Here is what I think about the loss of the United States to Belgium (I wrote this up shortly after the game, but a combination of me procrastinating and me preferring to listen to other people’s opinions and then form my own, it hasn’t gotten up until now):
-It was a good World Cup for the US. The team just doesn’t yet have the talented players that many other countries have, and those countries more talented than the US include Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and Belgium. Beating one, coming tantalizingly close to beating two others, and narrowly losing to the fourth, especially when all four are better, is a nice achievement. This is the only time in all of history that the US has gotten out of the group in two straight World Cups. Not only was it a group, it was the Group of Death. Klinsmann earned his contract extension, even though they already signed it last year.
-But it wasn’t a great World Cup for the US. They were one of the better teams, team-work wise, while Portugal and Ghana basically imploded. Portugal had a nightmare against Germany (as I’ve said before, they’re captain is Cristiano Ronaldo and one of their best players is Pepe; that explains their team mentality), while Ghana had a nightmare of their own; two players were kicked out of the team for disputes with the Ghanaian FA and with the coach, while they also had a conflict over money. The US caught both Ghana and Portugal on off years, and they only made it through on goal difference. Am I sounding too harsh? My nice paragraph was the last one. This is my harsh paragraph. They have a better squad than 2010 and they got the same final result: out 2-1 in extra time in the Round of 16.
-Obviously there is a middle ground. Klinsmann did well overall (I still take issue with a lot of his decisions) but he could’ve done better. I’ll detail this more in the coming weeks.
-What about Julian Green, the player who I’ve criticized so much yet who scored? Do I apologize for my opinion on him? No. See, logically, it made no sense to bring in a German 4th Division player. He’s a great prospect, but he did terrible in the friendlies. And Klinsmann seemed to agree; he played less minutes in the warm-up games than everyone but Nick Rimando, the third-string goalkeeper. All indications said that Green wouldn’t play a single minute, much less score. And the minutes he did play were at the end of a game that at the time the US looked very unlikely to win. Although he did score, and there was no way to predict that.
-Anyway, good for him, and I hope he has a great career, but is it so wrong for me to still think that Landon Donovan would’ve been better? It isn’t.
-Here is something that I know that Klinsmann got wrong: WHERE WAS KYLE BECKERMAN?!? Howard, Besler, Gonzalez, and Howard (I meant to mention him twice; one of the best goalkeeping performances ever) were great in the back, but they wouldn’t have been tested so much if Kyle Beckerman would’ve been there.
-Now to players who didn’t do quite as well. Did I curse Wondo? I hope not. However you look at it, coming from Division II college soccer to MLS reserve league to league MVP to the World Cup, he’s had a career worthy of a made-for-TV movie (if he would’ve scored on that goal it would’ve been for theatres. But hey, considering that most people have never even played for their national teams, much less played in a World Cup, he’s done very well in his career.)
-We were so close to Wondokota being real. And if you don’t know what that means I suggest you read my USA-Belgium preview.
-So, should we blame Wondolowski? No. We shouldn’t blame any individual player. This is how sports work: you win as a team, and lose as a team. Of course some players play better than others, and we should recognize that, but putting all the blame on a player for the team not making it to the quarterfinals is ridiculous, especially when that player was only on the field for less than a third of the time the team played.
-Overall, I just feel sad for Wondo. He makes that chance 9 out of 10 times (Landon Donovan said that, and I agree) but for some reason this was the 1 time he missed it. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks, especially when Thibaut Courtois, the most terrifying goalkeeper in the world, is right there trying to stop you.
-Also, we shouldn’t be getting so upset about the US getting knocked out in the Round of 16. Talent-wise, do you think that the US is even top 10 in the World? No, I don’t. When you consider the fact that the team plays well together (as opposed to Portugal, England, and most African teams) it gives the US a boost, but I still think that top-10 is unrealistic. Not to say that Quarterfinals shouldn’t be an expectation. Or am I? I’m not sure. My point is that it isn’t a crime for the team to be knocked out in the Round of 16, and thus the team shouldn’t be punished as if it was a crime.
-And I’ll reiterate it: don’t pile all the blame on just a few players. That’s just silly. Be happy about the things the team did right, and learn from the things the team did wrong.
I will have a lot more about the World Cup and the USMNT in the coming weeks. Yes, even after the World Cup is over. Stay tuned.
(Note: click on “World Cup 2014” above to find more great fairly good articles by yours truly.)
The US has advanced out of the Group of Certain Death, but that doesn’t mean that the job is done. Actually, by definition, it means that the job isn’t done. This is my preview.
Background – basic facts to know.
How will Belgium play? – tactics and lineup questions.
How will the US play? – tactics and lineup questions.
Prediction – totally unbiased prediction by me. GO USA!!!
These teams have played on 5 occasions, with Belgium winning 4. They won the last 2 games; a 1-0 win in Brussels (Nicolas Lombaerts was the goalscorer) and a 4-2 win in Cleveland (Kevin Mirallas, Marouane Fellaini, and a Christian Benteke brace powered the team past goals by Clint Dempsey and Geoff Cameron). The US’s lone win against Belgium came in 1930 (3-0, goals scored by Bart McGhee, Bert Patenuade, and Tom Florie).
How will Belgium play?
A little like this:
There are a few lineup questions. Namely: is Vincent Kompany healthy? Kompany is the team’s captain, and the captain of the Manchester City team that just won the English Premier League, and he’s their best defender. Lombaerts, his probable replacement, is okay, I guess, but I’m not sure that he can match Kompany.
Another position battle is striker. With Christian Benteke injured, Romelu Lukaku is the obvious replacement, and he’s been the one playing. But see, Lukaku is inconsistent. I may be the only one to notice this, but he is. He’s a great player, and he’s really young (I will start rioting if Mourinho sells him) but as of now he’s inconsistent as a starter. Divock Origi, who is even younger than Lukaku (man, this Belgium team will be really good in future tournaments) has performed better than Lukaku in less time playing, although you could definitely make the argument that Origi has been doing good off the bench because Lukaku has tired out the defenders.
One of the biggest talking points about Belgium is their fullbacks: they have none. Similar to Germany, they play center-backs as full-backs. Toby Alderweireld is the incumbent at right-back, while at left-back it’s more of a question between Jan Vertonghen (center-back for Tottenham) and Thomas Vermaelen (center-back for Arsenal). I guessed that it would be Vermaelen, because I’ve heard that Vertonghen has injury issues. I think Vermaelen might have some injury concerns as well, but I’m not sure. If both are healthy and Kompany is injured I’d advise playing one at left-back and the other at center-back. But coaches rarely follow my advice.
I would say that both Vertonghen and Vermaelen are solid defenders, but neither are close to perfect. Error-prone more than the average defender.
In midfield they have Marouane Fellaini, formally of Everton, currently of Manchester United, and notable for the fact that his hair is large enough to make a sizable home for the entire Spain attacking midfield. He can play a destroyer role or play the role of withdrawn forward. Belgium would like him to maintain control in midfield while being an aerial threat on attacks.
They also have Axel Witsel, a defensive midfielder with similar hair to Fellaini’s, Kevin De Bruyne, a creative attacking midfielder who always looks like he’s about to cry (in a way that makes me genuinely feel sad for the poor boy), and Dries Mertens, the skilled Napoli winger.
Oh, and at goalkeeper they have Thibaut Courtois. He’s really good. And young. And, like Lukaku, spent the last season on loan from Chelsea. And he can yell in slow motion really well.
This team has a lot of really good players. It’s crazy.
And I haven’t mentioned their best player, the man featured in the title picture. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.
He’s really good. Not always consistently good, but if one player has the ability to change games for Belgium, it’s Hazard. He plays on the left wing, and normally cuts inside to his preferred right foot. He’s great at dribbling, he likes to engage in tricky build-up play, and he can score goals himself as well. He’s been called one of the best players in the world by many. This is basically how he plays on attack:
He cuts in from the left and wreaks havoc. Whether it’s a pass to a teammate or a direct shot, when he gets the ball it’s very…dangerous. You thought I was going to say “hazardous” again, right?
Anyway, that zone (shaded in light gray) is where he does his damage. He slips in and creates chances.
As I said, he’s not consistent. He’s only 23, so he hasn’t developed into the player he probably will develop into. But even if he’s ineffective for 89 minutes he has the quality to win a game almost single-handedly in the other minute. The US need to watch Hazard for the entire game and not let him wreak havoc in that space that I highlighted.
It’s not just him, it’s the entire Belgium team. They’re very, very talented, and while they haven’t been all that convincing (while winning Group H they had 3 narrow wins in one of the easiest groups) they’re the favorites to advance to the quarterfinals.
How will the US play?
Probably kind of like this:
That was the same formation they played against Germany, with Bradley and Jones together in the 4-1-4-1. They could revert back to the 4-2-3-1 (doubtful) or some type of 4-4-2, be it diamond or flat (slightly less doubtful, but still doubtful nonetheless).
Let’s analyze this team once more, shall we? We shall.
Jozy’s back! Well, he won’t start, but he’s “available” according to US Soccer. Jozy Altidore is one of the most useful players on the team: he can score goals, but what he’s most useful for is hold-up play. Give him the ball, and he can hold off the defenders and lay the ball off to a teammate, probably Dempsey. He’s the only player on the roster who can do that, as Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson were both left off the team. Again, he won’t start. He may not even play, and if he does, it will be limited. But he’s “available.”
