USA v Ghana: What to do with Gooch?

Should Gooch stay on the bench against Ghana?

Shock and horror rang out at 9:25 am Eastern time yesterday when the USA lineup was announced and Coach Bob Bradley made the big decision to drop the struggling Oguchi Onyewu, move left back Carlos Bocanegra into the center, and fill his spot with Jonathan Bornstein. It was understandable but still brave to replace Gooch, but it was the insertion of Bornstein that caused the most dismay among American fans. The defense did not concede, but there were more early jitters and at least two moments when the US could have been punished for bad mistakes, saved once by the bar and another time by a dodgey offside flag. Ghana have only scored two goals in their first three games and both came from the penalty spot, but their attack is not lifeless and is predicated on quick transitions and runs from deep to create chances out of nothing. That favors a defense that is sharp and quick – qualities that Gooch has been lacking since his return from injury.

Gooch was clearly at fault for the second Slovenian goal and was at least implicated in the other two the US had allowed in the first two games. His decision making was both slow and faulty and he was repeatedly caught out. Those flaws are understandable as Gooch’s first full 90 minutes since October was the opener against England. In a must-win game in the group stage finale, Bradley decided he could afford no more mistakes and dropped the AC Milan defender. All credit to Bradley for making such a gutty decision. Continue reading


YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Donovan late goal vs Algeria puts USA through

Donovan is the hero!


Wow. It looked like we were doomed. We had another perfectly good goal disallowed. We had chance after chance that just didn’t go in. Algeria had their chances on the break, but there was only going to be one winner. And we did it. What a goal. What a game. What a World Cup. What a day for US soccer.

The play had gotten really ragged through the last ten minutes. Not just stretched but choppy.

I can’t really describe my emotions right now. Just unbelievable.

So happy for Landon Donovan. He deserves it. We deserve it.

And we won the group! Let’s see what happens in the afternoon matches, but we could be in very good shape here.

Congratulations to our boys in South Africa. Congratulations to Bob Bradley for rolling the dice. Congratulations to American soccer fans. We’ve endured a lot. We go into the next round on an unbelievable high. Let’s do this!

Winning Group C brings realistic path to semifinal

Winning Group C legitimately puts the semifinals in reach

With all the appropriate caveats about not getting ahead of ourselves and needing to focus on Algeria tomorrow, a win in that game gives the US a very good chance at topping the group and a realistic path to the semifinal. Second place in the group likely brings matchups against two of the tournament favorites. While no game in the knockout stage will be easy for the US, it’s not hard to pick which path is easier and if the US wins Group C, we can genuinely think about reaching the semis. 

I know we should move on, but because of Koman Coulibali’s shocker, the US is not in control of its own destiny to top the group. If Slovenia beat England, they are group winners. But any other result paired with a US win against Algeria will bring us bring us level on points with either the Slovenes or the English, meaning the group winner will be decided on goal difference. England look a shambles both on and off the pitch, but I still find it hard to believe that they will lose to Slovenia and place the top spot in the group out of the American’s reach. So a US win by two goals should see us top the group unless Fabio Capello’s men find it all of a sudden and hammer Slovenia. A win by one may even be enough, but we can beat Algeria by two goals. Continue reading

USA v Algeria: Edu and Holden in; Donovan in free role up front

Stuart Holden should be inserted on right wing against Algeria

The joy at the second half comeback and the outrage at the mystery call that ruled out the potential winning goal now must take a back seat to fixing the problems that plagued the US in defense in the first two games and orient the side to take on Algeria in the last group game on Wednesday. Oguchi Onyewu has been exposed on the three goals, but the bigger culprit is way too much space between the two center backs and the central midfield. That problem must be solved, but the main threat from Algeria is their maurading left-sided players. Even though they are yet to score in the tournament, the US team must set up its eleven players to plug the holes from the first two games and stiffle Algeria’s attack.

