Last year's momentous upset of #1 Spain alongside ESPN's new commitment to soccer in recent years certainly set the stage and raised expectations for the US in South Africa. The four dramatic performances then went on to really captivate not just the longtime fans, but even casual viewers as well. Pre-tournament, many non-informed Americans had begun to believe that the US could possibly win it all since they reached the finals of the Confed Cup, but the fact is that any prolonged mainstream attention is a positive step.
Yes, a victory over Ghana would have been phenomenal simply because it would have kept the US team in the media spotlight for another week. Instead, we were eliminated 3 days after the biggest sports moment of the year (according to the voters for the ESPY awards). That said, I've already gone over my disappointments list after that Ghana loss.
Our WC could have been worse. Had Dempsey's goal not trickled past Green, we'd be tied for last in the group and been in a deep hole to start. Had Landon or Bradley not scored vs Slovenia, we would've been all but eliminated. Had Landon missed the sitter vs Algeria, it would be another 4 long years for a shot at WC success. Basically, every single goal we scored was massively important. Each goal was the difference between winning the group and elimination. So as disappointing as the loss to Ghana was, we met our primary and paramount goal of group advancement. And we won the group to boot.
Better yet, we did it in the most dramatic fashion possible. Whenever anyone thinks of the US' 2010 WC in the years to come, they will immediately think of Landon's breathtaking 91st minute Algeria goal. They won't be thinking about Ghana. They won't be thinking about the missed call that cost us the win vs Slovenia. Landon's goal will be the enduring moment of our World Cup.
Here are some other positives:
-Landon and US Soccer won the ESPY for Best Moment of the Year (as well as Best Performance under Pressure) for the Algeria goal. In years past, that moment would have only been remembered by soccer fans. This year, it beat out the NFL's Saints! (The US did win the ESPY for Best Upset last summer). The US players who were there to receive the award were: Donovan, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Edu, Bornstein, Holden, Altidore, Feilhaber, and Buddle. Bocanegra managed to wisely thank John Skipper, the ESPN chief, for making soccer a priority. Landon then proceeded to thank everyone for allowing themselves to be inspired by him and his teammates. That was probably the most awkward way of thanking fans I've ever heard.
-Michael Bradley is the name most often listed among impressive breakout stars of the World Cup. With his determination and work ethic, there is no reason to think that he won't be a mainstay in the middle of the field for the US for the next decade. Most impressively, he covered more distance per 90 minutes than all other players in the entire World Cup except one - An Yong Hak of N Korea (and Hak only played 3 games, not 4 plus extra time). EPL teams are seriously considering him now - hopefully he moves this transfer season.
-More significantly, for the first time, a US coach got a serious look by an EPL side - Bob Bradley was on the shortlist at Fulham. Though they didn't hire him, it shows the respect that Bradley, and US Soccer by extension, has earned internationally.
-US Soccer now has an international identity, first established vs Spain last year and now confirmed for the world to see. Fit. Resilient. Never gives up.
-Mainstream media's post-tournament embrace of US Soccer and Landon has been astounding. Letterman, Good Morning America, Regis & Kelly, The Daily Show, among others brought on Donovan in the immediate aftermath. Essentially, Landon has become a mainstream celebrity since even his relationship with wife (then separated, now together again possibly?), Bianca Kajlich, became a national story. (To get on Oprah, maybe he does need a love child, heh). Landon and Bob were even asked to close the NYSE.
-Remembering Deutschland 2006. 4 years ago, we only managed to score 1 goal (Dempsey) in 3 games with Italy put in an own goal for us as well (and a DaMarcus Beasley game-winner vs Italy was called back). This year, we managed 5 goals from our 3 best field players (and 2 goals - Edu's and Dempsey's were called back).
Last WC, the only bright spot was heroically drawing Italy even though we only had 9 men (to their 10), becoming the only team to not be defeated by the eventual World Champions. We lost the other two games due to inferior play and a bad call and finished last in our group. This time, we managed to draw vs the "superior" group side in England and essentially beat Slovenia (clearly an Edu goal), then Algeria to win our group. We're also one of 2 teams to beat the eventual World Champions in the last 4 years.
