Stars and Gripes

Occasionally interesting insight (and gripes) about the USMNT

Archive for May 2010

USA v. Turkey

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USA – Turkey Post-Game

The old adage of a “tale of two halves” doesn’t go far enough in describing the disparate performances put in by the United States in Philadelphia, with a stark difference in quality shown on either side of the break.  The first 45 minutes were an uninhibited mess across the pitch, and it originated in the back.  While Carlos Bocanegra started well on the left side of the back four, the middle partnership of Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson was marked by a lack of communication and confusion.  Nine minutes on saw a furious Tim Howard screaming at his defenders after their failure to close down on the Turkish forwards, and things didn’t improve much from there.  Jonathan Spector was repeatedly beat down the left side by Arda Turan, and badly mistimed one ball that led to another golden opportunity for the Crescent Stars.  Only a lack of touch in front of the goal prevented Turkey from putting the game out of reach early.

With Clint Dempsey starting as an out-and-out striker alongside Jozy Altidore, the midfield was left to the familiar pairing of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark in the middle, with Donovan pushed out wide right.  Benny Feilhaber got the surprise call on the left wing, and made an immediate impact, albeit a negative one.  Just minutes in, Feilhaber bizarrely decided to switch fields just 20 yards in front of goal–but there wasn’t a teammate in sight, and his pass instead found a waiting Turkey forward.  He showed signs of improvement soon thereafter, using his considerable touch to move off of the left touchline into the center of the park, twice coming close to setting Altidore and Dempsey in space.

The play of Bradley and Clark in the middle left much to be desired.  Turkey was given far too much space in which to operate, and the defensive positioning was suspect.  Clark in particular struggled, wasting a number of balls forward even as the United States struggled to keep possession.  Oddly, considering their partnership through much of the qualifying run, the central duo seemed unsure of roles, with Clark often moving further into the attack and Bradley staying behind, when their skill sets suggest a reversal.

The defensive frailties were finally exposed on 26 minutes.  Spector lost the ball just outside the Turkish box after a speculative run forward, but a lack of communication left only Jay DeMerit and a hustling Michael Bradley bad.  A quick counter from Turkey sprang Arda Turan into space, and though Spector furiously gave chase, Turan made no mistake and slotted his shot by Tim Howard in the American goal.

The American attack was barely more composed than its defense.  Starting at forward for the first time in his national team career, Clint Dempsey seemed decidedly uncomfortable in the role.  His first touch proving elusive, he struggled to keep possession as balls were sent in from Feilhaber, Bradley and Donovan.  Altidore did better, using his physical strength to hold up well, and showed the kind of hustle he’ll need in South Africa, tracking back to win a number of balls towards midfield.  All in all, the first half was a forgettable performance for the United States, and changes surely were in order at the break.

Changes were made on every part of the field coming out of the tunnel.  Robby Findley was brought in for Feilhaber, with Dempsey moving back to his preferred role on the left wing, and Donovan remaining wide right.  Clark was mercifully relieved by Jose Francisco Torres, who used his time to make a strong case for inclusion into the starting XI going forward.  At the back, Oguchi Onyewu replaced Clarence Goodson and brought immediately stability, while Steve Cherundolo took over for Jonathan Spector at right back.

The changes paid immediate dividends, with the American attack looking far more fluid from the outset.  Torres played just in front of the back four, with Michael Bradley moving further forward.  On 59 minutes, it was Findley, the surprise inclusion in Bradley’s squad, who showed poise and skill in sending a ball over the top for Donovan, cutting into the box on the right side.  Donovan then played a perfect ball across the goal, leaving Jozy Altidore to tie the game with what surely was one of the easier goals he’ll score in an American uniform.

The Americans continued to out-class their opponents in the second half, led throughout by the skill and creativity of Torres and Donovan.  While Findley was able to utilize his considerable speed to get behind Turkey’s defense on a number of ocassions, his lack of awareness proved detrimental.  Twice he simply dribbled right past the touchline, when he would’ve been well-advised to simply drop the ball back for a waiting Donovan.  It was Donovan again setting up the second strike, as he played a ball through to Dempsey, who was perhaps lucky to take a bounce off his thigh before poking the ball by Volcan Demirel for his 17th international goal.  Dempsey nearly added a third after a brilliant run by Michael Bradley, who may have better off to simply take the chance himself.

