I thought I could, after more than 12 hours and a few beers, sit down and talk about the Ghana-US game. I find that I still can't, because I'm too angry about the decisions that were made. I'm apparently not alone in that feeling, as my favorite soccer-only blog, That's On Point, has yet to post a summary of the game.
I will say that I've read a review or two of the game, and I can't find a writer more off target than Yahoo's Dan Wetzel. Wetzel backed the wrong horse a couple of days ago, by writing a column about how Bob Bradley is the Coach, without doubt, for the USA. Wetzel called the last couple weeks of miracle recoveries, questionable starters, and odd substitutions, "the redemption of the doubted." So I guess it isn't a surprise that Wetzel's summary of the USA's exit is that the team just isn't that good, not that Bradley made mistakes.
This is a team that, if it wanted to be, would be full of English Premiership, or at worst--French League quality players (where Asamoah Gyan plies his trade)--this wasn't some shitty MLS All-Star team we sent to South Africa. This is a team made of players that the big leagues will be looking at, and in some cases, drooling over. Jozy Altidore didn't score a goal, sure--but he hit post after a tough run at a defense; he assisted on a huge goal, and in general, gave defenses fits. You don't think he's back in England next season based on what he did here? The number of US players who have improved their stock abroad is impressive, in my mind. This is a team, that when the right Eleven were on the pitch together, played really, really well. What kills me is how rarely that happened.
I've hammered Ricardo Clark as hard as anyone in the world has, but you know what? His huge mistake isn't his fault. He has shown, time and time again, that he isn't World Cup caliber. More than a year ago, I wrote, "Rico Clark was, as he always is, super spazzy. I don't know how else to categorize his game. He runs around like crazy; he makes tackles, both good and bad, and takes shots that beggar description both in terms of their audacity and their stupidity. He's not to be trusted in the center midfield, especially as a "defensive" or "holding" midfielder."
We all finally thought Bradley stopped seeing what he thought he saw when he benched Clark against Algeria. But there he was to start the game against Ghana. And of all the curious moves Bradley made (Findley starting, no Gooch) the Clark start was the one that raised my ire the most. It is not Clark's fault that he isn't as good as Maurice Edu or Benny Feilhaber.
It is Bradley's fault for not seeing what is so obviously true. Even John Harkes, commenting as delicately as he could said, basically, "Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber deserve a start in front of Rico Clark." He said that before Clark's massive f**k-up, which was a pretty narrow window. When Benny Feilhaber finally got on the pitch, and helped orchestrate attack after attack, Ian Darke, the British commentator paired up with Harkes said, "Feilhaber is a gifted player--I won't guess as to why he wasn't starting."
There was a reason the US made a couple of great comebacks in this World Cup before finally being sent home, and it isn't because the team isn't that good, as Wetzel claimed--it was because we didn't start our best Starting Eleven once in this tournament. We got our Best Eleven in at halftime, and played better every time. So why not start with that Eleven?
Bob Bradley may be a fine tactician; it is clear his players love him. But if he can't evaluate talent better than me, and it is clear now that he can't, it is time for him to hit the bricks. I don't care if Rico Clark brought a bird back to life on the practice pitch; he was obviously not ready for actual games at the World Cup, and might not ever be.
It is Bob Bradley's fault that he was out there; it is Bob Bradley's fault that the US used a sub in the 30th minute. It is Bob Bradley's fault that Gooch wasn't used at all. It is Bob Bradley's fault that we didn't have a late sub to use to bring in Stuart Holden, whose pace at the end of a game may have made all the difference.
The US team didn't lose to a superior opponent; it wasn't Brazil or Argentina who done downed us. It was a capable, good Ghanaian team that was given the gift of not having to face our best team at the starting whistle. They took advantage of that gift--as England did; as Slovenia did; as Algeria almost did--our best team barely got to play, and that's on Bradley. And now we are left to wonder what Ruud Gullit, or Jurgen Klinsmann could have done with a midfield of Donovan, Bradley, Edu and Feilhaber, and a strike team of Dempsey and Altidore. We'll find out in four years, I guess, as there's no way that the US Soccer Federation does anything but fire Bradley and bring in a proven international coach.