This week we have the great pleasure of adding a new member to the Soccer Yank lineup, Rey Regicide (a pseudonym and FIFA username of course) . He has been a friend, supporter, and advocate of the Soccer Yank network from day 1 and has finally pulled the trigger on his first article about the USMNT. It is a bit of a tormented ride down memory lane, but well worth the trip. Enjoy! –Dan
Yeah about that Clark moment…
After years of quietly soaking in the pain and dismay, I think I’ve finally come to grips with it.
World Cup 2010 – June 26, 2010, Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, South Africa: Michael Bradley finds himself in space to the right of the center circle, if not on the right hemisphere in the circle, he sees Ricardo Clark in the middle. He plays a quick pass into Clark who is initially unmarked but within yards of a Ghanaian defender who I think is Asamoah, not Gyan the forward, Asamoah the midfielder. Or maybe it was Annan. He quickly plays Boateng, the Kevin Prince model, by virtue of dispossessing Clark, and well the rest you know is history.
I remember reading comments and articles and everything to try to cope with the loss. I remember all the online criticism of everyone involved in the game, specifically the Bradley’s, Michael and his dad. His dad should have never started Clark, and instead should have opted for Feilhaber and Edu, etc, etc, etc.
Here’s the thing, I’ve seen Xavi play that pass into Iniesta or Messi at Barcelona, in advanced positions and in much tighter spaces. 99.999999999999999 percent of the time, they post up, (not trying to hold up play or draw contact). They put their back to their defender to shield the ball and play it quickly back into a teammate who has the whole world in front of him; a Pique, Busquets, or any other able footed human being. Or they play it right back, laser timing, to the originator’s feet so that he may bounce it back to the left part of the field (which is what Michael Bradley intended to do in the first place). Once they realize the space they are in, they do not attempt any turn, and quickly go into hot potato mode. Which is, time on ball = bad. Get rid of it.
I realize that Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are of quality that the average United States player can only fantasize about, but we’re not talking about technical acumen here. This is a matter of realizing where you are in space and what it is you should be doing with the ball once you receive it. Granted, you are afforded tactical awareness as a luxury when you have incredible technical skill. The less time you take to reign in the ball on your feet with your first touch, the more time you have to survey and probe. But I believe a professional footballer, who everyone on the USMNT was at the time, should be more than capable to carry out a simple shield and pass.
So here’s a couple questions, if Michael Bradley wanted to change the field why didn’t he just play a long ball across for Bornstein to receive or play it to Bocanegra or maybe, heaven forbid, play a long ball forward to Donovan on the left wing? Why did Clark not just boot it upon recognizing he was getting closed down on?
Let’s get the long ball forward theory out of the way first. The players involved were NOT trying to boot the ball, so let’s assume that it was a tactical point of emphasis that Bob wanted Michael and the US midfield in general. They were to be at liberty with passes; attempting to retain the ball as much as possible, and create more probable and attacking movements.
If you take a look at the game:
At the 4:00 mark (of the match, not the video), Bradley has the ball in roughly the same position he will have it later at the infamous 5 min mark. He has Clark and Dempsey in his vicinity, Clark being the less advanced of the two, of course. The Ghanaian midfielder, again I am guessing it is Annan, races to close the space between Clark and Bradley instead of holding on Dempsey. The result is Bradley, progressive as always, finds Dempsey in space in an advanced position. Dempsey breaks forward and puts in a good shot on target.
Around 5:00 however, Annan shows great discipline and cuts off the passing route, and in conjunction with KP Boateng’s new found resolve to put pressure on Bradley, he forces him to make a decision. Bradley surveys quickly his options and finds Clark in space. It is Boateng’s industry that allows for the mayhem to take place. But this does not directly spell doom for the US. We have Bornstein on the left in space as well, although you can tell that the Ghanaian right winger is making his way to anticipate a switch in field. Bradley does well to keep the ball on the floor. He wants to play Dempsey forward, but as stated before, Dempsey is no longer in the position of availability he found himself in a minute ago. Herein lies the dilemma.
The right thing for Clark to do in that case once Bradley has made his decision to play the ball short, was to stop and receive the ball with his back to Annan. Then continue by opening his vision to Bradley in motion, or Bocanegra and Demerit in space. Thereby aborting the left right and even forward movement, but one that would have ultimately resulted in a USMNT member with the entire world in front of him and the ball at his feet. And one that ultimately satisfies the mandate that we are assuming was issued. Bob Bradley, Mr. Long Ball, issued an ultimatum to retain as much of the ball as possible. Shocking I know.
