Thursday, June 30, 2011

Not All That Great

That is, the state of American soccer isn't all that great.

The men were pounded by Mexico and the women looked less than convincing in their win against North Korea, which apparently would have been a loss had the Koreans not suffered tragic misfortune in the days leading up to the World Cup.

The men had a dream start to their Gold Cup final against Mexico, scoring twice in the first half hour of the match to take a 2-0 lead.  The next hour, however, was basically an evisceration of the Yanks' defense as Mexico showed off all of its attacking talent and at the same time exposed the weakness and lack of depth of the American backline.

An overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd and the delivery of the post-match honors primarily in Spanish rankled both American supporters and some of their players, but were just salt in the wounds for a disappointing performance in the tournament as a whole and particularly in the final. While their defensive deficiencies can be explained by some extent to the early substitution of right back Steve Cherundolo, it's hard to believe that his presence would have made much of a difference, with central defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson looking slow and Cherundolo's replacement Jonathan Bornstein completely out of his element.

 Giovani Dos Santos jukes Tim Howard just before scoring
the goal of the Tournament, sealing Mexico's 4-2 win

Post-match commentary has been critical of coach Bob Bradley, suggesting that it is time for him to go so that a new man may be in place and fully in charge before World cup qualifying begins. Given that Bradley received a new four year contract shortly after the last World Cup, a replacement seems unlikely, although U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati seemed somewhat equivocal regarding his confidence in Bradley immediately following the Mexico match.

I think Bradley is in a damned if he does and damned if he doesn't situation -- criticized for being predictable, he actually tried some new things at the Gold Cup that worked (featuring Freddy Adu, then starting him, with considerable success, in the final; installing Eric Lichaj at left back) and some that didn't (mostly, naming Bornstein to the squad in the first place). The biggest thing that Bradley seems to have in his favor is that contract, and the fact that by all appearances U.S. Soccer attempted to find a big profile successor after the 2010 World Cup without success.

The women started their World Cup with a 2-0 over North Korea. The North Koreans were very young (10 players on their roster are under 20) and were technically skilled and the more consistently dangerous team in the first half, which ended 0-0. The Americans ramped up their attack in the second half and won 2-0.

Lauren Cheney (12) celebrates her crucial first goal against North Korea.

After the match, perhaps keeping in mind the humiliation to which the North Korean men's squad was subjected after their 2010 World Cup, the Korean coach explained the "real" reason why his team lost. Lightning. That's right, Kim-Kwang-min claimed that his keeper and his defenders (or strikers, depending on the translation) were victims of a lightning strike in training leading up to the match, leading to their substandard performance in the second half.

While the U.S. women probably won't have to hope that the Colombian women, their next opponents, suffered a similar fate in order to beat them, they will still have to show improvement, or hope for divine intervention, before facing Sweden (to whom they lost 2-1 in January) in the final match of group play, which will likely determine which team will be the number one seed in the group entering the knockout phase of the tournament.

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