4 years ago, the best American player in our history was practically non-existent and mentally unprepared for the big stage, but this year Donovan displayed to the world what he could do with the right mindset. All that to say, the pain from our 2006 failure makes this year's effort that much sweeter and so much more satisfying.
Player Deployment Review
Eight players started all 4 games for the US - Howard, Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore, Bocanegra, DeMerit and Cherundolo. Of the 8, Altidore is the only one who didn't play every single minute.
Players who made 3 appearances: Feilhaber, Edu and Findley.
Players who made 2 appearances: Gooch, Clark, Bornstein, Gomez and Buddle.
Players who made 1 appearance: Holden, Torres and Beasley.
Players who didn't play: Spector and Goodson and GKs: Hahnemann and Guzan.
Versus England, the other 3 starters were Gooch, Clark and Findley. Subs were Buddle and Holden (for Jozy and Findley).
Versus Slovenia, the other 3 starters were Gooch, Torres and Findley. Subs were Feilhaber and Edu (for Torres and Findley at half), the Gomez for Gooch.
Versus Algeria, the other 3 starters were Bornstein, Edu and Gomez. Subs were Feilhaber (for Gomez), Buddle (for Edu), Beasley (for Bornstein).
Versus Ghana, the other 3 starters were Bornstein, Clark, and Findley. Subs were Edu (for Clark), Feilhaber (for Findley at half), Gomez (for Jozy in extra time).
Notable FIFA Stats
Donovan's 3 goals ranked tied for #3 overall with only 7 players in the tournament with more goals. Only 2 of those players scored more goals in the same number of games - poachers in Higuain and Slovakia's Vittek (both with 4). The 3 other players who also scored 3 goals are Suarez, Gyan and Fabiano, all of whom played more games than Landon.
The other goal scorers are obviously Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, who scored his memorable goal from outside of the penalty area.
2) Shots on Goal
Dempsey ranked tied for 5th overall in SOG with 8 even though he only played 4 games - only forwards Higuain (11) and C Ronaldo (9) had more SOG in the same number of games. He was also tied for #7 overall in Shots Taken with 20 - only C Ronaldo took more shots (21) in the same number of games.
Michael Bradley was 2nd on the team with 4 shots on goal, with 8 shots overall. Landon Donovan had 3 shots on goal, 9 overall. Considering he scored twice from the run of play, when he's on, he's on. While he never played a complete game, Feilhaber still had 3 shots on goal in 6 shots taken, in only 3 games.
Jozy had 3 shots on goal in 8 shots overall - which is exactly what Kaka had. As for our other forwards - Gomez was 2 for 4, Findley 1 for 1, Buddle 1 for 2. Again, no forward scored.
Cherundolo and Altidore each were credited with one assist (both in the Slovenia match). Dempsey created his own goal, Donovan's Algeria goal was a rebound, and lastly scored a PK vs Ghana.
This is the one area the US will have to work on. The 7 top players in pass completion rate for the US (2 games minimum) are defensive: DeMerit, Edu, Onyewu, Bradley, Bocanegra, Cherundolo and Bornstein.
Interestingly, Torres may have only played one half but he had a 83% pcr - the only American even close to 80%.
Donovan was #4 overall in total crosses with 29. He was the only player in the top 10 to have played less than 5 games (and 7 of the 10 players played at least 6 matches). Of the top 10, Landon had THE highest cross completion rate at 38%. Landon connected on 11 of his crosses which ranked #3 overall. The only two above him, Xavi (15) and Forlan (13) each played 7 matches to Landon's 4.
6) Defensive Clearances
DeMerit was tied for #4th in clearances with 11 - only 8 players ranked above him. Bocanegra had 10 clearances.
7) GK Saves
Howard tied for #7 with 16 saves.
Bradley tied for #4 overall with 8 tackles - only 3 players had more tackles and they all played more games. Of those 8 tackles, he won the possession 4 times, which is ranked (tied for) #3 overall. Only 5 players won possession off tackles more than he did.