Instead, what Clark decides to do is to try to beat his man 1v1 in center midfield, TRYING HIS BEST to move forward, HIMSELF.
I hope what I write in the following does not offend any of you, as well as it should not because I will place myself in this category, but I think when it comes to football (soccer) we are too American. We have molded sports in our country to favor and DEMAND scoring. We have instituted shot clocks, backcourt violations, forward progress and numerous other constructs in order to generate as much scoring as possible. Be it your own, or the capitalization of your mistake by the defense. There’s this funny commercial on NBC where they have an “American” football coach come over to coach Tottenham Hotspur. Of the many funny things that go on in that commercial, and there’s a lot, the most enjoyable for me concerns the revelation of being able to play the ball back without incurring infractions. This is harmless until you realize that this is probably endemic with our footballing culture here in the states. I know this because after copious hours of EA’s FIFA online, and specifically against USA gamers, I have gained insight into their mindset (That is of course if their footballing mindset is represented through the online matches).
We think that any motion backwards is heretic, and that every ball should be played forward. What’s more, we value an attacking move that concedes possession over methodically moving the ball over the opponent’s area. These actions help conserve energy in your side while allowing for the opposition to make a tactical mistake presenting an even better option through a defensive breakdown. Regardless of the fact that there is no shot clock, regardless of the fact that there is no back court or backfield as it would be, my theory is that the footballing mentality in this country to get forward at any cost has for some time been indoctrinated to our players in the youth systems here at home. And only the ones who have been playing abroad for some time, or have come up through academies from abroad, exhibit a better understanding between possession and positioning.
Another thing we need to keep in mind, when people with broad strokes, paint the picture of football they want to see, they fail to understand what that implies. Keeping the ball at all costs, playing possession football, not punting the ball, means you are going to have to assume pressure, knock the ball around in front of a team that parks the bus, and retrograde at times against teams that pressure high. Not everything can be sorted out with a Messi or Ronaldo slalom through the middle of the park. Unless of course you are Messi or Ronaldo. Even in those cases, Argentina and Portugal have those players and neither have won trophies with them. Football is less like basketball and more like a frustrating 11 v 11 jenga puzzle. Like history, football is made up less of exploits of great individuals, but rather more by the many decisions made individually by many.
I think about this moment for the USMNT in the 2010 world cup whenever someone talks about the differences between Klinsmann and Bradley. I invite you to take a look at the game in its entirety. You’ll find that while we were culpable of more errors, we put together a pretty solid showing in the midfield for various stretches of the game. But in a team where the second best midfielders were Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, a still developing Sascha Klesjtan, Jose Fransisco Torres, or Maurice Edu (many of whom wanted to see start over Ricardo Clark the egregious errorer, but forget the many times Edu himself in that match committed the same mistake), our style of play was going to be dictated by the talent available. Our current players now who have more technical ability, yes, but more importantly many play in European top flight competitions. This allow for a more mature tactical mentality to be installed in our national team. So in a sense, while Klinsmann has implemented changes into the national side that has already benefited the team, he himself has been the benefactor of a constantly improving player pool.
And I’m sure Bradley the senior knows this, as cruel as his fate may have been. In case he’s listening, and unaware, he has a firm place in US men’s national team history. Jurgen Klinsmann stands upon his shoulders. It was Bradley who called in the Diskeruds, the Agudelos, the Lichajes, and the Joneses. The majority of this team was initially capped by Bob. And know this too about Bob’s tenure, while defeats can easily be attributed to simple mistakes made by individuals, his team never identified culprits or turned on scapegoats, or even so much as called players out in the press. As someone who’s watched enough of England, France and other national team debacles, this is one fact that can easily be overlooked, but incredibly valued.
What will 2014 bring? Who knows for sure? I firmly believe the tactics implemented by Klinsmann, with the improved mindset of the footballers at his disposal, will lead to favorable results. Even if the World Cup groups themselves are unfavorable. I have faith and optimism that if our midfielder is caught again in pressure, he will have the maturity to deal with it a whole lot better than his predecessor did 4 years before. If not, then we will literally and figuratively be caught out and left chasing yet again.
About the author:
Rey Regicide spent his entire youth playing basketball and baseball. In his late 20’s deciding he was going to give footy a shot, hoped to find a commonality between the sports from the states and football. Instead he found out that it is an entirely different beast. He has since dedicated his free time learning the nuances of the game.