Clint Dempsey will probably get the start at striker, and if they play a 4-4-2 of some kind he will be paired with either Chris Wondolowski (simply a lethal goal-scorer) or Aron Jóhannsson (shifty, and natural goal-scorer, but a bit raw). Dempsey, the captain, works better playing just behind the main striker, where he can move around and make runs into the box, although with Altidore out he’s the lone player up top.
On the wings we probably won’t see Davis start again, and as I’ve said multiple times before we won’t see Julian Green. We’re likely to see Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi, although perhaps, if Klinsmann really wants to surprise, we could see the fast, young DeAndre Yedlin get the nod from the beginning. I doubt it, although Klinsmann has surprised me many times before.
In the middle we have Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as the engine of this team. Bradley, as I detailed in the USA-Germany preview, isn’t playing at his best. He’s not doing as bad as some people make him out to be (people like to make the facts fit simple narratives) but he’s done much better. I’m not sure if he’s hurt (in the group stage he ran more than any World Cup player, so probably not that) or if he’s low on confidence, or if he’s too high on confidence, but something is wrong with him. However, he played much better against Germany. He’s improving, and hopefully he can continue doing so.
Jermaine Jones has been the best player of the US team, hence me placing him in the title picture. He’s ran around crushing opposing attacks, and that goal against Portugal was immense.
And it’s all made possible because of Kyle Beckerman. He stays in that #6 position, allowing Jones and Bradley to roam free in front of him. He does the dirty work that people don’t notice so that Jones and Bradley don’t have to. It’s funny how someone with hair so unstable is the stabilizing force in the midfield.
DeMarcus Beasley is likely to again play at left-back. Beasley is playing in his 4th World Cup (only American to play in that many) and while his work at his new position isn’t too flashy, he’s been quite solid.
And at right-back we have Fabian Johnson. He’s a little bit shaky in defense, yet he’s quite good in attack and in both categories he’s the best the US has at that position. Belgium will need to be wary of his attacks. He’s very good with both feet, and he uses them to great effect going forward.
Center-back is a trickier one. Matt Besler, the steady SKC captain, is a lock to start at left-center-back, but who he’s paired with is a mystery. Will it be Geoff Cameron, who has gotten most of the playing time in the last 6 games? Or will it be Omar Gonzalez, who was playing poorly for a while but then shined when inserted into the lineup last game? Only Jürgen Klinsmann knows the answer to that question.
Warning: I’m a US fan.
Belgium 1-2 USA
Dempsey scores early (off a nifty Bradley through-ball) and then the US guards the lead until the 77th minute, not all too long after Belgium wakes up. Eden Hazard slides into space, and then plays a nice pass for Lukaku, who beats his teammate Tim Howard (10+ saves in total) to tie it up. In the fifth minute of added time, with Belgium getting tired, substitute Chris Wondolowski scores the winner. All of the Wondo-Doubters shut up. The day is celebrated as Wondo Day. They even re-name a Dakota after him.
Good night everyone, and Merry Christmas. May your team win, unless you’re Belgian.
The group stage is nearing conclusion. We have already learned 6 of the 8 Round of 16 matchups. The others will be learned today.
Before I dig into my preview of the matchup between the two nations with the highest page views on this site, let’s look at the Table of Contents (or, in German, Inhaltsverzeichnis):
Background – what you need to know. It includes Germerican facts.
Scenarios – what needs to happen for each country to go through.
How will Germany play? – Taktik der Deutsch-Nationalmannschaft.
How will the US play? – tactics of the US national team. (Note: I do not talk about the goalkeepers in this. Both Manuel Neuer and Tim Howard are very solid players and guaranteed starters.)
Prediction – my totally un-biased predictions.
-These teams have played each other 9 times. Germany has won 6, the US has won 3, and none have ended in draws.
-The last time they played in the World Cup was in 2002, in the quarterfinals. Germany won 1-0, but they shouldn’t have. THAT WAS A HANDBALL!!!!
-The last time they played was last year, a friendly in Washington, DC. The US won 4-3, but many of Germany’s top players were not there. This was the game where the currently-injured Jozy Altidore broke a very long scoreless streak for the US.
-One of the biggest stories leading into this game is the German influence in the US team. Of the 23 US players, 5 grew up mostly in Germany (they all have a parent who was stationed there in the military). I’ll give a run-down of the Germericans:
Jermaine Jones – the 32-year-old has been the best US player for the World Cup. He’s been doing great. Even not counting the incredible goal (which was the 2300th World Cup goal ever–not sure why Wikipedia tracks that, but it’s interesting) his play has been incredible so far. A big portion of the central midfielders’ success is the insertion of Kyle Beckerman alongside him, which gives Jones, currently a Besiktas player, more freedom to roam. And he’s done a lot of high-quality roaming. If you don’t think that Jones has done good, then you don’t understand this sport.
Fabian Johnson – the 26-year old wide-player can play in midfield or defense; right-back has been his position this World Cup. He and Jones are the only two Germericans who start, and his quality play for club and country combined with the fact that Germany don’t have that many full-backs means that some Germans now think that he’d be good enough for Die Mannschaft. Too bad, he’s cap-tied to the US. The soon-to-be Borussia Monchengladbach man is good in both attack and defense, although he is far from perfect in the latter.
John Brooks – the 21-year-old’s performance so far might be the most memorable; it was his winning goal that sent the US past Ghana. The tall, left-footed centerback has already been getting serious minutes in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin, although he isn’t yet a starter for the US. Matt Besler is the favorite at left-center-back.
Timothy Chandler – the full-back has been good in the Bundesliga, yet he hasn’t really impressed in the US national team set-up. In fact, you could say that he’s done the opposite of impressing; commitment issues compounded by injury meant that he was basically exiled from the team for 15-months before Klinsmann called him back in for this World Cup. He hasn’t played yet, but considering that he’s 24 he should still be in the picture for 2018.
Julian Green – he’s 19. As I’ve said, there is no way that he should be in the team ahead of Landon Donovan. But he is. He hasn’t played yet, and he won’t play unless Germany is already up 4-0 and it doesn’t matter. Playing with him is like voluntarily going a man down. You think I’m being harsh? That he’s just a kid? No he isn’t, he’s a World Cup player. He needs to be held to that standard.
Jürgen Klinsmann – the most famous Germerican is the coach. He used to be the Deutsch Nationaltrainer (German national team manager), and after that he had a stint with Bayern Munich. Ever heard of the term “varying success?” That kind of explains Klinsmann’s managerial reign in Germany. He played as well, scoring 47 goals in 108 appearances for West Germany or Germany. He’s lived in California since his retirement.
I’ve been critical of a lot of his decisions, and I remain critical of one of them (Green), but as I’ve said before none of that stuff matters. It’s based on cold, hard results. And so far, the US has beat Ghana and played well enough to beat Portugal. Klinsmann’s team was either a sloppy mistake early on or a late equalizer away from qualifying out of the Group of Certain Death with a game to spare. You can’t argue with how the team has played.
When Klinsmann was the Germany coach, his assistant was Joachim Löw, who currently coaches Die Mannschaft.
For all of you cynics, this is what Klinsmann says about facing Germany: “there is no game I would like to win more.”
This game will happen simultaneously to the Ghana-Portugal game. This is what the table looks like now:
The group winner will probably face Algeria or Russia. The second-place team will probably face Belgium, while the third- and fourth-place teams will be eliminated. If you are new to the sport than you need to know that the winner will get 3 points, the loser gets 0, and if it’s a draw both teams will get 1 point.
There are several different things that can happen. Let’s go through them:
I’m not even going to fill in the results for Ghana or Portugal, because it won’t matter. Neither of them can get to 5 points. In the case of a draw, Germany beats the US on goal difference, which is the first tiebreaker. The US would still join Germany in advancing from the group, which would make it a successful World Cup for Klinsmann’s team.
No matter which team loses the US-Germany game, they will be safe if the Ghana and Portugal can’t find a winner. Considering that those two teams are 3 points behind the top two, they will need a win to get out of the group.
Germany win, Ghana win
Best-case scenario for the US if Germany and Ghana both win is to be tied with Ghana on goal difference, and that would happen if both games end in one-goal margins. Goals scored is the next tiebreaker. Currently, the US has scored 4 goals in the tournament, while Ghana has scored 3, so something like a 1-0 or margin in each game, or a 2-1 margin in each game, would see the US advance in the next tiebreaker: head-to-head. The US would win that one. However, the likelihood that it goes to that is slim. If both Germany and Ghana win, they’ll probably be the teams going through.
Germany win, Portugal win
If the US lose while Ghana do as well, that’s a good thing for the team unless Portugal can overtake the US in goal difference, not something that’s likely thanks to Germany’s 4-0 win over CR7’s team. The sum of the margin of victory would have to be 5 to take it to goals scored.
So, if Portugal wins by 4 and the US loses by 1, or if Portugal wins by 1 and the US loses by 4, or, say, Portugal wins by 3 and the US lose by 2, it goes to goals scored; right now the US leads Portugal in that, 4 to 2. A big win by Portugal would probably bring it to even.
