Tuesday, July 01, 2014

United States exits World Cup - head high, but Jurgen has some questions to answer

In the last game to determine the last spot in the 1/4 finals, the United States, dominated for almost the full 120 minutes of the game, almost pulled off the upset. The USMNT depart Brazil with heads held high, but there are some questions Jurgen needs to answer.

First the United States fought a valiant game against dark horse team for the World Cup - Belgium. Hazard, De Bruyne, Origi, Fellaini and the rest of Les Diables Rouge could not break the stone wall that was Howard has been throughout this entire tournament. Other than time of possession, which I am surprised that the United States owned - 54% to 46% - the other statistics were ridiculously one sided:

  • Shots
    • 39 for Belgium...WHAT??? 
    • 17 for the United States
  • Shots on frame
    • 17 for Belgium. Ridiculous number, ESPN puts the number at 27...not sure about how they arrive at that figure.
    • 5 for the United States
  • Corners
    • 19 for Belgium...again...WHAT???
    • 4 for the United States
Completely one sided numbers which highlighted the domination by Belgium and the absolute huge game that Tim Howard played in goal. By far the man of the match, no d'uh. The Everton keeper was always well positioned, made the key saves he had to and I am sure crawled into the heads of the opposing players. Howard, like Ochoa for Mexico, demonstrated how far a nation can go if they have a world class keeper. However, like Ochoa, this game demonstrated you cannot win with only a world class keeper.

Other than Howard, I was impressed by Yedlin. The pacey right back did not look out of place at all. He used his speed well to slow down Hazard and was not afraid to push up the pitch and leverage that same pace to create real problems for the Belgian defense. Not that you would build around your right fullback, but he has real potential for the United States
Standing on his head...
and will bring an element you must have in today's game - offense from your fullbacks.

However, when it comes to Jurgen I think there remain some questions:
  • Why did he insist on playing Bradley out of position? To me Bradley had a disaster of a tournament. Yes he had a sumptuous pass to Green that cut the deficit to 1 goal late in extra time. But other than that...what did he do? This game and all tournament? I felt as if he was constantly out muscled against Belgium. He had trouble making the right pass. And was not strong defensively. I think the consensus, rightfully so, was that he was one if not the best outfield player the US had heading into the tournament. ESPN kept saying that Klinsmann was playing him higher because they had no options for that spot. Hmmm. Maybe Jurgen should have selected a player(s) to play that role and allow Bradley to slot back in his preferred spot. Maybe Bradley would still have failed to impress, but at least he would have been playing where he is accustom to slotting and put in a position to succeed.
  • Speaking of selecting players...I realize this story has long been forgotten, sort of, but I need to bring it up - wouldn't Donovan have been a viable option? Once Altidore went down with his hamstring...that ESPN kept telling us was "getting better" ... it became clear that the roster did not have someone to fill that void. So Klinsmann was forced to shake up his line up and force Dempsey to the center of the formation. Much like with Bradley, putting a player in a suboptimal role. To me this was due in large part because Klinsmann did not make the right choices for his roster. By no means do I think Landycakes would have been the panacea. But having a player of Donovan's experience and skill could very well have a difference maker. I can think of 2 occasions where Landycakes makes a difference. Late on against Portugal, insert him up front and he might have the savvy-ness to hold up the ball in the Portuguese end late on and maybe Ronaldo never sees the ball again. The second situation - today against Belgium. He puts away the ball late in the game that Wondolowski somehow...somehow missed. And he missed BADLY.  One thing I will give Donovan credit - he doesn't wiff when he has the opportunity to score big goals. Donovan could also have given Klinsmann an option to slot up front with Altidore out...allowing Dempsey to play a deeper and wider role. Food for thought.
I realize that Klinsmann is safe for another 4 years. Unlike European coaches he does not have to deal with the European Championship, so Jurgen has 4 years to work. However he should receive some criticism. He will surely receive heaps of praise, which he has earned, but there also needs some reflection on what could have been.

Congratulations to the USMNT, they went further than most pundits thought they could (except for this one!), but might have fallen a little short because of their coaches' arrogance. 

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