All three goals the US conceded have come right through the middle of the park and resulted from way too much space between the central midfielders and the center backs. Onyewu’s positioning has been exposed on all three goals, but really only the Slovenian second was a genuine error (and what an error). On the England goal, he justifiably pushed out to mark an attacking player and opened up space behind him. On Slovenia’s first, he failed to close down a player in a similar area, perhaps still smarting from the England experience. We all know what happened for Slovenia’s second. Fortunately, this looks like rust after an eight month layoff because playing ten yards behind your line of defense thus keeping the most advanced attacking player onside is a youth soccer mistake. Let’s hope anyway. Continue reading

USA Robbed: Mystery call rules out win

Ref Koman Coulibaly Robs US with "Shocking Decision"

What a game! The best match of the World Cup so far. Day 8 has brought the tournament to life and England v Algeria still have to play. But even though the second half should give the US team a great deal of confidence, a truly bizarre refereeing decision kept this game at a draw and leaves the US plenty of work to do against Algeria on Wednesday. After the US had stormed back to draw level, the Malian referee somehow saw an infraction on one of the American players just before half-time sub Maurice Edu slotted home from Landon Donovan’s perfect free kick. It has to rank as one of the most egregious  mistakes in World Cup play as it was error of commission rather than omission, he saw a foul that wasn’t there rather than missing a call. The US has been victim to poor and extremely consequential decisions in each of the last three World Cups – tough to view all of this as a coincidence. 

For the neutral, this eighth day of the World Cup must have been amazing. For the partisan, the nerves are jangling. After watching German fall flat against Serbia – helped along by some strange officiating in that game too – opening up the second round possibilities for the two teams that advance out of Group C, the US team began play as if they had never seen each other or a soccer ball before. The Slovenes had acres of space and scored two goals from what can only be described as shocking defending.  But it set up a dramatic fight back by the US in a pulsating second half that saw two goals for the US but more chances for both teams. Michael Bradley poking home from Altidore’s knock down set up a remarkable finish with the US on the front foot but still looking vulnerable in defense. Continue reading

US needs higher tempo: Jose Torres should start vs Slovenia

Jose Torres can be our qb against Slovenia

The US midfield duo of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark held their own against England, restricting the ability of Lampard, Gerrard, and Rooney to boss the center of the park. Defense was their first priority, and it’s a good thing too because they hardly did anything offensively. We didn’t have much of the ball and we didn’t create enough chances when we did. That kind of display isn’t going to cut it on Friday because Slovenia are not England. Overlook them at your peril–just ask Russia–but we can be more aggressive. Bob Bradley should replace Clark with Jose Torres and up the tempo to spark the attack.

The threat posed by England’s attacking players is obvious and it was precisely the correct tactical approach to have our two central midfielders play deep and try and frustrate them. As the game wore on, Rooney kept dropping deeper and deeper in an attempt to get more involved in the play because Bradley and Clark were making it hard for him to find space closer to the goal. But it came at a price, England had much of the possession (57%-43%) and 18 shots while we created few chances – most of our 12 shots came either outside the box (7) or from set pieces, except the Altidore shot that Green pushed onto the post. Continue reading

World Cup ball: Its the altitude, stupid

Unkempt red hair = genius???

Alexi Lalas is an idiot. I don’t understand why he is considered an expert on anything. The only thing he’s famous for is his long red hair and beard – but the locks are gone and he shave the beard years ago. In a front page Washington Post article (!!!) about complaints about the World Cup ball and the omnipresent Vuvazelas, Lalas blasts players who criticize the ball as whiners looking “for reasons other than the fact that you made a mistake.” That’s just plain lazy. Its true that criticism of the new ball is now a ritual of World Cups, but Lalas – and the entire Liz Clarke article in the Post for that matter – completely miss the main factor at play here: half the matches so far have been played at nearly a mile elevation and the other half at sea level. What was thought to be a ball harder on the goalies has actually wreaked havoc on the attacking players control because of the combination of a light ball and thin air. The high-profile goalkeeping errors have been unrelated to the ball and it is proving far tougher on strikers as they blow shot after shot well into the stands.