If Portugal beat Ghana 2-0, and Germany beat the US 3-0, or some other combination where the total margin is 5, the European teams win, and Portugal scores 2 more than the US, then it would go to head-to-head (the two teams drew, so that tiebreaker goes nowhere) and it will then go to a drawing of lots. A drawing of lots!
USA win, Ghana win
There is a slim chance that Germany will get eliminated. Very, very slim. But still a chance. Germany would need to lose for it to happen, and the winner of the other game would need to overtake them on Tordifferenz (goal difference). That would most likely be Ghana, because Portugal trail Germany in goal difference by 8.
How will Germany play?
Die Mannschaft have lined up the same way in both of their games so far. While I would switch around a few things, I’m obviously not the German coach and Löw probably won’t change it. By the way, wouldn’t it be funny if I was the German coach? A German coaching the US against an American coaching Germany?
This German team is an efficient machine of playing good soccer. I call them the German soccer machine, or, in German, the Deutsch Fußball-Maschine.
Anyway, this is how they’ve played:
That’s a very good team. Now for the details:
They play in a 4-3-3, and unlike other 4-3-3s in which there is a well-defined striker and the wingers drop back to make it a virtual 4-5-1, the German front 3 is interchangeable. Müller is the center-forward if anyone is, but he often changes positions with Götze and Özil.
Only one player is listed as a “forward,” and that’s Miroslav Klose. He hasn’t started yet, although considering that he scored last game, tying the record for most World Cup goals ever, I expect to see him play, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him start. I doubt he will, but I wouldn’t be too surprised. Klose is an expert in scoring goals.
Another forward, one who can play more centrally or on the left, is Lukas Podolski. Plus I wouldn’t be surprised to see Andre Schürrle or even the young Julian Draxler come off the bench to play.
Of the three whom I expect to start, Müller, Özil, and Götze, all three of them are talented players who can easily inflict damage on the US. Thomas Müller has played in 8 World Cup games. He has scored 8 World Cup goals, already in the top 30 of all-time. He’s scored as many World Cup goals as Diego Maradona and he’s only 24. Read that sentence again. This guy can score goals.
Mesut Özil is a master of chance creation. In his club season, his first with Arsenal, he was a bit shaky at times, but he still had 2.9 key passes per game. That number is at 2.5 for his World Cup play so far. Mario Götze was one of only 7 Bundesliga players with at least 8 goals and at least 8 assists, and he was also in the top 7 in dribbles per game in the Bundesliga.
These players will shift around and basically do everything humanly possible to score goals for Germany. The US backline should be very afraid.
The central three for Germany has been made stronger by Pep Guardiola’s decision to play Philipp Lahm, Germany’s captain and arguably best player, as a defensive midfielder. Yes, I am sure that Löw wouldn’t have played him there if Lahm wouldn’t have just played a full season in the midfield.
Alongside Lahm has been Sami Khedira, who just won the Champions League, and Toni Kroos, another member of Bayern Munich in this German side (the Bundesliga champs have 7 players on the squad: Lahm, Müller, Götze, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Boateng, and goalkeeper Neuer).
Bastian Schweinsteiger was just recently cleared from injury, and he played 20 minutes against Ghana. While he hasn’t gotten a start yet, I would assume that he would be a sure-fire starter if/when healthy.
The weakness of the German team is their defense. Yes, most other teams in the world would love to have Germany’s defense, especially if you throw in Philipp Lahm, but compared to their front 6 their back 4 is lacking.
Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker are the two centerbacks. Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Höwedes are also center-backs, but Löw decides to play them at full-back. Boateng, on the right, is certainly capable of being a right-back. Höwedes, on the left, is good enough to start at left-back for almost every other team, but on this team he’s probably the weakest link.
Why don’t they just move Lahm, arguably the best full-back on planet earth, to left-back, and then have Schweinsteiger, Kroos, and Khedira in midfield? Perhaps Schweinsteiger still has fitness issues, but going forward I think that Lahm should move to left-back.
Other options in defense include Erik Durm, a speedy left-back, Borussia Dortmund right-back Kevin Großkreutz, Matthias Ginter, a young center-back, and Sampdoria center-back/right-back Shkodran Mustafi, who has gotten a substitute appearance in each of Germany’s games.
Isn’t it amazing how many good players Germany have? They’ve used the same 11 starters in each game. This is what their team would look like not counting those 11:
This is their B team. How good would this team be if they were in the World Cup separately? They’d make it out of most groups.
How will the US play?
What is Jürgen Klinsmann going to do to get a result against the Deutsch Fußball-Maschine? Well, his formation will be one of these:
Most likely he will do the 4-2-3-1 again. Lots of people think that that worked well, and that the US played a much more attacking style against Portugal. This isn’t true. The US scored really early against Ghana, and then they sat back, while Ghana tried to attack the game. Portugal scored really early in match #2, so the US tried to chase the game while Portugal sat back. They had the exact same game plan. I personally thought that a lot of the time the US needed more numbers in the box, and I especially thought that Michael Bradley was pushed too far forward.
Am I just criticizing the 4-2-3-1 because I want to see Wondo?
Never mind that. I made valid points. Look at my valid points instead of speculating on ulterior motives.
The US has 3 legitimate forwards. Neither Chris Wondolowski nor Aron Jóhannsson have ever gotten a World Cup start, and one of them could find their first alongside Clint Dempsey. Or we could just see Dempsey alone up top.
Clint Dempsey has played well in this World Cup. Only 7 players have scored a goal in every game they’ve played in: Robin van Persie, Memphis Depay, Tim Cahill, James Rodriguez, Andre Ayew, Lionel Messi, and Clint Dempsey.
In the squishy diamond we’ll see one winger, and in the 4-2-3-1 we’ll see two wingers. The possible wingers are Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, and Brad Davis. I already mentioned multiple times that Julian Green won’t see any playing time, much less starting.
Davis hasn’t played a minute in this tournament, so I doubt that he will start in this. Alejandro Bedoya has started both games, so that means that he’ll either start this one as well, or he’ll be rested.
As I said before, Jermaine Jones has been the US’s best player. He can certainly prove to be a thorn in the side of the team that rejected him. I expect another man of the match level performance from Jones.
Kyle Beckerman, as I’ve said many times before, stays in the same position, ahead of the center-backs. He allows Jermaine Jones to run around destroying stuff, and he also allows Michael Bradley to theoretically push forward and create.
Michael Bradley is normally the US’s best player. I have no idea what’s gotten into him. Is he hurt? Is he over-confident (either because Klinsmann has been pumping him up, or because everyone’s been saying that he’s the best, or because he’s the star in Toronto)? Is he under-confident, for whatever reason?
Something is wrong with Michael Bradley. He’s not playing as terrible as some think, but he is playing poorly for his standards. What is normally the team’s biggest strength has somehow become almost a weakness. Yeah, part of it is because opposing teams target him, and part of it is because he’s playing out of position (he’s playing as an attacking midfielder, he’s normally a box-to-box midfielder) but not all of it can be explained by that. Something is wrong with Michael Bradley, and Jürgen Klinsmann needs to find out what it is and fix it now!
Oh, and Bradley cannot be benched. Neither Zusi or Bedoya or Davis would work centrally for this team, and Diskerud isn’t nearly as good as Bradley is defensively.
If all of these players remain healthy, I can’t see any other starting combination instead of Beasley-Besler-Cameron-Johnson.
Yeah, Beasley hasn’t been perfect. But he’s been a bit overwhelmed because Jermaine Jones, who plays on the left side of the squishy diamond, while he does everything else, he doesn’t have time to support Beasley as much as a true left-midfielder. Also, does anyone think that Chandler would do better? And no, DeAndre Yedlin isn’t a left-sided player, so don’t give me that.
Last game, Besler was solid. He normally is, and he’s a must-start. Geoff Cameron has been a little shaky, but do you really want to see Omar Gonzalez in the form that he’s been in? I didn’t think so. Also, we probably won’t see Besler-Brooks. Both of them are left-footed, and Klinsmann hasn’t played anything other than a lefty-righty center-back combination since this roster was announced. He has, however, surprised me in the past.
Fabian Johnson is a must-start as well because of what he gives the team going forward. Sure, he makes some mistakes defensively, but the other players you could start there (Chandler and Yedlin) are not perfect going back either. Plus, I’m sure that Johnson would have a chip on his shoulder against Germany, he wants to make them regret not selecting him.
Ignoring the fact that I was way off on the goal-scorers, I didn’t do that poorly in my US-Portugal prediction. I said 3-2 for the US, and I was thus a Ricardo Costa block/Michael Bradley miss away from getting it exactly.
USA 1-1 Germany
Both teams will be cautious. The US can’t seem to keep a clean sheet, which is why it won’t be 0-0.
The Deutsch Fußball-Maschine will score first, fairly early, and then considering that there is no difference between a win and a draw, they will sit back a bit, the US will thus attack a lot (Klinsmann will be heavily praised for his “attacking style”) and Clint Dempsey will score a goal in the 76th minute. Both teams will be tired, and they will both cautiously sit back.
