Sunday, June 20, 2010

US v Slovakia!

Wow.  To come back from being down 2 goals at half and secure a valuable point is so difficult to do in a World Cup match.  The Edu goal/wrong call will probably end up being more memorable (especially if the US is unable to advance), but the Bradley goal is actually one of the great moments in US World Cup history.  They even showed a US fan sobbing with joy, which echoed the sentiments of US fans across the nation.  His goal capped a wild and frantic comeback in the 2nd half that will be remembered for years to come.  Too bad the referee robbed the US of an even greater moment.  More on that later.

Going into this game, I really believed that we would win by perhaps a 2 goal margin.  Though Slovenia's defense was lauded as their strength, I thought that our athleticism and attacking speed was far more dangerous than we were given credit for.  Torres' place in the starting lineup was a sign that Bob Bradley thought we could dominate possession from the beginning.  I, for one, was happy that Bob was not playing it safe with Clark again.  However, surprisingly, Torres was unable to control the flow of the midfield and it was almost as if he was swallowed up by the moment.  I can't say that we didn't have decent chances but I was surprised to see Slovenia attack as much as they did.

In rewatching their first goal, my opinion still hasn't changed.  I think Gooch hesitated and didn't close down Birsa in space.  Then at the moment of the shot, Gooch ducked down below it.  Had he stayed upright, he might have been able to deflect it.  On replays, you can see the trajectory of the ball go right over a falling Gooch.  Landon also let Slovenia's right wing drift into the center freely and wasn't anywhere near him to do anything about it.  As for Howard, he clearly lost the ball and probably wouldn't have been able to stop it had he saw it anyway.  Ugh.  It's just disheartening to go down a goal again.

The 2nd goal was what I thought to be our deathblow.  A perfectly executed counterattack, a gap between DeMerit and Gooch, a clinical finish.  I was shocked.  In disbelief.  It was like a cold assassination.  Out of nowhere.  I've waited four years to get the bad taste of losses to the Czech Rep and Ghana out of my mouth and it happens again.

Fortunately, this team didn't give up.  Fortunately, Landon is a better player, with a different attitude.  2 minutes after half was one of my favorite moments as a US fan.  Landon in space with all of US soccer nation knowing that he had to shoot, and this time he did.  As hard as he could.  Right at the keeper's head.  And he roofed it.  (The keeper could have at least tried to interfere with it by closing down the angle and making himself big.  What he actually did was keep his arms low and duck backwards.  Can't see Timmy ever doing that.)  As I've said before, 4 years ago in the dying moments vs Ghana, Landon should have shot but he laid it off to Olsen.  For me, it was precisely that enduring image that he smashed in the 48th minute vs Slovenia.

So this time it would be different.  We wouldn't lay down after going down early like we did vs Czech Rep.  The rest of the 2nd half, we played possessed.  Jozy was a manchild up top, showing his strength in bringing down passes and holding possession.  His 80th minute header into space perfectly let Bradley run onto it, who then kung fu kicked it home.  (Notice I said Kung Fu, not karate.  If the movie is set in China, then its Kung Fu Kid, not Karate Kid, idiots.  Now we're even, heh.)  Incidentally, Bradley also hit the ball right at the keeper's head, who was useless again.

I really respect Bradley's desire which compelled him to make that difficult 50 yard sprint at the end of the game.  It resulted in a breathtaking moment.  More than that, it was the moment that made the entirety of the last 4 years relevant.  The hiring of a new coach, the 2007 Gold Cup, the Confed Cup, the 1st place in Concacaf qualifying - all of that would have been all for naught had Bradley not made that run.

Now we're in the same position as we were 4 years ago.  Beat an African team in the last match of the group stage and we're through.  This time we play a less talented side than Essien's Black Stars.  This time we have a great chance of winning the group.  Lets see if we've really learned anything since 2006.

Player Ratings

6 Howard - 2 goals allowed in a crucial match.  Neither were his fault but it would have been great to have made an awesome save on one of them.

6 Bocanegra - No one is calling for Bornstein or Spector yet.  I can ignore that he doesn't contribute offensively.  And I'm still waiting for a classic Bocanegra goal, you know, corner kick, off his hip or calf or abdomen, into the net.

