World Cup

Soccer: USA vs. Turkey - A Review

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First off, it was nice to see most of the presumptive Starting 11 start today.  With Gooch joining in the action in the second half, I'd say we say our entire Starting 11 on the pitch, just maybe not all together at the same time.  

It was a tale of two halves, as so many soccer games seem to be, and once again the US started slowly against (arguably) one of the best teams in the world not going to South Africa (we are officially under two weeks away from the World Cup, and I don't know about you, but I want it NOW). 

There were again some serious problems in defense--some of it borne out of a lack of communication that we saw against the Czech Republic that I thought would go away with Tim Howard back in the nets.  Judging by his reaction to some of the rather open looks Turkish strikers and midfielders got, I'd say Tim was surprised by some of those breakdowns, too.  Simply put, the defense was caught ball-watching time and time again, and sagged off of players filling into space, or flat-out losing track of guys.  The US was supremely lucky to only be down 1-0 at halftime, and I think they would admit that the Turkish feet were as responsible for the lack of goals, rather than their own excellence in the back.

Let's talk about that one goal though.  First thing is that it was setting up to be a great opportunity for the US.  A bad clearance from the Turkish defense gave RB Jonathan Spector the ball and a ton of space to operate in.  Spector took his space well initially, but got himself into trouble at the Turkish 18.  That's fine, these things happen--it should not lead to a goal the other way.  The simple fact of the matter is that it launched a counter attack because no one in the midfield rotated back to take Spector's spot; nor did the remaining defenders spread themselves out--they just gave up the entire right side of the field.  This is not an overly technical idea--a halfway decent high school team has a defender who engages in overlapping runs or pushes forward on occasion.  There was no reason for the lapse, and was another reminder that if our central defenders do not include Gooch or Bocanegra, they get disorganized pretty quickly. 

The second half of the game was much more encouraging, but may cause Bob Bradley a bit hair-tearing  scalp-massaging, as the best foursome to play in the midfield seems more muddled than it did before this game (and it was plenty muddled already).  Dempsey seemed more engaged as a midfielder than he did as a striker, which is where I'm sure Bradley has planned on starting him.  Robbie Findley actually looked OK as a striker, though he needs to look up from his dribbles a bit more.  John Harkes was strangely dismissive of the absolutely great ball that Findley fed to Donovan that led to the first goal, but I thought it was a brilliantly weighted ball, over the top of the defense, with some backspin to help let Donovan get to it before the keeper did.  

I think everyone watching the game is probably in agreement that the revelatory player of the second half was Jose Torres.  I hadn't even included him on my projected 23-man squad (though others had, often as the 22nd or 23rd man).  He made his argument loud and clear today that he's worthy of being considered in the Starting 11.  The second center midfielder paired up with Michael Bradley is still the biggest question left to address before this team starts play on the 12th of June.  We've seen Rico Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, and now Jose Torres.  And it is hard to argue that any of them has consistently shown up as the best one of the bunch  (let's not talk about Feilhaber's shocking decision, playing at left midfield, to attempt a cross field pass in the first 10 minutes that led to Turkey's first really dangerous opportunity to score).  Rico Clark continued to play with his trademark reckless abandon that led to yet another yellow card.  John Harkes may be a bit of a dink, and sometimes provides painful commentary, but the man knows how to play center midfielder, and he couldn't say enough good things about the play of Jose Torres.  

There is clearly a poise about the kid, and he's not afraid to get stuck in, even though he's only 5' 5", which is certainly hurting his chances to start.  It shouldn't--there are plenty of great tiny players out there, and while Torres isn't going to win any comparison to Messi or Deco or anybody at that level, he was as solid of a midfield partner to Bradley that I've seen.  I just don't know if Bradley will be able to bring himself to entrust such an important position to such a young player--he's all of 22, compared to Edu's 24 or Feilhaber's 25, or (guh) Rico Clark's 27.  Also, all three of those guy play in Europe, while Torres plays in the Mexican League, which just doesn't have the same cachet.  If I were a gambling man, I'd say the position is Edu's, for now.

Bob Bradley has some tough decisions to make, and it isn't just players--it is positions, too.  Does Dempsey start up front, and slide back as substitutions occur, or do you take a chance on one of the other guys right from the jump?  If you do that, then Dempsey needs to be in the midfield, and it suddenly gets even more crowded back there.  

It says something about this team that Alexi Lalas is most worried about who the strikers are, I'm most worried about the midfield, and Cardillo of That's On Point (see below) is most worried about the defense.