14’ Müller (Özil)
76’ Deuce (Diskerud)
Any thoughts? Questions? Requests? Threats? I’ll make some nice posts for the knockout stage. Stay tuned to Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.
That was a wonderful, terrifying, fascinating, gut-wrenching, yet kind-of-hopeful draw by the US. That’s all I’ve got. Too numb to go into detail. By the way, what’s wrong with Michael Bradley? For The General to have two bad games in a row is so un-Bradley-like. Something must be wrong. Is he nervous? Over-confident? Injured?
However painful the last goal conceded was, the US have got 4 points out of 6 in the Group of Certain Death, with our most important player being pedestrian at best, and that’s terrific. If Bradley can find his form again (I would say “when,” but I said that before this game as well) this team will be a strong test for Germany. I will agree that that last goal was painful, however.
(Note: I apparently didn’t mean “that’s all I’ve got” in a literal sense. Or a figurative sense, really. Not in any sense, come to think of it.)
Now it’s time for Total Inaccurateness! With a picture this time, too!
Totally Inaccurate Power Rankings
Previous editions can be found under the “World Cup” tab. You should go there, as I’ve written some kind-of-good stuff. It has humor, my opinion on things, and some tactical insight. It even has philosophical insight! Oh, and Mario Balotelli. Because everything has Mario Balotelli.
DISCLAIMER: these power rankings are totally inaccurate. If there is anything that you disagree with, it’s probably because it’s wrong because I’m terrible at Ranking stuff, Power-wise.
1(1) – Germany
Yeah, they drew against Ghana, but that’s a good team. Germany still has the ability to crush teams. They are an efficient machine that destroys stuff in a business-like manner.
What’s that you say? By praising Germany so much am I actively trying to jinx them, so that they don’t beat the US? If I answered that, I think it would disable the jinx.
2(2) – Brazil
They and Mexico are the only teams not to have played since my last rankings. They’ll both play tomorrow. Brazil have been shaky, but they’ll need a crazy amount of things to happen in order to not qualify, including them losing to Cameroon. Cameroon! Not going to happen. This is still the same group of players and the same coach that steamrolled everyone in the Confederations Cup, and they’re still the home team. It will take more than just “shaky” to stop them.
3(3) – Argentina
Do you know how much I want to drop this team in the rankings? A lot. But I won’t. Why do I want to drop them? Because they’re terrible outside of Messi. Why do I not want to drop them? Because 1) it’s against my kind-of-soft-yet-still-existent rules, 2) they’ve technically won their last two games and 3) who else do I put ahead of them?
Oh, and this is their tactical lineup:
That isn’t really far off.
4(8) – Colombia
Whoa! Just like that, into the top 4? Yep, just like that. But they don’t have Falcao? True, but they have James “Don’t Call Me James” Rodriguez. Wait, that doesn’t work in print. Oh well. Another knock on them is that they’re in a fairly easy group, but European teams tend to struggle in the Americas, and as I displayed previously in my CONCACAF-centric report, this Americas-based World Cup is no exception.
5(6) – Netherlands
This team got over-confident against a formidable Australia side, but they still won. They were also more than formidable against a perhaps over-confident Spain side, and they thoroughly crushed them. But how far can they go in this World Cup? If they don’t beat Chile tomorrow, playing Brazil could be in their very near future.
6(4) – Italy
They lost against Costa Rica, yes, but they still have Pirlo and Balotelli. They still may not make it out of the group, and even then Colombia are their likely opposition, but this is a team that could go very, very deep.
7(7) – Belgium
How deep can Belgium go? I’m not sure. I’m really not sure at all. They have a fairly easy group, although if they win that they’ll have to face second-place in the Group of Certain Death (Group G), with Argentina most likely if they win that. As I said before, success doesn’t come easy. This experience will help them going forward. Belgium will not win the 2014 World Cup. Take it to the bank.
8(9) – Chile
Arturo Vidal? Those home-like crowds? ELECTRIC SANCHEZ!!?!!?!! This team can go a long way, but they have some serious obstacles in their path. Including the Dutch tomorrow, where they need a win to find victory in the group.
9(11) – France
I won’t completely buy France as a contender until they play really good teams. They won’t until the quarterfinals. However, they’ve done very, very well against who they have played.
10(12) – Uruguay
They beat England, but, I mean, anyone can do that, right? They do have Luis Suarez, though, who can tear apart defenses AND coach Honduras at the same time!
11(15) – United States
Take your pick. Results? Ghana. Performance? Portugal. Oh, and all of it was without the team’s most important player doing well, and most of it was without the team’s target forward. One of the games was against Cristiano Ronaldo, while the other was against a team that drew Germany, the #1 team in these Power Rankings.
12(13) – Mexico
Mexico are one of the few teams that haven’t yet conceded a goal. Memo Ochoa hasn’t let in a single goal, and they’ve played both Brazil and Samuel Eto’o. Croatia will need to work hard to score against Mexico, which they will have to do given El Tri’s superior points total.
13(14) – Croatia
The team with the MAGISTERIAL!!!! checkered uniforms beat Cameroon 4-0. They will need to get another win vs. Mexico in order to make it out of the group.
14(21) – Costa Rica
This team went out and beat Uruguay AND Italy? Applause! They turned a group full of inferior players into a superior team.
15(5) – Spain
Yeah, Spain played poorly, but they were up against very good teams. I think they would’ve made it out of most other groups, especially as the seeded team (Group C, anyone?).
16(10) – Bosnia and Herzegovina
DZEKO’S GOAL WAS SO CLEARLY ONSIDE!!!!
Also: on the goal that was called a goal, Emineke’s foul/not foul against Spahic: if that was a defender doing that to forward, it would’ve been called a foul, right?
So, um, how much did the Nigerians give the refs? And in what denomination? Asking for a friend…
17(17) – Portugal
They played poorly for a lot of the game against the US, and the first goal was gifted to them (WHY, CAMERON, WHY!?!?!), but their second goal was created by CR7. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and he does Ronaldo things. They’ll need a lot of things to go their way to make it out at this point, but in another group with a healthy CR7 they could’ve easily made it out of the group.
18(22) – Ghana
Similar to Portugal, the Black Stars are a good enough team to be able to make it out of an easier group. But in Group G, they’ll need lots of result to go their way. It’s the Group of Certain Death, people.
19(23) – Nigeria
Based on the scoreline Bosnia should’ve won, but Nigeria actually did play well, and they now have a good chance to make it out of the group, which surprises me.
20(16) – England
They didn’t do that poorly, actually. Now, they didn’t do all that good either, and they’re being dumped from the Group Stage for the first time since 1958, when Roy Hodgson was 11. If half of their young players become what they can be, this could be a good team in the future.
21(18) – Switzerland
They got crushed by France, people. I’m not sure why I’m not giving them a poorer ranking. I guess it’s my reaction to people writing off them as terrible, which was a reaction to them surprisingly getting seeded, which was the result of the mathematical formulae saying that they were top 8, which was the result of them steamrolling through an easy qualifying group.
22(25) – Ecuador
This is when it starts to go off the rails. What am I doing? I don’t know!
23(19) – Russia
Not good enough. 1 point in their first two? It’s a must-win against Algeria. Wait, must win against Algeria? Who’s the closest thing Russia has to Landon Donovan?
24(20) – Ivory Coast
Why am I ranking them this low? I’m not sure. Gervinho, Gervinho, Gervinho. Yes, I was meaning for that to be musical.
25(32) – Algeria
Last place? Algeria laughed at my rankings, and set them ablaze.
26(31) – Iran
Yeah, they totally lost against Argentina, and they haven’t scored a goal, but they defend well. I could see them sneaking through. And then getting pummeled by France.
27(30) – Australia
This team got a terrible draw, and they’ve done very well, despite not getting any points so far. They won’t make the Knockout Stage, but they’ve set up a foundation for the future.
28(24) – South Korea
They conceded 4 against the team that I randomly ranked last. For shame.
29(26) – Greece
Man, 29 is too low.
30(27) – Japan
31(29) – Honduras
They’ll do better next time.
32(28) – Camerooooooon
Their loss against Croatia was pure self-destruction at its finest. How does CAF get 1.5 more spots than CONCACAF?
This is where it gets serious. Who will advance? Who will…not advance?
This section is meant as a reference. Don’t try to read it all like you would read my normal writing. You might not make it.
Cameroon vs. Brazil, Croatia vs. Mexico, Monday.
Already in: none.
-Brazil, 4 points, +2 goal difference:
Mexico win OR
Croatia win AND goal difference
-Mexico, 4 points, +1 goal difference:
-Croatia, 3 points, +2 goal difference:
Draw AND Cameroon win AND goal difference
Australia vs. Spain, Netherlands vs. Chile, Monday.
Already in: Netherlands, Chile.
Eliminated: Australia, Spain.
Japan vs. Colombia, Greece vs. Ivory Coast, Tuesday.
Already in: Colombia.
-Ivory Coast, 3 points, 0 goal difference:
Draw AND goal difference
-Japan, 1 point, -1 goal difference:
Win AND Greece win/draw AND goal difference
-Greece, 1 point, -3 goal difference:
Win AND Colombia win/draw OR
Win AND goal difference
Italy vs. Uruguay, Costa Rica vs. England, Tuesday.