4 Onyewu - 1st goal as due to his hesitation and then his decision to fall to the ground.  I'm not calling for his benching though.  Also, I was impressed by one pass that put Jozy in a great position, which Jozy wasted.

7 DeMerit - I love Jay's tenacity.  I'm just afraid that one of these plays, he's going to be slightly late and get called for a penalty.  Also, he doesn't seem to get off the ground that well or make up ground when needed.  But, I love his tenacity.

8 Cherundolo - The best player on defense for the 2nd game in a row.  He and Landon really create problems on the right and his positioning and speed are critical to us on defense.

8 Bradley - One of my favorite moments in US Soccer history.

4 Torres - Probably better as a 2nd half sub.  But his powerful, swerving free kick almost got home.

5 Dempsey - His flying elbow in the first minute could have been a red card on another day.  But he covered a lot of ground.

9 Donovan - While Dempsey scores against the likes of England, this is the sort of match that I actually expected Landon to dominate.  He was dangerous all game and played a part in all 3 goals.

4 Findley - Hasn't shown that he's dangerous at all with the ball at his feet.  But his yellow card was ridiculous.

7 Altidore - Strong, held up balls, drew fouls.  All that's missing is a goal, which hopefully will come vs Algeria.  Otherwise, he's a younger Brian Ching.  Setup 2nd goal.


5 Feilhaber -  with the attack coming from Landon on the right, he wasn't that involved.

6 Edu - On 2nd viewing, he wasn't the huge upgrade over Torres that I thought.  Still, he covered a lot of ground and even played CB after our equalizer.  His called back goal was one of the worst travesties in WC history.

6 Gomez - He should be the replacement for Findley vs Algeria.  His off the ball movements helped create opportunities in our attack.

The Ref

WE WERE ROBBED.  And the worst part of this was that the referee refused to explain his reasons.  Bob Bradley thinks it was a make-up call for something earlier, which would explain the early whistle.  But the fact remains that you wouldn't need a make-up call if you called it correctly to begin with.  I just hope that Bob is right and there isn't a deeper seeded motive for corruption underneath.  Either way, FIFA needs to investigate instead of always covering for their refs.

Its egregious that FIFA still does not have an effective way to safeguard their game vs corruption and bad calls.  A game with 22 moving parts only has 1 ref on the field?  It doesn't review and penalize players after the match if the referee doesn't see the infraction?  It doesn't do anything to overturn its mistakes?  FIFA seems to think that soccer fans embrace the idea of human error.  If anything, we've become so used to horrible mistakes that we no longer feel the outrage that we should.  I was angry but then just about over it once I saw England's scoreless draw give us new life at winning the group.  I knew that it was pointless to get worked up.  FIFA was going to do nothing.

This is what I would do:

1) The referee should be made to explain his decisions.  After every game, he should be forced to sit down and write a report on every single decision he made.  He can acknowledge his errors or justify his decisions.  Either way, it needs to be reviewed by FIFA and the referee needs to be held accountable.

2) Secondly, every goal should have instant replay.  I am not calling for every play to be reviewed, but every goal should be looked at.  Since there is already a stoppage in play (and don't get me started on stopping the clock - how hard is it to stop the clock on goals, substitutions, injuries or other major stoppages in action?  Its freakin 2010, we have stopwatches), it couldn't hurt for a referee on the sidelines to review it.  And only the play or players in question can be reviewed.  It must be stated by the ref beforehand what exactly is being reviewed.  So a referee cannot call a penalty after the fact, for instance, on a player grabbing another when they were completely unrelated to the play in review.

3) Issue or withdraw cards retroactively, postgame.  This is not difficult.  If you review it, you will see that Findley did not handle the ball, and should not miss the 3rd game.  If Ronaldo dives for a foul, you can punish retroactively.  If someone pretends to get elbowed by Kaka in the face, yellow card him.  This is beyond obvious.

4) Refs behind the goals.  Because of the severe consequence of plays near the goal (or fouls in the penalty box), it is obvious that there should be an additional referee stationed behind each goal.  More eyes are better than less - especially when a tired referee is running up and down the field for about 8 miles each game.  There is no excuse why this is not already in place.

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