It Sure Doesn’t Feel Half-full

That was only like kissing your sister if this is your sister…


Before anyone else says it, yes – if you’d said a week ago the USMNT would have 4 points after playing Ghana and Portugal, I’d have gladly taken it.  So would they.  Hell, both of us would have done so this morning – a tie was certainly a better result for the U.S. than Portugal.  But the circumstances being what they are, it sure doesn’t feel like it was a good day.

It’s Jurgen Klinsmann’s job to accentuate the positive now, and get his side ready to take on Germany in a mere four days.  His side was ready for Portugal, that’s for sure – they were the better team for most of the match, and certainly performed at a higher level than they did against Ghana (this sort of irony is common in soccer).  Geoff Cameron’s ghastly mistake led to an early Portugal goal, but the Americans then dominated the flow of play for most of the next 75 minutes.  When Clint Dempsey chested in the go-ahead goal in the 81′, the Americans deserved to be the team in front.

On balance it was a very strong performance for the USMNT.  Fabian Johnson was a huge threat all day despite being the right-back, causing havoc on Portugal’s weak left side.  Klinsmann shockingly ignored my advice and went with one of the other possibilities I suggested he might, inserting Zusi into the starting lineup and using 5 in midfield.  It worked pretty well – Dempsey fared respectably as the lone striker even before his goal, though I think it’s fair to say much of the success stemmed from Johnson’s tireless runs on the right.  Michael Bradley was weak again – he missed a sitter goal in the second half, and it was his mistake that allowed Portugal the last chance they used to convert into Silvestre Varela’s equalizer on a header off Cristiano Ronaldo’s gorgeous cross.  Ronaldo wasn’t much of a factor before that – the Americans played a strong game at the back apart from Cameron’s disaster (including Cameron).  Matt Besler was again a rock – he’s the elite central defender the U.S. has been searching for all these years.

Now what?  Well, we’re still in pretty good shape, but it sure would have been nice not to have to worry about Germany.  If the U.S. wins or ties, they’re through.  If Ghana and Portugal tie, we’re through.  If someone wins that match and we lose to Germany, that’s when things get complicated.  Portugal is currently -5 in goal differential compared to the Americans, so they’d either have to destroy Ghana or have Germany destroy the U.S. to have any chance.  But Ghana is only at -2, so even if they win by a goal and we lose by a goal, the differential goes to even.  A 2-2 draw today certainly was better for us than a scoreless one, because the second tiebreaker is goals scored – we have 4 and Ghana 3.  If we can avoid losing by more than a goal or Ghana winning by more than a goal or Ghana scoring 2 more goals than we do on Friday, we advance.

As always in the final game of the group stage, all games start at the same time.  That rule, by the way, was put into place after Germany and Austria obviously colluded  in their third pool match in 1982 knowing the result would advance them both.  The same is true here, and I think the U.S. would be OK with second-place – it would mean facing Belgium in all likelihood rather than a weaker 2nd-place team from Group H, but Belgium isn’t the worst Round of 16 opponent one could imagine.  However, although German coach Joachim Low is a good friend of Klinsmann, I can’t see the Germans parking the bus going against a German coach – especially when one freak goal could deprive them of first place in the group.  I don’t think there will be any secret deals.

That said, what should we expect, and how should Klinsmann approach this game?  First of all, expect no help from Portugal – they know how desperate their situation is, Ronaldo isn’t 100% and it wouldn’t shock me if they mailed it in.  I think the U.S. has to approach the Germany game with caution but not fear – you can’t park the bus and let Germany run at you all day.  If the Germans play conservatively, that’s fine – that’s what you want, and it’s true that with a tie being a good result for both sides Germany may not take many chances.  But you still have to be enough of a threat to make them cautious about attacking – paradoxically, if the Americans want this to be a cautious game they need to be a bit aggressive.

Personnel-wise, I don’t expect to see many changes for the Americans, if any.  The one player whose performance was especially unimpressive against Portugal was midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, and if Altidore were healthy Bedoya would be a prime candidate to be benched in favor of Graham Zusi (who was middling against Portugal).  20 year-old youngster DeAndre Yedlin replaced Bedoya in the 72′ and actually played quite well, having a major role in setting up Dempsey’s goal – but it’s hard to imagine Jurgen turning to him as a starter in a game of this magnitude.  Likewise he could go with Wondolowski or Johannsson up-front, but given the strategic context I doubt we’ll see that either.  Bedoya will likely get a chance to prove he can do better.

