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US 2 Brazil 3, 2009 Confederations Cup Final

AP Photo

What a heartbreaking way to lose.  The US went up 2-0 before the half before surrendering three second half goals to a powerful Brazilian team that features several of the world’s most expensive players.    In the first half the US was clinical, finishing its first two shots on goal on excellent passing sequences and movements.  The first goal came on a Spector to Dempsey combination, the same that was responsible for the third goal against Egypt.  The second goal was very similar to the second goal the US surrendered to Brazil in their group match.  The US progressed 90 yards at full speed with three passes–Ricardo Clark to Landon Donovan, Donovan to Davies, Davies back to Donovan–before Donovan cut inside the box and buried a low left-footed shot into the corner.  The first international trophy was within our grasp.  The US was playing excellent, smart soccer: defending in blocks with conviction and then moving forward purposefully after it won possession.

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US 2 Spain 0, 2009 Confederations Cup Semifinal

Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images

It is hard to imagine the US playing better than it did against Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinal.  We all knew it would take 100% commitment to compete with the heavily favored, unfairly talented Spain team that had not lost in 35 matches and 100% commitment is what we got.  Pictured above, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey scored goals on each side of half-time to propel the US to the first final of a major competition open to the world’s best.  In post-match posts I typically rate the performances of players and personnel or tactical moves of the manager.  For every player who played, 1-14, I only have the highest respect and praise for what they accomplished.  This is the team we love to love, why we are fanatics.  I’ll let the headlines from around the world (most via the USMNT blog) tell the rest of the story.

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Gearing up for US/Spain

The following post was written by my youngest brother Jared. He is a recent high school graduate who is heading to the University of Pittsburgh this fall.  Jared is a better soccer player than I ever was but I beat him in tennis 6-0, 6-3 last week. He has a unique, hilarious perspective on US soccer, its fans and naysayers, and its upcoming match against his adopted homeland, Spain, in tomorrow’s Confederations Cup semifinal.

USA……. 24 June 2008, 2:30 PM E ……. ESP

On Wednesday my two favorite countries and my two favorite teams will be playing each other in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup; USA vs Spain.  Born and raised in America, do not mistake me for anything close to a Judas Rossi who would jump across to the old world if Spain called (technically speaking I am not of Spanish descent), nor am I one of those obnoxious people who doesn’t think US soccer is good enough so I only watch EPL or Champions League games and talk trash about MLS, without ever attending a live match standing in the middle of the Screaming Eagles, and even less am I one of those immigrants who are so grateful to live and work and eat and sleep in the United States  that show up to American qualifiers to support the opposing country.  Allow me to explain:

In the summer before I entered my junior year of high school (that is 2 summers ago), I had the pleasure of touring and living in Spain for 3 weeks with a group from my school.  To be succinct, I had a blast.  I stayed in Madrid, saw the Bernabeu, bought a Real Madrid jersey, and have supported them since (I had always liked Raul).  On top of this, for two weeks I lived on the southern coast with a Spanish mother, or mama, if you will, in her apartment about a mile from the, yes, topless beach — although I think that everyone would appreciate it if there were some sort of screening process for who was allowed to exercise this privilege.  Ever since, I have been very fond of Spain.  It remains the only other country I have visited with the exception of San Francisco, and so last summer I watched every minute of, and supported them all through Euro 2008.  When they won, and my favorite player (not named Michael Bradley) Fernando Torres scored the winning goal, I was very happy.  But I am an American all the way through.  I can put away hot dogs with the best of them, and when it comes to apple pie, let’s just say I know how to punish one.

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US 3 Egypt 0, 2009 Confederations Cup

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The US is on to the seminfinals after the unlikeliest of scenarios unfolded today in South Africa.  Twin 3-0 wins by the US over Egypt and Brazil over Italy left three teams tied for second on points after each recorded one win during the round robin group stage.  On the first tiebreaker the US and Italy were tied with an unimpressive -2 goal differential; the US went through thanks to scoring four goals compared to Italy’s three (all scored against 10-men US in both teams’ first game of the tournament).

US manager Bob Bradley made three changes to the team that lost 3-0 to Brazil: Brad Guzan replaced Tim Howard in goal; Ricardo Clark returned from suspension to replace the suspended Sacha Kljestan; and Charlie Davies replaced DaMarcus Beasley.  In addition to the personnel changes Bradley switched from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 with Davies paired with Jozy Altidore up front, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan in relatively free roles in the midfield supported by Michael Bradley and Clark.  The back four remained unchanged with Jonathan Bornstein, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector across the back left to right.

