Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brazil 2014 WC Roster Prediction, June 2011

One year has passed and with the Gold Cup over, here's a 2nd go at predicting the US' 23 man roster for Brazil in 2014.  Here's last year's guess.


(S) Tim Howard
Brad Guzan
Bill Hamid

In the mix: David Yelldell, Dominic Cervi, Nick Rimando, Sean Johnson, Zach MacMath

The future after Howard is extremely unclear.  There really is no up and coming star looking to push him off the throne, as he did to Keller.  Guzan, still the unquestioned #2 in Bradley's mind, is a question mark for me, having not even earned the starter spot at Aston Villa though Friedel just left.  (Perhaps he will start at Birmingham City?)  The last GK spot should go to a youngster, if one with promise emerges from the pack.  I'll stick with Hamid, if only because I had him listed last year.


(LB) Eric Lichaj
(CB) Tim Ream
(CB) Zak Whitbread
(RB) Tim Chandler
Steve Cherundolo
Clarence Goodson
Gale Agbossoumonde
Zach Loyd

In the mix: Omar Gonzalez, Ike Opara, Oguchi Onyewu, Sean Franklin, Perry Kitchen, Brek Shea, Jonathan Spector

Lichaj and Chandler (who can also play mid wing) seem to be the frontrunners for the outside back spots right now.  Of the members of the old guard backline including Bocanegra, Demerit, Cherundolo, I'm guessing that Dolo will have the least diminished skill set and make it as the veteran presence, like a Hejduk.  Whitbread has a chance to be a starter in the EPL from now on, while Ream seems to be a CB in waiting.  Goodson will probably play a huge role in qualifying for us and the potential in the young Agboss will begin to show by then.  Who knows what LB will look like then?  It could be a tossup between MLSers Loyd and Shea for a bench spot.  Onyewu may have just signed a contract with Sporting Lisbon, but we'll have to see an upward trajectory in his career first before we give him another look.  Sadly, Jonathan Spector will never realize his dream of playing in the WC.


(DM) Michael Bradley
(DM) Maurice Edu
(AM) Stuart Holden
(AM) Freddy Adu
Landon Donovan
Benny Feilhaber
Jermaine Jones
Alejandro Bedoya
Mikkel Diskerud

In the mix: Sasha Kljestan, Jose Francisco Torres, Joseph Gyau, Joshua Gatt, Luis Gil, Sebastian Lletget

We have quite a few young guns from the youth US teams but they may find it difficult to break into a stacked midfield core in time for 2014.  Fingers crossed that Holden can fully recover from his knee injury and avoid future ones.  I've always thought that Landon was a no-brainer starter through 2014, but with his recent benching (and decreasing top speed), who knows what his role will be?  Perhaps Jermaine Jones could still be starting at defensive mid, but at least he'll make the 23.  I'm taking a risk by projecting Adu as a starter in LD's place simply because he still needs to prove that he can keep his focus on improvement for more than just 1 year.


(S) Clint Dempsey
(S) Jozy Altidore
Juan Agudelo

In the mix: Charlie Davies, Teal Bunbury, Omar Salgado, Bobby Wood, Eugene Starikov

Dempsey may be more of a pure forward at the end of his career.  Hopefully Jozy and Juan will have lived up to their potential by then.  I've only listed 3 forwards, but Freddy and Landon could both spend time at F as well.

Lineup: (easily a 4-2-3-1 if Dempsey drops under Jozy, exchanging with Adu)


If Sunil Gulati wants to make a coaching change to reinvigorate the program, now would be the time.  WC qualifying doesn't begin until next summer, giving a new boss time to bring in his own system.  We really don't have a better US option than Bob, so Gulati will have to throw a lot of money at a Euro big name, which I don't see happening right now.  Either way, the youth movement should start immediately.  Aging veterans whom Bradley doubts will make the 2014 team needs to get phased out of the regular player pool.  Our defense especially, now after a 4 goal thrashing at the hands of our bitter rival (and a fairly mediocre WC 2010), should look new in 3 years time.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gold Cup Final: US v Mexico Summary & Player Ratings

Well, that was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever been a part of.  I started off the day spending the pregame hours at the American Outlaws tailgate (even saw Ives Galarcep and thought about asking him about his aforementioned article mistakes) and ended up marching with them to the Rose Bowl through tens of thousands of the enemy, a surreal experience to be sure.  Being surrounded on all sides, it felt like part parade and part death march to the Roman Coliseum for the condemned.  And it could not have been more fun.  In fact, the whole day, up until the 29th minute that is, could not have been better.

Before this tournament, I had serious anxieties (June 7th post) about our chances of winning it all, especially if we had a showdown vs Mexico.

My concerns then:
1) Backline gave away cheap goals, especially early - Mexico's 1st two goals were bad defensive errors.  The game-winner came early in the 2nd half, before we got settled and we were chasing the game once more.
2) At LB, Bornstein is still Bradley's primary speed backup option - I will save my wrath for later.
3) Central midfield beside Michael Bradley not settled - Jones has had a decent tournament but badly failed vs Mexico.
4) Situation at Forward in flux - with Jozy out vs Mexico, we had limited striker options.  Both goals came from midfielders and Agudelo was way out of his element.
5) Chicharito - nothing's new here - he always makes the correct runs at the correct time.  But his presence perhaps gives Mexico a confidence lacking in the past.  Along, with Guardado and Barrera, Mexico's fleet attack was clearly superior.  But the best player on the field was Dos Santos.  His nail-in-the-coffin chip goal was truly deserved and wholly indicative of the match.
6) Overcoming Concacaf level opponents in the tournament is not a true indication of the overall play of our team.  We had been outscored 10 goals to 3 in the previous 6 games (with 1st team) pre-Gold Cup and won none of them.  Even the semifinal match vs Panama, we were out of ideas offensively and only won on a great moment of counterattack.  Bradley undoubtedly recognized this, which is why Adu was deployed to begin this game.


Tim Howard 4 - In huge games like these, we need our keeper to have outstanding performances.  Ultimately, we are still waiting for Howard to put his mark on US Soccer history with a truly brilliant game.  This game, in which they overpowered our backline and peppered our goal constantly, needed to be that moment.  1st goal - he looked like he was not set for Barrera's shot which came right off a substitution.  Albeit close range, the shot was directed near post just to his left and Tim didn't react.  The 2nd goal was off a Dos Santos cross and subsequent scramble in which I thought Tim reacted too slowly to dive on the loose ball and Guardado got to it first.  The 3rd goal was Barrera's curling shot far post.  This was the moment that I thought Timmy had to shine to preserve the game.  I will say that the 4th goal was simply a moment of Dos Santos genius - Tim couldn't have done any better without fouling him.  After that back-breaking goal, I've never seen him so upset, realizing that the game was all but lost.  In the end, Tim sometimes seems to be just as occupied about how the defense failed in its job as he is about goaltending.  You could argue that he wasn't primarily at fault for all those goals, and you'd be right.  But could Friedel, especially in his prime, have done better in this game?  I think probably.  Keller?  quite possibly.  Howard still needs that moment to seal his legacy in US lore. 

Steve Cherundolo - no rating - his injury so early in the game essentially became the biggest moment for the US.  As I said before, he may have been our best player in the tourney thus far and we needed his consistency and experience.  His early cross did lead to the early corner from which Bradley scored.  Now we know that this final was the moment in the tournament in which we needed Tim Chandler on the bench.  In the past, we would've brought on veteran warrior, Frankie Hejduk, who's wily feistiness may have made all the difference. 