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16 comments

  1. D

    I'd like to believe that Low is going to play some of his more youthful squad members, in order to get them the experience and to rest his main team for the match against what is likely to be a high flying Algeria.

  2. m

    I think the one player notably the worst was Bradley. Not only losing the ball at the end (and most importantly not even trying to follow it up) and missing more than one shot (one that was harder to hit the defender than to score the goal) but for a guy known as "the general" who all transition from defense to offense is supposed to flow through, he didn't play well in any aspect of the game. He had by far the most lost balls whether it be bad passes or stolen drives. He went into the world cup touted as the most important player to the US's chances, and has come up short now in both games. The problem is that you've based your play around him, and now you can't replace him and base it around a different player who isn't used to that role. Luckily Zusi and Johnson played phenomenally and picked up the slack in the transition game.

    As far as Belgium goes, yeah they are a solid team, but no better than the US and they have been unimpressive against mediocre opponents. The game vs Russia in particular was a snore, and showed nothing to make me think they are worthy of advancing outside of a lucky group draw. If we can just advance we should have the easiest road in our history to the round of 8 (which we've only been to one time before). Not to mention the fact that the best 16 will be missing Spain ranked #1 preWC, Portugal #4, Engand #10, Italy (My hope is they lose to Uruguay#7 bc I hate both their racist soccer fans and their national team who are by far the most notorious floppers in the world), Switzerland#6 (possibly theyre currently tied in 2nd with a worse GD), Greece#12(also possibly) which is 6/12 teams ranked higher than the US going into the WC. Being 2G in the bracket means beat Belgium and play winner of Argentina vs Ecuador/Switz instead of the winner of France/whatever team gets in behind Argentina. So beating Portugal and potentially getting 1st would've been nice, but I doubt we were ever going to beat Germany. Despite tying (Germany has never won the 2nd group match in their world cup history which is such a weird stat considering their teams are different each WC) they didn't look bad and are probably the most dangerous team in the WC.

  3. Argentina has struggled, but I still think I'd rather take on France if we should be so fortunate as to reach the QF. But I ain't complaining either way – just get there.

  4. t

    If that QF ever happens I'm gonna enjoy trashtalking you before the match :)

  5. We should both be so lucky – hope it happens.

  6. m

    I can think of worse teams to lose to then Argentina. The love for the legendarily scummy Maradona aside (drug addiction, mafia ties, cocaine smuggling, "The courts can force me to pay child support, but the cant force me to care about him", being jealous of Messi last WC and making him play MF instead of striker, and many more), Messi is arguably the best of all time, and certainly the best in my lifetime (Zidane's headbutt ruined his chances for best ever). If it wasn't for Argentina's love for Maradona I'd like them as much as any non US team, but still I can't ever bring myself to root against Messi. Especially when he's in the midst of the best chance he'll ever have at winning the WC.
    I thought Japan would do better given their comparably easy group, but unfortunately it wasn't the case. They have some legitimately world class players even compared to the US. (Imagine a US player being on ManU) Though legitimately Tim Howard's status as top 5 in the world and how well he's played in key moments has helped us out of a lot of trouble.

  7. Messi is a great player, but I don't think he's arguably the best of all-time by a long shot. In any event I'm not so much concerned with finding a good team to lose to – I'd like to actually win as many games as possible. Anybody we're likely to face in the QF and beyond is going to be favored, but all you can do is punch your ticket and take your chances.

  8. 7

    Tim Howard? Top 5 in the world? I can't help but feel you have trouble taking off your red-and-white tinted glasses… Howard isn't even top 5 in the Premier League, for God's sake… Cech, de Gea, Lloris and Mignolet are quite a few levels above him, and the 5th spot would be taken up by one of Sczcesny, Begovic and Hart. Don't get me wrong, Howard is a good keeper, but definitely not an elite one.