The other highlight for the Americans in the second frame was a much improved defensive line, with the notable exception of Jonathan Bornstein, who came on for Carlos Bocanegra with 16 minutes remaining and once again proved he’s not up to the international level.  On the right side, Cherundolo calmed the Turkish attack, and showed well enough to likely reestablish himself in the starting line-up.  Another bright spot was Onyewu, who showed few signs of the skittishness that could be seen on Tuesday, using his powerful frame to impose himself on the Turkey forwards.

In the end, it was an extremely impressive second-half display from the Americans, who out-classed a talented Turkey squad.  Final thoughts:

– Rico Clark and Jonathan Spector likely played themselves out of the starting line-up.

– Findley proved his worth off the bench, though his wonderful ball to Donovan was tempered by his lack of awareness on the ball.

– Torres set himself apart, and could prove to be an interesting option in the deep-lying role for Bob Bradley.

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Written by Pete Kavanaugh

May 29, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Who Should Play vs. Turkey?

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Tomorrow’s final send-off match versus Turkey gives Bob Bradley his first chance to field his preferred XI since October, bringing Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu back into the fold following their absence in Amsterdam for the Netherlands friendly this past March.  While the June 12th clash with England will drive Bradley’s selection, he may also look to experiment, with the comfort that he’ll have at least one more dry run with Australia in a week’s time.

For Bradley, there’s more good news than bad.  Aside from Charlie Davies, he has a nearly complete pool to select from, though he no doubt would have appreciated the comfort provided by a fit Brian Ching.  The sudden re-emergence of DaMarcus Beasley, absent from the national team picture since his sub-par performance in the Confederations Cup, affords additional flexibility.

Despite injury worries, the back line appears for the most part set, with Onyweu and Jay DeMerit likely to partner the middle, while Carlos Bocanegra will line up at left back.  Bradley’s remaining choice is right back, with a contest raging between Steve Cherundolo, who wore the captain’s armband on Tuesday, and Jonathan Spector, who had the starting job locked down following the Confederations Cup last summer.

Spector struggled this past season at West Ham, where he was forced to play out of position on the left side.  Yet I didn’t think Cherundolo looked particularly sharp in Hartford, either.  While he had some impressive moments coming forward, he had trouble dealing with speed down the left side, and his touch left much to be desired.  In the end, I think Spector gets the nod.  His ability to play quality balls into the box will be valuable against England, particularly with Dempsey lurking.

In the midfield, Bradley and Donovan are the locks, though Landon is a candidate for either wing.  The battle to pair with Bradley is down to Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark, both of whom ended their club seasons on a high note, having locked down starting jobs for Rangers and Eintract Frankfurt, respectively.  With memories of his strong defensive performance against Spain eleven months ago, I would give the nod to Clark, who will have his hands full locking down Steven Gerrard.  Edu offers versatility off the bench, and his more polished offensive game may be better suited to the matches against Algeria and Slovenia.

Bradley has depth in choice on the wings, with Donovan, Dempsey, Beasley and Stuart Holden all potential candidates.  My guess—and the prevailing wisdom—is that Dempsey will move up top to play off of Altidore as a second forward.  Donovan should remain on the left wing, where he’s been so effective for the last year.  Beasley gets the nod on the right wing.  Holden has done nothing but impress when given the chance, from last summer’s qualifier in Mexico City through his 90-minute run out against the Czech Republic.  But Beasley’s ability to track back on defense will be critical in facing an England team that prefers to flow offensively down the left side, moving through Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, and Wayne Rooney.  Beasley’s pace will help to keep Cole in check (particularly in light of the troubles afflicting the rest of England’s backline), and provide cover for Spector or Cherundolo, all while sacrificing little in the way of offense prowess.  It also allows Beasley and Donovan to play their preferred “inverted” wing spots, giving them the ability to cut in and play the ball to their desired foot.

I expect the starting lineup to look like this:



As for subs, expect Holden, Torres and Edu to be given time in the midfield.  Torres may well be the most technically gifted player on the roster, and while it’s unlikely he’ll see time against England, his creativity could be key against more defensive-minded teams like Algeria and Slovenia.  My guess would be that Clark comes out at the half in favor of Torres, with Bradley eventually making way for Edu.  After riding the pine for most of the year, Beasley could use a full 90, so Donovan making way for Holden, with Beasley switching to the left wing (or left back) would make a good deal of sense.

Up top, one would think that both Gomez and Buddle will see action—my guess would be Gomez in for Dempsey on the earlier side, with Buddle eventually replacing Altidore a bit later on.

In the back, it’s possible we’ll see Clarence Goodson in for DeMerit (one would think Onyewu needs to go 90 for fitness purposes), though Beasley sliding back to left back could also make sense.

Regardless, it should be interesting.

