Stars and Gripes

Occasionally interesting insight (and gripes) about the USMNT

Grading the Group Stage for the USA

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Tim Howard – 6 – For a team that has left its fans on the edge of their seats for 270+ minutes, the goalkeeper has been relatively quiet.  Howard made some fine saves to keep the United States in their match against England, and his distribution from the back against Algeria was exemplary, with his quick release to Donovan setting up the eventual winning goal.  At times, though, I get the feeling that his reactions are just a split-second off.  There’s little doubt he’ll be called upon for a massive game shortly.

Steve Cherundolo – 8 – While I’m hesitant to give out an 8, its difficult to recall Cherundolo making more than two or three (relatively minor) errors thus far in the tournament.  He has stymied every attack sent down the left side, while partnering wonderfully with Landon Donovan going forward.  It’s amazing to think that Cherundolo went into the warm-up match against Turkey as the second-choice starter on the right.  He has been duly rewarded with a contract extension from Hannover, who many had believed would let him walk.

Jay DeMerit – 6.5 – DeMerit had a massive game against Algeria, and did well to marshal the line versus England.  Yet he was caught out of position on multiple occasions through the first two games, and badly misplayed a ball early against Algeria, nearly resulting in the United States staring at yet another early hole.  That said, DeMerit been great in the air, has done well tracking forwards out into the middle third of the pitch.  He has also taken on added responsibilities in covering for Cherundolo on his increasingly frequent attacking forays.  Could easily have earned a 7.

Bocanegra – 6.5 – A solid, workmanlike performance from the captain thus far.  His partnership with DeMerit against Algeria was far more cohesive than the efforts put in by Oguchi Onyewu.  By now, the book on Bocanegra is well read—he has difficulty containing speed (see Lennon, Aaron), but makes very few mistakes and is solid closing down on attackers.  His thwarting of two menacing runs forward on either side of the 18-yard box on Wednesday—causing both attackers to move back outside the box—epitomized his solid display.

Onyewu – 4 – Not much to say on Gooch, except that it’s been an up-and-down two weeks.  He did well at times versus England, but was seemingly set in concrete versus the Slovenians.  There are real doubts about his fitness, and judging by the cohesive display from DeMerit and Bocanegra against Algeria, his place in the starting XI must be in question going forward.

Jonathan Bornstein – 6 – Let’s give Bornstein the credit he deserves.  Bob Bradley clearly trusts him, despite the reservations held by many American fans.  Thrust into the cauldron on Wednesday, he responded with a solid performance.  While his positioning left something to be desired early on, he was solid on marking and refrained from any critical mistakes.

Michael Bradley – 7.5 – Arguably the best performer for the United States thus far, dominating large stretches of the first three matches.  His evolution with the national team has been fascinating.  He established himself in the side based on his ball-winning skills, flying around the pitch to thwart attacks with crunching tackles.  He continued to involve over the past two years, with his well-timed runs into the box becoming an increasing source of offensive potential.  Now, he is an established member of the attack, his vision and ball distribution having reached the point where he has established himself as one of the best midfielders in South Africa over the last two weeks.

If anything, Bradley must improve his ability to close down attackers—a weakness he seems to acknowledge, having recently played a bit too far off opposing midfielders for Tim Howard’s liking.  Still, Bradley has had an exceptional tournament thus far, and his services will soon be in great demand by more than a few prominent English outfits.

Ricardo Clark – 6 – Ho, hum.  Clark has only seen the pitch in the England match, and gave a steady, if not electrifying performance.  He was better positioned than he was during the matches leading up to South Africa.  Yet attacks too often seem to die at his feet, with unforced turnovers or simply shoddy passing that takes a forward out of his run.  A nice option of the bench if a lead needs to be preserved, but he seems to have lost his starting place to…

Maurice Edu – 6.5 – Edu played a significant, if understated role in leading the resurgence against Slovenia, and followed that with a competent performance in the group stage finale.  He adds a viable physical presence alongside Michael Bradley, who seems far more comfortable playing with Edu than he does with Ricardo Clark.  Edu’s ball skills and his penchant to get forward at the right times give him the edge over Clark.  American fans can be heartened by the young pairing at the center of midfield, which should be around for a few World Cups to come.

Jose Torres – 5 – Following impressive cameos in the warm-up matches versus the Czech Republic and Turkey, there were growing calls for Torres to be inserted into the lineup against England.  Torres brings a different element to the American side, providing perhaps the first true holding midfielder since Claudio Reyna retired.  His slick passing and vision can be eye-popping in a lineup that remains founded more on athleticism and cohesiveness than technical skill.  Yet he seemed a bit out of sorts against Slovenia.  His defensive abilities still need work, and the role may have been too much, too soon.  Torres will fight for time off the bench with Feilhaber, Holden, and Beasley, but could still see time in the later stages.

