Topic: US National Team
This past weekend, sports fans in this country were thrilled by one of the most remarkable games in recent memory: the U.S. under-20's 5-0 win over Panama. Nobody at work can stop talking about it.
I watched all three US games in the qualifying tournament, which was played on what can't possibly be the best field in Panama (come on, Panama - you have professional teams. Do they all play on high-school-quality fields with dirt patches and potholes?) My thoughts on each player are below, because soccer fans everywhere are dying for the opinions of federal employee-comedians who last played competitive soccer in high school. I also scored each player twice on a scale of 1-10. The first score is how well that player played in the tournament. The second score is how much potential I think that player has in the long run. Please note: the second number will almost certainly look comically wrong if we were to look back at it in a couple of years.
- Chris Seitz (GK) - 7, 9 - Barely had anything to do in any of the games. The only goal he gave up was a penalty kick against Haiti, which he probably should have saved. He gets the seven mostly because he looks like a good 'keeper, i.e., he's big and has a shaved head (why are all American goalkeepers bald?). His positioning was okay, though not perfect, and he made a couple nice saves against Panama. I'm eager to see if he can win the starting spot in Salt Lake if Scott Garlick goes into a slump.
- Quavas Kirk (D) - 4, 9 - Probably the biggest disappointment of the tournament from my perspective. I've been pretty optimistic about this guy since I saw him run the right flank against DC, but he didn't have a good tournament. He showed a lot of speed and a willingness to get forward, but his defense was lacking and he was frequently caught out of position. He also gave Haiti their PK by unnecessarily tugging a Hatian player's shirt. I still think that he shows a lot of promise, but I wonder if his future is more as a right mid than as a right back.
- Julian Valentin - 5.5, 6 - Solid defensive work, though his distrubition was a bit lacking. Maybe it was because of the rough field, but the defense as a whole often seemed very slow to play the ball out of their third. Still, Valentin showed good composure for a kid and was rarely caught out of position, which is what you want from a central defender.
- Nathan Sturgis - 5.5, 6 - Pretty much identical to Valentin - good defense, good composure, could have been a bit better playing the ball forward. He, like most of the American players, definitely benefitted from a considerable size advantage over his opponents.
- Tim Ward - 5.5, 6 - A mixed bag: showed a good willingness to get forward and had some nice moments, but had some bad giveaways as well. It seems like he maybe has the tools to be a solid MLS left back, but not much beyond that.
- Danny Sztela - 8, 8 - I never quite understood what everyone sees in this kid; I always thought he was unimpressive with the U-17s and with Columbus. But I finally started to see it this time - I thought he had the best tournament of any American player. He controlled the midfield well, which was important because he often didn't receive much help in a three-man midfield. He distributed the ball pretty well and played at a quick pace. He also looked a lot bigger than he looked previously, which makes me think that he might eventually turn into a pretty effective midfield destroyer.
- Tony Beltran - 5, 5 - Solid, though not spectacular. Didn't make too many mistakes, but didn't do much to distinguish himself, either. Played defensive mid in the third game and was a more stabalizing influence in that role than Anthony Wallace.
- Freddy Adu - 6, 9 - I've seen a lot of Freddy over the past three years with DC United, so I pretty much know what to expect: outstanding vision, excellent through balls, disappointingly difficult square balls, the occasional brilliant touch, the occasional stupid giveaway in an attempt to execute a brilliant touch, the occasional great finish, the occasional shot that misses the goal by 40 yards, excellent dead balls and free kicks, great runs capped by completely losing composure and dribbling right into a defender, a wildly fluctuating work rate, an ever-improving ability to hold and distribute the ball, and absolutely, positively, under no circumstances, any right foot whatsoever. I did notice two encouraging things about Freddy's play that I haven't really seen before: 1) When on the ball, he seemed to be playing at a quicker pace than most of the other players. I guess that's the professional experience paying off. 2) He had some decent attempts on goal from free kicks. These are positive aspects from his game that he seems to be developing.
