A day later, what comfort can be found from a second place finish in the Confederations Cup? While moral victories are reserved for trophyless Merseysiders, yesterday’s defeat reaffirmed a few things for the USMNT and perhaps revealed enough hope to take the sting off of the second half Vinnie-tug. Lessons from yesterday:
1. Bob Bradley is not good enough. The snapshot of playing in a FIFA final doesn’t overshadow the weeks/months leading up to it. Disaster in Costa Rica. Narrowly dodged embarrassment against Honduras. Being completely outplayed by the well-below par Italians, only to be saved by their rollover against Brazil. Being given a 10 day reprieve from unemployment, Bob finally embraced the formation that every writer, pundit and blogger knew was best-suited for the players Bob chose, and benched players (yes you, Damarcus) that no one on the team believed in. Personnel changes forced by circumstance and injury were made against Bob’s better judgment, and the team responded. I believe that the Egypt and Spain results were completely in spite of Bob. The performance against Brazil, even in spite of the questionable substitutions, shows what the team could be capable of if given a competent leader leading up to the World Cup.
2. DeMerit and Onyewu are good enough. Actually, I think they’re better than good enough, with a healthy Spector spot-marking and chasing when necessary. That is a decent threesome to build around at the back, although I do suspect that DeMerit’s hard tackling style may attract some yellow or red paper from a sensitive referee at some point. While Bocanegra is still satisfactory, I don’t know that he still has the pace and skill to press forward AND get back to cover, which should be possible with the other three locking up the back. I’d like to see more push from the back at his position, and the US has players to do it. Schellas Hyndman has been misusing Drew Moor at FCDallas for half a season now, but Moor has shown himself to be able to get forward and finish when called upon, so perhaps the shambolic club coaching will benefit the USMNT. Not to mention about 12 others that could get a run during the Gold Cup.
3. Altidore will be good, but he needs more seasoning. I don’t know if his early departures were conditioning-related or just Bob Bradley overthinking things, but Altidore’s play off the ball resembled a tired person. His movement with the ball was good, and he showed that he can hold up the front sufficiently, but every run without the ball was a post pattern toward the middle rather than occasionally moving out to create width. This left the midfielders to thread a needle, slow down to get wide themselves, or hold the ball too long. I think that more club playing time will expand Altidore’s repertoire and improve his fitness, and then his full talent will be realized. For now, I think Kenny Cooper is a better fit when healthy, perhaps with Altidore substituting for him later in the game. More importantly, though, I think that Altidore/Cooper/Davies is a viable rotation up front, especially if a fourth can be found without moving Donovan or Dempsey forward.
4. Kljestan and Beasley should not appear again for the USMNT. And I wouldn’t pay full price for a Ricardo Clark replica jersey either. However, MBradley played pretty well in a holding midfield role, and I’m optimistic about Feilhaber. Further, the sudden bout of patriotism by our new German American midfielder will lock up the middle nicely. Donovan and Dempsey remain as solid wide playmakers. And this is all without mentioning Adu and Torres, either of whom could star in the next administration’s squad.
5. JP Dellacamera needs a new phrase to replace “…changes EVERYTHING.” My unofficial count was 7 things, either real or hypothetical, that did or would “change EVERYTHING.” It’s not quite onionbag annoying, but it’s not good either.
6. While reaching the final has undoubtedly spiked interest in this beautiful game, I can’t help but wonder how many more people would be aware of or care about the game at Mexico on August 12 if ESPN/ABC/Disney had aired Sunday’s game on ABC instead of running paid programming. During the summer months, supposed “niche” sports like soccer in America need to strike big, and this tournament is as big as the USMNT is going to swing. Woulda been nice for it to be on in more homes. Frankly, I think it would change EVERYTHING.