Clarence Goodson 4 - Mex's frontline speed gave our slower CBs serious problems, but we've never had speedy CBs before.  Goodson was repeatedly and decisively beat to spots by Chicharito early on and was lucky that "little pea" couldn't get his shots on goal. 

Carlos Bocanegra 4 - I predicted that Boca would score and he nearly headed one in early 2nd half that would have changed everything.  However, defensively the backline was completely out of sorts all game and could not maintain the compact, unified and solid line that the US is so well known for in the past.  Boca was slow to step to Barrera on the 3rd goal and allowed him to shoot.  The fact is, the Mex attack came on the left side the entire game, as did all 4 goals. 

Eric Lichaj 3 - Lichaj had played at LB for his club and country for the past half year.  To ask him to transition over to the right just minutes after the beginning of the biggest game is questionable.  He might not have been the answer to shut down Dos Santos, but at least we know he worked to prepare for him.  True, it may have not have made a difference, since we were under assault from the opening whistle, but we don't know.  Lichaj was then torched on the right side and was so overwhelmed that he kept Mexican players onside several times when the rest of the backline stepped up.

Michael Bradley 5 - Bradley has now scored 3 goals in the last 2 significant home games vs Mexico.  Bradley worked hard to control the middle today, however, he and Jones did not do a good enough job in shielding the back 4 from those diagonal through balls.  Mexico's first goal was a result of Chicharito being left completely alone in the middle of the field and having the time to receive, turn and pick out a streaking Barrera.  However, there is no questioning his work rate in this game.  Also memorable was his blast that narrowly bent away from goal at the end of the game.

Jermaine Jones 3 - Jones was essentially nonexistent in this match, especially in comparison to Bradley.  He was no help to Bradley in dispossessing Mex's creative midfielders, the primary function in which I thought he would be great (and for which he was recruited for), and he offered no offensive linking either.  The 4th goal, he can be seen walking around Dos Santos as the man of the match backed off Howard and chipped in.  Jones could've easily stepped to DS to stop that shot.  A massively disappointing game.

Alejandro Bedoya 4.5 - Bedoya's energy did not amount to much this match as he couldn't really get involved in the attack.  At least he got a good taste of what to expect next time around.

Clint Dempsey 6 - Dempsey probably should have played as lone forward the entire match as his interplay up top with Landon led to the best moment of US play on the day.  His 2nd half left-footed cannon blast was unlucky to not miss the crossbar - a goal that would have tied the game and changed everything.

Freddy Adu 6.5 - As shocking as it was to see Freddy in the starting lineup, it was more revelational to see him as the only US player (possibly besides Clint) with the ball skills to keep possession in traffic.  He did have role in both US goals and nearly scored on a curling free kick, which lacked only pace.  It will be interesting to see how he is used going forward in WC qualifying.

Landon Donovan 6.5 - Donovan always shows up against Mexico and his left-footed goal was a moment of class - decisiveness and precision on showcase.  However, it was curious to see him as the lone forward because of our need for a target.  It ought to be noted that the goal came when Dempsey was at top.  Perhaps the plan was to play long balls over the top and use Donovan's speed against Mexico's D, but this never materialized.  This is one of Bradley's tactical mistakes.


Jonathan Bornstein 1 - Okay.  On the positive side, he was an okay option going forward, even sending in a few dangerous crosses.  On the negative side, he was the worst player on the field.  Both first half Mex goals were directly a result of Bornstein being caught badly out of position.  Its not as if Bornstein doesn't have the speed like Bocanegra - in fact JB is pretty fast.  So when he gets beat the way he does, its a clear indication of plain inferior soccer ability.  To be clear, we lost because of Dolo's injury and Bornstein's subsequent substitution.  This was unquestionably Bradley's 2nd tactical mistake.  There is no way I would have inserted him into this game.  I would have left Lichaj there and brought in Spector at RB.  Even being slow-footed, Bocanegra would've been a better choice at LB because he'd know what defensive positions to be in.  Tim Ream or even Maurice Edu at CB would have my choice off the bench instead of Bornstein.  Once and for all, even with the paucity of options at LB, I hope this performance keeps Bornstein off the US squad.  And I like the former Bruin - a nice guy to be sure.

Juan Agudelo 3.5 - There is no question Juan ran hard this game but his awful first touch repeatedly sabotaged the US attack at the end.  We needed a workmanlike veteran in the mold of Brian Ching out there today to hold up the ball.

Sasha Kljestan - no rating -  He didn't and couldn't impact the game in limited minutes besides a nice pass to Landon at the endline whose assist was just blocked by a defender.

Bob Bradley 4 - Another tactical error besides Donovan as lone forward and Bornstein's substitution: because we were under constant pressure right from the start of the game, it was even more reason that we should have adopted an extremely defensive position after our 2 goal lead.  Our aim at that point should have been to get to halftime with a shutout.  Our defensive midfielders should have parked right in front of the defense and our midfield wings should have been constantly tracking back to help out our clearly outmatched fullbacks.  Had we bunkered in the way we did so memorably vs Spain in '09, it would've been hard to envision them scoring more than 2 goals.  In addition, we would be perfectly setup to do what we do best - score off counterattacks.  Also, we should have been extremely compact and tight in the middle and just about given up the flanks so that even if they attacked with crosses, we'd be set to readily handle those as we always do.  Goodson and Bocanegra are better in the air than they are on the ground.  However, because we were so extended, it allowed Dos Santos & company so much space on the flanks and behind us.  When they scored their first goal so soon in response, I knew we were in trouble. 

 Ultimately, there is no doubt that they were the superior team on the day.  Their defense isn't actually that great - our 2 goals in 23 minutes exposes that - however, their midfielders were able to control the flow of play which, along with superbly skilled attackers, wreaked havoc on our scrambling backline.  It must be noted that they missed several other golden chances to score and further our embarrassment.  In the end, a 2 goal lead should be enough in any final to win.  Losing that lead to Brazil is one thing, but allowing 4 unanswered goals to Mexico on US soil, even if it did feel like Azteca, is simply incomprehensible.

2 years ago, a 5 goal whooping of our C team meant relatively little to the US program, but this loss with the full 1st team is the worst moment in Bob Bradley's US Soccer career.  This is the first time he has really failed to achieve what he needed to achieve.  In the last cycle, he won the Gold Cup that mattered, beat Spain in CC, qualified 1st overall for the World Cup, won the WC group for the first time in US Soccer history and developed new core talent along the way.  This cycle however begins with indeed his first real failure.

Where do we go from here?  The US trademarks have always been fitness, work ethic and solid defense.  Sure, developing our young forwards is important, but the focus now must be on fixing our defense.  We must regain our identity.  En route to Brazil 2014, we have to not only refresh our aging backline pool, but battle-test them with WC qualifying games.

For now, Mexico is the new king of Concacaf, and with their strikeforce, they could continue to be so for the next generation.  Perhaps this is their time to dominate us they way we've dominated them since 2000.  But US Soccer is no stranger to being an underdog and as evidenced by South Africa 2010, we have a never-say-die spirit.  By the way, "Never Give Up" is a much more fitting slogan for us than "Indivisible".  Just saying.  Anyway, we'll be back.

The way I saw it:
93,420 was the official attendance at the Rose Bowl.  It was definitely the fullest I have ever seen the Rose Bowl.  The AO section in 23 was the only real section of US supporters that I saw in the entire stadium and it was only about 6-7 rows deep.  Unfortunately, the ushers wrongly allowed Mexico's general admission to sit in another US supporters section - the section that I should have sat in (22H) and we US fans were forced to scatter into the next section over to the left.  Fortunately, it was an upgrade - so we can't complain.