If I'm John Ellinger (Real Salt Lake's coach), I make Freddy practice using only his right foot two days a week.
Johann Smith - 6, 8.5 - I was exited to see this guy for the first time, and he showed some moments of really good soccer - he created the first goal against Panama all by himself. He had a few chances to showcase his speed (he ran the 100 in 10.4 in high school), but it was mostly while chasing down long balls played into the corner. He showed decent touch and skill, but his passing and decision-making wasn't always the greatest. Still, since there appear to be two wide-open forward slots on the full national team, I'll be watching his progress whenever I get a chance.
Robbie Rogers - 4, 4.5 - This was the first time that I've seen this guy as well, and I came away a bit disappointed. He didn't show a great deal of speed or skill; his main asset seemed to be his crossing ability, which was apparent but inconsistent. He also seems to be able to play a good cross with either foot, which is a plus. Still, I felt that his contribution to the attack was less than stellar.
Josmer Altidore - 6, 9 - Like Quavas Kirk and Freddy, I'm really optimistic about this guy, and his undeniable skill was unapparent at times. He showed a lot of speed and trickery, though the U-20 World Cup Finals will be a much better measure of his talents. On the negative side, his first touch let him down sometimes, and I felt that he did a subpar job of creating space for himself. It's also worth mentioning that he was apparently sick throughout this tournament, and he missed the whole first game and half of the second.
One thing (among many) the the announcers didn't notice: he slapped the ball out of a Guatemalan player's hand before a free kick when he was already carrying a yellow card. Not smart. Although the team kept their composure pretty well on the whole for a bunch of 19-year-olds.
Jonathan Villanueva - 4.5, 4.5 - This is the guy who beat out Dax McCarthy for a roster spot, and it wasn't entirely clear to me why. He wasn't horrible, but I didn't see a whole lot of skill, pace, or vision. It should be pointed out that Haiti was absolutely terrible in the first game, and we should have scored even more than the four goals that we did. Subpar attacking play, part of which was Villanueva, is, in my opinion, the reason why we didn't score more.
Sal Zizzo - 4, 6 - Showed a good work rate and decent passing ability, but failed to make the most of his opportunities in the final third. Another one of the attacking players in the Haiti game whom I though didn't play all that well.
Anthony Wallace - 4.5, 5.5 - Very inconsistent - made some good plays, but probably had more poor first touches and unforced giveaways than any other player. He got into the attack a lot at some points, but it often came at the expense of leaving Sztela stranded in the defensive midfield.
Andre Akpan - 4.5, 4 - This is probably a harsh judgement for a guy who was credited with a hat trick in the only full game he played (though the second goal was actually an own-goal), but his goals were pretty much tap-ins, and I actually though he should have done better on a couple of occasions. Also, he didn't show the speed or skill that some of the other forwards demonstrated. The attack was a lot more dangerous when Altidore and Smith entered the game.
Didn't play enough for a rating: Ofori Sarkodie (which is too bad; he played well for the U-17s), Bryan Arguez (also too bad; he was DC United's top draft pick), Preston Zimmerman, Amaechi Igwe, Brian Perk.
Also, here are my thoughts (in a much briefer form) on the US players who played against Denmark:
Reis: Very poor but got away with it
Albright: Below his standard
Conrad: Pretty good, one moment of ball-watching
Boswell: Calm and controlled as always, a few mistakes, should be capped again
Bornstein: Completely schizophrenic in a nonetheless promising way. Cap him again and see what happens.
Pearce: Wish he had played more
Namoff: A little jittery, did a good job (as always) of knowing when to stay home
Clark: Pretty good, would like to see more
Mastreoni: As always, extremely tough but occasionally brainless
Donovan: Good, everyone wants him to be great
Rolfe: Poor as a mid, good as a forward
Mapp: Great run for the second goal, fundamentals could use some work. Cap him again against Mexico.
Johnson: Complete crap - what happened to this guy?
Nate Jaqua: Not too good, though he spent a lot of his time chasing down long balls, which is not really his game.
Kenny Cooper: pretty good. I'm optimistic about this guy.