Jekyll and Hyde

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A tale of two halves.

It’s definitely a cliche.

It’s definitely true.

The first half was clinical for the United States, almost surgical. The team played with intensity and intelligence, using speed and precision to slice open the legendary Seleção.

The second half was a disaster. From the brilliance of Jekyll to the destruction of Hyde, the US turned a 2-goal lead into a 3-2 loss.

What happened?

The first half was impressive, to say the least. The Americans came out and attacked, using their speed to get in behind the Brazilian defense. Charlie Davies and Landon Donovan tortured the Brazilians with quick counter-attacks and lightning speed.

Benny Feilhaber single-handedly took over the midfield, using his quickness and vision to not only win possession, but make positive plays with it. He played numerous through balls that no other American player can make,  causing continuous problems for the Brazilian defenders.

Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey defended hard and made quality runs up the field. Their work-rate was fantastic, and it showed in the frustration of the Brazil players. They pressured relentlessly and fought hard to shut down Brazil’s wings.

As usual, our back four was superb. In fact, with the exception of one defensive lapse by Jay DeMerit (on Fabiano’s first goal), the defense was fantastic for the full 90. Jonathan Spector, for most of the game, was one of the top 2-3 players on the field. Oguchi Onyewu put in a miraculous effort, fending off what seemed like every single Brazilian attack on goal. Even captain Carlos Bocanegra, still seemingly hobbled by his hamstring, put in a quality 90 minutes. It wasn’t our defense that let us down.

The whistle to start the 2nd half changed everything. The doctors stayed in the locker room and the monsters came out to play.

Our defenders trudged on, making one fantastic stop after another.

No, the second half wasn’t a result of poor defense from the backline, it was a result of poor defense from our wings.

Everyone praises Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. In the eyes of the average American fan and soccer writer, Donovan and Deuce are the team’s best players. They are, often times, above criticism. How quickly we’ve forgotten that Clint Dempsey was horrendous against Italy and Brazil in the first go-rounds, saved only by his goal against Egypt (where he didn’t play well at all).

Hopefully there is no glossing over their second half performances today. For all the hard work they put in on defense in the first half, they decided to walk through the second. Countless attacks from Brazil went up the flanks, only to see Landon and Deuce watching from behind the plays, slowly jogging back. Countless crosses went unguarded on the far post, only to see Landon and Deuce waiting outside the box, watching the plays unfold.

This loss certainly comes from more than just their performances, but it’s hard to argue that the poor play didn’t start with them.

With the Americans quickly wearing down in the second half under an onslaught of Brazilian attacks, Coach Bradley stepped in to make some decisions.

Unfortunately, they were poor choices that made negative impacts on the game. With a limited bench as it were, I’m not entirely sure why we made the subs we did?

Considering that Benny Feilhaber was playing the match of his life – why did we take him off in favor of Sacha Kljestan? Kljestan came in and touched the ball about 8 times – only to then give away 7 turnovers. He was the exact opposite of Feilhaber in every way imaginable.

Jozy Altidore was physically matching the Brazilian center-halves, but still keeping them on their toes because of his pace. With the US needing goals and pressure to stay alive in the game, Bradley elected to use Jonathan Bornstein? The minuscule, weak defender came in and played on the left side, moving Clint Dempsey up to the top. Bornstein did nothing of note for the 15 minutes or so he was on the pitch.

Down 3-2 with little precious time remaining, the Bradley decided to go for goal – so he brought in Conor Casey? The slow, lumbering center forward walked around the field for 5 minutes, looking thoroughly disinterested in the game.

The questions about Bradley’s future will get dismissed off-hand until after the World Cup, but the big question remains: Is he in over his head?

While there was definitely plenty to be proud of, there is also plenty to be worried about. The Americans have set themselves a high bar, though, thoroughly outplaying a strong Brazil squad for a full half.

From here on out, the Jekyll and Hyde questions will be prevalent: Which United States will show up?

Judging by the last few weeks, that stigma is well-deserved.

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13 Responses

  1. What do you think we should do with the Jonathan Spector and Steve Cherundolo issue that will be created when he returns from his injury? Personally, had the US won I would have chosen Spector as the man of the match so I would like to see him continue to get the starts. What about you?

    • I’m not sure how it even becomes an argument. Spector has shown more in a few games than Cherundolo has in his entire career.

      The simple fact is that Spector is a better, bigger defender – he needs to be on the field.

      I agree that he was our best player and one of the 2-3 best overall on the field.

    • The problems that Spector caused world class attackers like Kaka and Robinho is something I don’t think any other U.S. defender could do. If we want a legitimate chance at a good U.S. run in the World Cup he needs to be in the lineup. End of story.

  2. Ryan:

    I agree with your assessment and I think that it really came down to the flank. Even with both the back and mid lines back in our half, Brazil EASILY distributed the ball to either side of the flank for cross after cross. Maicon, alone, had how many? And did one of them NOT look dangerous?

    It’s rather frustrating, as well, considering we all knew this was Brazil’s strength coming in to this game. To not see our guys buckle that down was shocking – and costly.

  3. Maicon had 15 crosses (more than every other player — both teams — combined).

    Ryan: Spector’s a clear offensive weapon but a little slow (Robinho got by him at will) and he seems weak in the air. Do you think those are things that a full EPL season would fix or are they inherent problems you just hope the rest of his play makes up for?

  4. I know Robinho got the better of him once, but he’s also Robinho – he’s going to get his fair share moves off and beat some defenders. No amount of speed and quickness is going to change that.

    I think what people miss with Spector is his ability to force players one way or another, and also his ability to make a recovery play.

    There were a few plays against Kaka where Spector forced Kaka into an opening – where it appeared Spector was beat for pace – only for Spector to close and make the tackle.

    He also got beat once or twice by Kaka (nothing to be ashamed of), but made well-timed tackles to kill off the play.

    He’s better in the air than he’s showed, though he’s not near the aerial presence that Gooch or Bocanegra are.

    • Good points. It makes sense with guys like that to pick your poison and force them to take the shot you give them.

      While we’ve hit 3/4 defenders, what did you think of DeMerit’s aerial presence?

      • I have mixed feelings about DeMerit.

        On the one hand, the guy has been doubted his entire career and constantly proved everyone wrong. I doubted him before the tournament, and he’s been a bit of a revelation.

        On the other hand, his deficiencies are easy to pick out – unfortunately, Onyewu’s presence has helped gloss over those issues.

        If we’re going to play with a risky, speedy outside back like Pearce or Bornstein – we can’t afford to have DeMerit in. He doesn’t have the defensive range across the back like Onyewu and Bocanegra to cover for an outside back that gets pushed up high.

        However, when we choose to use this physical backline with Bocanegra on the left, I think DeMerit’s presence is key.
        He has no fear of any striker and gets in everyone’s faces. I love that. For all his deficiencies, he never backs down from anyone.

        His aerial ability is dodgy at times, mainly because he doesn’t display the best timing and judgment all the time. But, he’s strong on corners and set pieces, which is where we struggle most as a team.

  5. […] blogging out there.  For example, check out his pre-tournament post on the U.S. left backs and his analysis of today’s Final.  When you’ve had your fill of statistics for the day and want some interesting perspective, […]

  6. Ryan:

    So then who do you think will ultimately comprise the back four?

    Right now I think the most realistic pool is:
    – Bocanegra
    – Onyewu
    – Spector
    – DeMerit
    – Heyduk
    – Cherundolo

    I think it’s safe to say Bornstein is out of the mix compared to these other options.

    I have a feeling Bocanegra and Onyewu are set. I also think that, despite Spector’s performance, Cherundolo is going to be given the benefit of the doubt given his tenure w/ Bradley – for now, at least.

