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GEORGE MURPHY - Monday, June 22, 2009
I purposely waited until the end of the United States' three Confederations Cup group-stage games before voicing an opinion about their performance, mainly because 1) I didn't want to jump to conclusions and join the "Fire Bob Bradley because he can't win big games" bandwagon prematurely, and 2) I thought it would be fair to give the players until the end of the tournament before judging their individual performances.

So, the United States just advanced out of a group that may have been tougher than the one they were in for the 2006 World Cup, where they were grouped with Italy, Ghana, and Czech Republic.

Despite Sunday's miraculous outcome that saw the US progress, many are still pessimistic about their overall performance and saw today's events as somewhat of a miracle.

Among the excuses were, Egypt missing their best offensive player, Zidan, due to injury, their goalkeeper suffering an early head injury and Italy packing it in early after long Serie A and European seasons as many members of the Italian media had speculated after their first game leading into their loss against Egypt

Well, guess what: that's soccer.

Were the United States lucky to qualify? Maybe. But at the end of the day, a win is a win, the United States moved on, and Italy and Egypt didn't.

No team that has ever won a World Cup, Champions League final, or any other major tournament, did not have some sort of turn of events work out in their favor. You can't win without some sort of luck and Bob Bradley and company will need quite a bit of it heading into their matchup with Euro 2008 winners Spain, who have five players (Torres, Villa, Iniesta, Xavi, and Casillas) who would be on many's world starting XI.

In looking back, in all honesty, the only game in the tournament that the United States was outplayed in was their loss to Brazil.

I thought that, against Italy, the team looked confident, composed, and focused. Ricardo Clark's sending off obviously took quite a bit of wind out of their sails, and look at the goals they conceded in the second half: Rossi's wonder-shot which wouldn't have been saved by any goalkeeper in this world, DeRossi's shot which Howard had a hard time tracking, and Rossi's third goal which was pretty much a product of fatigue for the United States back line after Pirlo turned them inside out.

But overall, were they outclassed by the Azzurri? I don't think so. In fact, before Clark's red card, I thought that they looked like the better team.

In terms of individual player performances, some proved their worth, some will continue to stay on the fringe, and some might have hurt their chances for 2010.

Many said that Clark never deserved to wear the Red, White and Blue after the first game, but he redeemed himself against Egypt. I've always liked his game and still think that he and Michael Bradley, who turned in one of the best tournament performances for the US that I can ever remember, are the best pairing in central midfield.

The United States backline, as a whole, was pretty solid throughout the tournament. Jay DeMerit stepped in and proved that he is ready to battle for the centre defense role should Bocanegra start showing signs of age over the next few years, Jonathan Spector proved that he is probably the best right back option right now after some great play on both sides of the ball, and Oguchi Onyewu seems ready to take his game to the next level.

I was a little skeptical a few years ago of Gooch after his failed stint at Newcastle, but he seems to be a lot more composed on the ball, isn't playing it out of bounds every time like he used to, and just seems to read the game a infinitely better.

On the left side, I'd still like to see Heath Pearce get another chance. Jonathan Bornstein had a fair tournament, but I think that Bob Bradley favors him because of his attacking ability and, against world powers like Brazil, Argentina and the likes; I think Pearce matches up better than Bornstein.

But, there does seem to still be a battle for the position, and hopefully Bradley won't favor Bornstein because of his MLS ties and tells them both to "let the best man win".

Bob Bradley told the media that he was leaving Clint Dempsey in the starting eleven because "he can provide moments of brilliance", and he was right. Dempsey scored a great goal to see the US through, but he didn't have a standout performance by any means. Let's hope that Clint is just a little tired from a long and successful season at Fulham. But let's not forget that the Cottagers will be playing European soccer next year and that he'll have an even longer season heading into the World Cup in 2010.

On the other side of midfield, Landon Donovan had another mediocre performance. Many will disagree with this statement and say that he did many things off of the ball to help the US, but ask yourself this: is he living up to his potential? Is he turning in performances where you say to yourself, "Wow, Landon really put the team on his back and carried them through?" Against Egypt, he needs to step up and take that shot on the left side of the penalty box, as opposed to looking to square it for Jozy Altidore.

Speaking of which, I thought that Jozy had a pretty decent tournament. He looked a bit hesitant at times, but he still looked relatively comfortable and I think can develop into a Didier Drogba-type of player where he can use his strength and touch to hold the ball up with his back to the opponent, while still having the speed and quickness to make opposing defenders worry about turning on them. If he continues to develop that killer scoring mentality, he will be a starting striker for the United States for the next 15 years, but only time will tell.