Surprisingly, there seemed to be a good turnout for US fans - perhaps 15-20,000 US fans scattered throughout the stadium?  Perhaps it was the upgrade in seats but the Mexican fans surrounding us were good-natured, easy to talk to, and generally fun to watch a game with.  Make no mistake, they were boisterous and loud, but then again, so were we when we scored our 2 goals.  However, everyone was respectful - no beers were thrown.  I was actually expecting to have something thrown at me at some point in the day - word is a couple AO supporters were hit with glass bottles over in section 23 - but our section was calm, probably because we weren't dumb enough to provoke anyone with stupid bravado.  As for the seating fiasco, we banded with a few more US fans - 7 of us in all - and managed to avoid getting exiled from our row by ticket wielding Mexico fans.  As we left, many even shook our hands - not exactly what I expected.  All in all, a great experience for sure.  Next time we play Mexico, the best thing to do is avoid the cheap seats.  That's what I've learned.  But ultimately, I don't ever feel the need to visit Azteca, this was more than good enough.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My caps

Since I'm going to the US' Gold Cup Final tomorrow at the Rose Bowl, I decided to list the US matches I've been to.  (Below is a re-post from Aug 2009).  Its about time I'm going to see US v Mexico. 

My caps:


January 20
US 5 - Norway 0, Home Depot Center
(Twellman 5', 17', 76'; Eddie Pope 67', Chris Klein 87'). - Taylor Twellman hat trick.

February 10
US 3 - Japan 2, AT&T Park
(Eddie Pope 24'; Clint Dempsey 39'; Taylor Twellman 50').

June 12
US 0 - Czech Republic 3, Fifa World Cup Stadium (Gelsenkirchen)
FIFA 2006 WC!

June 17
US 1 - Italy 1, Fritz-Walter-Stadion (Kaiserslautern)
(Italy own goal 27') FIFA 2006 WC - 9 men.

June 22
US 1 - Ghana 2, Frankenstadion (Nuremberg)
(Dempsey 43') - FIFA 2006 WC


January 20
US 3 - Denmark 1, HDC
(Landon Donovan PK 44'; Jonathan Bornstein 57'; Kenny Cooper 80') - Bob Bradley debut.

June 7
US 1 - Guatemala 0, HDC
(Clint Dempsey 26') - Gold Cup 1st round

June 9
US 2 - Trinidad & Tobago 0, HDC
(Brian Ching 29', Eddie Johnson 54') - Gold Cup 1st round

September 9
US 2 - Brazil 4, Soldier Stadium
(Carlos Bocanegra 21'; Clint Dempsey 73') - Kaka'! Ronaldinho!


January 19
US 2 - Sweden 0, HDC
(Eddie Robinson 15'; Landon Donovan PK 48') Landon Donovan became US' all time leading scorer.

June 15
US 8 - Barbados 0, HDC
(Clint Dempsey 1', 63'; Michael Bradley 12'; Brian Ching 20', 89'; Landon Donovan 59'; Eddie Johnson 82'; Own Goal 86') - My first World Cup qualifier.

So I've seen 11 games in all, 28 US goals (including 2 own goals).

Clint Dempsey scored the most for me. 6 goals in big games like Ghana in WC '06, Guatemala in Gold Cup '07, and Brazil '07. Taylor Twellman scored the next most with 4 goals but 3 were in the same game against a terrible Norway squad. Landon Donovan surprisingly only had 3 and that included 2 PKs!

Honeycutt, Malcolm and the Jimmer in the NBA

- Honeycutt was drafted 35th overall by my Sacramento Kings.  Malcolm Lee went 8 picks later at number 43 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Now we know that both should've stayed in school one more year.

Tyler Honeycutt's drop to the 2nd round after just about every expert had him in the early 20s of the 1st round was surprising to say the least.  Perhaps his inability to lift the 185lb bar even once at the combine (while Malcolm lifted it a manly 17 times - just 2 short of Derrick's Williams' combine high) just reinforced the sense that he didn't have the drive to be as good as he could.  Since we all knew before last season that he was planning to leave early, its surprising that he never worked out to get stronger - at least strong enough to lift the standard 185lb bar that he knew he'd face at the combine.  Honeycutt only weighs about 185lbs - any athlete should be able to lift at least their body weight.  In addition to that, his nonchalant attitude all season (evidenced by repeated lackadaisical turnovers) was probably noticed by NBA GMs who didn't want to invest 1st round money on him.  Could he have improved his draft stock by returning to UCLA?  Only if he got noticeably stronger and showed an greater inner fire to win.

Malcolm Lee is probably the opposite case.  To me, it seemed that he actually did as well as he could in efforts to raise his draft stock and his defensive prowess may have been close to elevate him to last 1st round status.  However, his inconsistent jump shot and offensive game held him back.  There is no question in my mind that had he returned to school to hone those skills as well as elevate his national exposure, he may have been able to go 1st round next year.

Now, embarrassingly, UCLA does not have a 1st round draft pick while a non-basketball school like Texas had 3.  I guess it is indicative to the state of our program.  I wish those guys the best and I hope they do not water down the awesome contributions of UCLA to the NBA, which is easily the best of any college.

- The Kings traded away Udrih's contract for Salmon's and traded down from #7 to #10 in order to draft Jimmer Fredette.  A strange deal to begin with, but I've never been a big fan of Beno or his ridiculous contract.  Anyway, true Kings fans had to be kicking themselves when Knight dropped down to the 7th pick and we didn't have it anymore.  Personally, I wanted the explosively quick Kemba Walker instead but of course he was nabbed by Charlotte the pick before at #9.  But the truth of the matter is, Fredette will probably sell a lot of tickets and increasing the Kings' financial situation and city interest in building a new stadium in Sacramento takes priority over winning on the court right now.

At least, we have brought in a hard-working, high character guy to balance out the headache that is DeMarcus Cousins.  Also, it helps that he's a great shooter who can spread the floor.  The problems I see are that Jimmer needs a lot of shots and he isn't a pure point guard distributor that we may need with guys like Thornton, Salmons, Evans and Counsins in rotation.  Oh well, at the very least, perhaps we can become a high-tempo, high-scoring team.  As for real future playoff success, we'll need a MVP-type all-star which I do not believe we currently have.  And believe me, we're not getting one through free agency.

- I haven't mentioned the NBA playoffs even though I started watching almost every night after the Lakers were embarrassingly swept out by the Mavs.  The 4th game beatdown along with Odom and Bynum's embarrassing petulance made it the best game I've seen in years.  No Kobe 3 peat of his own means he's clearly inferior to Jordan.

As for the Finals, I was actually initially rooting for Lebron to finally win and take over the mantle of best player in the NBA from Kobe.  What did we learn starting in game 4?  Lebron's maddening lack of desire to even try in the 4th quarter showed that last year's Boston series meltdown was not an aberration.  He doesn't have the Jordan killer-instinct to win at all costs.  He doesn't even have Kobe's desire to have the ball in his hands when it counts.  That playoff game vs the Pistons a few years ago when he scored 25 of Cleveland's last 27 points - that was the aberration.  There is really something strange going on in his head.

Nobody can guard him when he wants to get to the hoop.  Nobody.  He will almost always either get a good shot or get fouled.  Why was he so passive?  Why was he playing hot potato in crunchtime?  For him to become the champion that he was physically gifted to be, he will have to transform himself and string together 4th quarter playoff performances over the rest of his career to shake the doubt we now all have about him.  It is thus far such a waste to see someone with unsurpassed talent and potential just not produce as he should.