DeMerit had 6 tackles while Bocanegra and Onyewu each had 3. Interestingly, Gooch's 3 tackles all won possession.
Jozy was surprisingly the top US foul committer with 11. However, he suffered 15 fouls in return.
Bradley only committed 4 FOULS in 4 games. Let me repeat that: BRADLEY ONLY HAD FOUR FOULS!
The US did not have disciplinary problems as only 2 players had 2 yellows - Findley and Cherundolo. Findley's 2nd yellow card is one of the dumbest decisions you'll ever see. Only 5 other players received a yellow - Beasley, Bocanegra, DeMerit, Altidore and Clark. The fact that Bradley didn't draw a card deserves praise.
11) Top Speed
Donovan was the fastest US player with a top speed of 30.31 km/h (18.84 mph) - which ranked #11 overall. Findley was #14 overall at 30.13 km/h (18.72 mph). Jozy was the next American significantly farther down on the list at 28.75 km/h (17.86 mph). Hopefully, we can deploy more attacking speed in 2014.
12) Distance Covered
Bradley finished an extremely impressive #2 OVERALL in miles run per 90 min (minimum 360 min played in 3 games). He covered 7.41 miles per 90 minutes that he was on the field. Only N Korea's An Yong Hak finished above him with 7.50 mp90m. Landon finished #12 overall at 6.95 mp90m and Dempsey was remarkably #24 overall with 6.74 mp90m. It is no coincidence that our 3 best field players also covered the most ground of anyone on the team.
Here are the team stats for miles covered per 90 min. These numbers only make sense for those who played complete 90 min games:
DeMerit 5.82Howard 2.86
Here are the team stats for total distance in miles covered in the tournament:
Tim Howard 7 - Solid performances in most games but he lacked one of those miraculous saves that kept the US from an early hole. That said, he should still be the starter in 4 years and I'm glad to have him.
Marcus Hahnemann / Brad Guzan NA - Marcus was almost called into duty with Howard's rib injury.
Steve Cherundolo 8 - Defensive standout for a shaky backline in the group stage. Only in the last game did he not perform up to par. But I'm glad this longtime US veteran became a huge part of this run.
Carlos Bocanegra 7 - The captain filled in capably on the left and in the center of what is likely his last WC. He really has made the most of his career.
|We have arrived.|
Oguchi Onyewu 5 - Coming off injury, he was clearly shaky and hesitant at times and was partially responsible for a goal in both his games. Hopefully he recovers fully from injury to anchor our defense in 2014.
Jonathan Bornstein 7 - The player I least wanted to see on the field, I'm happy that he made no noticeable errors in his 2 games. Should he mature, he could be key to our next cycle. Am I asking too much?
Jonathan Spector / Clarence Goodson NA - I feel bad for Spector since he missed competing for a chance in 2006 due to injury. He wasn't in form this year though and Dolo's excellent play rightfully kept him on the bench. The question is whether his lack of pace will keep him from starting in 2014. Goodson should prove useful this next cycle.
Landon Donovan 9 - He lived up to every expectation and was a force, especially the last 3 games. The only American to score in 3 straight WC games, he also set American career cap (12) and goal (5) records that might stand for a long time. He's also earned a newfound celebrity status that no US soccer player has achieved before. 2 questions: Will a European club come up with the 10-15 million required to buy him? Will he still be starting for the US in 2014? Hopefully the answer to both is yes.
Clint Dempsey 8 - Dempsey might not have scored again after his goal off Green, but he was constantly a nuisance to the opponent's defense. His 20 shots taken were more than double the next American (Donovan with 9) and he should have had the game-winner vs Algeria. Dempsey could also be on the move after this strong showing - possibly to AC Milan?
Michael Bradley 9 - Bradley quietly became the team's most valuable player after Donovan with his tireless box to box running and defending. He's perfect for the EPL. He just might be my favorite US player now.