Landon Donovan – 7.5 – What more is there to say?  His last-gasp goal to send the United States through to the knockout stages was a splendid reward for a stellar performance over the last two weeks.  The offense runs through him, and his sublime passing has unlocked a plethora of opportunities for the United States.  He must continue to assert himself in the attack, but up to this point, he is establishing himself as one of the finest players in the tournament.

Clint Dempsey – 6.5 – In a parallel universe, as Ian Darke might say, Dempsey would be sitting on three goals in the group stage.  Back in reality, he was robbed of a first-half strike against Algeria due to a bogus offsides call, and proceeded to later curl an open shot from 12 yards onto the inside of the post.  Regardless, Dempsey has played his role for the United States, creating scoring chances in the box, providing a steady presence on the ball, and making the unpredictable happen (his first half goal versus England).  While it may not be wise for him to continue blasting 30-yard free kicks well over the crossbar, you get the suspicion he has another goal or two in him before he goes home.

Jozy Altidore – 7.5 – Altidore really has been exceptional through three matches, and a lack of goals should not be counted against him (that “open miss” against Algeria became a good deal more difficult when he and Donovan hit it simultaneously).  Still just 20, Altidore has made vast strides in learning how to catalyze his prodigious speed and strength.  His vision and awareness of space—and how to use it—have grown from weaknesses to assets in a remarkably quick period of time.  There are precious few forwards in the world strong enough to hold up play with their back to goal, while quick enough to take a defender on from the wing.  Altidore is starting to establish himself in that elite company.

Robbie Findley – 4 – If you had asked Robbie Findley after the Netherlands match in March whether he thought he’d start the first two games of the World Cup, his expression would have belied a combination of disbelief and joy.  Findley has a place on this roster as a change-of-pace sub.  Through two weeks, however, it’s become far too obvious that he doesn’t have the technical skill or vision to compete on this level—yet.  Speed only gets you so far against world-class defenders, and Findley prematurely ended a number of promising attacks by running into a crowd and losing the ball.  I was rather shocked he made the starting XI twice, and I believe that feeling has been vindicated.

Edson Buddle/Herculez Gomez – 5 – Both Buddle and Gomez have been marginally effective, Buddle as a sub, and Gomez getting the first half call against Algeria.  Frankly, they both make nice options off the bench—Buddle providing the ability to hold up the ball and slow down the game, while Gomez simply has a nose for the net.  Yet Buddle has struggled to deal with the pace of the game, and Gomez has difficulty dealing with larger, physical defenders (not to mention his desire to shoot every time he touches the ball, which needs to be tempered).  This isn’t a criticism of either—they’ve both effectively filled the roles that won them a roster spot, and for that, Bradley must be grateful.

Benny Feilhaber – 6.5 – Feilhaber has been an interesting player to watch over the last year.  Throughout the Confederations Cup he was competing for a starting job in midfield, and was the first-choice substitute.  In the intervening months, he seemed to have lost that role to Stuart Holden, and later, Jose Torres.  Yet Feilhaber has reemerged as Bradley’s go-to man off the bench, particularly better touch and possession is required.  He was decent, if perhaps a bit anonymous, against Slovenia, but was a constant threat after coming in at the half against Algeria.  The ball is played beautifully off his foot, and he’s done well to put himself in dangerous spots.  He seems perfectly matched for a low to mid-level La Liga team.

Bob Bradley – 7 – The United States has looked well prepared and organized throughout the group stage, with the exception of a few brain farts in central defense.  I don’t agree with his insistence at playing with two forwards, particularly as he is without a natural (or acceptable) partner for Altidore.  That said, his in-game management has really been superb, particularly the changes made against Slovenia and Algeria.  Coming in with a reputation of being conservative (fairly or not), Bradley has been flexible and decisive—two traits you always want to see in a manager.

TEAM – 7 – Truly bigger and better than the sum of its parts.  There were certainly problems during the group stage, but the United States ended it with what in my opinion was the most complete 90 minutes of football they’ve played in a year.  It’s easy to say they needed a last-gasp winner to quality through, but in reality, they should have gone into the Algeria game having already qualified (Edu’s disallowed goal preventing that), and could well have finished with 7 points.  Presented with a favorable bracket, this squad could go far yet.


Written by Pete Kavanaugh

June 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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