On the other hand, how can you not be happy for Dirk?  The way he performed in the clutch is simply a result of all that repetition in practice of his shot and his offensive moves.  He had practiced them so much that he was able to comfortably execute them when everything was on the line.  Lebron hadn't and therefore couldn't.

- Ron Artest has filed to change his name to 'Metta World Peace'.

I've got nothing else to say.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gold Cup Semi: US v Panama Player Ratings

The two huge surprises in this match, for two completely different reasons, were that both Landon and Adu came on as subs.

Landon Donovan not in starting lineup again, this time with no family wedding or red-eye flight to blame, was a major shocker.  It was possibly a combination of Donovan's supposed subpar contributions so far and the surprising emergence of Bedoya.  For US Soccer, this was a tectonic shifting of the plates - a landmark event that we don't quite know how to respond to or how it affects the team going forward.  Donovan's unarguably the best player the US has ever produced and he'll hold every record by the time he's done, which shouldn't be until after the next World Cup in 2014.  For me, I still think a subpar Donovan is still better than anything we've got in reserve, but it is notable that his replacement on the flank opposite Dempsey, Bedoya, has been extraordinary.  Bedoya went from not being on the Gold Cup roster to solid 1st team starter (in Holden's place) in a matter of weeks.  In my opinion, Donovan hadn't really played poorly enough to be benched - he was an integral part of our attack in every game.  And just as we found out, Donovan indeed should have been a starter in Kljestan's place, whom I still do not rate highly.

The first shot we saw of Freddy Adu handing in his lineup card midway through the 2nd half absolutely floored me.  Our offense was by then clearly stagnant, but I thought the only offensive option Bradley would even consider was the ineffective MLSer, Wondolowki.  It was either going to look like brilliance, or desperation - in reality, probably both.  While Donovan has been starting for our team since June 2007, Freddy hasn't played for us since June 2009, and that was with the C team's Gold Cup run.  Essentially, this performance may have been the first real contribution to our 1st team in Adu's entire career.

Overall, the match was actually extremely frustrating to watch until our goal.  Panama pressed us the way Jamaica should have and it seemed like our back 4 spent an inordinately long time passing to each other trying to begin our attack.  Our midfielders weren't clean enough on their touches and were closed down quickly, which really bogged down any kind of flow in our possession.  Panama surely deserves credit for their gameplan and its no accident that our lone goal came only off a counter-attack.

Tim Howard 8.5 - 4 shutouts in 5 games, including in the last 3 matches which were all must wins.  He was busiest this game, making several key reaction saves that our backups may not have made.  Deserves as much credit as any other player for this win.

Steve Cherundolo 7.5 - provided the perfect cross to Agudelo, who's header hit the post.  This man is a tireless wonder and continues to be a huge part of our flank attack.  He'll have to be fearless in defense against Mexico's skilled wings in the Final though.

Clarence Goodson 7 - his aerial prowess is now key to our central defense and is a huge target on set pieces.

Carlos Bocanegra 7.5 - deserves just as much credit for the 3 shutout performances since his transition back centrally.

Eric Lichaj 6.5 - have our LB problems been solved?  (Fingers crossed.)  Even his left-footed crosses aren't terrible.  Still, his touches need to be faster when linking with attack.

Michael Bradley 6.5 - after last game's tired performance and taking backseat to Jones, Bradley again emerged as the central distributor we need him to be.  After seeing the battle that this game became, I'm glad my suggestion to bench Bradley for Edu was not heeded.

Jermaine Jones 5.5 - not as offensive as last game, but was a defensive shield while somehow avoiding the much-feared yellow card, even though his physical fouls were plentiful.

Alejandro Bedoya 7 - in the 1st half, it seemed like our attack was running through him.  Feilhaber probably wouldn't have been as effective (although in my opinion, Feilhaber should replace Kljestan in that central role).

Clint Dempsey 7 - he seemed less uninvolved in the 1st half (possibly a result of Kljestan's poor central play), but did better when he replaced Agudelo as lone forward.  Got the vital goal the scrappy Dempsey way.  All US fans gotta love that he recognized Donovan's importance to US Soccer in his celebration.  I've always figured that he and and Donovan weren't the best of friends because of their extremely different personalities and the fact that they are respectively the best domestic based and best European based US players.  And they still probably won't be hanging out in their spare time - but we see their mutual respect.

Sasha Kljestan 4.5 - his job in this game was to find away to open the stingy Panama defense, but he seemed overwhelmed by their physicality and the lack of time he had on the ball.  Again, Landon should've started for him from the beginning.

Juan Agudelo 6 - was thisclose to scoring game-winner on his header.  His fearlessness and physical play portends well for the future, but he needs to work on holding the ball up and linking with attacking mids.


Landon Donovan 6.5 - seems to have responded to benching positively.  First took over for Kljestan centrally but he was more effective on the wing when Adu came in.  His driving cross was inch perfect to Dempsey's foot.  After two games of 2nd half play only, he better be extremely fresh for his upcoming hat trick vs Mexico.  How is it possible that Dempsey has 3 goals in this tourney and Landon might not even have 3 shot attempts?  Please be more aggressive.

Freddy Adu 7 - was impressive in his confidence on the ball and brought some much needed creativity to our stagnant attack.  Interestingly, our goal came on a counter-attack when Adu perfectly lofted a long ball out to Donovan.  Also, his time-wasting ball skills in the corner were very reminiscent of Cobi Jones.

I'm not sure why Maurice Edu didn't come in to spell Jermaine Jones after we scored.  Especially in the last 5-7 minutes of play, Panama's attack was energized while we were obviously worn down.  Jones could've easily picked up the yellow card during that time.

However, he didn't and now we are set for another clash vs Mexico in the Final.  Honduras was very close to scoring on Mexico at the end of regulation  - why wasn't Costly a starter to begin with? - but ran out of gas in their 2nd straight extra time match.  At least Mexico had to play the extra 30 minutes.  But now, it should be an epic clash, as long as Chicharito doesn't run wild on us.

Had Honduras won, I would've brought my 2 year old to his first USMNT match.  But now, I'm just going to go, keeping my hands unencumbered and myself mobile.  Hopefully there are no dodger fans amongst the 70,000 Mexican national team fans there, if you know what I mean.  I've been to several USMNT games, including the 3 in Deutschland, but never in the US supporter's section.  Can't wait.

Either way, it will be a memorable night.  Prediction: what else?  dos y cero.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gold Cup: US v Jamaica Player Ratings

Well, there were 2 big surprises for US fans right at the start of the game.  First, Landon Donovan was not starting.  They said it was the first time since 2007 that he has come off the bench.  I realize that he didn't arrive back in town from his sister's wedding until 7am Sunday morning, which I don't understand in itself - did he have to stay until the last dance?  Dempsey managed to get back by 2am.  But this was an elimination game in the most important tournament we'll be in for the next 2 years and Donovan at 75% is still better than any of our backup options.  Anyway, the bold decision paid off since he'll be that much fresher for Wed's semi.

The 2nd surprise was Bradley's decision to go with the 4-2-3-1 again.  After the previously horrible displays with three defensive mids in the middle, I was extremely thankful that he opted for Dempsey / Kljestan (whom seemed to be interchanging) at the attacking mid spot instead of Edu.  This time the tactical change worked.  Again, when we have Holden back, I do not mind seeing this as our preferred lineup going forward, since we obviously have many more options in the midfield than we do up top.