Already in: Costa Rica.
-Italy, 3 points, 0 goal difference:
-Uruguay, 3 points, -1 goal difference:
Honduras vs. Switzerland, Ecuador vs. France, Wednesday.
Already in: none.
-France, 6 points, +6 goal difference:
Honduras win/draw OR
-Ecuador, 3 points, 0 goal difference:
Win/draw AND Honduras win/draw OR
Win AND goal difference OR
Honduras win AND goal difference
-Switzerland, 3 points, -2 goal difference:
Win AND France win/draw OR
Win AND goal difference OR
Draw AND France win OR
France win AND goal difference
-Honduras, 0 points, -4 goal difference:
Win AND France win AND goal difference
Nigeria vs. Argentina, Bosnia vs. Iran, Wednesday.
Already in: Argentina.
-Nigeria, 4 points, +1 goal difference:
Bosnia win/draw OR
-Iran, 1 point, -1 goal difference:
Win AND Argentina win AND goal difference
United States vs. Germany, Portugal vs. Ghana, Thursday.
Already in: none.
-Germany, 4 points, +4 goal difference:
Ghana draw OR
-United States, 4 points, +1 goal difference:
Ghana draw OR
-Ghana, 1 point, -1 goal difference:
Win AND United States win AND goal difference OR
Win AND Germany win AND goal difference
-Portugal, 1 point, -1 goal difference:
Win AND United States win AND goal difference OR
Win AND Germany win AND goal difference
South Korea vs. Belgium, Algeria vs. Russia, Thursday.
Already in: Belgium
-Algeria, 3 points, +1 goal difference:
Draw AND Belgium win/draw OR
Draw AND goal difference
-Russia, 1 point, -1 goal difference:
Win AND Belgium win/draw OR
Win AND goal difference
-South Korea, 1 point, -2 goal difference:
Win AND Russia win/draw AND goal difference
For the rest of the group stage, I’ll only do daily thoughts, and a US-Germany preview, because I’ll be working on an epic group stage review article (my take on Spain’s elimination will be included), along with Round of 16 previews. That’s it for now, from Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.
Note: I’m a bit late. It was supposed to be Saturday night, but oh well, I couldn’t do it by then. Yeah, I had a while, but I wasn’t able to get it done. Knowing me, it’s a good thing I completed it at all.
Are you excited for this game? You totally should be. Here’s a complete rundown of the compelling clash:
Watch This – why you need to watch this.
Top 5 Storylines – a run-down of basically everything everyone will be talking about before the game.
Why it’s a Must-Win, but Mainly Just for Portugal – a scenario breakdown.
On Julian Green – will the over-hyped youngster play? (Spoiler alert: no.)
It’s Unrealistic – me not talking about Jürgen Klinsmann’s comments.
How will Portugal play? – I delve into the tactics of the US’s Iberian foes.
How will the US play? – I delve DEEP into the tactics of Portugal’s American foes.
Prediction – totally unbiased.
Let me give you a possible advertisement of this game:
“USA. Portugal. Jungle. 5:30 ET on ESPN.”
If you aren’t super-excited to watch it right now, then you aren’t a human.
Top 5 Storylines
5. What will the effects of Manaus, in the Amazon Rainforest, do? (It’s all very unusual and not the optimal conditions–just like CONCACAF. I think it will hurt Portugal more than it will hurt the US.)
4. How will the US replace Jozy Altidore?
3. Can Cristiano Ronaldo score a World Cup goal against a team that’s actually good? Will he even play well at all, or is his injury too bad?
2. Can Portugal stay alive?
1. Can the US clinch, or at least make it hard not to clinch, a knockout round berth from the Group of Certain Death?
Why it’s a Must-Win, but Mainly Just for Portugal
Considering that Germany and Ghana drew, there are three different ways that the table can line up after this game:
(Note: the goal difference, that second number, assumes that the winner of the US-Portugal game wins by 1 goal. All the rest will definitely be accurate if the stated result happens.)
If the US beat Portugal:
This means that US advancement would be clinched, while Portuguese elimination would also be clinched. A draw against Germany would mean that the US would win the group and thus wouldn’t have to play the Group H winner (probably Belgium).
If Portugal beat the US:
In this case, the US would need to beat Germany, or get a draw and hope that multiple other things happen, to advance. A loss against Germany would mean certain elimination if there’s a loss against Portugal. The US can’t lose both games and still advance, while a loss against Portugal would cut the US’s chances in less than half.
-In this scenario, the US would need: a win vs. Germany OR a draw vs. Germany and a Ghana win and goal difference OR a draw vs. Germany and a Portugal-Ghana draw and goal difference.
-In this scenario, Portugal would need: a win vs. Ghana OR a draw vs. Ghana and a Germany win OR a draw vs. Ghana and goal difference.
If the US and Portugal draw:
This would mean that the US and Germany would be in a game to see who wins the group. In this scenario, if neither of the final matches end in draws, the second spot would be decided on goal difference between the winner of the USA-Germany game and the loser of the Ghana-Portugal game.
-In this scenario, the US would need: a draw vs. Germany OR a Portugal-Ghana draw OR goal difference.
-In this scenario, Portugal would need: a win vs. Ghana and a US-Germany non-draw and goal difference.
Observations from the scenarios:
-It is very important for the US to not lose. Yeah, anything can happen, but counting on a result against Germany is like counting on a St. Bernard to manually land a spacecraft on the moon.
-It is very important for Portugal to win. They need a bunch of stuff to happen to qualify if they get a draw, and if they lose, they’re out.
-Goal difference is very important. That’s why Thomas Muller, who put 3 past Portugal, might be the US’s most important player this World Cup. Portugal have a huge goal difference hole to climb out of. It’s a very hard group, with four teams that could each advance out of most groups, so big margins don’t come easily. This means that Portugal probably won’t climb out of their goal difference hole, which means that the US can get a draw in this game and have a very good chance to advance.
On Julian Green
Looking at my website’s stats, I can see who has found my website from different search terms. Someone found it by inquiring if Julian Green will start vs. Portugal. Answer? Not a chance.
In fact, I very, very highly doubt that Green will play a single minute, and if he does it’s in garbage time when the US is already probably 3 goals up or down, probably against his beloved Germany so that he can have his special moment. I’m sorry if that last bit sounded bitter. It didn’t? Well, it was meant to sound bitter, and I’m sorry for it.
As I said in my epic post about Green and Donovan, he doesn’t belong in the World Cup. He’s been terrible, and he has no experience above the German 4th division. And yes, I totally understand the German league system, with the Regionalliga and all. That’s not good enough for the US national team.
And on the part where I said “he’s been terrible,” you might say that I’m being too hard on him. No, I’m not. But, but, he’s just a kid! No, he isn’t. He’s a World Cup player. This isn’t a U-20 tournament. This isn’t a friendly camp. It’s the World Cup. If he’s selected for the World Cup, either the coach is delusional or he really is at World Cup level, in which case he must be held up to that standard. I’m not saying that he’s a bad person or that he won’t be good in the future, in fact he seems like a good kid and a promising talent, but he just isn’t good enough.
I watch MLS, and I will tell you that Diego Fagundez seems to be a much better player than Green. Fagundez plays for the New England Revolution, he’s only a few months older than Green, and if he had US eligibility (he’s working on it) I’d say he deserves to go to the World Cup more than Julian Green.
But for better or worse, Julian Green is on the World Cup squad. I seriously doubt he’ll get any minutes.
Don’t believe me? Well, if he was going to get playing time at the World Cup, don’t you think they would’ve played him for more than 27 minutes in the friendlies? Only the third-string goalkeeper played less than Green! Aron Jóhannsson was the only other outfield player to not play at least 45 minutes in the friendlies, and that was because of fitness issues. John Brooks, who wasn’t originally intended to even play, was the only player to play in the Ghana game without at least 100 minutes of playing time in the three warm-up games.
This is a guarantee: Julian Green will not play any meaningful minutes in this World Cup.
I had something written up basically detailing why the US will more than likely not win the World Cup, why that is okay (we don’t have nearly as good players as the better teams), why I’m not communist, and why everyone is making such a big deal out of Jürgen Klinsmann’s comments (if he says that the US will win the World Cup, then he’s setting himself up for failure).
I deleted all of that because everyone who follows soccer knows that the US probably won’t win the World Cup, that that’s okay (for now, at least), that I’m not a communist for thinking that, and that people like to make really big deals out of people’s comments.
How Will Portugal Play?
Probably like this:
There are a few lineup questions:
-Is goalkeeper Rui Patricio healthy? If not, they’ll go with Eduardo or Beto. The former has more experience with Portugal’s team, while the latter just won the Europa League. Tim Howard is better than all three. I’d even say that Brad Guzan is better than at least one or two of them, if not all three.
-Will the striker be Eder or Helder Postiga? Probably Eder, based mainly on the fact that he came on for Hugo Almeida when he got injured last game.
-Will Vieirinha make a surprise start in place of Nani?
-Will perhaps the youngster William Carvalho start ahead of Miguel Veloso?
-Will Luis Neto indeed start at center-back, or will we see Ricardo Costa, who is 7 years older than Neto?
