Tuesday, September 6, 2011

US Soccer vs Costa Rica at HDC, (& Belgium)

Took my eldest to the match vs Costa Rica on Friday night.  It never actually occurred to me that we might lose this match.  I figured if we could draw vs Mexico, we could definitely win at HDC vs a Costa Rica team without its best player.  In 3 games, Klinsmann's side has only scored 1 goal and managed 1 draw.  That would be 1 point in a tournament group stage.  Not the start we were looking for, but hey, there are probably at least 5-7 more games to get better before WC qualifying next June.

So, the Home Depot gatekeepers actually tried to tell me that my 2 year old needed a ticket.  Besides the fact that I called in before I bought my ticket and was assured that it was fine, why in the world would a 2-year-old need his own seat?  Even when he sits in my lap, his head doesn't even reach my chin.  Those idiots tried to tell me that I had to purchase an additional ticket right then and there.  Right, so I'm going to sit in my seat, but my 2-year-old needs to sit in his seat in an entirely separate section by himself?  Oh, you mean he can sit with me if I bought another ticket?  But if he can sit in my lap, why should I need to buy another one?  Moronic.  Pauley Pavilion, AT&T Park, the Rose Bowl, Staples Center - none of those place require a tix for 2 year olds.  But Home Depot Center has such great viewing angles that a 2-year-old can sit in his own seat.  Oh wait, it doesn't.  Anyway, I asked the gatekeeper to talk to a supervisor.  The supervisor then escalated it up to someone else.  The answer was no.  I simply went to another gate and this time someone with common sense let us in.

Surprisingly, even with all the hype around Klinsmann's hiring, there were entire empty sections (in both corners on the TV camera side).  We sat in the West endzone however and with AO just to our right, it made for an energetic night.  But, we got to our 4th row seats (just behind the left goal post - Howard's left) nearly an hour early and were able to leisurely eat our sack dinner (hey, it takes awhile for my 2 year old to eat) while watching the pitch being watered (why do they do that anyway?), AO march in, and eventually Howard and Hamid warmup directly in front of us.

I think my son enjoyed the warmups more than any other part of the game since he actually saw goals being scored.  All except the national anthem that is, or as he calls it: "the fireworks song", which we've been working on daily for the past few months.  He knows the words better than Christina Aguilera, that's for sure.  Still, he's always had the supernatural gift of sitting and watching entire sporting events without getting overly restless or having to use the potty.

I was pretty excited about the starting lineup when I saw the 10 field players warming up.  Besides seeing stalwarts in Howard, Jozy, Boca and Landon in action at an early season friendly, we were also going to get to see young stars, Shea, Torres and Chandler.  Again, the only regret is that Dempsey couldn't make this match.

Had Landon scored on that perfect setup from Brek Shea in the 6th minute, it would have been a complete evening.  It was right in front of us.  Perhaps we wouldn't have been so susceptible to their counterattacking goal in the 2nd half either had LD scored.

While most people in the endzone seats stood the entire game, it just so happened that the first four rows of people on the left side of our section didn't.  Can you imagine holding up a 30lb weight for 95 minutes?  Plus, toddlers are squirmy.  Anyway, there was this one annoying guy in the first row who stood for awhile holding up his scarf.  But on TV replay at home, I was able to pick myself and my son out on a crowd shot because of that guy.

Okay, back to the game (and the one vs Belgium).  Its too early in Klinsmann's tenure and too unimportant of a match to do player ratings and all that analysis.  So here are my observations.

- Our scoring deficiencies were not just because of Bob Bradley.  In the final third, we've still struggled to make the last pass in creating a goal scoring opportunity, Shea's assist to Donovan aside.  In both games, Jozy and Juan never really had great chances.  In light of Jozy's recent goalscoring feats in Holland, its clear that he just needs the ball in the right place.

- Landon Donovan was completely uninvolved for most of the crucial 2nd half, especially surprising because Klinsmann deployed him centrally instead of out wide.

- Torres' skill set is perfectly suited for the central role right in front of the 6 (central defensive midfielder).  I'm not sold on him being a full-time starter yet, especially with Holden still in the mix, but there is no doubt that he should be a regular call-up.  You could argue that he was our best player in this 2 game series.  Bradley clearly was mistaken in not bringing Torres back after the WC.