Anyway, while this strong performance should put everyone a little more at ease, Jozy's injury will be the newest source of consternation, right up there after the force that is Chicharito.

Tim Howard 7 - made the save of the game (for the US) in the 4th minute to keep Jamaica from taking the early lead.  He probably wouldn't have stopped the rebound shot, which fortunately sailed over.  His counterpart, Ricketts, is an absolute monster in size an athleticism - I don't understand how European clubs aren't falling over themselves to buy him.

Steve Cherundolo 6.5 - not as involved going forward this game (although he did send a beautiful cross which Dempsey headed into Ricketts) perhaps because of this formation, or because he was tired, or because he was tasked to slow down Jamaica's lightning fast wings.

Clarence Goodson 6 - defensively solid again but he did miss a golden scoring chance early on.

Carlos Bocanegra 6.5 - I used to rag on him for always just booting the ball out of bounds.  Now, I cheer him for it.

Eric Lichaj 7 - Another encouraging performance from our new LB - I don't even care that he doesn't have a left foot.  It was his threatening cross that led to Jones' goal.

Michael Bradley 5 - perhaps he's getting worn down, but it was his poorest game of the tourney so far.  The fact that he didn't close down the crosser and then lazily held another player onside led to Jamaica's 4th minute chance.  His beautiful through ball later in the half did give Lichaj a great chance.

Jermaine Jones 7.5 - Last game I talked about his physicality not leading to cheap shots - and then the first thing he did of note was get a yellow for taking a Jamaican down in response to getting elbowed.  But he did tirelessly dominate the middle all game and made several threatening runs into the box.  His first US goal was awesome when a Jamaican cleared a cross directly to him and he hit it before it touched the turf, scoring on a deflection.  You gotta love the celebratory salute - a fitting Father's day tribute to his father who is (or was) a US serviceman, the only reason why Jermaine is eligible to play for us in the first place.  The other play of note was the breakaway foul (or dive or embellishment depending on one's opinion), which led to the red carded non-protesting Jamaican.  Its obvious that his heel was clipped in full stride and its also obvious that Jones flailed his arms to draw attention to the foul.  And personally, I think his last touch had put the ball so far in front of him that it would've been at best a 50-50 with the keeper.  My take is that I wish he hadn't retaliated to earn that needless yellow and I wish he hadn't embellished that foul.  Its not the American way.  But, do I wish we had him instead of Ricardo Clark last summer in the World Cup?  yup.

Sasha Kljestan 6 - surprise starter in LD's place.  Again, a much better option than Maurice Edu at attacking mid.  He did a decent job keeping the ball moving and supporting the US attack.  He also tested Ricketts with a long-range effort which resulted in a diving save.  It will be interesting to see who Bradley prefers this next cycle - Kljestan or Feilhaber.

Alejandro Bedoya 7 - was very effective in the attack - constantly making dangerous runs and putting himself in good positions to score.  We've really got a great wing sub option going forward.

Clint Dempsey 7.5 - the difference between last game and this: he scored.  Dempsey continued to pepper the goal with shots throughout the game (including a gutsy bicycle kick and a flying header) and his goal was a classy display of control and confidence in maneuvering around Ricketts.  Not bad for someone who had just flown into town at 2am.

Jozy Altidore - no rating.  I knew it was his hammy when he didn't even try to meet the long ball which I thought he would've reached.  Not good, these things don't usually heal in days.


Juan Agudelo 6 - showed no fear in attacking Jamaica but he does lack Jozy's strength.  His interplay with Landon freed him to cross (between the defender's legs) to Dempsey for the score.  He'll probably be our starter vs Panama.

Landon Donovan 6 - by the time he came in, the game was much more free-flowing and he operated comfortably in space.  I thought he should have shot when he was put through with only the keeper to beat.  Instead he stopped and dropped back to Dempsey - the play was eventually whistled for offsides.  (Personally, I think its a ridiculous rule - if you've put yourself in such an attacking position that the keeper had to come out and a defender has to assume the goalline defensive position, that defender should still be able to hold the attacking players onside.  You've earned it.  Unless you give that defensive player the ability to use his hands, it doesn't make sense that he is seen as the keeper in the offsides rule.)  Anyway, the rest Donovan got this game better pay off the next two games.  We will need him, not Kljestan, especially vs Mexico.

Maurice Edu 6.5 - had an active run-out in limited time.  He nearly scored on a eye-opening blast late and could be needed depending on Jones' card situation in the next 2 games.

It works out perfectly for us - we will get to play Panama in the semifinal on Wed.  This means that we will definitely not overlook them for Mexico since it is a revenge game.  Add to that, one of their most threatening attackers, Perez, was red-carded and he will be out.  It will be very difficult to beat the US twice in the same tournament.

If it were up to me, I'd think about resting Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo on Wed.  They both looked rather worn out.  This really would have been a good game to have Timmy Chandler.  But I think we can take a calculated risk to rest some of these guys who have played just about every minute of every game in hopes of getting them ready for Mexico on Sat.  Edu and Spector would be my picks to replace them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gold Cup: US v Guadeloupe Player Ratings

Soccer is a funny game - the US won a must win game to advance to the knockout rounds while dominating possession and shots on goal (21 shots to 5).  It was an onslaught that could have turned out to be a 4 or 5 goal win.  However, because of the numerous missed scoring opportunities, the game was deemed only a mild improvement from the previous loss to Panama.  Personally, I'd rather save the goals for Jamaica and be content that all facets of our game looked better than vs Panama.  We were in all the right positions, but on this night, we just didn't finish.  Also, we avoided any yellow cards that would have suspended any of 5 starters, and we should be physically recuperated in time on 4 days rest for Sunday.

Tim Howard 6.5 - would've been probably been beaten on the early deflected (thanks Lichaj) shot attempt which hit the crossbeam.  Otherwise, he was again solid with little to do.

Steve Cherundolo 7.5 - very well could be our best player over the first 3 games, neutralizing all attackers while being a vital component of our right-sided attack.  His crosses were sharper this game as well.

Clarence Goodson 6 - more confident display.  there's very little question that he'll be starting here going forward.

Carlos Bocanegra 7.5 - I was right about him being back centrally - a great sense of relief for sure.  His command of the d-line made all the difference.

Eric Lichaj 7 - true to my prediction, Lichaj was started instead of Ream.  Though the righty seemed slightly uncomfortable crossing with his left, he was able to get forward and contributed in our attack much better than Boca.  I'm just glad Bradley has Lichaj in there instead of Bornstein.  If he keeps this up, 3 spots of the 4 on the d-line in Brazil 2014 could be spoken for: Lichaj-Ream-(Onyewu)?-Chandler.

Landon Donovan 6.5 - I can't help but wish that he would shoot more.  I've still yet to see him link up with our forwards the way he used to with Brian Ching.  However, he looks good on the right with Dolo and his set piece deliveries were again solid.

Jermaine Jones 7 - aggressive, physical, but not with cheap shots - I like JJ's bulldog attitude in the middle.  He seemed to be everywhere.  Avoided a yellow.

Michael Bradley 7 - much more involved early on this time and was crisp in his passing.  also assisted on Jozy's goal.  But mostly, I'm glad he avoided a yellow too.

Clint Dempsey 4.5 - seemed to have an off night.  He was going down a little too easy on many challenges and obviously missed quite a few shots on goal.  The 76th minute hesitation miss was maddening when he took too much time and too many touches right in front of an open goal.  That said, who cares, he's constantly in dangerous spots and I hope he's saving his goals for Jamaica.

