BRENT LATHAM - Friday, October 2, 2009
A big, but winnable match for the Americans today against a Korea team in much the same shape as the Americans. The US is suddenly on a high after Tuesday's big win over Cameroon, and this South Korea match looked all along like the easiest of the three group games, though the Americans are not overlooking a team that has caused them plenty of trouble in the past, and had enough to tie the German team that wreaked havoc on the Americans on the first match day.
The Koreans are an interesting team in that, like the US, they rely on a number of players still in colleges. Of course I have no idea what the level of university soccer is in South Korea, but there's little reason to believe it's any higher than in the US, given our established college sports tradition, so the fact that the entire starting Korean back line comes from college should be encouraging for the US forwards.
I am expecting Tony Taylor to have a breakout match today after an improved showing against Cameroon. There are those who thought the forward played a spectacular match against Cameroon, but they clearly only saw the goal and assist. Overall performance in soccer has to be judged on positioning, effort, and results over ninety minutes. A forward's rating improves when he puts the ball in the net, obviously, but there are many other things to be done on the field that Taylor needs to improve at.
For simplicity, I'm going to go ahead and call the formation Rongen is using a 4-5-1, since the wide forwards have significant defensive responsibilities. Danny Cruz did such a phenomenal job on the right side that it almost certain he will again pair with Brek Shea on those flanks. The midfield trio of Bryan Arguez, Jared Jeffrey, and Dilly Duka also seems set, with the caveat that Rongen likes surprises.
That leaves no room for birthday-boy Mikkel Diskerud or forward Peri Marosevic in the starting lineup, but I'm hoping – especially with Brian Ownby out with yellow card accumulation – that Rongen uses the pair as late game subs, as their quality is superior to other options available.
In defense, the starting central tandem of Ike Opara and Gale Agbossoumonde seems set, with Sheanon Williams on the right. Kyle Davies has gotten the green light for his return on the left, and seems like a good bet to start over there.
Overall the lineup I shaping up nicely, and if Rongen can get the substitute situation pat, this team will be a tough out if not the best in tournament- though they have a tough match upcoming no matter how they advance.
Seeing the results of the other groups has just reinforced the virtual uselessness of an Under-20 tournament. This format is even more lopsided than the World Cup, since only three teams (one of which was Germany) are actually seeded in the draw for the tournament. That leaves completely uneven groups from which the primary goal can only be to emerge into the second round- something the US is in a good position to do later on today.
The Americans do need at least one point to assure advancing to the next, round, though three would be much better to potentially avoid a rampaging Spain in the next round. In essence, the Americans seem capable of at least standing a decent chance of beating any team in this tournament on a given day, though there are three or four it would be better not to meet, at least as soon as the next round.
Spain has not been really tested thus far but would likely be a bridge too far, while Brazil ran rampant over Costa Rica, a team that flattened a backup US squad in qualifying, in the first game. The US obviously won't play Germany again before the semifinals, though the Europeans' first game demolition of the Americans now looks more like an aberration for both teams. Ghana has also been running rampant and looks like a favorite, though their form is likely to vary sharply from match to match and I highly doubt, despite the plaudits, that they can put together four consecutive games to bring them a title.
The Americans can handle just about any other team on a given day, making a potential matchup with Paraguay if they finish second in the group, or possibly Italy should they win it, less in intimidating than that Spain matchup.