Written by Pete Kavanaugh

May 28, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Look at Turkey

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Saturday’s run-out with Turkey serves as an important benchmark for Bob Bradley’s squad, and has only gained significance in light of the staff’s decision to sit most of the regulars in Tuesday’s match.  Turkey will represent a stiff test for the United States, a team who enjoyed an extremely successful run in Euro 2008, when they went out at the hands of Germany in the semifinals having only 14 players eligible.  The Crescent Stars faced a difficult qualifying group for the World Cup, being drawn with Spain, the reigning continental champions, along with young but talented squads in Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the latter led by Wolfsburg goal-scoring machine Edin Dzeko.

Turkey got off to a promising start in qualifying, taking eight points from the likes of Armenia (2-0), Belgium (1-1), Bosnia-Herzegovina (2-1) and Estonia (0-0).  Close home and away defeats to Spain followed in March and April, along with a loss to Belgium.  Though they managed to take full points from remaining fixtures with Armenia and Estonia, the damage was done.  Spain won the group without dropping a point, and Bosnia-Herzegovina took second, four points clear.

Offensively, Turkey is led by Tuncay Sanli, the Middlesbrough and Stoke City man who’s hit the back of the net 22 times for his country since debuting in 2003, and spent qualifying lining up all over the pitch.  He’s aided by Emre Belozoglu, a classic box-to-box midfielder who has spent time with Inter Milan and Newcastle; Semih Senturk, the Fenerbahce striker; Arda Turan, the impressive young Galatasaray midfielder; and Halil Altintop, the Eintracht Frankfurt winger.

Tactically, they tended towards a classic 4-4-2, particularly when playing the stronger teams in the group (ESP, B-H & BEL).  Later in the campaign, against Estonia and Armenia, they preferred a more attack-minded 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, with Halil Altintop coming off the bench to move into a striker role, and Hamit Altintop moving wide right.  The midfield remained fluid throughout, with Belozoglu and some combination of Ayhan Akman and Mehmet Aurelio playing through the middle.  Arda Turan and Tuncay Sanli, the driving offensive influences, featured all over the pitch, often lining up on opposite wings, though Sanli eventually moved into a forward role for the stretch run.

Needing points after going 0-2 against group leaders Spain, they lined up in a 4-3-3 in a 4-2 win over Estonia, with Sanli moving forward to the left wing and Turan slotting behind him, creating a potent combination down the left side of the pitch.  Perhaps bizarrely, considering Sanli scored twice and Turan added a third, Turkey abandoned the 4-3-3 going forward.

Following a draw against Bosnia-Herzegonia where Sanli lined up as one of two strikers, Turkey were desperate for a win against Belgium in October.  Sanli and Hamit Altintop started on the wings as the Crescent Stars grasped for creativity while playing without Turan, who had picked up his second yellow and was forced to sit.  Facing a 1-0 deficit at the half, Semih Senturk was recalled from the bench to start the second half at forward.  The change was fruitless, with Belgium finishing off a 2-0 win, and dealing Turkey’s qualifying hopes a significant blow.  With only the Armenia game remaining, Halil Altintop played as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, with Turan slotting in as the attacking midfielder, and Sanli and Hamit Altintop moving to the wings.  Despite taking a 2-0 win, Turkey were out.

With new manager Guus Hiddink at the helm, Turkey has used games against the Czech Republic last Saturday, and Northern Ireland this past Tuesday, to begin working new players into the squad.  The XI that take the field against the United States tomorrow are likely to be a combination of veterans of the WC Qualifying campaign, and young players looking to make an impression before European Championship qualifying begins in the fall, such as:

Colin Kazim-Richards, 23, the England-born forward currently on loan (from Fenerebahce) with Toulouse in Ligue 1

– Caner Erkin, 21, the Galatasary starlet who featured in the Europa Cup in the season past

– Nuri Sahin, 21, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder

Sercan Yildirim, 20, the highly coveted Bursaspor striker who has been linked with a number of teams throughout Europe (including Man City & Liverpool)

(Credit to the fantastic http://www.football-lineups.com for info)

Written by Pete Kavanaugh

May 28, 2010 at 6:48 pm

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Beckham and Walcott

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Since it was announced some weeks ago by the England staff that David Beckham would travel to South Africa in an undefined team role, many have wondered just what exactly would occupy Beckham’s time.  Some comments from Theo Walcott in the Express today shed a little light on his role: mentor.