Chris Wondolowski 4.5 - again kept hitting shots over the top of goal.  He seems to be in decent positions, but hasn't shown the finishing touch.  I'm still wondering why Bradley didn't call in a 4th forward since: guys like Rogers and Adu haven't even seen the bench, we're clearly playing a 4-4-2 (instead of 4-5-1) and Wondo and even Agudelo are unproven international players.

Jozy Altidore 7 - hit a wonder-strike game-winner in the 9th minute.  It was a very un-American goal, in that we usually get goals off set pieces or crosses, or scrums in the box, or by sliding them in on the ground off misdirections, etc.  No, his goal was an awesome blast from outside the box that seemed to be rising all the way into the back net, like CRonaldo's shots often do.  Beautiful.  That said, Jozy doesn't always seem to be on the same page as Donovan or Dempsey and they need work on connecting in the final third.  Also, he doesn't seem to be hustling for loose balls the way that he should.  But hey, 2 goals in 3 games after not scoring in a non-friendly since Sept of 2009 is a great sign, any way you look at it.


Alejandro Bedoya 7 - was dangerous on the left and assisted on Dempsey's mind-blowing miss.  I'm still not sure how Rogers and Adu was called into camp ahead of him, but I'm glad Bradley sees the light now.

Sasha Kljestan 6.0 - another solid sub performance in bolstering our attack from midfield.  I don't think I'd like to see him as a starter though.

Maurice Edu 5.0 - came in to make sure Bradley didn't get a yellow.  I was a little surprised that he didn't start instead of Jones but it appears that the coach made the right call.

Everyone needs to back off, we would've won our group had one of these two things had not happened: Panama not scored the 90th equalizer vs Canada, or if Ream hadn't inexplicably kicked the legs out from under Panama's Perez at the edge of the box.  No, we aren't playing our best right now, but in a short tournament like this, things can change in an instant.  2 more wins until the final!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gold Cup: US v Panama Player Ratings

One of the worst losses for the US in recent history, since we've never lost a Gold Cup group game before.  So many of the things that I've been worried about has reared its head, including the unsettled central defense allowing early goals and the inability of our strikers to be consistent scoring threats.  Now we've got a must win game vs Guadeloupe, not to mention a possible tougher knockout road ahead.  (To make things much much worse, Mexico won its 3rd group game 4-1 which means it has outscored their first 3 opponents 14 goals to 1!  not good, not good).

Tim Howard 6.5 - actually made a good save on header that led to first goal, but couldn't scramble fast enough to save it from being nudged in.  Was solid but didn't have much to do rest of the night.

Steve Cherundolo 7 - essentially played like a right wing in this game, seemingly spending most of the game making runs off Donovan and sending in crosses, which got better later in the game.

Clarence Goodson 5 - was probably the better CB of the two defensively, but inadvertently rolled the ball toward goal on Panama's first score.  His goal partially makes up for it and I thought Ream should've been subbed off instead of Goodson because of his aerial prowess in the box.  But he did have a yellow.

Tim Ream 3 - troubled by Panama's athletic forwards and committed an egregious foul for the PK.  Just seemed shaky positionally and will need a better performance to get his confidence back.  I think he may be benched in last group game, but I haven't given up on him for 2014.

Carlos Bocanegra 6 - defensively played solid again but his lack of offensive ability essentially choked off our attack on left side.  Also committed frustration yellow at end of game.  He may have to be moved centrally for next game to shore up the inside.

Landon Donovan 7 - really came alive as the game progressed and fueled our attack.  His set piece crossing was particulary good, but our best player should have more chances on goal.

Jermaine Jones 4.5 - was active and physical which led to good and bad tackles, one of which earned him a yellow.  But, along with Bradley, he was unable to dominate midfield possession and showed his unhappiness with being subbed off.

Michael Bradley 5 - was virtually nonexistent in the 1st half, but was involved offensively in the 2nd.  He just missed a great chance late to secure a draw.

Clint Dempsey 7.5 - our best player of the game.  Sharp, attack-minded, involved, but just couldn't get the ball into the net.

Juan Agudelo 4.5 - Was active, but US' best chances seemed to come late in the game after he was subbed off in 59th minute.  Needs to work on working with Jozy in attack.

Jozy Altidore 4 - was most culpable on Panama's first goal as he watched and let his man get a free header on a set piece.  Also earned a stupid yellow for an emotional reaction.  For number of chances offensively especially late in the game, I can't remember that may of Jozy's shots on goal.  However, he did assist beautifully on Wondo's wonder-miss.


Sasha Kljestan 6.5 - good substitution to aid our attack later in the game.  Needs to distribute faster.

Alejandro Bedoya 6 - also added to our attack but I thought he did flop in the box for a deserved yellow.  Could have tracked the down the free ball and made a play.  Still, ideally suited to these kind of late minutes going forward.

Chris Wondolowksi 2 - had a glorious chance to earn a draw but completely muffed the easy shot by powering it over the top.  All he had to do was redirect it in.  Since scoring these kind of goals is all we're really asking him to do, I would've rated him a 8 had he made it.

Must be noted that Bradley called the same 18 onto the gameday roster - Hahnemann, Edu, Onyewu, Lichaj were the unused subs.

Vs Guadeloupe, Bradley will probably have to make some changes.  Perhaps something like this?

-------Dempsey - Altidore--------
Bedoya - Bradley - Edu - Donovan
Lichaj - Bocanegra - Goodson - Dolo

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gold Cup: US v Canada Player Ratings

The first team has finally won a game since last summer's timeless match vs Algeria.  It was also only the 2nd time in the last 7 tries (games vs South Africa and Chile discounted because we didn't send our A team) that we secured a shut out.  Seeing as we've been outscored 10 goals to 3 in our previous 6 games (discounting SA and Chile again) since the World Cup, a 2-0 win, even if against a weak Concacaf side, was long-awaited and extremely satisfying.  It will be interesting to see how we score vs knockout round opponents who will be much tougher defensively.

The US midfield in particular dominated the game and continues to be our strength.  Though the back four had never played together before, they seem to be our most solid combination now.  And of course, whenever a forward scores, he's had a good game.

Howard 9 - kept a clean sheet, kept the new look defense well organized, had a few stunning saves in the last 20 min.

Cherundolo 6.5 - fleeced by Simpson's speed a few times early but shut him down later.  Also provided width on right side attack.

Goodson 7 - surprisingly started over Gooch, he was effective in the air and solid defensively.

Ream 6.5 - still learning, but looks to be on track to be our CB starter for the next 6-8 years.  We've got one 2014 defender spot down, 3 to go.

Bocanegra 7 - shut down left side, brought stability to the defense.  He offered little offensively even when he got forward, but we expected that.

Donovan 7.5 - interesting that he was on the right and Clint on the left.  but he was in his element operating in space, great ball to Jozy to setup goal.  I still wish he took more shots.

Bradley 7.5 - commanded the center of the pitch, actually played ahead of Jones, was more effective in attack than normal.  Unnecessary yellow card - he better reign in his emotions this tourney.

Jones 6.5 - finally looks to be a good complement to Bradley - but gave away possession in bad spots a few times.  Our midfield should be set for the next few years.  I wonder what will happen when Holden comes back.  Will Bradley start Holden in Jones' place or try the 4-5-1 again (essentially dropping Agudelo)?