First, the positives.  Donovan was the best player on the field today.  The Egyptians had no answer for his direct dribbling.  My only criticism of his play is that it was too unselfish: on two occasions when he entered the penatly area, Donovan elected to pass when he had good opportunities to shoot.  On the second goal Donovan had the assist; he played a one-two with Bradley who side-footed Donovan’s pass into the right corner with his first touch.  Bradley was also excellent today.  He willed the US forward with charging runs with and without the ball and by playing balls wide to forward-pushing outside backs.  On his goal Bradley picked up the ball in the middle of the field and pressed forward immediately.  After an Egyptian defender committed Bradley played the ball and continued his run.  Donovan one-timed a perfectly weighted pass into Bradley’s stride and Bradley made no mistake finishing calmly.  On the third goal Bradley picked out a wide open Spector, again one of the top performers, on the right.  Spector hit an inch-perfect cross that Dempsey headed into the far corner.  Presumably the third-choice right back behind injured Steve Cherundolo and Frankie Hejduk, Spector may be winning himself a spot in the starting eleven with his performances this tournament.  He is always turned on, fully committed and he is neat with the ball.  As long as he can stay healthy there should be a spot for him on this team.

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US 0 Brazil 3, 2009 Confederations Cup

Francois Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty Images

Bob Bradley coached like a wimp and the US started the game playing like scared wimps. From the opening whistle the US played like a team that lacked togetherness, belief, and conviction – all traits that American teams and players are known for.

Relying on out of form, slow, uncoordinated, unmotivated DaMarcus Beasley and playing with one forward, the US surrendered two goals in the first 20 minutes to a Brazil team that expended the minimal amount of effort required to humiliate the Americans.  I’ve expressed my disdain for one forward formations before and perhaps Jozy Altidore feels the same; he was unwilling to take on the Brazilians and showed no desire to battle for the ball when it was near him in a completely disinterested performance.  The US only began to come to life when Beasley was replaced by forward Conor Casey at the half and the US went back to a more traditional 4-4-2.  Unfortunately the good stretch of form only lasted for 15 minutes until the Swiss referee decided Sacha Kljestan’s rash challenge was bad enough to merit an ejection and thus crush any hope of a decent half of football.  This same referee gifted the Brazilians their first chance when he called a phantom foul on Michael Bradley which resulted in a headed goal that was preventable.  The best comment I have seen on refereeing was by a commenter named Jphubba on Steven Goff’s blog after the US/Italy match:

The red card to Clark was harsh, but predictable. The refs FIFA considers top flight, like many NCAA basketball refs, consistently favor the big name teams. If you think the US and Mexico get the short end when they play European teams, just watch Nigeria vs Germany or some other match up between an African team and a big European team. Once the ref let the Italians hammer American players after they had passed the ball, you knew it was only a matter of time before the ref gave the Italians an (sic) real advantage. Everyone in the stadium, except the ref it seems, knew that the Italians would come out trying to physically intimidate the Americans. If FIFA really wants fair play, it has to school the refs to understand the dynamics of these big international matches between teams from different continents. I, for one, am not holding my breath until FIFA does so.

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US 1 Italy 3, 2009 Confederations Cup

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I hate whining and I hate being a whiny fan so I will keep this relatively short.  Chilean referee Pablo Pozo ruined the game by wrongly and needlessly ejecting Ricardo Clark in the 33rd minute for what wasn’t even the hardest tackle in the first half.  That honor goes to the Italian who attempted to tackle Landon Donovan from behind and stomped on his foot after Donovan released a pass.  According to SI writer Grant Wahl the four players he talked to after the game, two Italians and two Americans including the player who suffered the foul, all agreed Clark did not deserve a red card.

The US valiantly fought on and against all odds took the lead before the half after Jozy Altidore was fouled after running onto a splendid pass from Benny Feilhaber.  Donovan buried the penalty and the US looked like it might hold on until American-born and raised Giuseppe Rossi came on in the 57th minute and scored in the 58th.  The Americans quickly tired and the Italians smelled blood.  Daniel DeRossi’s hopeful shot from 35+ yards found its way into the goal past a shielded Tim Howard.  The US pressed forward and had a couple chances to tie, notably a free header by second half substitute Charlie Davies.  Pozo could have partially made amends for his travesty of a sending off by bravely calling a second pk, when Donovan was bungled over in the area.  It didn’t happen though and Andrea Pirlo undid the Americans on a beautiful counterattack that resutled in Rossi’s second goal deep into stoppage.

