U-20S BACK IN THE MIX
What a difference a day makes. All Thomas Rongen had to do was turn back to the pros and things changed ever so drastically overnight. While many are prone to now praise Rongen for the changes he made to right the US ship, the more pressing question is why was it not until the second game - after months of training and two friendlies in Cyprus before the tournament - that he put a passable lineup on the field?
But more on that later.
The first order of business is to call out the doomsayers that interpreted the first game loss as the demise of the future of US soccer. As I wrote in Sunday's blog, even had this team not been capable of much more - which they obviously were - one bad two-year cycle would not mean the end of soccer in America. Just look at England's team in this tournament. But we're beyond that now.
A few notes on the game
It's easy to forget that this was even match for 45 minutes. The Americans looked much better than on Saturday, but weighed down by the urgent need for a win, they were under pressure. Arguez' goal changed all that and opened the Cameroon back line, and the rest is history. In the win, there were a few issues that not everyone seemed to agree on, so I want to clear up my perspective from the stadium.
Tony Taylor - The forward played a decent match but I contend that his play was far from ideal. He had a goal and an assist but could have had much more had he not been constantly out of position. Playing as the lone forward in what is essentially a 4-5-1 is tough, and maybe Taylor needs a bit more schooling in how to do it. In reality, I think Peri Marosevic is more suited for the lone forward role, but I also expect Taylor to have a big day against South Korea, whose defenders won't be able to keep up with him the way Cameroon did.
Dilly Duka - The kid from Rutgers played great, especially in the second half when he got into a rhythm. For the record, there's no doubt in my mind that his goal was in fact a shot and not a cross. The play developed slowly, and from my vantage point about 50-yards away, I clearly saw him look up at the line of teammates considering a cross, touch the ball again, scope out the keeper, and then shoot. Just watch the replay on FIFA.com. Focus on Duka's body language after he unleashed the shot: he falls back and looks immediately towards goal and waits to see where the shot lands- clearly something he wouldn't have done had he intended a cross.
Brian Onwby - I was glad to see Ownby score a goal and get some redemption from his awful performance on Saturday, and I'm impressed with Rongen for having the guts to put him back on after that showing. But I still question whether Ownby should be anywhere near the field with other options available off the bench in the M/F role, which yesterday included Marosevic and Mikkel Diskerud. I would argue that unlike Duka's goal, there was a lot of luck involved in Ownby's finish. He took an ill-advised last touch out wide of goal, then poked the ball back past the inexplicably immobilized 'keeper, into the net.
Ownby will be out for the next match after seeing his second yellow, and that may be good news if it gives another player a chance to shine in his absence and convince Coach Rongen that the UVA is not his best attack option of the bench. Much of this applies in the case of Dillon Powers as well, though since he is supposed to be playing holding midfield, there is a bit more reason for using him off the bench.
Rongen used the post game press conference to take a pot shot at the American press, saying basically that some of the things said in the media after the Germany game were not very nice. In a sense, he's right, as these are in the end still teenagers in most cases, but I wonder what he expects after such a terrible showing. We certainly can't be expected to write only about the positive aspects of a game like the Germany loss - though in my case I often try to do so.
This generalized hyper-sensitivity to criticism on the part of the USSF is strange and a bit unsettling for many members of the press. In my current situation, it is doubly so since I am the only American media member in Egypt with the team.
It would be much easier for the press to do its job - good or bad - if the American teams would just let criticism roll off their shoulders and get on with their job of winning soccer games and in this case, developing players. They can rest easily since there will still be plenty of readers to criticize us in the press.