Dempsey 8.5 - Looked sharp all game, memorable "squirrel kick" goal attempt as he called it, and great left footed goal.  His celebration needs some work though, haha.

Agudelo 6 - I liked that he took shots to try the keeper and did enough to earn more starts.

Altidore 8 - Great movement, held the ball up well, scored a strong goal and assisted on another.  Even though the keeper was also at fault, a goal's a goal.  It was only his 2nd score since last June for the US.  Hopefully, this one really gets him going.


Wondolowksi 4 - never really got involved, can't remember shots taken.

Kljestan 5 - actually can't remember anything he did in the game.

Edu 6 - came in at the end and shored up our D.  He now looks to be Michael and Jermaine's first backup for this cycle.


Onyewu - This situation is starting to remind me a little of Beasley, who after some leg injuries, never fully recovered his innate physical skills, and is now sadly on the outside of the national team looking in.  I'm not sure if Gooch's issues are physical or if he's just lacking confidence right now, but his defending has been very shaky since his injury.  He still has a chance to be our starter in 2014 alongside Ream if he can regain his mojo.  I hope so, otherwise we'll be relying on 2 youngsters in the middle - Bocanegra, Goodson and DeMerit will probably all be too old.

Lichaj - Well, Bradley's decision to leave Spector and Bornstein off the game day 18 tells us that Lichaj is now the first choice backup at RB and LB.  Good news to any US fan.

Bedoya - His inclusion in the 18 means that he's performed better in camp than Adu and Rogers, both of whom were called up before he was.  Then again, Feilhaber would've probably been here instead if he were healthy so I guess its a moot point in the future.

Spector - I feel really bad for this guy.  He's been a loyal and hardworking soldier for us for years but he just doesn't seem to fit into Bradley's plan.  No minutes in the World Cup and not on the gameday roster now.  I'm in agreement with Bradley though - I'm just not sure where he would play.  I don't like him on the flank because of his lack of speed and our midfield is packed.  How about CB?  I wonder if he'd be better suited there?

Adu - Not in the 18, but perhaps he'll see some time in our last group game if we've wrapped up the group by then.  Seems like Bradley called him in just to see where he is now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

US Soccer - pre-Gold Cup anxiety

Okay, I have to admit that I'm worried about the US' chances in the Gold Cup.  Many analysts have us penned in as the favorite to win this tournament again but I can't shake this feeling of impending doom.  The fact that we're the favorite, instead of the underdog, always makes me nervous anyway but this time, the underlying issues plaguing our team only serve to make things worse.

First, our defensive problems have not been resolved, dating back to last summer's World Cup.  Our backline was already giving away cheap goals last June and the lineup is still not settled one year later.  Will Gooch ever get back to the level of physical dominance of his prime from 2-3 years ago?  He seems to be a slower and less confident player now even a year and half after his knee injury.  Does Bocanegra have to still play LB?  If so, who will be in the middle?  Youngster Ream, who's only had 2 or 3 games with the 1st team? Or the older Goodson, who doesn't have much international experience either?  Or both?

At LB, the infuriating Bornstein could still be Bradley's primary backup speed option.  His only other options would be two RB converts -  Spector, who is slow-footed to begin with, or newbie Lichaj, who has zero experience with the true first team.  I can't believe we're still having the same problem that has plagued us since WC 2006 when converted midfielder, Eddie Lewis' gaffe against Czech Republic set the tone for a disappointing tournament.  At least, we are set with Cherundolo at RB.

Secondly, even at midfield, we have an interesting dilemma between Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu.  I honestly thought that Jones would be a shoe-in, given his resume in Germany and England.  But besides one game vs Poland late last year, he really hasn't made a mark.  Against Spain, Jones and Edu were completely overrun and overwhelmed.  Though Bradley hasn't played much this season at Aston Villa, it was clear to everyone on Sat that he was the best option at CM that we have.  He was the only one able to maintain possession under pressure and do something positive with it.  Again, critics shouting "nepotism" need to shut up.

Thirdly, our situation at forward is in flux.  Jozy might be a surefire starter for us, but he hasn't been in good scoring form for club or country in about 2 years.  Agudelo is a teenager who doesn't even start for his MLS team.  Wondolowski?  Talk to me when he scores his first US goal.

Meanwhile, Mexico's young phenom Chicharito has scored 20 goals for Manchester United and just rammed home a hat trick in their first Gold Cup match.  Craaaap.  Worst case scenario is to get to the Final just to see Chicharito run circles around Gooch.

Overall, our record with our 1st team - which I'll define here as 6 or more 1st teamers starting - since the 2010 WC is 0 wins, 3 losses, 3 draws.  (Lost to Brazil, tied Poland, tied Columbia, tied Argentina, lost to Paraguay, lost to Spain.)  Granted, we treated Spain as a warmup and losing to Brazil is nothing to be ashamed of, but the fact remains that we've scored a grand total of 3 goals in 6 games.  We are not playing well at all.  And it doesn't help getting kicked in the teeth 3 days before the GC begins.  Not good.

Okay, yes I know that we're heavily favored in our group and we've never lost a group game, etc.  But what happens when we get to the tough knockout rounds against, say a Costa Rica (who just scored 5 goals in their first GC game as well) or, gulp, Mexico?  Lets put it this way, I've put aside the day to go to the Rose Bowl on June 25th for the Final, but I haven't bought my ticket yet.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, its time to play.  Gold Cup Champs baby!

Monday, June 6, 2011

u$c stripped of 2004 BCS National Championship!

For all the talk about cheatey Petey Carroll's dynasty at usc, this is what the record books will say during the years he was there (2001-09):

BCS National Champion:
2001: Miami
2002: OSU
2003: LSU
2005: Texas
2006: Florida
2007: LSU
2008: Florida
2009: Alabama

I don't see "USC", do you?

For all the penalties after the reggie bushleague saga - the forfeited wins, the scholarships taken and postseason bans, etc, the only thing that mattered to me was the loss of the championship title.  I actually never thought it would happen, but I guess this isn't FIFA - there is some measure of justice in college sports, even if it took 6 years.

Friday, June 3, 2011

UCLA Basketball 2010-11 Season in Review

Yes, its taken awhile for me to finally find the desire to get back to this.  But with US Soccer about to take over my full sporting interest this June, I want some closure.

First, our tourney run - Losing to a #2 seed as the #7 seed in a close 2nd round match is not the worst outcome for our young team, but because it was Florida, again, it felt a lot more disappointing than it should have been.

The truth of the matter is that we played an extremely good 35 minutes - basically played them even - but lost the game with missed easy shots, turnovers and other costly mistakes down the stretch.  The game was winnable, but then Florida hit a few dagger threes.  That's all I care to say about that game.

Looking back to our season overall, we finished above the consensus expectation.  Preseason experts predicted we'd finish 3rd behind Arizona and Washington, but we managed to finish just behind Zona in a race decided only on the last day.  Of course, the highlight of the season will always be the last home game - the last game played in Classic Pauley Pavilion before renovation - when we blasted Zona to gain a share of the Pac-10 lead with two games to play.  It felt good to be contending for the title again after last season's debacle.  But personally, I was disappointed that we didn't win the Pac-10.  I really wanted the last true conference title before next year's ridiculous Pac-12 season starts.

In fact, this season was really the first year that marked our recovery from losing the most recent generation of NBA players - Love, Westbrook, Collison, Mbah a Moute and Holiday.  Our recruiting classes since Kevin Love in 2007 have been at best, mediocre and last season showed the depths that we fell.  At least this past season, because of the lack of seniors, we finally had some continuity in developing our core.  Starters from last year, Nelson, Honeycutt and Malcolm clearly displayed this experience and our record bore the result.

