to quote will farrell’s character in zoolander, mugatu…. “i feel like i’m taking CRAZY PILLS!”
well, at least any time i watch bob bradley’s u.s. national team play that is exactly how i feel. why do i feel that way? just let me tell you.
honestly, i wasn’t expecting the u.s. team to win this game. i mean, the american’s were 0-22-1 playing on the south side of the big fence going into this game. let’s just say i wouldn’t have put money on them winning. so i’m not all pissed with bob bradley just because they lost the game 2-1.
but just because i didn’t expect a win, doesn’t mean that i didn’t want one. for the first time, probably ever, the u.s. had a better than 50% chance of winning a game in mexico. at least that’s what everyone in the american press seemed to be screaming. while the mexicans went into the game lingering dangerously outside the three automatic qualifing spots in the CONCACAF region, the american’s were in a secure and steady second place and probably two wins away from qualifying for their sixth straight world cup.
so while all the pundits seemed to be predicting a historic american win in the intimidating estadio azteca in mexico city, i had my reservations:
- mexico desperately needed the points, as a loss would leave them dangerously close to having to play the fifth placed team from south america in a home-and-home playoff for the last slot into the world cup. which if world cup qualifying ended today, that would be argentina. not exactly ideal. the u.s., on the other hand, only need another two wins to pretty much book their tickets back to south africa. and with two more home games, and one more against bottom of the pack trinidad & tobago, they’re sitting pretty. so a win for el tri would be much more important than a win would be for the u.s. team.
- they have the momentum, not us. and don’t give me that crap that the u.s. fielded a “b” team in the gold cup, hence the 5-0 blow out in the final a few weeks ago. i don’t care if the previous game had been a friendly, if those even exist between the u.s. and mexico anymore. beating your most hated rival by five goals will swing the momentum regardless of whether or not that rival is fielding their best players. mexico needed the confidence boosting gold cup victory, especially before this important match.
- they played the game at the azteca, the most daunting stadium in all of sports. not only have we never won a game there, but only one team has ever beaten mexico at the stadium during world cup qualifying (costa rica, 2001). the stadium is 7500 feet above sea level, so altitude adjustment is always an issue. not to mention mexico city’s well documented smog, which during mid-day hours can easily hit 90°. oh yeah, let’s not forget the 105,000 insanely passionate mexican fans that will be backing their team as loudly as possible.
- we’re coached by bob bradley.
if you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning, or if you’ve ever spoken to me for more than 5 minutes about the national team, you’re probably aware i’m not a fan of bob. and tonight’s game was just another example of why i think he is not the right man to lead our national team. my gripe about tonight’s game? strategy and substitutions.
while it’s clear we’re a team that thrives on counter attacking, sometimes (ok, all the time) that becomes one-dimensional. everyone knows that we’re going to run and gun like steve nash’s phoenix suns, and bob has no intention of switching that up. except every once in a while, you have to. why not keep the other team guessing from time to time? and knocking the ball around and possessing the ball, slowing up the tempo, might be the perfect way to switch it up.
of course, to be able to do this the u.s. will need to have someone in there that can help them to hold on to the ball a bit more. someone who will spread the field, use some creativity, and move the ball through midfield both vertically and horizontally. neither of these are strengths of ricardo clark or the younger bradley. which is fine to start with, as we push our counter attacking style to start the game off. but when you start making substitutions in the second half, it might be worthwhile to change the tune a little bit.
you don’t do that by bringing on stuart holden. i’m sorry, you just don’t. and while i’m a fan of the young houston midfielder, he’s still a rough talent who is a little too willing to try a risky pass.
so, who would have i brought on? jose francisco torres. while the young mexican-american is also inexperienced at the international level, there are many positives to playing him in this type of environment. first, he’s spectacular at distributing the ball, bringing some much needed creativity to the u.s. midfield. secondly, torres plays for pachuca, one of the top mexican first division sides. that makes him extremely familiar with mexican opposition. he plays week in, week out with these guys. wouldn’t you think that would provide him a slight advantage, especially coming on with fresh legs in the second half? does this make sense to anyone else?!?!
there have been, however, some complaints about torres’ defensive qualities. and i agree. but if we’re trying to spring forward all the time, having one holding midfield behind him (a michael bradley or jermaine jones, if we ever call him in) should be enough cover for the playing style. either way, torres provides a different spark that would help the u.s. team to posses a bit more. and possessing the ball a bit more was something the americans did a very poor job of this game. hell, even alexi lalas agrees with me on that front! you convinced jose to not play for mexico… give the guy a chance, bob.
then comes the increasingly predictable second half subbing of a forward for a midfielder (fielhaber for ching in the 57′) so that we can push dempsey up front. are we going to use the same strategy every time we play now? people are going to start catching on to this little “trick” you know. bob must have finally sensed this as well, as he actually brought on another forward in jozy altidore 20 minutes later.
it’s these kinds of predictable mistakes that i think could end up costing us down the road. and why we didn’t have camp in denver or salt lake city to prepare for the mexico city altitude is beyond me (maybe to ease travel for european based players?). but, there were some positives from the game:
- charlie davies continues to impress. though his opener wasn’t enough to earn the american’s a point, the speedester is prooving to be a dangerous attacking option and is increasingly becoming the first choice striker for the national team.
- we didn’t call in demarcus beasley, sascha kljestan or freddy adu to this camp. none of them deserved to be here, especially based on recent performances. and, connor casey wasn’t even on the bench for the mexico game dispite being called into camp. he is rubbish, and i can’t really understand why he keeps making it back into the squad over kenny cooper or chris rolfe. it’s small steps with bob at least.
- the azteca didn’t seem to have us near as intimidated as it has in the past. though mexico staged a typical comeback in their home stadium, you can see we’re making some progress in a stadium that has rattled so many.
i keep saying it, but i wish we would have fired bob a while ago. we owe our long run at the confederations cup more to lucky results than to bradley’s tactics. but we’ve run out of time to find a suitable coach before next summer’s tournament, and we’re stuck with him through then at least. let’s just hope that the guy will learn a thing or two in the coming months.