Maurice Edu 7 - I won't harp on this anymore - Edu is a much better 2 way player than Clark. He had to start. Hopefully he will in 2014. Also, I must recognize his game-winner vs Slovenia as well.
Ricardo Clark 3 - The traditional US player - physical and rangy but completely lacking in technical skill - cost the US the Ghana game. Eventually the US youth system needs to evolve to the point where players like Clark are not valued over a Feilhaber or a Torres.
Benny Feilhaber 6 - Deployed on the flank, Feilhaber was a solid when we needed him. However, his potential is vast - hopefully he can live up to his talent this cycle.
Jose Francisco Torres 4 - Only played 1 half and looked out of place in the physical Slovenia match. But I think he could be the future in the center next to Bradley with his control and passing (kind of like Xavi!. almost).
Stuart Holden 7 - Only played once as a sub vs England. I still don't know why he wasn't used more. In great position to be a starter in 2014 should his EPL career progress.
DeMarcus Beasley 5 - One brief appearance at the end of the Algeria match. I hope he gets major minutes at his next club because his international career may be over otherwise.
Jozy Altidore 6 - On one hand, he was a physical beast up top and drew endless fouls. He also headed down the ball for Bradley's goal and slotted it to Dempsey for Donovan's goal vs Algeria. But the fact remains that he didn't score in 4 games. Coming off a near scoreless season in the EPL, hopefully he's learning what he needs to do (in games and in practice) to live up to his immense talent.
Robbie Findley 4 - I've said enough about him - speed without skill doesn't cut it on the international level. Couldn't play the Davies role. Didn't score.
Edson Buddle 5 - As much as some critics love him, he didn't show quickness of thought on the ball. Didn't score.
Herculez Gomez 6 - I'm higher on him than Buddle because he seemed to play off Jozy better, but he didn't score either.
Ultimately, the strength of the group was our midfield (since LD, Clint and Bradley all play there) while both the defense and our strikeforce were inconsistent. Though our backline allowed early goals 3 of our 4 games while our forwards never found the back of the net, we still managed to win our group simply because our midfielders found a way to overcome both deficiencies. But it was our downfall in the knockout round. In this next cycle, we will need to revamp our aging defense and continue to hunt for the elusive 2nd striker that we haven't had in 2 consecutive WCs now. The fact is, no US forward has scored since the 2002 WC.
Coaching: Bob Bradley 7
Putting aside the enormous success, in my opinion, of Bradley's 4 years at the helm leading up to the WC, I thought he made 2 personnel mistakes in the tournament. First, Edu should have started every game instead of Clark and Torres during their 3 combined starts. Secondly, he should have played Gomez or Dempsey instead of Findley up top and gave Stuart Holden more minutes. I didn't mind Feilhaber coming off the bench, but Edu was clearly the right choice for starting, especially by the last match.
I can't make a judgment on Gooch's benching after the 2nd game because I don't know his physical condition but I'd think that his speed and strength might have been a better match-up vs Gyan than DeMerit and Bocanegra.
Aside from nitpicking his starting lineups however, it was clear that Bradley is a great leader by any definition - he leads by example, he motivates his men, he's a solid tactician and demands excellence. Our team enjoyed an obvious camaraderie that the 2006 team lacked which I think is due to the humility that Bob carries himself with as well as his expressed goal of establishing a team mentality.
He also clearly instilled a blue-collar work ethic in the team (which Argentina lacked). I loved that there were no egos or prima donnas (which France did not lack). I loved that there was a never say die attitude (which Brazil lacked). I loved that they were resilient, fit and able to attack to the very end (which England lacked). And I loved that they played hard but fair (which the Netherlands lacked).
In the future, who knows how celebrity or wide-spread fame may one day affect our player's mentalities. Who knows what kind of compromises US Soccer might make to try and achieve results. Who knows which of our greatest qualities that US players are known for now, namely fitness, toughness, competitiveness, work rate, and coachability will take a backseat under a new regime. Who knows if our team will be anywhere near as likable. But all I know is right now, I like where we're headed.