Rossi Gutted; U.S. Rallies

See what happens? I bail on polite society for a four-day bender Memorial Day weekend (at least two of my internal organs threatened to shut down) and all hell breaks loose in the Soccer Universe with big names left off World Cup rosters and the U.S. regaining a little bit of its mojo in a send-off win over Turkey.

I’m a little late, but let’s try to get to some of it, starting with Guiseppe Rossi.

The Jersey-born striker was cut from the Italian side, unleashing a torrent of schadenfreude from U.S. fans, still stung by Rossi’s decision to cast his lot with the Azzurri instead of the Red, White and Blue. The thing is, such criticism is unwarranted. Rossi never flip-flopped; his intentions were always clear. He represented Italy as far back as U-16s and politely declined when then-U.S. Coach Bruce Arena invited him to camp in 2006.

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But that’s besides the point. You’re either with us or against us and after Rossi scored twice against the Nats last summer in the Confederations Cup, the hatred was cemented. Hell hath no fury like a fanbase scorned. The most talented U.S.-born striker in the world is not playing this summer and Americans will say it was his hubris–that he could crack the mighty Azzurri–that doomed him to that fate.

I’m not doing any celebrating over the news. Rossi has always spoke well of the U.S. team and he took the blow with class. However, there is perhaps some good news in this for U.S. fans beside a few hours of gloating. The U.S. youth teams have several promising kids with dual nationality possibilities–the Hoyos brothers, Sebastian Lletget and Joseph Gyau to name a few–and Rossi’s situation may have some of them thinking twice about trying to represent countries with deeper and more talented player pools.

Come to America! We suck! Guaranteed playing time! Wonder if we can get Nike to create us a slogan.

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As for those poor souls who couldn’t dream of playing for Italy and toil for the current U.S. side, they had to be breathing easier after a 2-1 comeback win against Turkey last Saturday. It wasn’t an overwhelming performance by any means. The defense, including the midfield, looked completely disorganized in the first half. Even when they had eight back, there was plenty of space for the Turks as the Yanks chased the ball–notably Michael Bradley–lunging into late challenges and hitting only air, which I suppose is fortunate, since, more often, he lunges in and hits someone’s knee and gets a red card.

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The Turkey goal came from a counter when Jonathan Spector got caught in possession just outside the opposing box and nobody filled in behind him for cover, a missed assignment from the centerbacks and central midfielders. Yes, Spector was awful for all 45 minutes he played (and his replacement, Steve Cherundolo was excellent, so maybe the right back position is up for grabs), but the blame wasn’t his in this case.

In truth, better finishing could have had the Turks up three at the half, but to the Nats’ credit, they reversed momentum and took over the game in the second frame. Jose Torres was all class after coming on as a sub, not only pulling the strings in midfield, which we know he can do, but also showing some bite defensively, a long-criticized aspect of his game. Bradley stopped spraying passes all over the pitch and used his spastic energy to much better effect. And gasp! Robbie Findley was the one to unlock the Turkish defense with an exquisite chip to Landon Donovan.

That goal (Donovan squared it across to Jozy Altidore who tucked it into a wide-open net) showed how dangerous Donovan is, how dangerous other teams believe he is. When Findley received the ball, there were two Turkish defenders in the area, but both backed off Findley when Donovan made his run, giving the Real Salt Lake man time to settle and lift a perfect ball over the top.

Clint Dempsey’s game-winner was all quick-thinking (to settle a difficult pass) and Texas muscle. Oguchi Onyewu got 45 minutes in the second half and looked far more comfortable–and effective–than last week. And those of you who had 28 seconds in the “Length of Time Jonathan Bornstein is on the Pitch Before He Gets Skinned” Pool, collect your prize at Soccerati HQ.

And now that I spent all day catching up, I’m behind again. What happened today?

U.S. Tries to Avoid Another Turkey

The U.S. faces Turkey tomorrow in Philadelphia in its penultimate friendly before the start of the World Cup. The Turks brought a strong team, one that didn’t qualify for South Africa but made the Euro 2008 semifinals, so this is a good test for the home side.

Expect to see a reasonable facsimile of the eleven that will take the pitch against England in just more than two weeks time (two weeks! Squeeeee!). A better result will be expected than the 4-2 loss to Czech Republic in a game that featured mostly back-ups (and guys who got sent home).

Barring injury, only two starting slots are up for grabs. Either Ricardo Clark or Maurice Edu will line up alongside Michael Bradley in the central midfield (I think Clark stats tomorrow after Edu went 90 minutes against the Czechs). And who among the pool of inexperienced forwards will pair with Jozy Altidore up top?

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The U.S team meets a bunch of suits at the White House.

So what will the U.S. team be looking to get out of the friendly? Cohesion, I suspect. Most national teams train together for such a short time that the learning curve is steep. In the team’s favor is their experience and familiarity with each other. We all saw how the team grew with each passing game in the Confederations Cup last summer. What will need to change is slow start the team had in that tournament.

Tactically, the game will be played without frills, partly because of that lack of training, but also to not unveil any surprises to the scouts of their World Cup opponents.

Since their runner-up performance in South Africa last summer, we haven’t seen the U.S. display that top-level form. Sure, they topped the qualifying group, but hardly looked like world-beaters in doing so. A good result against a solid Turkish side will give them the confidence they will need going forward.

And, you know, scoring a goal in the run of play would be nice, too.