And here are a few points about their players:
-Cristiano Ronaldo is the star for Portugal. No question. He’s had some injury problems, but he should still carry the team. He was mostly ineffective against Germany, and while some of that is due to his health, a lot of that is probably because Germany are one of the best teams in the world. Ronaldo doesn’t stay on the left. He will solidly make life miserable for everyone on the opponents’ defense.
-Warning: I often call Cristiano Ronaldo “CR7.” Why? because “Ronaldo” makes it sound like I’m talking about the Brazilian, “Cristiano” sounds like I know the guy, and I don’t want to say “Cristiano Ronaldo,” which has more syllables than World Cups Portugal has played in, ten times every paragraph.
-#8 Joao Moutinho is the playmaker. He’s the guy that runs the show from central midfield.
-Raul Meireles, #16 with the interesting beard, hair, and tattoos, is a box-to-box midfielder. He’s good at a lot of things, not really great at anything, but he’s a useful player both ways. Especially defensively.
-The other guy they play, probably #4 Miguel Veloso, will be the defensive midfielder. This will be the player who Michael Bradley will need to evade. They might play William Carvalho in this position.
-They’re normally especially good on the left side with the all-Real Madrid pairing of Fabio Coentrao and CR7. With Coentrao out for the tournament, it will be interesting to see how #19 Andre Almeida will do.
-Not only is Coentrao out, but their Real Madrid center-back Pepe is suspended due to a red card (typical Pepe stuff, nothing to see here). Half of their backline, and maybe their goalkeeper, will be new, so their teamwork will be vital.
-This Portugal team likes to attack down the wings, and they’re deadly on the counter. America’s weakness defensively seems to be down the wings, so they should change that. Also, they can’t send too many numbers forward. Even 75% CR7 can crush a team on the counter.
-Another thing: Portugal seem, to me anyways, like they can easily get frustrated. They don’t seem to have a good “team spirit,” shall we say. Cristiano Ronaldo is the captain, Pepe is the best defender, and that kind of tells you everything you need to know about the Portuguese team.
-So, they get frustrated easily and they’re great on the counter? Then the US should sit back and force Portugal to try and break them down.
How Will the US Play?
The team has normally played in a Squishy Diamond that is authoritatively called a 4-3-2-1, 4-4-2 diamond, 4-2-2-2, or a 4-2-3-1 depending on who it is. Yeah, it’s weird how everyone is so sure about what formation it is, yet they all say different things. But they’re all right. It’s all of those formations. It’s a Squishy Diamond. It morphs into these different formations as the game goes on, because it’s squishy. In the last game, against Ghana, we saw Michael Bradley drop back and make it a flat 4-4-2 at times.
I’ll get to the Altidore thing. Be patient. First, I’d like to discuss the simplest thing about how the US will play: the formation.
Will they stick with the Squishy Diamond? It retains the back four of Beasley-Besler-Cameron-Johnson, or their backups, with Beckerman in the calm defensive role, Jones in the DESTROYEVERYTHING!!! role, Bedoya/Zusi as the right winger, Bradley as the box-to-box playmaker, and then Dempsey and someone else at striker. I’ll show the formations, but first I’ll get to the other options. After that I’ll talk personnel.
Do they play a 4-2-3-1, with Dempsey as the lone striker, Bradley in a #10 role, and then two wingers? Behind them would be the back six (defenders + Jones and Beckerman) as per usual.
Here’s my idea: the Stretchy Diamond. I’ll display these formations in pictures before I tell you what that is:
The Stretchy Diamond is like the diamond, except it’s stretched. It’s like a 4-4-2, with an attacking central midfielder, a defensive central midfielder, and defensive wingers. You can also call it a 4-3-1-2.
The most interesting thing is the personnel I’ve listed. I’ll get to that now.
The idea of my Stretchy Diamond is to close down the wings. Portugal attack through the wings. DaMarcus Beasley was isolated a lot against Ghana. What happens if Cristiano Ronaldo gets isolated against a US full-back? I’m not saying he’ll definitely score, but if it happens, say, 5 times, I doubt the scoreline won’t be affected.
So I have a defensive right winger. Sure, Bedoya and Zusi can defend well, but inserting someone who’s basically another full-back means that the real full-back won’t have many chances to mess up (lots of goals that the team have conceded have come off of errors from the full-backs–like Johnson’s error against Ghana). I also move over Jones as a defensive left-midfielder, as opposed to a left defensive-midfielder, if that makes any sense.
Fabian Johnson is a must-start because he’s good defensively and vital offensively. But he makes errors defensively. Now, again, I said he’s a must-start so don’t say that I hate him. I don’t. But he makes errors defensively. If there was basically a second full-back alongside him, then he wouldn’t be isolated.
You can do lots of things to create this formation:
-Add John Brooks to the starting line-up, pair him with Besler, move Geoff Cameron to right-back, and Johnson to right midfielder.
-Same as above, but with Omar Gonzalez at center-back. This keeps it lefty-righty, and we’ve seen Gonzalez’s best performances alongside Besler, but the very idea of Gonzalez starting gives me shivers, considering the fact that his club and more importantly national team form over the last several months has been bad. Like, open the windows bad.
-Add DeAndre Yedlin, the speedy yet inexperienced Seattle right-back, to right midfield.
-If you want to rest Jones or Beckerman, you can have the guy you aren’t resting at central defensive midfield, have Fabian Johnson at left-midfielder, insert Yedlin at right-midfield, move Cameron to right-back, and then doing either Besler-Brooks or (gulp) Besler-Gonzalez at centerback.
None of this will probably happen, though. So I’ll talk about real personnel decisions, going from back to front:
Besler, Brooks, or Both?
Matt Besler is considered the rock in the defense. Most people agree that if he’s healthy he plays. But, is he healthy? He came off at halftime vs. Ghana. He’ll be officially okay for the Portugal game, but I’m not convinced that he really will be able to play.
Keeping the team’s best defender on the bench might be made easier by John Brooks. In addition to scoring the goal, in the 90 minutes he’s played in the last 4 games he’s looked fairly solid. Not without errors, but a couple minor mistakes won’t cause as much damage as aggravating Besler’s injury and having to burn a sub after 10 minutes Costa-style would cause.
Could they do both? Playing them both would be either to rest Cameron, who was apparently sick for the Ghana game, or to move Cameron out to right-back, where he plays for Stoke. Moving Cameron to right-back would be either to rest Johnson, or to move Johnson to left-back (to rest Beasley) or to move Johnson to the midfield (to create a defensive formation similar to my Stretchy Diamond).
Why am I pretty sure that only one of them will start? Because Jürgen Klinsmann hasn’t played two center-backs with the same preferred foot since the second half vs. Mexico back in April. Besler and Brooks are both left-footed (Cameron and Gonzalez are both right-footed) so I doubt that either of them would play without a right-footed partner. I’m pretty sure that Klinsmann’s reasoning for that is so that they can take up the full-back positions if needed, so that the full-backs can go forward more.
Zusi, Bedoya, or…Davis?
If Klinsmann goes with the Squishy Diamond, only one of these guys will play, and it will be one of the right-sided ones, Zusi or Bedoya. If he only plays one striker in a 4-2-3-1, two of these guys will play.
Alejandro Bedoya has seemed to be the favorite on the right side, starting the last friendly (first game with the Squishy Diamond) and the game against Ghana. But Zusi has also seen a lot of time under Klinsmann, and with him getting the assist on the winner, plus Bedoya with seeming to be cramping up last game, I could certainly see the Nantes midfielder being rested in favor of the one from Sporting Kansas City.
In a 4-2-3-1, or in an attacking diamond, we could see Zusi on the right and Bedoya on the left, like what we saw against Azerbaijan, but then again we could also see Brad Davis. He’s a set piece and service master, and while he’s not that good athletically or speed-wise, he plays in Houston, which is probably the closest thing in the US, or at least in MLS, that you can get to Manaus.
There’s a lot to criticize about Brad Davis’s ability, which is magnified due to the omission of Landon Donovan, but they’re different players (Klinsmann was always going to call in a left-footed winger, Davis beat out Shea and Torres, not Donovan) and there’s also a lot to praise about Brad Davis, namely his magical left foot. Is that enough?
What about Mix?
The Norwegian-American Mix Diskerud, a fan favorite, is a quality player. He wears the number 10, and it’s accurate: he’s the closest thing Klinsmann has to a central midfield playmaker. He’s one of the few players on this team who can relatively-consistently play that magical pass; that ball sent in that takes several defenders out of the play and sets up a fairly easy chance to score.
He rarely starts, however, and for good reason. He isn’t the best defensively, so playing him behind two forwards would be poor unless it’s against a weak bus-parking team, and playing him any other way would require only one true striker.
Mix, to me, totally seems like someone who will come off the bench in the 60th minute, and break down the Portuguese defense. Have you heard that this game is being played in Manaus, in the Amazon Rainforest? Players will get very tired, and I think that giving the creative Diskerud 30 minutes at 100% to break down the tired Portuguese would be more effective than him spending the first 60 minutes tiring out with them.
No question he starts, but how good will he be?
Bradley had a poor game against Ghana, at least in the attack, but I think that that fact makes it more likely that he’ll play great going forward. As I said in my last post, he’s gotten all his mistakes out of the way. Ballon d’Or performances from here on out, everyone.
