USA-Ghana Post Mortem

After a tournament filled with dramatic comebacks, the US couldn’t muster that second goal that would have either won the match or sent it to penalties in extra time. Alas the US didn’t get it done. While the US had achieved its stated goal – to get out of the group – the loss to Ghana without a doubt should leave US fans unsatisfied, as the US had a real shot at making a run to the semifinals.

Overall this was a tournament that affirmed what US soccer fans had known – the USA is a nation to be taken seriously in world football. But it also demonstrated where the US must improve in order to reach the next level. Under Bradley the US fully adopted a resilient never say die attitude, but the basic fact is that in and of itself was never going to be enough to make a deep run in the World Cup. The US was going to have to show something that they have so often failed to show – consistency. Instead, once again the US failed to put together a solid 90 minute performance.

The US showed once again against Ghana that it is an incredibly resilient team, as the second half performance left Ghana rattled and left the US as looking like the likely winners. But after conceding in the extra time, the US just looked exhausted and out of ideas. They had already spent most of regulation time chasing the game, and having to chase it in extra time was just too much to ask. If the US was going to win this game, it needed to do so in the second half when it was on top. Hats should go off to Ghana. They put the US under constant pressure, created turnovers, defended strongly and looked bright going forward.

But some criticism should rightly be directed at Bob Bradley. Once again the US started miserably. The US not only gave up an early first half goal, but were totally outplayed by Ghana in the first half. That is not just down to not playing well, it is also do to Bradley once again getting the starting lineup terribly wrong.

One would think that Bradley would actually start a game with the lineup that had put forth the most inspired performances in the tournament – this would include Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber who were part of the comeback again Slovenia and the win over Algeria. But no, Bradley decided on playing Ricardo Clark, who is not nearly as good in possession as Maurice Edu and has shown some poor positional sence. Robbie Findley in his game and half against England and Slovenia had shown flashes of pace, but also demonstrated that he lacked the skill, technique and poise to really be a factor.

The result was disastrous. Ricardo Clark was at fault for the Ghana goal and was not far away from committing a red card-worthy challenge shortly after. Bradley, to his credit recognized the danger and put on Edu 30 minutes in. Overall in the first half, the US could not possess the ball and were overrun in the middle of the field. The addition of Edu and at half time Benny Feilhaber completely changed the game, as suddenly the US had players that were confident on the ball.

The second half the US dominated play and created some very good chances. Dempsey was everywhere and had his best game of the World Cup and was the best player on the field. His move to create the penalty was class but was active not just offensively but worked his butt off defensively. Unfortunately for the US, Landon Donovan had his worst game of the tournament. Donovan’s touch often alluded him and went MIA for long stretches. He looked exhausted at the end and simply wasn’t able to carry the team on his shoulders the way he had so often this World Cup cycle.

While Altidore missed some chances and failed to score in the tournament, his importance to the US attack became totally apparent in overtime, as his absence on the field deprived the US of a powerful target striker and allowed the Ghanaian defense to focus on stopping Dempsey.

In the end however, the major weakness of this US team was its centerbacks. In the Confederations Cup last year, centerbacks Oguchi Oneywu and Jay Demerit were phenomenal. Yet a knee injury to Gooch and a freak eye injury to Demerit, had left these players either rusty or a bit out of form. On the first goal, Demerit looked slow as he failed to close down Kevin Prince Boateng. And on the second goal, Bocanegra and Demerit were both beaten for pace and strength on what should have been a routine clearance.

The US team can hold their heads up high, as they had a good tournament. They won the group, got the country energized, and demonstrated signs that it is an emerging power in world football. However, ultimately there could have been more, much more, and US fans should be left wanting more.

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3 Responses

  1. My feeling is that you nailed it. The team that started was not the team that should have started and it hurt the USA a great deal.
    Two things I think you left out: 1) had Bradley not had to insert Edu and Feilhaber early on the team would have had two pair of fresh legs to add later in the game and 2) something happened around 75 minutes, it felt almost like the team was instructed to take the pedal off the gas – something a team like the US can never effort to do – because the whole squad, not just a few players, started taking their time bouncing the ball around in the back and at midfield rather than continuing to aggressively move forwards…. this reprieve allowed Ghana’s squad to recover, its superior touch and passing – previously disrupted by US hustle – to return, and Ghana’s confidence to rebound… beyond that first 15 second burst to start extra time, the US stayed slow over the last 30 minutes, Ghana scored and their effort intensified.
    In any event, thanks again for hitting the nail on the head with your analysis.

  2. First off, credit to Ghana, particularly its keeper, who kept them in the game during periods when the U.S. was on the offensive.
    Second, still, after all these years, the U.S. does not have a forward who can be counted on to score. You cannot win with all of your goals coming from the midfield.
    Third, for all of his pace, Findley’s finishing skills need work. We never saw what Buddle could do over an extended period of time; regrettably, given his form in the MLS before the World Cup.
    Fourth, Bradley should have started Edu, if not Feilhaber.
    Fifth, I would like to have seen a bit more of Torres, again for ball control purposes.
    Sixth, Bocanegra’s lack of pace was shown up.
    Seventh, DeMerritt is a solid player, but when you change his center back partner, rhythm is off. DeMerritt plays in the Championship, not even at the highest level of the FA.

  3. First off, excellent take on the game and the team as a whole. I’ve been waiting to hear the criticism that I think many Team USA followers feel but rarely see put into words by the American media. I blame a lack of understand and expertise regarding the sport. Either way, you’re very right about Bradley not getting the line-up right. If you’ll notice, he rarely has a starting 11 that he is happy with. Over the years I’ve watched him cycle through players mid-game and it has really shown a lack of confidence in his initial selections. He seems to be attempting to solve problems, mid-game, that should be sorted out during scouting and training sessions. I also worry about the way he looks at player performances, post-game. Ricardo Clark made no impact throughout the cup. He shared responsibility for allowing the Steven Gerrard goal and rarely showed control or poise on the ball. Why Feilhaber came off the bench the whole tournament, I’ll never understand. He is obviously the better choice for the start. I would rather have seen Buddle get the starts than Gomez or Findley. Yes, Gomez scores a couple goals off the bench, and yes, Findley is quite fast, but I think US soccer has advanced beyond novelty, and would look for consistency. Had Buddle reached his full form or really gotten his legs, the entire tournament could have changed for us. Most importantly though, our national team has a very big problem; Carlos Bocanegra. If you were to inspect the last 50 goals scored on the US team, a very peculiar pattern will emerge. The majority of those goals feature, Carlos either getting beaten, failing to position himself properly (in very fundamental situations), or just watching the play occur after being passed. It’s one of the most consistent things about our team. Granted some goals are earned. The first goal from Ghana was a great strike. The second goal was fully preventable. We should expect more of our captain. Overall it demonstrates a certain loyalty to “our veterans” that is unwarranted. At this level, we should be fielding the best team possible. Bocanegra can no longer keep up with the speed of World Cup Level of play. This could have been forseen a year ago as he allowed 2 of the 3 goals by Brazil that blew our 2-0 lead in the Confederations Cup. In any case, These are things Bradley should be seeing. We as fans should be demanding more of our team and our team’s coaching. I hope that more members of our media will join you in criticizing poor national team performances. We should expect more and hopefully that drive will help elevate the quality our team. In the meantime, great coverage.

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