Sunday, June 27, 2010

Start Again

I was excused from the heartbreak of having to watch Ghana's upset of the United States yesterday afternoon by the visit of good friends from overseas. I had intended to watch both games later in the evening, but had those plans foiled by stopping by J. Paul's in the Inner Harbor for a late lunch. I was reasonably certain that the United States would lose the match -- as much as I have enjoyed watching them this tournament, I was still surprised to see the USMNT advance out of the group stage with a gaffer who insists on making poor tactical and lineup decisions. Craig Stouffer's post-match autopsy is, I believe, spot on: Bradley never got out of his own way and it cost the United States the best opportunity that its earned to reach the semifinals in its history.

But that should not detract from how enjoyable the team was to watch. Nor does it take away from how much many of the USMNT players developed under Bradley. The individual talent on display has been remarkable. The issue now squarely confronting the USSF is how to proceed forward. This was likely the last World Cup competition for Steve Cherundolo (31), Carlos Bocanegra (31), Jay DeMerit (30), and Marcus Hahnemann (38). Cherundolo, Bocanegra, and DeMerit all played well and I hope that DeMerit will get a serious look from an EPL team to anchor someone's line next season.

It is possible that Howard (31), Donovan (28), Dempsey (27), Onyewu (28), and Beasley (28) might be in the mix for any team that qualifies to travel to Brazil -- the oldest outfield players were 31 for this team -- but the team is going to have to find new anchors. At 22, Michael Bradley was, by a significant margin, the best player in the U.S. side. Altidore, 20, developed into a good big target man, who laid the ball off well (although inconsistently) to teammates. More work on finishing, more confidence, and more repetition against the world's best and perhaps he is what we have all been waiting for in a clinical striker. Feilhaber (25), Edu (24), and Holden (24), may continue to develop and will likely be important pieces going towards qualification, but most eyes will be on M. Bradley's fellow 22-year old midfielder, Jose Torres. The US team was undone when Rico Clark (27) lost the ball in the midfield early on and the turnover highlighted the sublime skill that Torres offered in his limited opportunity (when he was stupidly asked to play a more defensive role), where the ball stuck to his foot and he showed possession capabilities beyond anything currently on offer in the team. And then there is Alejandro Bedoya -- at 23 -- and Charlie Davies -- at 24 -- who both provide more creative promise to a side the suffered to pull anything out of Robbie Findley (24), who did not merit a starting role in two World Cup matches.

The biggest concern facing Bob Bradley's replacement (there is no reason to allow Bradley have another cycle) is the team's backline. Jonathan Spector (24) should have gotten more time when the decision was made to bench Onyewu, but BB went with the underwhelming other Jonathan, Bornstein (25). Edgar Castillo (23) will presumably get a fair shot under a new regime, Silver Spring's Kevin Alston (22) will get a look at right back, and Marvell Wynne (24) will hopefully develop further. But while the fullbacks may be ok, the immediate question for the new coach is who plays in the center? Omar Gonzalez (21) is a stud and should anchor the backline. Will Chad Marshall (25) improve enough to warrant playing alongside Gonzalez? Will Brandon McDonald (24) and Michael Orozco (24) remain part of the mix?

Whatever happens, the talent pool continues to deepen, and an improvement in coaching would coincide with an improvement in capability.

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