Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Still Us Against the World (or at least the Brits and Guus Hiddink)

There's an interesting contrast in at least two analyses of the USA v. Turkey friendly last Saturday. Some folks, myself included as well as bloggers like Steven Goff of the Washington Post's Soccer Insider, were encouraged by the Americans' second half comeback and the energy and flair that Jose Torres and Robbie Findley brought to the side after a woeful first 45 minutes.

The performances of Torres, Findley, and Steve Cherundolo in the second half, particularly when contrasted with the indifferent to outright dismal displays by Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, and Jonathon Spector in the first, give some hope that Bob Bradley, viewed by many as conservative when it comes to his personnel decisions, had his hand forced by the marked improvement of play when those three were introduced and that they will play a prominent role when the U.S. begins its World Cup campaign against England in a week.

Turkey's coach-in-waiting, Guus Hiddink, however, had quite a different take, at least according to an article in England's Daily Telegraph. Hiddink is quoted in the article as concluding, after watching the US-Turkey match from the stands, that England's team is at a "higher level" than the Americans.

This analysis is "supported" by the Telegraph author's repeated assertion that the Turks mailed in their second half effort, an observation that I haven't seen shared anywhere else and is inconsistent with their performance in the U.S. in games against the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland earlier in the week. After coming all that way, playing well against two other teams, and going up 1-0 after 45 minutes against the Americans, why they would decide to tank the last half to get out of town faster escapes me.

One wonders if Hiddink was merely telling an English reporter what he thought he wanted to hear and whether the reporter actually watched the U.S. match. From the Hugh Grant interview on The Daily Show forward, the Brits have made it clear that, despite some lip service paid to improvements in the level of play in the U.S., they still have a healthy disdain for the American team as a whole.

While I'm far from thinking the England match a lock for the Americans, I don't believe that they're teams on different levels at this point. Clearly there are a few England players (Rooney, Gerrard, maybe Terry) who are better than any U.S. player at their positions. But the Americans have at least one of those (Howard), and maybe two or three depending on where Dempsey and Landon Donovan start.

Does the U.S. back four still scare me? You bet. But if Bradley gambles and plays Torres and Findley, early in the match if not as starters, then I think the Americans have a chance. Which is more than the British media and Hiddink are willing to give them.

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