of the advantages that we have as a country is that we can generally emulate most climate conditions. In 2002, for instance the US I believe set up their camp in South Carolina to emulate the heat and humidity of South Korea.

So why not have camp at altitude in Denver or Boulder, or Salt Lake, or another city in the Rocky Mountains, were the US can get both acclimatized to the altitude and play in cooler conditions.

Now I am sure the US training staff has this figured out. We are world leaders in fitness science and I assume that the boys will be well acclimatized to the altitude. Still, with other countries making the concerted effort to emulate the conditions in South Africa, why aren’t we?

England’s World Cup Flaw: A Team Without Ball Winners

Scanning Fabio Capello’s 30 man provisional England World Cup squad there is, buried under all the midfield talent, one major hole in a team filled with stars – there is no defensive force in the midfield. This is a significant flaw and is one that may prevent England from lifting the cup in South Africa.

The English love to talk about their gritty determination and work ethic on the football pitch, but the one position that most exemplifies those traits – the defensive midfielder or the “stopper” as it is often referred to on US soccer fields – the English are bare. The only player in the 30 man squad that is a true defensive midfielder is West Ham’s Scott Parker – a quality player for sure – but would is by no means world class. This weakness is not a new problem for England. In 06 Owen Hargreaves emerged as solid option, but this in itself is revealing, as Hargreaves is actually Canadian (he really is the Canadian Guiseppi Rossi) and he developed his game in Germany with Bayern Munich not in England. Sure, England produce some solid hardmen in the middle of the field, Birmingham’s Lee Boyer, comes to mind and perhaps there are a few up in comers, but in this vital position England have no one world class.
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Bradley Makes the Tough Call On Davies

Charlie Davies has been left off the World Cup squad. I have to say that I am surprised Davies wasn’t called into the 30 man camp. I thought Bradley would give him to the last possible moment to make the final roster. But Bob Bradley killed the comeback story. He is the bad guy. But the fact that Bob Bradley made this decision, should give US fans more not less faith in him as a coach.

US fans are all clearly disappointed. Davies was a revelation last year and American fans dreamed of Davies and Altidore partnering in South Africa, especially after a year of seasoning at the highest levels of European club football. Sadly that won’t happen. But that isn’t Bob Bradley’s fault.

Ives Galcarep, a veteran reporter, perhaps hyped expectations to an unrealistic level when he visited and profiled Davies comeback in the spring and concluded he would make the squad. The fact is that in soccer – especially the World Cup – it is not simply good enough to be healthy again. Being in form and achieving match fitness takes time to achieve. Davies had not touched a soccer ball for almost six months. He recently entered full training, but it was always going to take a lot of time for Davies to get back to where he once was.

The fact is that Bob Bradley gave Davies the chance. He sent a US trainer to Sochaux to evaluate him – clearly the trainer didn’t clear Davies. The club itself didn’t think he wasn’t medically fit enough to play in matches. Now one could argue Sochaux has an incentive not to have him play in the World Cup and risk further injury. But so does the US and most clubs want their players in the World Cup, as it tends to boost their values, since the World Cup is a talent scouting meat market.

Davies was always a long shot after the tragic and horrific accident. Yet all of us longed to see him on the plane to Jo-berg and if it were up to us fans probably 90 percent of us would have brought him even if he wasn’t fit. But this is what you pay coaches for – to make the hard cold-blooded decisions that in the end are in the best interests of the team.