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Monday, June 26, 2006
With a few days to rest, catch second viewings and push the hurt deep into my belly, the teacher is ready to hand out World Cup 2006 grades. Sometimes I had to be tough, but I always tried to be fair. I will only accept apples before the grades are released, and I prefer green.

One can only hope it was the dreaded step back between leaps forward after the US crashed out of a tough Group E because of two performances unsuitable for CONCACAF qualifying. Furthermore, they made me look like a clown on all three occasions because they never really did the things I'd expected.

This particular set of final marks is certainly not always indicative of each person's career value to US Soccer – which is probably why the results were so damning. There is no curve to these ratings, and there were far too many C+ ratings handed out where B's were required.

Rookie mistakes by veterans have been punished and all factors have been multiplied, so let's go ahead and get these up on the bulletin board.

Bruce Arena (D) – The rap for a stunning lack of intensity from the team in the opener has to fall on his shoulders, as does an overly conservative game plan in the finale. It may have undermined the attack's confidence a little to go with such "wait for our chance" tactics. His subs did fairly well through the round, but that only makes one wonder why some of these guys weren't starting.

There's no telling if Bruce will remain in his post, and no obvious candidates for his replacement should he leave. This is a pivotal point in the development of US Soccer and this bridge must be crossed wisely, one way or the other.

I feel if Arena gets a decent Premiership offer, he is gone - and maybe that's a good thing. The boss has done a fantastic job of advancing our status and expectations over the last eight years, but maybe a new man is needed to make the final step to regular World Cup contenders. It was quite strange to see him trot basically the same game plan out against three types of opponent.

I'm glad I don't have to make this decision... but will take an application if the position opens up. Sunil Gulati, feel free to check any of my Football Manager '06 references (I somehow got the US to the final on my one try, but to be fair, had a healthy Cory Gibbs).

Kasey Keller (C+) – He was out of position on the first Ghana goal and struggled mightily to distribute in a helpful manner, especially during crunch time. However, Keller did make a huge stop on Alessandro Del Piero in the Italy match and, despite a few snipes in the media, stood up well for his teammates when bad calls arrived during a match.

Steve Cherundolo (B-) – The Hannover 96 co-captain was pretty smooth until it came time to supply an accurate cross. I must admit to feeling that he was the wrong guy taken off on two occasions.

Oguchi Onyewu (B-) – Gooch uncharacteristically walked through press alley without speaking to a soul after the Ghana heartbreaker, his somber mope carried low. He generally did quite well against three very different forwards and should not feel the need to hang his head over the penalty call.

However, it really would have been nice if he'd have remembered to head downward on the corner kick chance against Ghana.

Eddie Pope (D+) – I had high hopes this class act could summon his best days more time, but it was unfortunately not to be. The trouble started early as Eddie overran Jan Koller on the first Czech goal, then he watched with arm raised as Alberto Gilardino opened for Italy. I don't believe his dismissal in the second game was just, but it also wasn't necessary for him to make that type of challenge at that time.

Jimmy Conrad (B) – The Kansas City backline marshal performed admirably when called upon, shutting down some dangerous rushes by strong attackers.

Carlos Bocanegra (B-) – Charlie Blackmouth was pretty much money in open play, but he really should have put at least one of his three set piece headers on frame.

Eddie Lewis (C-) – Was nowhere to be found as the Czechs built their first goal and crossed erratically from the backline position. He showed a couple glimpses of why he should not be sent out as a World Cup left back against Ghana, but we were all counting on more.

Pablo Mastroeni (C+) – He was poor in one half against the Czechs, often straying too far upfield to fill the role we needed. Mastro then played a splendid half against Italy before making a reckless challenge on Andrea Pirlo. As can be said about so many of our regular starters, more was expected.

Claudio Reyna (C+) – Here is another big US player that dragged shabby marks higher with a tremendous Italy effort. In that game, Captain America was everything he is advertised to be; sadly, he was much less so the other two games. A moment of indecision cost the team against Ghana and he was too slow to come out and harass Tomáš Rosický on the Czechs' second tally.

All that being said, Claudio deserves respect for what he has done for the US National Team over the years. I set the over/under for fretful discussion over who will be our traffic director at about six minutes.

Clint Dempsey (B+) – I've got one word for Clint, who proved he could play on the field and handle himself in a polite, open manner when thronged by media afterwards: Eredivisie. He was a consistent nuisance on the dribble and won more free kicks than Beasley, Convey and Donovan combined. Best of all, he finished with feeling when he got a chance.

This player could turn out to be special.

Landon Donovan (C-) – The run-until-you-drop Italy show brings this grade up to a level clearly below what was expected from American soccer's poster boy. Can we now stop wondering whether he should play midfield or "withdrawn forward" at this level?

The guy needs to work off of people running in front of him, and not be expected to run through five guys with no passing targets. The one shot he took in three matches was a lame free kick when we needed something big.

This player will probably be special again, but needs to get his ass back to Europe.

DaMarcus Beasley (C+) – People have been way too hard on DaMarcus, mainly because they seemed to expect a PSV Eindhoven winger display when he often used by Arena as a central midfielder.

Beasley completed an average of 30 passes per game, more than anyone not named Reyna. While he was certainly within the job requirements handed to him by playing so many safe passes instead of trying to force offense, we still needed him to provide more moments like the sublime work that led to Dempsey's goal against Ghana.

Bobby Convey (C+) – He wasn't abysmal by any means, but those hard zigzag runs from the Send-Off Series straightened out a bit at World Cup. Convey also missed a decent chance against the Czech Republic and should have tried to draw a make-up penalty call with runs into the area against Ghana, but failed to force the issue.

Brian McBride (C-) – Was clearly given too much to do and did well just to hit the post against Ghana, but he spent way too much time trailing the play in the first game and his patented bag of flicks were rather inconsistent. Despite the weak tournament showing, one can never question McBride's heart… something that cannot be said of everyone.

I had set the over/under for fretful discussion over who will be our strong forward at about six minutes after the Ghana match ended.

Those with limited time

Ben Olsen (B-) – He came into a tough situation and did what was asked of him.

Josh Wolff (C+) – See Ben Olsen.

John O'Brien (C+) – As Bruce Arena said repeatedly, he just didn't look 'comfortable'. Whether that means he was hurt again, too far from match fitness or in the doghouse is beyond me, but it did seem a bit strange he wasn't called on to spell Reyna in the third game.

Eddie Johnson (C+) – He was a breath of fresh air against the Czechs, conspicuously absent from the end of the Italy match and ineffective against Ghana. Let's split the difference and add a little bonus for his being able to firmly grasp the situation on his debut.

And finally…

US fans (A) – They were good natured folks having a good time, and were good sports when we lost. I don't believe I saw a single Red, White & Blue clad-zany causing trouble for anyone the entire time and, despite a lack of organization, they cheered their hearts out before and during games.

The "bullshit!" and "Ed-die John-son" chants against Ghana were classic… took me back to my old NHL fan days. You also made our YA World Cup parties a rousing success.

Thanks for everything, and we will see you again in South Africa. Remember... it's never too soon to stock up on giraffe repellent.

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