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.