JACK ROZIER - Thursday, June 24, 2010
Old habits die hard.
But as the current edition of the US Soccer team is showing us, history is no obstacle.
For whatever reason, it's unpopular to be a dreamer in a realm of dreams. We are so inundated with sports-wear ads and car commercials depicting fictional heroics, that we lose sight of the fact that these men that play the game, are nothing but men.
That though their situation and circumstance may be light years from the average Joe – they are only human and the things they accomplish, while truly miraculous, are not beyond our own desire.
Although it's safe to say before this World Cup I would have fallen somewhere in the "delusional optimist" end of the spectrum, now we can just write me off completely. I believe.
No longer will I chide Ricardo Clark.
No longer will I doubt the proficiency of Edson Buddle or Robbie Findley.
No longer, will I, dread, Jonathan Bornstein.
Need I say anything more?
Well, yes, because there is a whole new tournament beginning Saturday. A tournament the US was built for.
While the cynics back-peddle onto the bandwagon, Bob Bradley takes his team forward to Rustenburg on Saturday knowing that his team is primed with the tools and poise to succeed.
The benefits of finishing first in Group C are well documented, as is the fact that the US will have only two days of rest. For a lesser team, a quick turnaround after a draining group phase, capped off by a knockout round game at 1500 meters, might just be too much.
But the US played every game of Group C above 1300 meters…
And the US still has every member of its twenty-three man roster available…
And the US has finished strong every time…
And the US...is the US!
As I said before, I believe. I've bought into the words about the American spirit personified by this team, because they aren't just words.
They are actions on the field and tears in the eyes. Our hope is a prescient connection, a transcendent mass. Surely, Ghana will be motivated by the hopes of a continent, but their hope is conditional – their hope is temperamental – their hope is pressure.
Ghana certainly has shown great quality, particularly in resolute defending and sustaining a presence in their attacking third. However, they have also shown little ability to manage a game with possession in the midfield, particularly when they‘re losing.
If US fans are fretting over the seeming ineptitude of Jozy Altidore, Buddle, Findley and Herculez Gomez in finding the back of the net – imagine what Ghanaian fans are going through.
Ghana scored only two goals in Group D, both penalties converted by veteran Asamoah Gyan, both the result of handballs in the box. Even if the trend continues, the onus will be on Ghana to prevent the US from scoring, as they will find a second goal difficult to come by.
Aside from the five veterans from Germany 2006 (none of which reside in the midfield), Ghana's starters during group play combined for an average age of 21.83 – compared to the US' 24.66.
Now, I'm not one for statistical analysis, especially when it comes to something as trivial as "average age," (Ghana had the lowest average age in the tournament four years ago) however, the distribution of said experience is highly significant.
Three of Ghana's five starting veterans from 2006 play in defense and average just under thirty years of age. Beyond those three starters, Ghana's defense boasts an average of just over twenty-one years.
If statistics aren't your thing, check out nineteen year old defender Jonathan Mensah's composure against Australia.
Expect Bradley to apply pressure early. The return of Findley will allow the US to counter with speed. Although many US fans may wish for a goal spree from the forwards, the simple truth is that the US has been more successful in transition than when they've set up shop in the attacking third.
In fact, the forwards have played their part to perfection, creating opportunities and rebounds for the streaking midfielders (illustrated by epic goals from both Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan).
Of course, there is the possibility that the Ghanians will bypass the midfield yet again, so a starting debut for Benny Feilhaber would provide the US with another dimension. If Ghana hunker down in their end, Feilhaber possesses the ability to see the final pass, but also has a penchant for the spectacular.
As we've grown accustomed to, the biggest questions for the US reside in defense. There can be little doubt remaining about the mental and physical state of Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit. However, the inclusion of Bornstein at the expense of Oguchi Onyewu against Algeria, might present a host of new questions.
Doubts as to whether Bocanegra would make a smooth transition back to center defense will be eased by a sufficient performance against Algeria, in which there was a drastic improvement in organization.
However, the greater affirmation comes from Bornstein's performance. At times Bornstein seemed well out of his depth, but rallied behind his most redeeming quality and recovered admirably.
Even if Onyewu is determined to be healthy enough to play, look for Bradley to call on Bocanegra and Bornstein again. As Ghana are sure to benefit from a friendly crowd (and referee), it would be best for the US to play an organized and efficient game in the back – need I remind you of the infamous, nefarious, ubiquitously haunting "Pimpong."
No, the US needs to play smarter this time around. And though the team as a whole (Onyewu and Bradley to be sure!) are less susceptible to the shenanigans of 2006, Onyewu is still a step behind play and this is one risk the US doesn't have to take.
I'm not sure there is too much more to say. The permutations have gone limp. The tactics are there for everyone to see.
It's a brawl between peers to survive and advance.
To become legend.
Would you have it any other way?