His strike partner against Egypt, Charlie Davies, continued to help his chances after going ninety minutes and scoring the type of goal that a true striker is proud of, fighting for the ball, staying with it, and eventually finding the back of the net as a reward for his hard work. Again, let's not jump to conclusions and say that Davies should start every World Cup match. This was really his first true test,a n we'll see if Bradley decides to go with him against Spain.

I think that, in this tournament, DaMarcus Beasley worked his way out of the World Cup mix, Benny Feilhaber worked his way in while Sacha Kljestan left himself on the fringe. Freddy Adu and Jose Francisco Torres have to prove to Bob Bradley that they are more than just hype in order to be even considered.

It was good to see Feilhaber tracking back and getting stuck into tackles in the dying moments against Egypt, but it was disappointing to see that coach Bradley has so much trust in Beasley despite his poor perfomances, keeping younger players from getting their shot. One of my biggest criticisms of Bruce Arena was that he only fielder players who he trusted, rarely giving fringe and younger players chances to succeed on the big stage. Let's hope this isn't the case with Coach Bradley and Adu and Torres.

He gave Feilhaber a shot, so let's see if Freddy and Torres can take note of this and continue to try to impress and earn the coach's trust. As for Sacha Kljestan, I don't think he ruined his chances with the red card, but I do think that Clark is better equipped to play the type of holding midfielder that Coach Bradley seems to be searching for and that Sacha may need a little more time to progress.

The one thing I can take away from the Confederations Cup is that the victory against Egypt and the United States, despite all odds, qualifying for the next round served as a much-needed bright spot for United States soccer and an extremely proud moment for US fans.
Goz
Tuesday June 23, 2009 9:21 am
First, it was never "Fire Bob because he can't win Big Games." It was always, "Fire Bob because he doesn't even look like competing in Most Games." I mean come on, even in the 2:1 over Honduras did we look like our best side? Could anyone honestly say that our boys gave 100% for 90+? Chasing balls, reckless tackles, wasted passes into nowhere, did we look like a World Class side?

If you think so, nahh, you don't think so. None of us do. Let's get on with it already.
paul lorinczi
Tuesday June 23, 2009 9:01 am
The question before this tournament was, is BB going to be able to get us through the 2nd round in the WC?

The answer is still questionable. I am not convinced he has the tactical ability to adjust against the top teams we will be facing next June.

1. Questionable adjustments made during the Italy game to secure either the win or the point.

2. Total dominance of Brazil over the US. Good point made that Brazil's left side was their weakest, yet we did not exploit this? Was BB looking at tape? Why did he not see it?

3. It was obvious that Egypt did not have anything in the tank. Kudos to American conditioning to last longer. But, I don't think we will see this kind of luck come WC time.

To me, the bright spot of all this. Making the semi-final will help our chances next year to get the CONCACAF seeded spot that Mexico has always enjoyed. At least, I hope so.

That should make BB's chances better, but I am still not convinced he is the guy to get this talent to the next level.
Geoff
Tuesday June 23, 2009 3:57 am
I agree with most of this. Bradley-Feilhaber is the best midfield pairing, in my opinion. Feilhaber has yet to have a performance in the RW&B that has disappointed me, while Clark has had several (his performance against Egypt was much improved, however).

Donovan has been the best attacking player for the US this tournament. He has games where he disappears, and I'm right with those criticizing him for it, but he's been outstanding this tournament. Well done, Landon, congrats; take it to Spain.
Goalscorer 24
Tuesday June 23, 2009 2:55 am
Well I agree with some of your assessment, but not all of it. All the nay saying about the US team in the first game is not totally unjustified. People keep saying that the US played well against Italy being a man down, and again they had to deal with being a man down against Brazil. Guess what, the US put themselves in that position! That is a sign of poor choices, and players making costly fouls. (As a matter of fact I am worried about Bradley for tha game against Spain, because he already has a yellow). Coach Bradley does continue to show way too much loyalty to certain players, even after they under perform repeatedly. (Example Beasley, but before him it was Johnson). As a matter of fact alot of these players that are showing well, such as Demerit, and Spector, wouldn't even be playing if it had not been for injuries. Bradley is not that willing to try new players, but he should be. Everybody should be fighting for a starting job, nobody should be guaranteed a starting spot (even Donovan). Although I think Donovan has been pretty good, but he does have to take shots (especially that one where he was in the box).
Douglas Morris
Tuesday June 23, 2009 2:13 am
The Sky is Still Falling. It just hit an updraft.

