116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Thursday, February 07, 2008

USA-Mexico Thrills, England as Cloverfield

So I take back everything I said Monday about USA vs. Mexico, a game full of intrigue and excitement. After a day of watching some fairly dull international friendlies, it was fantastic to see some true passion and end-to-end action. While I wrote on Monday that there would be little gleaned from this February soirée, I can thankfully say that I was very much in the wrong.

Bob Bradley, for example, has clearly taken a different approach to this friendly than his predecessor. The past efforts to preserve bragging rights in the rivalry have produced a very tightly-packed, possession-conceding USA side merely content with the result on the scoreboard. Bradley, in this very same friendly a year ago (and under tremendous pressure to win as an interim coach), employed this very Arena-like tactic in a game in which the victorious US team was criticized for their conservative approach.
Last night, however, Bradley was able to utilize the tactics he has spent the better part of a year instilling into the Nats, and the result was some very wide-open, attacking play that nearly resulted in a 3 goal performance for the US. That they were able to play an attacking style and hang in there against the superior pressure of Mexico should be a sign of encouragement for US fans.

Less encouraging (particularly considering the praise I just heaped on Bob Bradley) was the play of Drew Moor and Ramiro Corrales. What was Bradley smoking to put two inexperienced fullbacks in the starting lineup against a very quick Mexico squad that likes to pressure from the wings? Neither player seemed suited for the speed of the contest, and Moor was disastrous on set pieces. Using at least one more experienced fullback (Heath Pearce comes to mind) may have helped cover for the shortcomings of the USA wide players.

It looks as if Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark may be the Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard of the USA squad, and not in a good way. Famous for being fine players whenever not wearing the same shirt as the same side, Stevie G and Fat Frank have become notorious as poster boys for what happens when too-similar players line up right next to each other in midfield. Did anyone else notice that the U.S. midfield possession improved when Benny Feilhaber and Maurice Edu came on in the second half? Bob Bradley still has a lot of work to do in figuring out the midfield equation.

The USA is keeping up with Mexico in the development of young talent. Yes, Mexico's much-hyped young players impressed (particularly Carlos Vela), But the American under-21 players held out their end of the bargain as well (Michael Bradley's performance notwithstanding). Once again, I can't quite figure out why Feilhaber can't get some time with Derby, as he was solid coming on as a sub. Freddy Adu looked comfortable in midfield, and can we please keep Jozy Altidore? Jozy was the story of the match, maintaining possession, making runs (both with and away from the ball), and being a factor in front of goal. An American striker who can finish his chances, who would have thought? It will be very hard to keep him on the bench for the sake of his "development" any longer. The pairing of Jozy and Clint Dempsey up front should continue.

As much space as I have devoted to the US team, Mexico were still pretty clearly the better side last night. It's true that US failure to cover set pieces led to Mexico's goals, but El Tri were pretty threatening all night and had the US Men on the ropes throughout. Had Clint Dempsey's goal been allowed, the US probably would have registered a largely undeserved win, so I have to say that 2-2 is probably a fair result for such a frenetic match.

Speaking of frenetic matches, England vs. Switerland was anything but. Fabio Capello probably blew the minds of English players, fans, technical staff and media when he opted for a 4-1-2-2-1 formation (a formation that only exists in fairy tales and King Arthur stories in England, you see), and the players, fans, technical staff and media responded as you might expect had they seen the Loch Ness Monster: with fear and confusion. Wes Brown, for example, acting on instinct, saw fit to merely push the ball slightly forward to David Bentley at every opportunity. Bentley, for his part, decided that since he was wearing number 7, he should become David Beckham, tactical considerations notwithstanding. Thus, rather than getting forward, he would cross in the general direction of Ashley Cole, who looked about as lost out there as Waldo, but not quite as lost as Gareth Barry, who appeared to be learning the rules to the game at a YMCA in Chester, Pennsylvania. In Barry's defense he was playing out of position at Capello's mandate. The same cannot be said for Steven Gerrard, who, occupying the left side of central midfield in a virtual 4-3-3, seemed to think that made him a winger for the day, slaloming down the left side and getting in the way of Joe Cole, who along with Jermaine Jenas was England's best player on the day (if I ever have to say "Jermaine Jenas" and "England's best player" again in the same sentence, feel free to shoot me in the head).

It should come as no surprise then that Cole and Jenas connected on England's first goal, considering they were the only two with even the slightest idea of what they were supposed to be doing out there (Joe Cole does at least play in a similar formation at Chelsea; Jenas' performance is completely inexplicable). Immediately after, England went right back to looking like the Columbus Crew, until Capello said #*^% it and started letting his players start hoofing it all over the place with typical English zeal (Fabio, hold strong; don't become an enabler). This s what allowed erstwhile winger Gerrard get onto the end of one and find Shaun Wright Phillips for the second goal, giving England the win against a weakened Swiss side. The thing in all of this is that for England to become a serious international contender, it has to break it's long-ball addiction (Fabio, hold strong; don't become an enabler) and learn to become the kind of squad that can actually play 4-1-2-2-1 football if necessary. Expect some growing pains, English fans; not every other formation is a scary, man-eating beast.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home