It was tough to sit and write anything about the US crashing out of the World Cup. Not because I have nothing to say, but rather I’m having trouble reconciling my feelings. Brimming with contradictions, my head pulls me to the negative and my heart lifts me to the positive. The rational and the emotional. I tried to keep it rational.
THE HARD AND FAST TRUTH
Gone. The USMNT crashed out of the World Cup in the round of 16 yesterday. The run was exciting, but the conclusion is simple, we are still not good enough. We were probably good enough to get a smash and grab win against Belgium. Advancing over a team that was, from a club perspective, the third most expensive squad at the World Cup would have been a massive coup. The truth is we are not good enough to have done much more in this cup. Any tournament winner will tell you luck is a factor, and it was unlikely the US had any more spare luck lying around. The Belgians eventually figured out how to get out of their own way and finish one (and then two) of their mountain of chances. I don’t have much praise for Belgium, teams that squander that many chances should be punished. They were better overall, and lucky we didn’t pull it off. They have individual performers that dazzled, but they still feel like a collection of talent versus a cohesive team. How many times did the waffle hustlers give the ball away on poor communication?
We conceded distribution for height and physical presence. JK sacrificed the player I believed to have put in the best overall American performance at the World Cup, Kyle Beckerman. We offered up our sacrificial lamb to the football gods, in exchange we asked to neutralize the player most likely to have a second career climbing out of clown cars, Fellaini. What a grand sacrifice, we sent our most steady midfielder to the bench. After watching Fellaini blindly send passes into the stands, I think Klinsmann, if he had a second go at it, would want this one back, he’d have Beckerman out there. This is not to put down Cameron’s defensive performance in the middle of the park. He won most of his aerial duels, and kept Belgium going to the outside. Clearances and blocked shots, all great, from a defensive perspective, exactly what he needed to do on that side of the ball. However he was another, in a long line of errant passers, who gave up the ball cheaply in transition.
The next step for national team development is to begin playing matches with the same mentality they adapt when they are chasing a match. The only reason the Portugal game went the way it did was because the Portuguese forced them to chase them from the 4th minute. Otherwise we would have seen a team timid to press forward (e.g. vs Ghana and vs Germany and vs Belgium). I’m sick of seeing the US tiptoeing out of their defensive stance, worried about getting hit on the return. This isn’t to say that we need to attack with reckless abandon, no. But give me a little more urgency. Which leads to…
Bradley woke up offensively in the last 15 minutes of his World Cup, feeding Green a perfect chipped pass. If there was another great pass from the US that match I have probably blurred it out of memory. The US first touch was average at best. Yedlin belted forward in what could have been a great go at goal, but his cement touch sent the ball careening towards the advertisements. Just one example of many. Possession, although 50-50 at the end of 90, was skewed by the time spent sitting on the ball in the defensive third. Those were the slow moments before foolishly losing the ball in midfield. Dempsey’s extra time turn rather than pass, lead to Besler getting ragged-dolled by Lukaku on the way to Prince Harry taking the lead for the Red Devils. I’ve seen this team perform better, but when it is a grand moment, the spotlight is melting the US. Is it technical ability? Is it big game experience? Is it both?
— Dan (@SoccerYankDan) July 2, 2014
Man of the match every which way you can cut it. Kept the US in the match as long as he could. Leader.
We were on defense what seemed like the whole of regulation. Besler was out of his depth against the strong and pacey Belgians. He had good moments, but overall it was his worst outing of the cup. Gonzo stepped up again, but when the ball is cleared and sent right back into the final third you can only ask so much of your defenders. Johnson didn’t have much time to shine, pulling a hammy in the first half. Run DMB. DaMarcus Beasley gives me hope that I can keep playing ball (on a pick up level) until I’m well into my 50s. That’s how old he is right? 50 something, at least that was how the naysayers were reacting when Klinsmann called him for his 4th World Cup. He put in another performance of a player good enough to be called to four World Cups.
Underwhelming. Zusi, although always fighting, was lost out there. His best quality, service, just didn’t exist. Bedoya had his hands full defensively and won several tackles, but we need more from our wide midfielders going forward. Bradley had his best game, and could have pulled off last-minute heroics, but this goes back to mentality. He didn’t really turn it on until it felt like desperation mode. But in desperation mode, he looked a man possessed. He looked the calmest on the ball he had been the entire tournament. The park player in him came out and it was a joy to watch. Unfortunately it was not enough. Jones, big heart, found a 2nd and maybe a 3rd wind somewhere during this game, but some of his decisions in the final third were head-scratchers. Cameron see team sheet above.
Mixed bag. He seemed gassed to me, or maybe he felt he needed to conserve energy because it was going to be one of those days. He did have some nice flicks, and did track back on a few occasions. Almost scored one of the best rehearsed plays in my soccer memory. Almost. Dempsey was “almost” the entire match.
Say Landon would have buried that one more time… Wondo makes a living slamming those types of goals home. He’d make that shot 9 times out 10. That was the 1 time. Play to only create a few chances, die by only creating a few chances. That laid the ground work for the rest of his performance. He underperformed in what could have been his hero hour. Was he also suffering from melting spotlight syndrome?
Yedlin came on for an injured Johnson in the first half. If there is one American player with world-class something, it is Yedlin and his speed. He’s made a mark on the world. I wouldn’t be surprised in a few years to see this “lad” on Saturday mornings on my TV. Julian “I took LDs spot” Green hit the field with 15 minutes to go in extra time. I had buddies griping that the towel had officially been thrown in. Green signified the end, JK wanted him to get a few touches to build for the future. First World Cup touch, first World Cup goal. Landon would have buried that too, I suppose. He spent the next 14 minutes giving the Belgian’s wheat beer sweats.
My heart tells me this was a successful World Cup for the USMNT. I’m not going to fight it. It was a success. It was another step. We were hoping for a leap, sure, but we’ll have to settle for a step. Speaking of heart, that is what this team possesses in spades. Trying to stay grounded, it needs to be said, and it has been proven again, heart is not enough. Intangibles are only a piece. They can only blanket the flaws for so long. Heart can’t be our only fall back.
It was a great time folks. I lead an “I believe” chant at the bar after the Green goal. It’s the closest I’ve ever had to a religious experience. It was a surreal moment. If you are here, I’m probably preaching to choir – but don’t stop watching. This World Cup still has drama in store for everyone. Keep it going past July 13th, follow and support a club, your local club, MLS, USL, NASL, any club, anywhere in the world. This sport only gets better the more you watch. Don’t tune out until June 2018.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE USMNT
Gold Cup 2015, Copa America 2016 (in the United States!), Confederation Cup (hopefully), qualification, and we are back to square one (hopefully)…World Cup 2018.
Until next time,
Blog, podcast, repeat,