Being a mentor seems a good use of Beckham’s time, and Theo Walcott specifically could benefit.  While the Express piece focuses more on the footballing aspect of the Beckham-Walcott relationship (staying wide, crosses, etc.), there’s arguably a far more important pretext: Beckham may be the only member of England’s traveling party who has experienced the roller coaster of praise and criticism that Walcott has endured over the last four years.  Throughout the course of his international career, Beckham had his share of peaks (his epic performance against Greece in the final qualifier in 2006), and valleys (red card vs. Argentina in 1998).  Likewise, Walcott was plucked from obscurity four years ago, when it was widely acknowledged that he was still a very raw player who had thrived at the academy level based almost exclusively on his prodigious speed.  He never played a minute in Germany, fought injuries with Arsenal, and then turned in his majestic performance in Zagreb.  Since then, he’s been the subject of oft-intense criticism, ranging from his inability to stay healthy, to Chris Waddle’s stinging comments about him lacking a “football brain.”

I firmly believe that Walcott and Lennon will need to play a big role if England want to break through the Quarterfinal barrier that has so often been their final destination.  With so much of the England attack running through Cole, Gerrard and (often) Rooney on the left wing, the ability to keep width on the opposite pitch will be key.  Anything that helps Walcott keep a proper frame of mind is time well spent for the England staff.

Written by Pete Kavanaugh

May 28, 2010 at 3:32 pm

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The Forwards

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Ah, the initial post.  After bothering most of the soccer fans I know with incessant emails, it’s time to start a one-person echo chamber which no one else will read.  Alas, we begin…

Since Charlie Davies’ accident in October, the myopic focus of US fans has been the question of who would complement Jozy Altidore as the second forward.  Yet a second question was ignored during this process: “What if Jozy can’t play?” It’s interesting, to me, that this nightmare scenario wasn’t discussed more.  Altidore is, after all, a young player who prematurely ended his loan spell in England after head-butting an opponent and being dismissed from the team.  Surely, then, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to consider that he may not be available for every game in South Africa?

The natural solution to the “second forward” conundrum was to move one of Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan up front from their normal position on the wings.  Neither would prefer to play in that spot, but both could deputize ably, if needed.  However, the question of what the forward line would look like if Altidore was unable to play raised a separate, more complex problem.  While it’s possible–however unlikely–that Bradley could use Altidore alone up top, it’s nearly unthinkable that he would choose to field a sole striker if his options were Dempsey, Donovan, or the rest of the forward pool.

That left Bradley with a giant headache, and could well have led him to search for someone who is a) endowed with a least a modest ability to play a hold-up role, and b) is fit enough to play 65-70 minutes in a bruising position.  Gomez wasn’t a candidate–for all his goal scoring exploits, he doesn’t appear pass either test, as he tended to come off the bench for Puebla, and will never be mistaken for a target man.  Ching would be an obvious selection, but has played only 28 minutes since April Fools Day.  Eddie Johnson was worth a look, but doesn’t seem to have developed as a player since he was brought into the national team six years ago.  With the pool thin, we’re left with Buddle.  While Buddle will hever be mistaken for a Ching clone, he has the ability to fill the role, as viewed most recently on Tuesday night against the Czech Republic.  Most importantly, Buddle is match fit, with an ability to play 65-70 minutes at a high level.

So, with Buddle penciled in as a guy who could fill the target role for 70 minutes, should the need arise, the question turns to who could provide a late-game spark.  This has never been Ching’s forte–to the extent that he was valuable coming off the bench (and to be sure, he was), his value lay in helping to steady the pace of game when points had been secured, not to score a quick goal.  Instead, Gomez seemed the best fit for that particular role, coming off a scoring title in Mexico during a season when he consistently scored off the bench for Puebla.  Johnson could have conceivably been in contention there as well, depending on how he showed in camp (in the end, fitness was his downfall).

Looking at it this way (and taking into account Ching’s lack of fitness), Buddle and Gomez were locks.  The final spot, then, came down to a battle between a semi-fit Ching, Robbie Findley, and Alejandro Bedoya.  Findley’s inclusion was simple:  his pure, unadulterated speed offers Bradley a game-changing dynamic that no one on the roster can match.  Ching wasn’t able to play 90 minutes; he wasn’t a good bet to bring on late in the game as a spark; and he wasn’t going to offer game-changing speed.  Yes, he could have been valuable to help preserve a lead by slowing the game and taking pressure off the defense and midfield.  In the end, Bradley felt tactical changes to preserve points could be made further back in the lineup.

Written by Pete Kavanaugh

May 28, 2010 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Hello world!

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Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

Written by Pete Kavanaugh

May 26, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized