USA v. Panama – Did we learn anything?

Interestingly, the overwhelming response to the semifinal win is one of “We won”. I’m seeing quite a bit of “Bob Bradley deserves a ton of credit for picking this squad” and “Look, Bradley can win without his starters” and quite a few other sentiments that are all sunshine and roses.

My biggest issue is that, other than the emergence of Stuart Holden, we’ve done nothing to further our national team. Some of the fans are pointing to guys like Ching and Beckerman, saying that they’re playing their way in – either to the starting lineup (Ching) or the WC squad (Beckerman), but is that really a good thing?

Consider this – without Ching at the Confederations Cup, the United states scored 7 goals against teams ranked 1, 2, and 38. Does even the most ardent Ching apologist believe that would have happened with Brian Ching playing?

With Beckerman, there are quite a few people, including some prominent writers, suggesting that the 27yr old Beckerman is now in strong contention to overtake Maurice Edu, Pablo Mastroeni, and Rico Clark on the US depth chart.

Beckerman has played 3.5 games against teams ranked 3, 8, 10, and 13 – in the CONCACAF region. Only one of those teams is ranked in the Top 50 worldwide (Honduras) and Haiti isn’t listed in the Top 100 (though Grenada is, surprisingly).

After some reflection on the run to the semifinals – has Beckerman even been that good?

I thought he was pretty impressive against Grenada, but he was given acres of space and the Grenada midfield was nonexistant. Even Logan Pause looked pretty good against Grenada.

Against Honduras, Beckerman sprayed his touch across the field and generally was poor in the passing department. He does possess good defensive qualities, notably a fair level of athleticism.

However, I find it somewhat comical that many think he’s going to jump over more established midfielders like Edu and Clark, both of whom have far bigger defensive and passing ranges than Beckerman. While Beckerman has looked relatively good, both among a poor set of a teammates and against weak competition, he’s still a longshot to ever establish himself as part of the long-term National Team picture.

——

While it would be hypocritical to praise Holden for his performances against the same level of competition, it should be apparent to anyone watching that Holden has been the most naturally gifted player in every game so far, regardless of team. In fact, the only other player more gifted in the tournament is Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos.

Holden appears to be ready to contribute to the full national side, but what works against him is his lack of a true position in Bradley’s “empty bucket” philosophy. While Holden is very gifted going forward, his lack of defensive abilities get exposed when he’s used in the deep central role.

His talents have sparkled on the right wing, but Holden has a clear tendency to work inward on the field, rather than toward the byline – a clear sign that a centrally-based player is being used out of position on the wing. He crosses well (and arguably better than anyone but Jonathan Spector in the entire pool), but he’s often leaving himself well inside of the wing and often holds back well behind the strikers’ line. Against this level of competition, Holden’s natural abilities have been able to overcome his spatial and tactical tendencies, but against better and more organized squads he’ll contained more easily.

If we ever decide to use a single holding midfielder, Holden has to be considered one of the top 3-4 players in contention for the central attacking spot, as he’s clearly a natural #10 playmaker. His vision and passing are all wonderful for the spot, but he does need to clean up his first and second touches.

——-

The striker debate still rages across blogs and boards alike, but it’s really tough to consider one argument more valid than the other.

On the one hand, it seems a great majority of people are quite impressed with Davy Arnaud’s play so far, and it’d be hard not to be. However, I’m still slightly worried about Arnaud being “fool’s gold” against this weaker competition. His work rate and defensive effort is certainly wreaking havoc on the CONCACAF defenders, but his run of play has rarely led to anything particularly dangerous (outside of his quality run and finish against Haiti). He looks dangerous, but it’s debatable how much threat he really is to score or create a goal opportunity.

Personally, I think he’s being misused as a striker, as his endeavor and work rate would be better used on the wings.

Of course, Kenny Cooper has dominated much of the talk after the first four games, with the same people making the same arguments.

While I’m on the side of Cooper in this argument, I still think he needs seasoning in a better league before he’s ready to play with the full national side in bigger games.

What I find interesting is that quite a few writers were critical of Cooper’s lack of impact against Haiti, saying that he didn’t do anything while on the field. Yet those same writers are then critical of Cooper coming on and using any space he’s given to try to score with 25 minutes to play in a tie game. He was brought on to finish plays, not be a provider to everyone else. He’s a goalscorer that looks to shoot with any small opening, yet suddenly the same critics and writers are expecting Cooper to go out and be a playmaker instead of a goalscorer.