Part of a coach's job to is to prepare his team to play against specific opponents. Get them to believe in themselves enough to believe in a victory. The USA simply did not believe they could play with Italy and Brazil, and hence they started off tentative and scared and it only got worse from there. We believed we could beat Egypt and we did, but we were fortunate the Egyptian's did not come to play.

Another responsibility of the coach is to choose the players to be on the team, and be on the field. Who here actually believes that we do not have another forward besides Casey? Who here believes that Casey deserves to be on the field for the US National team? We have better players than that, surely.

The US has a long way to go to become a quality team, and the first step to becoming that is to replace the coach.
Jeez
Tuesday June 23, 2009 12:40 am
The only point in which I agreed with you in this article was with Altidore and Davies, and the Second time you talked about Adu and Torres.

Clark and Bradley our best midfield pair? Is Bob Bradley watching you write this?

Well, there's a last time for everything. Reading your stuff, that is.
todd
Tuesday June 23, 2009 12:36 am
torres and adu deserve to get a chance. especially subbed in during the second half. i have seen adu make some brilliant plays and i believe he can give the team the quality it is looking for. torres is also a good player on the ball and can make plays. we need to create scoring chances over and over again, not just get one or two and hope to score. we need players that know how to create and finish. donovan should have shot, but he also made a brilliant pass to bradley for goal #2. We could have had more goals and really should have. altidore should have put the ball in the net, granted it was saved by a hand ball. i would love to see the US be patient with the ball, keep possession alittle more, build up and get the ball at the feet of play makers like donovan and bradley. it doesn't have to be fancy, as it appears that sometime dempsey tries to do, just simple passing and movement to turn a defensive inside out. I think Spain is a better team, but if the US can play the way they are capable, there could be an upset.
Robert
Tuesday June 23, 2009 12:28 am
Something that is totally missed is that Donovan is leading by example, putting tons of pressure defensively and forcing lots of errant passes, combined with Bradley, is really a force on the opposition. And even if he doesn't take the strikes, he's still forcing the d-lines to respect the ability for him to cut right through it, so they're having to play bunched, which allows him to pass the ball. In the end, had he read Jozy properly and had two assists in the game, your entire statement about Donovan wouldn't be on this posting.
Dug
Tuesday June 23, 2009 12:16 am
First off, well written article.

I have to admit I was one of those people who was losing faith in this American team. If I see Beasley play another game where he gives away a ball in a bad spot that results in a goal, I will be done supporting Bradley. Beasley has had brilliant moments in the past. Right now he is really off his game. There are better options at this point. I really hope the Beasley at left back experiment is over.

Spector impressed me. As much as I love Frankie, he can't cross the ball to save his life.

I would like to see Torres get more playing time and Sacha get less. I have never been a Clark fan, and after the red card it felt like the same old Clark. he bounced back well in the Egypt game.

Donovan is Donovan. Shows up big sometimes and disappears sometimes. He needs to keep starting, if for no other reason than the Mexicans hate him.

Well done Jay DeMerit! I would like to see Boca take left and keep you in the middle with Gooch. Not gonna happen though.

Take a rest Dempsey, you have earned it.

The most important things I am going to take from this tourney are;

The US played Brazil, Italy, and Spain on foreign soil and turned in some decent performances and the team got a feel for playing in South Africa.
George Murphy
Monday June 22, 2009 11:23 pm
Thanks to everyone for their comments so far.

As expected, a little bit of skepticism about my Donovan assessment.

He's a fine player, don't get me wrong, but it would be nice to see him bang his chest and taunt the crowd a little less in meaningless MLS games and take that type of confidence and killer instinct into international matches. His speed and ability are the best in this country, and I'd LOVE to see him have a great performance against Spain.

I have been harsh on Benny for a while, especially in the Olympics, but with this roster, he can provide an offensive spark off of the bench in midfield. Let's not forget that his goal pretty much got the team in this tournament.

How anyone can say that Jozy isn't on pace to be a world class striker is beyond me. The kid is still only 119 and looks like he has the presence and strength of a 23 year-old.

Adu and Torres still have a lot to prove, but I do think that Freddy can be used as a super-sub and provide some sort of spark.

As for M. Bradley, if Ricardo starts next to him and both go all ninety, they may give Xavi and Fabregas (or Iniesta, depending on the formation) a run for their money and it could be a breakout game for both of them.
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The USMNT classic with Mexico was a tale of two halves, with the U.S. drawing 2-2 with Mexico.
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