Well, Bob Bradley certainly did his best to make me look like an ass.
For two and a half straight games, he served me my words on a plate. A very cold plate. And until the second half of the Confederations Cup final against Brazil, he did that very well.
But thank god for that second half.
Now don’t get me wrong. I want our national team to succeed, and I root for them over all other national teams. I’m American, after all. Nothing would make me happier than for our national team to make it to that “next level” and become one of the elite teams in international football.
The problem I have is I just don’t think Bob Bradley is the man to take us there.
To be fair, the Spain win was quite the statement game. We took open chances at goal. We weathered Spain’s firing squad for 90 minutes. We attacked the space opened up by their backs. We left Beasley on the bench for the entire game. We were lucky. We did everything right.
But Spain also played poorly. Their normally crisp ball movement was off a bit. Sergio Ramos apparently forgot that he is actually a defender. And they missed some golden opportunities (I’m looking at you, David Villa). Not to take anything away from our performance, but it would be naive of me to not point it out.
Then came the first half of the Brazil game, with our confidence clearly through the roof. We not only attacked, but we attacked with purpose and poise. There were some amazing displays of ball movement and intelligence that we never show against Guatemala, let alone a quality side. Dempsey’s finish was superb, as was Spector’s cross to set it up. And the second goal was, dare I say, brilliant. From Ricardo Clark’s steal and feed to Davies, to Davies’ inch-perfect pass to Donovan, to Donovan’s evasive move to open up space for an easy finish… well it was world class counter attacking.
Unfortunately, we are worse at defending two goal leads than the French are at defending their own country. And when Brazil waltzed down the field and scored 37 seconds into the second half, I knew that we were going to lose the first “major” cup final in which we had ever appeared.
Sitting back and packing it in is one of the biggest mistakes that Bob Bradley has with managing the USMNT. It would be one thing if we would emphasize defending, and pressure in the other teams half of the field. However, we never pressure that high up the pitch. Bradley seems content to not pressure until the other team has the ball up to the edge of our center circle and the backline firmly planted inside the penalty area. It’s like he’s saying, “Sure guys, go ahead and swing crosses in from about 35-40 yards out. We love to defend crosses!!!” Except we’re awful at marking on crosses. Following men? Who needs to do that?!?!
And then comes the issue of his subbing. Since we use a counter-attacking style of play, our robot of a coach seems to have forgotten that this will wear out the offensive players over the course of the game. All that sprinting will wear anyone out, and it makes it difficult to hold on to possession when you’re that tired. Possessing the ball on the counter attacks would seem to be a priority.
So with that in mind, who do we put in for tired attacking midfielders? Sacha “I like to pass to the other team” Kljestan. Aside from Beasley, Sacha is in the worst form of anyone else on the national team. And yet we put him in during one of the most pivotal points of the entire tournament (Conor Casey, you’re dodging a bullet here… you were about as useful as screen door on a submarine in you limited time on the field). Why not put in Francisco Torres? While he might be a bit of defensive liability, he is excellent in possession and finds people’s feet 90% of the time.
Not only that, but Bob waited until the game was tied before he made any substitutions. Can’t you see that the team is running on fumes out there before that point? When you’re counter attacking, you’re going to need to make subs before the 75th minute. It’s that simple. He did it earlier in the tournament, too.
So while the success eventually came to the us this tournament, Bob continues to prove that he is still lacking some of the decision making and know how to steer this team in right direction for South Africa. Here’s hoping he learns from his mistakes quickly, as we’re stuck with him through the World Cup.
But enough bitching (for now). There were, of course, some silver lining moments this tournament:
- Landycakes (for those of you not familiar with the nickname, Landon Donovan) finally put in a tournament’s worth of consistent performances and should have won the Bronze Ball instead of Dempsey. Suprisingly, he played to his full potential for the first time in recent memory.
- Charlie Davies was a solid performer in the knockout round, and deserves to be considered for the starting spot for the time being.
- The emergence of Jonathan Spector; the boy may have just made the right back spot his own. Let’s hope he gets some quality minutes at West Ham this next season and continues his development in a positive direction.
- Jay Demerit and Oguchi Onyewu were, aside from the first two games, a solid backline pairing. jJay has come a long way, and hope he too makes the other center back spot his as well.
The ending might not have been what we preferred, but the boys still built some good momentum from this run. Let’s hope they can keep it going through next year’s finals.