How do you Replace Jozy Altidore?
You can’t. His hold up play is like no one else in the team.
Please don’t mention Landon Donovan. He can’t do hold-up play. Green’s role was the one that Donovan would’ve been in. But Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson are probably the 2nd and 3rd best players at Altidore’s role, and neither of them made the 23. EJ didn’t even make the 30.
So, does that mean that the US just plays with 10 against Portugal? No, of course not. There are three options, basically:
Pros: this is the player I would choose. He can score goals. Pepe is out with a red card suspension, so Portugal will have an inexperienced center-back partnership. They will probably make mistakes. Wondo is the perfect player on this team to capitalize on mistakes.
Cons: I can’t think of many. Sure, he lacks physicality, but so does Jóhannsson. And sure, he lacks speed in comparison to Jóhannsson, but he isn’t slow. You can also say that Wondo doesn’t offer much outside of goal-scoring, but did you watch the Ghana game? Jóhannsson didn’t do all that great.
Yeah, every “con” has a qualifier. Can you blame me? I want Wondo to start.
Pros: he’s been scoring goals like crazy in the Eredivisie. He’s supposedly full of confidence. He’s young. He looks like Kevin Bacon.
Cons: he was non-existent against Ghana. And yeah, I know that he hadn’t warmed up, and that Bradley, the link between defense and offense, was poor in distribution, and that Ghana closed down on the US midfield, but still. Only 1 shot the entire game. Also, they don’t play defense in the Eredivisie. I doubt that he can play as the lone striker in the World Cup. He’s said himself that he prefers to play behind the main forward.
-Clint Dempsey as the #9 in a 4-2-3-1
Pros: moving Deuce from floating 9.5 up front allows for another midfielder. He’s the best goalscorer on the team. No arguments, he is.
Cons: I hate the idea of playing him central. I much prefer Dempsey as the second striker; floating around, combining with the midfield, getting into goalscoring positions by running in behind the main striker. And you can say “play him as a false 9” all day, but you need to be a possession team to play with a false 9. Let Deuce be Deuce and play Wondo up top.
Well, okay, I clearly have my mind made up. I’ll go all the way:
USA 3-2 Portugal.
22’ WONDO (Zusi)
43’ Ronaldo (Ronaldo)
62’ Ronaldo (Ronaldo)
73’ WONDO (Diskerud)
90’ Deuce (Diskerud)
That’s it. Any thoughts? Predictions? Questions? Threats? I’ll get back to regularly scheduled programming soon.
If you’re only going to read one thing, make it the poetic review at the end. But my next section should not be ignored either:
Totally Inaccurate Power Rankings
Last ranking in brackets.
This team is a soccer machine. They tore apart Portugal with efficiency. Only Germans can be that efficient. They have so many talented players that even with Marco Reus out injured, they were able to leave Klose, Podolski, Schürrle, and even Schweinsteiger (Schweini!) on the bench and still have a world class starting XI. You can make a team out of Germany’s bench and win the World Cup. But can they pull it off in Brazil? I’m not sure.
It didn’t take long for the host nation to drop their first points, and some will argue that they also didn’t deserve a win in the first game. They have 4 points, and they should still qualify out of their group with ease (Cameroon are the only team they have left to play–easy win…right?) but they haven’t looked dominant at all.
Against Bosnia (I’ll get to them) this team looked completely disjointed in attack. But Messi is a player who can change the game. Everyone talks about Neymar, and Cristiano Ronaldo has been the crème de la crème for the past year and a half, but Messi could very well prove why he’s the best at this World Cup. They have an easy draw to start, but Messi needs better help to win the World Cup.
They only started attacking well when Messi moved further back into the midfield in the second half allowing him to get on the ball. However, he then had further to go to get to the goal, which created enough time for Bosnia to close down on him, forcing him to pass to one of his teammates. It normally didn’t go well. Argentina need to get that star-studded attack working well.
Nothing will come easy. At some point I will probably write an article talking more about Belgium (I would’ve wrote one for yesterday but I got a headache after the US game, and then the headache was made worse because I was upset because I had a headache), but for now, I want to leave it at this: you can’t become title-contenders in one cycle. Nothing comes easy.
Throughout the build-up and now during the actual tournament, I’ve heaped praise on the World Cup debutants. If Messi wasn’t playing, they probably would’ve won, or at least got a draw. Also, you must consider that their own goal was fluky. It counted, of course, but if that same game would’ve been played 20 times, it’s something that wouldn’t have happened more than once or twice. If Messi was Bosnian, it would’ve been 4-0. That’s how good Messi and all of Bosnia were compared to the rest of Argentina. They defended very well, and I have little doubt that they’ll handle Nigeria and Iran.
Likely Round of 16 opponents for Bosnia, the French are in a great year. How do I know that? In 1994, France didn’t make the World Cup. In 1998, France won it. In 2002, they went out in the group stage. In 2006, they came excruciatingly close to winning it again. In 2010, they imploded. Based on the pattern of being horrific one tournament and excellent the next, this should be a good year for Les Blues.
This Mexico team has proven that they are much better than the 2013 team. They will still probably need a result against Croatia to make it through, but a draw would cut it due to their impressive 0-0 draw vs. the mighty Brazil. Oh, and they should’ve beat Cameroon 3-0 instead of 1-0. This team has been very good so far.
There are still some issues, and Jozy Altidore’s injury is worrying, but this team does have quality, and most importantly an ability to get results.
Yeah, I intentionally put the US right above England.
Man, they looked terrible. Half of their backline is gone (Pepe suspended for the next game, Coentrao out for the tournament with injury), their striker is gone (Hugo Almeida injured for the next game), and their star player (Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been struggling recently) was a non-factor against Germany. But then again, it was against Germany.
The Swiss, I think, have a good chance to make it out of the Group of Life. Unless they mess up against Honduras, they should be able to afford a poor result in the next game against France, as long as the other teams also do so.
They needed to pick up 3 points to have a sizable chance to win the group. They failed, but if they can hold on they can make it to the Round of 16.
The Ghanaians are very one-dimensional in attack. They prefer to play on the counter. The US defended deep, not pressing too much in order to protect space in behind, so they forced Ghana to break them down. They couldn’t do it. Their next task is the team that just beat Portugal 4-0.
They should’ve gotten more than a point against Iran, but I’ve already written them off anyway. Bosnia is a good team, and you’re either ignorant or Nigerian if you thought they weren’t favorites to join Argentina out of the group.
The Koreans just got a point against the best team they’ll face in the group stage that doesn’t have Eden Hazard. They absolutely have a fairly good chance to make it out of the group stage.
They got close, but they couldn’t last the whole game. They have a shot if they can get an upset against France, but it’s looking unlikely.
As I said, France are good this year. Everyone will drop points against France. Honduras need to get points against Switzerland and Ecuador. Possible, but not at all easy.
Maybe 32nd was harsh, but they couldn’t hold their lead. Again, I have no idea what I’m doing.
Remember, I said it was “Totally Inaccurate.” That wasn’t a joke at all.
USA-Ghana: Poetic Review
(Forgive me for it sounding bad. I don’t make poetry that often.)
The Black Stars were sloppy as the game was beginning.
But Dempsey was ready, and focused on winning.
In half a minute, the US were in control,
A third World Cup for Deuce with scoring a goal.
Ghana looked nervous, and frantic as well.
Their World Cup’s start wasn’t too swell.
While the US wasn’t good in possession,
Ghana couldn’t rule the game with oppression.
They tried and tried, but failed to break them down.
Every Black Star attack ended with frowns.
Altidore hurt, and then Besler, too.
Is it over-training that Klinsmann should rue?
Fiftieth, sixtieth, seventieth minute.
America looked quite like they would win it.
But with a moment of brilliance, the lead was gone.
Andre Ayew the goal, assisted by Gyan.
It was tied up, and it looked without hope.
“We’re still in in the game!” says the US coach.
Fabian Johnson won a nice corner kick.
The US with a chance, but the clock moving quick.
Here comes the sub, Graham Zusi to take it.
Brooks with the header, trying to make it.
And then in a moment not to forget,
The ball went into the back of the net!
“GOAL!” they all shouted, jumping up and down.
Brooks, stunned, just fell to the ground.
Relief, excitement, and much jubilation,
To everyone all across the nation.
Next up is Manaus, with many piranhas.
But for now, it’s the joy of beating Ghana.
That’s it! Stay tuned for more later on. I’ll be here for the whole World Cup and beyond. Annoy everyone you kind-of know with emails about my blog. The more people reading this the more motivated I am to do better.
As promised, I have a preview for you, Readers. Enjoy (note: it’s like several little previews put together, and it has polls at the end):
Let me give you a history lesson: American soccer fans don’t particularly like Ghana. They’ve eliminated us from the last two World Cups.
2006: group stage: the US had 1 point in the first two games after a draw with eventual champions Italy and a loss to the Czech Republic, while Ghana had 3 points, after beating the Czech Republic and losing to the Italians. The US had this to advance: beat Ghana, and hope that Italy beat the Czech Republic. Ghana won.
2010: round of 16: Bob Bradley’s American team won a group that included England, and then played Ghana, runner-ups in a group containing Germany, in the first knockout stage. Ghana won.