    I'd also like to say that although Belgium hasn't clicked yet or played against decent opposition at this World Cup, they have their fair share of quality players on their roster… Hazard, at 23 years old, is better than Donovan ever was, Kompany has been the captain of current PL champions Man City for a few seasons now, and their squad is littered with talented players that consistently play for big clubs in big leagues… Look at both teams' players' respective clubs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USMNT#Current_squad
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgium_national_football_team#Current_squad

    Claiming Belgium are no better than the US is a massive underestimation of their quality, in my view. Of course, anything can happen during the course of 90 min and I wouldn't put it past the US to progress, but Belgium will be clear favorites and quite rightly so, should both teams draw each other.

    I'd finally like to point out that the Ivory Coast (Toure, Gervinho, Drogba) and especially Colombia (only behind Argentina in CONMEBOL qualifying) are no pushovers, regarding Japan's group.

  9. And I'd like to point out that Ivory Coast lost to Greece and is on the charter back home.

    Klinsmann did call Howard one of the 5-best in the world recently. While he obviously has a reason to be biased, who's also not American and is generally quite blunt about his team's place in the football world, to the point where he pisses off American fans and press not used to that. It's a stretch in this case, but Howard is probably somewhere around #10 in the world – in short, he's very good. The Everton defense is a sieve, and the fact that they manage to allow as few goals as they do is a tribute to Howard's skill.

    Of course, when it comes to any CONCACAF team no excuse to dismiss and belittle will ever be passed up by chauvinistic European and South American fans – it's just the way it is. Mexico and the US could play in the WC final (not that it'll happen anytime soon) and the establishment would dismiss it as a fluke.

  10. Z

    I would put Messi as best too, although he plays for Barcelona so I'm biased. ;p

    Italy is out now too. Portugal on it's way too unless they play marvelously next match.

    You really do need a draw or a win to advance.

  11. M

    Ive seen the game, here in Germany it was 0.00 o'clock. How unfortunate for you guys…in the 95. minute…
    I dont think our team is taking the game against the USA lightly. At least they said theyll give everything to be first of the group. Though you never know. Its Klinsman against Löw after all. What a traitor XD
    But seriously, Im glad the last game is against you guys. Loosing against your team wouldnt be so bad (they really played well), in contrast to that, losing against Portugal would have been terrible (same with Holland and Italy, brrrr). Looking forward to thursay!:)

  12. m

    Haha Klinsman isn't a traitor at all. He was living in the US while coaching Germany during the 2006 WC. He loved America since he came here as a player, and married an American he met in Germany. He only came out of retirement bc it's easier to coach the US since he lives here.

    He needs to call Low and make a deal like they made with Czech republic (I believe it was them) and just tie 0-0. Then Germany gets 1st and doesn't risk 2nd or even that very slim chance of not advancing at all.

  13. The U.S.-Portugal game ended up drawing over 25 million viewers in the USA – more than the NBA Finals or World Series draw. It seems soccer has finally arrived.

  14. m

    I had this convo with my friend after hearing some of the ppl at the bar, that we watched the game at, talk during the game. They seemed so uninformed, but it was cool to see people actually start getting into soccer. The problem is these are the same people who watched in 2006 and 2002, but then stopped caring in between. MLS isn't that exciting to watch because of lack of competition and big name players. The key is to get NBC/ABC/CBS to show more EPL/Bundesliga/La Liga/Serie A Italy and Brazil. The competition is better and the names are bigger. Everton in the EPL is where Howard plays, and there's another American there too so you could draw interest that way. Hopefully the 25mil that watched the last game, and likely will watch the Germany game, will continue to support US soccer and really just soccer all around. I know as of about 10 years ago USA soccer has made a strong commitment to raising the level of youth soccer in America. They've set up a lot of nation wide camps and training facilities for kids who want to focus on soccer as their future career. We have too many athletic people, and just quantity of people in general, to not be competing for the top spot each and every WC like we do in hockey, the Olympics, basketball, baseball and other major sports.

    It's like how tennis players who start young have an inherent feel for the ball. Soccer players in other countries have a different feel for the ball because that's all they grew up playing. Our top guys kicked a ball around by themselves nonstop (stories of Dempsey breaking his garage door numerous times) but it's not the same as finding pickup games whenever you want and feeling the ball as an extension of your body.

  15. m

    I was amazed by the amount of people who went to support the USA team during the preliminary process…I've never seen that before…I mean they had fans but this time was different.

  16. m

    They said the US had the most fans travel from another country. I was really shocked to hear that too. Probably bc it's easier to travel from the US to Brazil than from Europe to Brazil.

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