Which is it? Do you want Cooper to come in and look for goals? Or do you want him to come in and passively look to set people up?

The constant back-and-forth expectations are only making things worse on Cooper, and those writers and critics need to pick a criticism or expectation and stick with it.

If you want to criticize his involvement in the game – do so. But, acknowledge him when he does actually make an impact with shots and pressure on the goal.

The constant changing of expectations and criticisms has to stop. You (the writers and critics across the boards and blogs) don’t do this with Ching, Casey, Donovan, or anyone else (except maybe Freddy Adu).

—–

I know the popular notion right now is to rave about Chad Marshall’s play, but I still hold some concerns about how his play translates to the international level.

On the one hand, he’s clearly useful with his head, but up front and in back. He’s also shown he can range out of his central position to win balls in the air with a high degree of efficiency.

The problem, though, is that he seems to think he has free range and often pulls himself well out of position to win aerial challenges. This certainly works against the lesser CONCACAF teams, but better competition is going to expose those tendencies.

While he’s been good defensively, it should be noted that he seems to have no ability to play himself out of a defensive spot. Everything from him (and Conrad and Goodson and Heaps) has been kick ball, and right now that is a huge separator between MLS quality and International quality. Until Marshall develops composure and awareness on the ball, rather than a consistently panicked reaction, he’s not going to ascend the center-half depth chart ahead of guys like Califf or DeMerit.

—–

That’s all for me today – anyone else have some thoughts or reflections on the first 4 games of the Gold Cup?

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12 Responses

  1. Costa Rica and Mexico looked insane yesterday. We’ll need to step it up a level if we want a chance to win the final.

  2. Beckerman, IMO, has overtaken Mastro. Because Mastro should never see the field for the Nats again. Period.

    As for other thoughts? Why in the world does Bradley see a need to play TWO holding midfielders?? We’re not playing Brazil or Spain (and when we DID play Brazil and Spain, we played with two guys who aren’t really true holding midfielders!). Why don’t we play a midfield like this:

    ————–Beckerman——————
    ——————Holden—————–
    Quaranta—————–Arnaud——

    And then have Cooper and Ching up top? Rogers, in my eyes, can go back to Cbus; he’s worthless to us now that we have to face some actual decent teams. I also want to see Rico Clark, Altidore, and Bornstein called in, so we can start this lineup vs. Honduras vs. Mexico:

    —————–Perkins——————
    Bornstein—-Marshall—-Conrad*——Pearce
    ——Beckerman——-Clark———-
    Holden————————-Quaranta
    —-Altidore————Cooper**——-

    *- If he’s healthy; if not, Goodson did fine vs. Panama after the goal.
    **- Maybe Ching is a better option here, as both Jozy and Cooper are young and a little too hasty when they have the ball at their feet.

    Also, I know I just said we don’t need two holding midfielders, so maybe we start Clark, and then have Arnaud play as a withdrawn striker, for a 4-1-2-1-2 formation (essentially a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield).

    I think that lineup is our key to winning the Gold Cup. I forget who else is in the pool of extra players (Jozy, Guzan, Kljestan, Benny, Bornstein, Clark, and…?), but I don’t really think we can do much better than this. Kljestan has proven that he belongs nowhere near the pitch, Guzan was a waste of a spot when we have a quality keeper in Perkins, and Benny’s gone (along with Parkhurst, Dolo, Adu, and Davies).

    • I agree with pretty much all of your points especially about the lineup. BTW the extra players who were added to the roster who are left are Altidore, Casey, Sacha, R. Clark, Bornstein, and Guzan.

      Rodgers is a one-trick pony and needs to come back only if his game develops more. He is a really raw player who just relies on his speed.

      The only minor disagreement I have is on Kljestan and Casey. Yes they were a disapointment in the Confed Cup and yes they doesn’t belong on the A team (unless they improve) but they should play in the Gold Cup along with the rest of the C teamers just to kind of create a real accurate depth chart. For example, we know that Mastro has fallen behind Beckerman. But at this point it would be valuable to access how Casey plays with Arnaud and/or Cooper. And lets see who shines in the midfield of Sacha, Quaranta (or Rodgers if BB plays him), Beckerman, and either Clark.

      By playing more of the B and C team players together we can see who shines against the top CONCACAF teams now and who is useless in International play.

      • Hm. Fair point on Casey. I just think that guys who are mediocre at best in MLS (e.g. Rogers, Kljestan) shouldn’t even be getting looks at all. If we’re just tapping into and experimenting with MLS players, then I would much rather see the likes of Chris Rolfe (Chicago) or Chris Pontius (DC United), both of whom can and do play forward and midfield. Rogers and Kljestan are both not only limited by their abilities and the various positions they can play, but also by their current form (at least in Sacha’s case; I don’t really think Rogers will ever find good enough form). I am really sick of Bradley calling in the same guys and picking them over and over when they consistently fail. Why can’t we give guys like Quaranta, Rolfe, or even Sam Cronin more opportunities?

  3. “….sentiments that are all sunshine and roses.”

    Of course we don’t need to worry about that from you, right?

    I dont’ think anyone, on any boards would advocate for any of these guys (other than Ching – lol) to be starters.

  4. Mr. Noel,

    You ask if we learned anything and then proceed to list a number of things that I might have suspected prior to the Panama game. The game confirmed those suspicions. To wit:

    Beckerman looked good but is a long shot for the “A” team.
    Ching appears to be getting a chance to play himself back into USMNT shape.
    Holden has very good potential.
    Cooper is going to need some PT to get worked into the team but is an intriguing possibilty.
    Marshall still has some work to do. The center half depth chart is probably Gooch, Demerit, Boca, Spector, Conrad, (Marshall tied with Califf), Goodson

    This game and this tournament gives the coaching staff some idea about the state of the US’ depth and where he might have to turn (or not) if the US has some injuries or player slumps between now and the opening game of WC 2010. Would the US have been better off in its preparations for 2010 had they not made it to this game?

  5. Yes, we learned that the MNT is in serious trouble in 2014 (when the core of our “A” team is in their 30’s) if we don’t develop some real talent…and BB doesn’t play the young talent we do have (yes, I mean Torres).

    • We seem to succeed every other cup-

      90 was awful. 94 was surprisingly good.
      98 was a disgrace. 02 shocked everyone.
      06 was just terrible. 10- ?????

      We are poised to make a decent run this tournament, then fail in 2014.

      But, then again, 90, 98, and 06 were on European soil, and 2014 is in Brazil…

      • 2014 in Brazil? In the Americas? Then the US has a chance to make some noise..

  6. Mr.Noel you were getting at something when you mentioned Marshall, Conrad etc. booting the ball up the field. Possesion is power at the top international level. With players like Marshall and Conrad for every good defensive thing they do, their inability to distribute from the back takes away from their defensive qualities. You can not win the ball as a centerback and continually boot it up the field bypassing the midfield completely. All that are centerbacks in this tournament have done is give away possesion cheaply. Had we been playing against quality competition we would have been punished for are lack of skill at the back.

    Onto Beckerman: While his defensive ability has been impressive against weak competition, do not think that Bradley is losing sleep over how to get him on the field. Edu, Clark, and Jermain Jones all play the same position as him. In my mind that puts Beckerman at atleast fourth on the chart for defensive midfielders.

    • From what I saw in, I believe, the Honduras game Conrad dribbles the ball out of defense a lot. I do remember thinking Marshall almost never did that. If it comes down to a choice between Conrad and Marshall for the World Cup, Conrad gets the nod because of his experience, very important in a central defender and because he seems to be more of a threat on set pieces.

      While the roster for WC2010 looks close to being set, remember that we still have a lot of football between now and then and injuries and loss of form are always possible. That is why this Cup is important. Beckerman and the rest can’t afford to let down if they want any shot at all of getting to the World Cup.

  7. We’ve learned this crop of players for the most part should be near the WC. Outside of Holden none of the mainstays on this Gold Cup roster have distinguished themselves. I don’t love Beckerman but he might be worthy of another look because of his results so far. Cooper I think is also worth it because watching him off the ball I like his process far better than Ching’s. Rogers? Eh… see you in four years to see if you’ve made strides with your game.

    I understand that it’s a “C” team, but if these guys wanted to make it to SA, they would have to show they were much better than the low level competition they’ve face so far, and they haven’t.

    But the bright side here is that there only have to be one or two guys from this roster that are WC worthy. We already have our squad mostly in place. The only fear we should have is that Bradley decides to take some of the undeserving guys based on their performance (Ching contributes to 3 goals, he’s a glue guy. Who cares of 2 of the 3 were on his own mess ups?). I also think that it’s great the standards are being raised to where beating the CONCACHAFF (let’s be real here, outside of Mexico and Costa Rica, that’s what these teams are) isn’t warranting of high praise anymore.

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