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USA 2 Honduras 1, 2010 World Cup Qualifier

Bocanegra celebrates

(AFP/Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel)

The US kept its perfect home record intact by beating Honduras 2-1 in front of nearly 56,000 fans in Chicago.  After falling behind early for the third time in five games of the final round of qualifying, the US played with an aggressiveness and conviction that has come to define successful US teams.

Manager Bob Bradley made four changes to the lineup that faced Costa Rica, just one forced through Michael Bradley’s suspension.  The outside backs were both replaced by a pair of Jonathans, Bornstein on the left and Spector on the right.  Both were huge improvements over their counterparts, Spector especially.  Though just 23 years old, he plays with the intelligence and composure of a veteran who has played on the big stage with the likes of Manchester United and West Ham.  Last night he played strong and safe in the defensive half; on several forays forward he served dangerous balls into dangerous areas.  Spector has proved with West Ham that he can play all along the back line so I’d like to see him take over the left back role when Hejduk returns from injury.  Bornstein defended well.  He aggressively denied passes into Honduran attackers, and forced them backward.  When he got beat or was about to get beat, he fouled.  His positioning, and the positioning of the entire back line, was excellent.  Bornstein’s passing could have been sharper, going forward, but the order of the day was safety first.

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USA 1 Costa Rica 3, 2010 World Cup Qualifier

It was a tough night to be a US fan.  Similar to the debacles against Czech Republic in 2006 and El Salvador earlier this year, the US conceded an early goal and had to chase the game from the second minute. Playing on a horrible surface in a hostile environment with unfamiliar personnel and a new formation,  the US played too soft.

The first goal resulted from sloppy play out of the back and unfortunately was a microcosm of how the rest of the match would go.  Captain Carlos Bocanegra put converted left back DaMarcus Beasley in a bad spot by playing him a ball that put him under immediate pressure.  Beasley should have played safe, out or forward.  Instead he took a touch to the inside and had the ball taken off his foot by a Costa Rican attacker.  Costa Rica’s nine shirt picked up the ball and cut between Pable Mastroeni and Jose Francisco Torres and hit a driven shot over Tim Howard.  Both Torres and Mastroeni should have gone in harder.  In big matches you often pay for one mistake: on this play the US made four.

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USA 3 Trinidad and Tobago 0, 2010 World Cup Qualifier

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On a beautiful spring night in Nashville the US dismantled Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) 3-0 on the strength of three Jozy Altidore goals in front of nearly 28,000 fans–the most ever to witness a soccer match in Tennessee.  The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-American and quite festive.  Though I prefer smaller venues–the atmosphere suffers when there are more empty seats than fans–I could not have asked for a better night and presentation than the one I witnessed at LP Field.

Manager Bob Bradley made four personnel changes and five positional changes to the team that underperformed Saturday in El Salvador.  It is difficult to draw conclusions about the changes because T&T conceded so much time and space.  At one point in the first half Michael Bradley received a pass in the center circle and had nobody within 25 yards of him: with that kind of time and space the US should dominate possession and create many scoring opportunities.  And it did.  But you can’t argue with a 3-0 win.

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USA 2 El Salvador 2, 2010 World Cup Qualifier

The formula for qualifying for the World Cup is very simple: win at home, tie on the road.  In the first two games of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying the US has done just that. That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the US tied an overmatched, domestic-based El Salvador team Saturday night.  Playing at the bandbox Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador, El Salvador, buoyed by a raucous capacity crowd, began the game flying.  The US was unable to match their energy and went down early on a goal that resulted from sloppy defending and a nice combination by two attacking Salvadoran players at the top of the 18.  For all but maybe the last 15 minutes of the match the US was second best on loose balls and challenges, losing out to physically and technically inferior players.  The US passing was terribly off; most one-touch passes and flicks did not find their way to the intended target.  The players looked uncomfortable with and unfamiliar to each other.  Perhaps it was the noise in the stadium.  After the game Landon Donovan, the leading capwinner on the team, said it was as loud a game as he’s been in in Central America.  Defender Dan Califf, who filled in for an injured Oguchi Onyewu, said he could not communicate with anyone who was more than 10 feet away.  In addition to missing Onyewu, goalkeeper Brad Guzan was playing instead of starter Tim Howard who was suspended for yellow card accumulation.  On the road in Central America is not where you want to be forced into changing your lineup.  Regardless, the coordination should have been better.

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