All this, plus in World Cup Qualifying last year Ghana crushed Bob Bradley’s Egypt.
They are excellent vs. American coached teams. Good thing we have a German this time around.
Why it’s a “Must-Win”
Both teams see this as a very big game. Let’s look at it from the US perspective:
-Scenario 1: the US wins. Let’s say that Germany beats Portugal. Let’s also say that Germany beats Ghana. So the standings with the US and Portugal about to play would have Germany in the lead with 6 points, the US with 3, and Portugal and Ghana with none. In this scenario the US can qualify just by beating Portugal. However, the US can still draw Portugal, which would mean that both results plus goal difference would need to go in Portugal’s favor for the USMNT to miss advancing.
-Scenario 2: the US loses. Again, Germany win their games. (That’s the control.) Standings would have the US and Portugal at the bottom with 0, Ghana at 3, and Germany at 6. So the team would have to beat Portugal to have any hope (technically they could draw Portugal, beat Germany, and they’d have a chance to go through on goal difference if Portugal beat Ghana, but that’s admittedly very unlikely).
With a US win vs. Portugal in that scenario, the team would then be tied at 3 with Ghana, half of Germany’s points. To advance without goal difference, the US would need to beat Germany, while Ghana doesn’t beat Portugal, OR draw Germany while Portugal beats Ghana. To advance on goal difference, the US would need to match Ghana’s result vs. Portugal: if Ghana wins, the US needs to win; if Ghana draws, the US needs to draw. The most interesting thing would be if Portugal and Germany both win in this scenario, in which case all three non-Germany teams are tied at 3 in an epic-three-way-goal-difference-battle.
Also worthy of note: for the US to advance on goal difference, they’d need, you know, to actually have superior goal difference. Just throwing that out there.
Anyways, there are lots of different combinations. Plus, I should tell you that Ghana’s scenario map is very similar to America’s. And if they draw, both teams are in trouble.
This is the group of death, people. But it’s not just that! It’s the Group of Certain Death. When I first noticed that there were three groups of death (B, D, G) I tried to see the differences. From before the tournament began, it looked like there were three really good teams in groups B and D, but group G seemed to be the only one with 4 quality teams. Costa Rica has proven that that’s the case in Group D as well, but I already gave the name (Group of Certain Death) to Group G. Two good teams will certainly die. Well, they’ll be knocked out, but “Group of Certain Knocking Out” has less of a ring to it.
You still don’t think that it’s a “Must-Win?” Let me explain:
The two weak links in Group G are the US and Ghana. There is no sugarcoating it. Yeah, the US and Ghana have some international superstars, but Germany is made entirely of international superstars, while Portugal has THE international superstar.
Because these two teams are the weakest two in the group, they are each the weakest of the other teams in the perspective of each other. The best chance for victory. Either of these teams can get a win and then draw Portugal and Germany and be happy; that’s 5 points, probably good enough to make it out of the group.
The fact that it’s the easiest game to win for both teams coupled with the fact that it’s the first game and the fact that the opponent is taking it so seriously as well means that it’s of utmost importance to win, for both teams.
The Underdog Mentality
The United States of America is underdogs in this group. That’s a fact. Is anyone going to try and say that it’s a bad thing?
Let me teach you about the history of this country:
1775-1783: American Revolutionary War. We weren’t technically a country yet and we beat the British Empire.
1941-1945: World War II. We beat the Imperial Japanese AND the Nazi Germans.
1950: USA 1-0 England. This was back when England were really good and the US were really bad. It would be like if Canada beat Germany today.
1980: Miracle On Ice. Soviet Union hockey team that had won the last four Olympic gold medals? Let’s send some college players to beat them.
2002: World Cup group stage, vs. Portugal and their star #7. Up 3-0 after 36 minutes.
America thrives on being the underdogs. It isn’t an insult. It’s bulletin-board material. Stuff to put on the bulletin-board, look at it, take it off, and shove it down the opponents throats when you beat them. It’s the American way.
Note: yeah, okay, foreigners helped us out in a lot of those. French in the Revolutionary war, Russians, British, and many more countries helped in WWII, while the goalscorer vs. England was Haitian.
In 2014? We’ve got Germericans. And a couple Scandinaviamericans.
Remember the Squishy Diamond?
That? Yeah, well, I think it’s going to stay. At least for this next game. It can morph into a diamond or 4-2-3-1 in attack, it’s a nice 4-3-2-1 in defense, and the inclusion of Kyle Beckerman means that both Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley can do what they do best. I’ve done this before, but I’ll go through the roles of each player:
-Jozy Altidore: the target forward. His job is to help the attack, by hold-up play and/or scoring goals.
-Clint Dempsey: second striker. His job is to get into the box and score goals.
-Alejandro Bedoya: box-to-box winger. His job is to help out defensively, and act as another one of Bradley’s passing options in attack.
-Michael Bradley: The General. His job is to solidify the team in defense, and to control the team like a quarterback in the attack. I think a reason that Klinsmann is playing him further forward is so that he can shut down Michael Essien.
-Jermaine Jones: destroyer. His job is to smash stuff.
-Kyle Beckerman: calm defensive presence. His job is to sit in front of the defense. This is something that Jones has trouble doing, and if Bradley does it you’re only getting half of The General’s benefits; by having Beckerman do it it’s freeing up both those players to impact the team in the way that they best can.
I’ll expand on Michael Essien: if Klinsmann is going to use the diamond (Squishy Diamond, or whatever you want to call it–everyone has their own name and they call it that with authority) for only one game, it’s the Ghana one. With playing Bradley forward, you lose a little bit defensively. He is both the best attacking midfielder and the best defensive midfielder that the US has. Ghana is probably the team that has the least to give in the attack (they’re dangerous in the attack, just not as dangerous as CR7 or Germany) so Klinsmann will sacrifice defensive solidity to hit the African foes harder.
But, it’s not sacrificing defensive solidity as much, when you consider that Michael Essien plays a huge role in Ghana’s team. He’s kind of like Ghana’s Michael Bradley, except with more hair. Bradley will be closer to Essien in the attacking-midfield role than he would be in the defensive-midfield role, so he could shut down the former Chelsea player when Ghana get the ball, thus disrupting their attack.
How will Ghana play? I’m not quite sure. They’re sure to have the lethal Asamoah Gyan at striker, and we’ll also see the talented young Kwadwo Asamoah somewhere, whether it’s at left-back or in a midfield role. Might we also see utility man Kevin-Prince Boateng? Probably. And don’t forget about Essien, or the Ayew brothers, speedy wingers Andre and Jordan. Do you want a deeper analysis into The Black Stars? Well, that’s more for professionals.
This Is It
On June the 25th, 2011, the USMNT was defeated by Mexico, 4-2, in the Gold Cup final. Shortly thereafter, coach Bob Bradley was fired. He was replaced by former Germany striker Jürgen Klinsmann, who previously coached the German national team and Bayern Munich, to mixed results, and has lived in the US since his retirement.
Klinsmann’s Americans started off with mixed success, having a sputtering start, 1-1-1, in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Round 3 (of the three teams in that group, neither of them got anywhere near a World Cup berth). But 2012 also had positives: friendly wins away to both Mexico and Italy.
In the Hex, the last round of qualification, the US lost the first game away to Honduras. That was the low point of the Klinsmann reign. He was widely criticized, and panic mode ensued, either because of the infamous Brian Straus article or as a catalyst for it. That article was filled with anonymous player quotes criticizing Klinsmann, and detailing the divide between the German-based players and the others, and it made him look like someone who has no business coaching a soccer team.
What did the US do after that? They won 15 games in their next 16, including a comfortable Gold Cup victory and an easy-looking World Cup berth (11 points clear of the playoff place).
But since that incredible year? Uncertainty.
Uncertainty over a vastly inexperienced defense, uncertainty over a forward who struggled in the EPL, uncertainty over another forward who struggled to make an immediate impact in MLS, uncertainty over the group of death, and basically a pessimistic criticism of every decision that Klinsmann has made, including the obviously incorrect decision to select Julian Green over Landon Donovan for the World Cup roster.
But you know what? None of that matters at all. The early struggles and doubts, the Gold Cup win, the qualifying romp, the recent struggles and doubts, the roster decision, the send-off series, etc.. None of it matters at all.
This is the World Cup. Coaching a sports team is a results-driven business. No matter how smart you seem, or what your resume is, it’s based on results. International soccer is all about the World Cup, so naturally an international soccer manager, at least one managing a country at the level of the US, lives and dies based on World Cup performance. Is that fair, considering that the US is in the group of death? Not entirely. But it’s not about being fair. It’s about cold, hard results.
Anyone can lead the US to a Gold Cup win, at least when Mexico is in an epic slump. Anyone can lead the US to the World Cup. They hired Jürgen Klinsmann to bring the US success at the World Cup. What happens if he doesn’t do well at the World Cup? There’s a good chance he gets fired, regardless of the fact that he signed a contract through 2018 (Bob Bradley signed one through 2014).
The past doesn’t matter. The future doesn’t matter. It’s about the World Cup. Right now, it’s about getting out of the group. To do that, the United States will need to beat Ghana. The time is now.