For me, Honeycutt was still an overall disappointment this year, however.  I could tell even in the preseason that his heart was already set on leaving for the NBA.  This mindset seemed to take priority over being the best that he could be for UCLA this year.  With the promise and talent that he showed us last season, I really expected much more from him.  He just never seemed to display on the court a superiority that you'd think a future NBA player would.  He was rarely the best player in the game (besides the 33 point outburst vs KU).  Sure, often he put up strong numbers, but it seemed like his play never truly made a consistent impact on the outcome of our games.  And, his carelessness with the ball (100 turnovers) just added to his nonchalant reputation.

Anyway, it wasn't a surprise when he announced shortly after our NCAA tourney exit that he was leaving.  I'm also not so sure how much higher Honeycutt can raise his stock by staying another year.  Unlike Holiday, at least Honeycutt gave us two years - I wish him the best.

Malcolm Lee's defection to the NBA was what really hurt the most.  Even though he wasn't as talented or diverse as Honeycutt, I thought he brought more to the team as its hardest worker and team leader.  Next year, he would have been our senior, our undisputed captain, and our best perimeter threat.  He had shown big strides in his improvement from the previous year to this year.  I thought his jump shot looked better and his on the ball defending became unquestionably one of the best in the country.  Malcolm was Howland's kind of player - the one recruit to redeem the fab five failure.  Since he had suffered a recent knee injury, and his draft stock wasn't first round material, and the NBA lockout coming, I think it was a no-brainer for him to return.

I still don't understand why he left.  Of course he should have tested the waters to see how he might get better, but who in the world is telling him that he was going to be a 1st rounder?  Could they not see that he still has opportunity to vastly improve his game?  (Unlike Honeycutt, his jump shot form was still being honed - under 30% on 3s).  Could they not understand that to start a final year as the team leader, the primary playmaker and perimeter scorer (especially with Honeycutt out) on what could've have been a national championship contender would have vastly raised his draft stock?  I just don't get it.

Having said this, I truly wish him the best.  I hope that his apparent improvement at the combine and workouts in the past couple months are truly indicative of his future.  I saw something interesting - at the combine, he was able to rep 185 pounds an astounding 17 times, just 2 short of the best overall, and we're including centers and power forwards.  In contrast, the Morris twin PFs from KU each only put it up 11 times.  (Oh, and by the way - Honeycutt?  0.)  Malcolm's shooting form looks so much better as well.  Here's hoping he goes late first round on the basis of his Howland taught defense and work ethic and becomes the next impact guard out of UCLA to hit the NBA.

Anyway, with Malcolm, we could have been a top 25 team next season.  (With Malcolm and Honeycutt, we would've likely been a title contending favorite.)  Without him, I almost feel like we are back where we started this year - just hoping to contend for the conference.

Reeves Nelson had a solid year but showed his immaturity at times.  His on-the-ball defense didn't really show itself until the last few games while his tendency to pout was there all year long.  I'm on a roll in terms of negativity, aren't I?

Well, Reeves was our top scorer this year at 13.9 points per game and our top rebounder by far at 9.1 per game.  As the only member of our core 3 coming back, I'm glad at least he is.  I'm not really sure how a 6'7 PF can really leave early anyway.  For all the preseason talk about an improved outside jump shot, he clearly did not have one and I think he should limit his range and his efforts to about 15 feet in.  It is of some assurance that at least we know where we'll get 15 points and 10 rebounds from next year.

After our big 3, the major contributor this year was big Joshua Smith.  This guy has the physical ability and potential to be the best big man in college.  Foul trouble was of course to be expected, but if he can play 30 minutes a game next year, he can easily score 15-18 points a game with 10+ rebounds.  Amazingly, of his 209 rebounds this season, 114 were offensive boards.  Did you catch that?  55% of his rebounds were off the offensive glass.  In contrast, Nelson's offensive board percentage was 26% (80 of 308).

I'm encouraged by his dedication to conditioning last summer and I'm hoping he approaches this offseason with the same attitude to shed some more baby fat.  Also, I hope he works on 2 or 3 go-to post moves as well as FT shooting, since he'll be parked there all year.  Even without knowing who will be at SF, we will have the best front court in the conference.

The other 2 newcomers of note this year were Lazeric Jones and the new Jerime Anderson.  I don't think anybody knew that Zeek Jones would be able to step in with the confidence of running a Howland team as well as he did.  His steady play will be a major factor in our success next year.  Perhaps the bigger surprise is the backup guard play of Anderson.  It must be maturity as well as the realization that he had lost his starting spot to a juco.  Either way, it was as if a whole new player showed up this season.  The fact that he was our best 3 point shooter this year (and the lack of constant bonehead mistakes) gives me hope that he will be good for us as the starter at SG.

Tyler Lamb probably should have been awarded more minutes to prepare him for this next year but I think he'll be ready.  On the other hand, Brendan Lane often looked lost, a step slow, and not physical enough to be effective inside.  But I still say that he's better than James Keefe.  It will be interesting to see how he and the Wear twins are used next year.  Clearly, Stover's defense inside will be counted upon when Joshua Smith is resting.

Projected Starting Lineup next season:

PG: Lazeric Jones
SG: Jerime Anderson
SG: Tyler Lamb
PF: Reeves Nelson
C: Joshua Smith

Bench: C Anthony Stover, PF Brendan Lane, PF Travis Wear, F David Wear, SG Norman Powell, G De'End Parker

- Newcomers next year: PFs Travis and David Wear, transferring in from UNC; Freshman SG, Norman Powell with great athletic ability, Juco Junior combo G, De'End Parker

- Without a true SF, Coach Howland could either go with a 3 guard lineup with Lamb or go big by deploying David Wear at SF.  Without having seen either of the twins play, I have no idea if this would work.

- Our 2nd juco player in as many years, De'End Parker (the last of many children so his mom said he was "de" end - no, I'm not kidding) from San Francisco will compete for Malcolm's minutes.

- It appears that we have 11 players in the rotation - 2 Cs, 4 PFs, 3 SGs, 2 PGs.  It will be interesting to see Howland's plan next season.  I'm guessing either Lane or one of the Wears won't play much.  Powell will probably see more minutes than Parker.

- Recently signed walk-on G Khalid McCaskill will likely be hard-pressed to find time on the floor.

- All UCLA future hopes are essentially pinned on blue chip recruit, Shabazz Muhammad in '12, as indications are that if we get him, many others will follow.  Shabazz himself is however, probably a one-and-doner.

- Larry Drew - I don't want a guy that walked out on UNC while he was playing solid minutes because he got benched.  I don't care if we have a void at PG in 2012.

Games I Attended: (7 wins, 1 loss)

11/9/10 - CS Los Angeles, W 84-59 - preseason game was my younger son's first UCLA game.

11/16/10 - UOP, W 57-44 - Unbeaten 3-0 start already better than previous season.
12/13/10 - UC Davis, W 74-67 - 4 scorers in double digits

12/31/10 - UW, L 74-63 - Whooped by Wash.
1/22/11 - Stanford, W 68-57 - Down 22-8, I arrived and we went 60-35.
2/2/11 - usc, W 64-50 - Smith's dunk, Jones' block, we beat $c after 4 straight losses
2/24/11 - ASU, W 71-53 - 5 in double figures
2/26/11 - UA, W 71-49 - Most meaningful game since March 2008 - Last game at Classic Pauley.