    As you pointed out, DeMerit has flaws but has had a solid tournament against great competition and is fearless.

    To me Heyduk has the experience and the hustle but he doesn’t make the cut above these other guys.

    One great thing about Spector is that he can play anywhere along the back line and his offensive contributions have been huge – but so have our Dolo’s at RB (crosses, rotating forward, etc). He does have the size factor over Dolo, as well.

    I think it will come down to one of the following three:

    1. Cherundolo/DeMerit/Onyewu/Bocanegra
    2. Cherundolo/Onyewu/Bocanegra/Spector
    3. Spector/DeMerit/Onyewu/Bocanegra

    I think I like #2 the best. Experience + size.

    • One thing to remember is that Spector was getting some long looks back when Bradley took over in 06/07. Spector was just starting to get some pub for his play, and he was rocked by injury in the Gold Cup final.

      Given his current form and the fact that he’ll likely be a starter at West Ham – I don’t see him getting dropped for Cherundolo.

      Also, it should be noted that Cherundolo wasn’t in good form prior to his injury. Hannover had moved him up to right midfield to get more defensive prowess out of the position.
      In fact, I’ve always thought Cherundolo would make a nice right wing, especially as a sub.
      Unfortunately, Cherundolo just isn’t the type of defender we need, whereas Spector is a perfect fit.

      I’m not a Hejduk fan, so you’re not going to find me praising him. He hustles, yes, but my god does he lack any semblance of technical ability. Plus, he has a real penchant for leaving his feet on tackles, often using 2 feet – not what I want out of a right back. While most people see :”hustle”, I see “wreckless”.

      I like DeMerit right now because he seems to have a good chemistry with the other 3 and Howard. For all his flaws, he’s a solid tackler and physical presence.

      With the glut of central midfielders we have, I wouldn’t be shocked if we look to convert Mo Edu permanently to center half. He played well there at the Olympics, and I think he could be a brilliant center back (whereas I don’t think he can ever be a truly brilliant central mid).
      I think we could groom him into a perfect complement to Onyewu – speed, tackling, and pure athleticism.

      To answer your question – I would have a pool of 7 defenders: Boca, Gooch, Spector, DeMerit, Dolo, Pearce, Edu. Pearce and Mo can both play other positions, which gives the roster some versatility.

      My preferred backline, right now, is Boca\Gooch\DeMerit\Spector, but I’d like to see what Edu can do eventually in the backline.

  7. Ryan:

    I completely forgot about Edu but you’re right – he has been very impressive in his outings. The guys is physical specimen, a quick learner, and plays with a high soccer IQ. I really like him.

    I know that Spector has been given looks before but here’s to him staying healthy between now and then. There’s no question his career has been altered by some pretty significant injuries along the way. Like McBride, some players just seem to attract injury.

    And it’s not that I’m saying Cherundolo should get considered over Spector but I have a feeling that Bradley may remain loyal – as he has with other players. I don’t follow the Bundesliga so I wasn’t aware Dolo was struggling. Regardless, Spector converted me over the past month as he was immediately impressive and I think he has to remain in the starting XI.

    Regarding DeMerit, I think he’s put together a pretty impressive “resume” if you will at the Confed. You’re correct: he filled in for Boca quite well.

    As you said, the beauty of Mo (though I don’t know where I stand with Pearce) is that he can step in should M. Bradley be removed from the game as he was vs. Spain.

    We appear to agree on Heyduk.

    But, yeah, I wouldn’t mind to see the back four to remain as they currently are.

  8. With regard to Edu:

    Didn’t he switch back and forth with Toronto a couple of years ago, before settling into that D-Mid position? I agree Ryan, he was great at the Olympics, and I think he would make a better CB than a DM (not to say he isn’t a great DM, but CB seems to be his true talent). It looks like we’ll be stacked in the back for a few years, with is good news. It means we can focus on developing players like Torres and Adu, who really need to start getting more PT with the Nats (and Adu needs some with his club team , as well).

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