Criticism of the new ball during a World Cup comes around every four years. In a bid to bump up the goals and excitement, FIFA have official ball manufacturer Adidas introduce a new ball before the tournament with characteristics designed to get more shots in the net.In 2002 it was the lighter “Fevernova” ball, in 2006 it was another lighter version, the “Teamgeist,” and this time round its the even lighter “Jabulani”. German goalie Oliver Khan said of the 2006 ball that it “is built in favor of the strikers” – and he seemed to be right as 8 goals were scored in just two matches on the first day of the tournament alone, with several coming from distance. Nothing like that, however, is happening in this tournament with only 20 goals scored in the first 12 games. Not only have there been fewer goals, but the majority have been scored by either defenders or midfielders and the only the U.S. and Slovenian goals have come from outside the box, and we know what caused those… Continue reading

Group C: USA on track to qualify but will have to earn it

Green howler gifts US a goal but draw not undeserved result

It was looking as if the Algeria v Slovenia game was going exactly the way the US wanted, a lackluster goalless draw. But then the Algerian keeper did his best Robert Green impersonation and gave Slovenia an undeserved goal and the three points which went with it. Slovenia now tops the group and with the American’s next game against them it leaves much less margin for error. Both the Slovene and Algerian performance, however, reinforces the view that England and the United States are still the strongest teams in the group. The United States is still on course to qualify out of the group stage, but it will have to earn it.

Max’s solid analysis of the US – England game frees me up to focus on what we learned about the four teams after one game and how the rest of the group stage shapes up. The next games on are on Friday, with the US playing Slovenia at 10 am followed at 2:30 with England vs. Algeria. A draw in the Algeria – Slovenia game would have allowed a wobble against Slovenia, but now the Americans need a result with a win setting up the prospect of winning the group. England are in a similar position, needing a win against Algeria to avoid a testy final encounter against Slovenia. Continue reading

USA v England at Lucky Bar: Hour-by-Hour Photos

7 AM: All smiles as the adventure begins

As Max said yesterday, Association Football was at the home office, watching the USA v England game at the best soccer bar in Washington (and beyond): the Lucky Bar. Because of the growth of support for the beautiful game in America, it is not possible to simply show up for the game, you have to get there early. And for a 2:30 pm game on a Saturday afternoon with two games on beforehand, you had to get there very early. The doors opened at 7:00 am and as crazy as it sounds, if you wanted to get one of the prime spots with unobstructed views of the dozens of tvs, you had to get there before that.

I arrived at 6:40 and was about 10th in line. When the doors opened, we streamed in. Thanks to a very friendly Argentina fan Burt, we shared a table and had a great vantage point for all three matches. To chronicle the seven plus hour adventure through the early games to the USA v England kickoff, we took a photo every hour on the hour. The first at right, capturing the group a little bleary eyed as we sat down and ordered our coffee. The rest of the pictures are after the jump. Clearly, we moved on from coffee at some point. Continue reading

Its awesome when you’re right

Finally, Aquilani plays in his best position

I know it was only Portsmouth at home, but after many, many painful displays of inept and disgraceful soccer, Liverpool finally put together a strong outing in yesterday’s 4-1 win. Scoring four goals against the Premier League’s bottom team that is in administration and definitely going down is not any great achievement in itself. But far more than the scoreline, its was the players and formation that manager Rafa Benitez put on the pitch at Anfield that is giving Liverpool fans reason for hope. Finally, we got to see big money summer signing Alberto Aquilani play in an advanced midfield role with both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. The big question now is with Lille at home in the Europa League on Thursday and a trip to Old Trafford on the weekend, will Benitez stick with it or revert to form and use both Dirk Kuyt and Lucas. Continue reading