- As much as Bradley caught heat for playing 2 defensive-minded central midfielders, the truth is that they were asked to be box-to-box 2 way players.  In actuality, Klinsmann is the one who prefers to play a destroyer-type who stays at home in front of the defensive four the entire game to protect them as well as be the link to our attackers with quick and simple distribution.  In this role, Klinsmann has tried Beckerman and now Edu, both of whom have put in solid performances.  Bradley and Jones may also eventually contend for this role, although Klinsmann may believe that Bradley has the skill set to move up into the attack more since he started him at attacking mid vs Mexico.  For me, that is yet to be seen.

It must be said that Jermaine Jones has been a big disappointment this summer.  I thought he was the missing piece who would help us dominate central midfield against technical teams like Mexico.  However, he was a non-factor in both of those rivalry games.

- Brek Shea is by far the biggest revelation.  While Bradley had called him in previously and would likely have brought him into the fold again after the Gold Cup, who knows how quickly would Shea have been given all the opportunities that he's had under Klinsmann.  To me, Robbie Rogers is showing himself to merely be a speedster and not a great soccer player, but Shea seems to have a more complete package - speed, technical quality, vision, guts -  to contribute right now.  Of our attacking midfielders, he joins Donovan, Dempsey and Holden as our indispensable core, in my opinion.  Torres, Adu and Bedoya possibly make up the 2nd tier.  (Diskerud, Feilhaber, Rogers and Fabian Johnson have work to do).

- Just as we anticipated, Timothy Chandler is the RB in waiting.  We should be set for the next 2 WCs if all goes well.  Fortunately, there is no need to rush either as Cherundolo may be playing at a high level for a few years still.

- LB.  Well, Klinsmann has certainly given Castillo a chance to grab hold of the starting spot.  I don't believe that he's the LB of the future.  He makes far too many defensive errors and its not like he has been lighting the world on fire offensively either.  At this point, I am far more comfortable with Lichaj or even Chandler spending time there.  Hopefully, Klinsmann continues tryouts for many other players in the games to come.

- At centerback, I like Klinsmann's plan of pairing a young prospect with Bocanegra.  In Orozco's two games back there, I was not made comfortable with him either, although much more so than Castillo.  Costa Rica's lone goal seemed to be the result of his error.  Currently, the Bocanegra-Goodson tandem is still our best.  We shall see if Klinsmann intends to try out more bodies, such as George John, Zak Whitbread or even Omar Gonzalez.

- Tim Howard made some spectacular saves in both games.  It would have been nice to get Hamid some PT, but we actually needed Howard to clean up much of the backline's mistakes.

- Clint Dempsey is our finest player.  While Landon has the most accolades, Clint seems to be unmatched in quality and competitive desire.  Against Belgium, Klinsmann deployed him centrally as well, interestingly with the #8 shirt (and awarding Landon's #10 to Torres, who previously wore #8 vs CR).  If both Donovan and Dempsey were available, I'd be curious to see if they'd play centrally together, just below Jozy.  Of course, one or the other could always slide up as the 2nd striker as well.

- Klinsmann said last month, "We’d like to double the positions so there’s always a challenger behind each established player, whoever occupies that position".  Here's my guess at who the starters and challengers might be if the WC started tomorrow and everyone was healthy, using the traditional numerical positions as best as I understand.

It must be said that his preferred formation going forward is still unclear since a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-4-1 will each require a different combination of roles for those attacking midfielders/wingers.

1 Goalkeeper - Howard (Hamid, Yelldell?)
2 Right Back - Cherundolo (Chandler)
3 Left Back - Lichaj (Loyd, Pearce, Chandler, Castillo,?)
4 Right Centerback - Goodson (Orozco, John?, Whitbread?)
5 Left Centerback - Bocanegra (Ream)
6 Central Def Mid - Bradley (Edu, Jones, Beckerman)
7 Right Winger - Holden (Rogers, Bedoya)
8 Attacking Central Mid - Dempsey (Torres, Adu)
9 Center Forward - Altidore (Agudelo)
10 Attacking Central Mid - Donovan (Kljestan, Feilhaber?)
11 Left Winger - Shea (F. Johnson, Bedoya)

-----------------9 Jozy------------------
11 Shea--------------------------7 Holden
------10 Donovan-----8 Dempsey-------
---------------6 Bradley-----------------
3 Lichaj----5 Boca--4 Goodson---2 Dolo
---------------1 Howard---------------

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