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Jeff Maurer's Soccer Blog
Wednesday, 2 June 2010
England Roster Cuts
Topic: US National Team
England has cut Theo Walcott. Was my blog from Friday responsible? Probably. It was a withering critique.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 11:54 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
What We Learned from the Turkey Match
Topic: US National Team

We didn’t really learn so much as confirm what we already knew (or at least I confirmed what I thought I already knew…I’m very good at discarding information that doesn’t conform to my pre-existing opinions). So, let’s review…

 

Steve Cherundolo > Jonathan Spector. I’ve felt this way for a while; I’m glad to see more people coming over to my side. I actually didn’t think that Spector played that poorly; the goal wasn’t his fault, and he spent a fair amount of time pinching in to cover for an uncharacteristically poor Jay Demerit (Demerit was back to his old self in the second half). That being said, I could see Spector lining up against Engald; his size might match up better against Heskey.

 

Ricardo Clark is not that good. I said it in my post a few days ago: Clark is only serviceable…servicable! And I think that characterization is apt…apt! He really didn’t impress me: he didn’t hold the ball or pass well, and his work rate was mediocre. Also, when we pair him with Bradley we have two midfields who like to sit very deep and don’t tend to carry the ball forward. It should be Edu for defense or Torres for offense.

 

Torres is a legitimate option in the middle. Torres has won me over (it wasn’t just this game…he’s been playing well for Pachucha). He’s sharp on the ball and an excellent passer. The only other player who offers that particular skillset in the midfield is Feilhaber. But, as we saw yesterday, Torres is better.

 

Gooch is fine. After the Czech Republic game, people were freaking out about Gooch. Everyone was alarmed by his supposed limp (what limp? I didn’t see one) and complaining that he got out-jumped on the first goal. In fact, the problem on the first goal wasn’t his jumping, it was his positioning; the Czech guy got there first and got on Gooch’s shoulder. We’ve seen Gooch play twice now, and I don’t think there’s anything there: he’s fine, he’s totally fine. He’s healed, he’s not limping, he can jump. He’s getting his match fitness back. He’s fine.   

 

Jonathan Bornstein is for emergencies only. Holy shit, he played poorly. And I like him – he seems like a good guy, puts in a good effort every time. But he is not international caliber, period.

 

People are overreacting to the Charlie Findley phenomenon. A week ago, the blogosphere hated Charlie Findley. Suddenly, everyone loves him. Look: he played pretty well. He was active and made a nice chip to Donovan on the first goal. But he also made a few poor decisions and was 0-for-3 at getting crosses in from the wing. I understand that Bradley wants him on the team for his speed…okay, fine, I get that. I still think he’s one of our weaker players.

 

If you really feel the need to have a speedy forward up top, then how about this:

 

------------------Altidore---------------Donovan-----------------------

 

Dempsey------------Edu/Torres----------Bradley-------------Holden

 

Bocanegra------------Gooch-------------Demerit----------Cherundolo

 

---------------------------------Howard------------------------------------

 

This basically puts Holden in for Findley. Why? Because Holden is a better player than Findley. This is our best 11 Bob: make them fit. You’re doing it on the back line, and it’s working. Do it on the whole field.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:05 PM EDT
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Saturday, 29 May 2010
USA vs. Turkey Preview
Topic: US National Team

Here's what I'm hoping to see when the US plays Turkey tomorrow.

1. No injuries. Duh.

2. Holding the ball in the midfield. We're more of a counterattacking side - we don't do this extremely well. I'm not saying we need to be Mexico or Argentina, but I'd like to see us establish a rhythm and take some pressure off the defense.

3. Creativity in attack/ability to break down a compact defense.Turkey are coached by Gus Hiddink, so you know they'll be well-organized. In 2006, we showed a disturbing inability to break down Morocco and Latvia in the send-off series, which carried over to the World Cup. When we needed two goals in the second half against Ghana, we weren't able to break through.

4. Beasley: all in or fold. I don't think he'll start (see below), but I think he'll see significant minutes. I hope he either plays well enough to make me believe that the old (and I mean OLD...like 2004) Damarcus Beasley is back, or he plays poorly enough that Bradley leaves him out of the 11 during the Cup. I am a Beasley pessimist - it's been a long, long time since he showed good form for any significant amount of time.

Which brings us to...

My preferred lineup:

-----------------Altidore---------Dempsey-------------- 

Donovan----------Edu---------Bradley---------Holden 

Bocanegra-------Gooch-------Demerit------Cherundolo

---------------------------Howard------------------------

 The lineup I think we'll see: 

-----------------Altidore---------Gomez-------------- 

Dempsey----------Edu---------Bradley---------Donovan 

Bocanegra---------Gooch--------Demerit--------Spector

---------------------------Howard------------------------ 


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:44 AM EDT
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Friday, 28 May 2010
Advice for England
Topic: US National Team

Gabriele Marcotti of SI.com has five questions for England. As an American and a Premiereship fan, I'd like to offer some answers.

1. What happens if Gareth Barry isn't fit? The options are Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone, and Michael Carrick.

Go with Carrick. One can't overemphasize the importance - not to mention the sheer aesthetic majesty - of a well-played square ball. And Carrick is the Michaelangelo of square balls. Always remember: everything Manchester United does is always right, and anything they do is superior to anything any other club does. Which reminds me: why didn't Michael Owen make the squad?

2. Who's between the sticks? It's either James, Hart, or Green.

Since Scott Carson is not an option (I guess Capello needs to prove he's his own man...give it up, Fabio - you'll never escape Steve McClaren's shadow), I recommend Green. You don't want James - he had that one bad game against Denmark in 2005. And you don't want Hart - he barely handled a ball this year. Now, Green...he's had shots flying at him practically non-stop all year. And he got half a fingertip or maybe part of a knee on many of them! I've been watching the West Ham defense all year...Green is definitely the way to go.

3. Who Leads the Line? Rooney and Gerrard will play in attack, and the options to line up alongside them are Heskey, Bent, Defoe, and Crouch.

Just because Crouch has scored every time he's touched a ball for England in the last four years is no reason to think that he's any good. I mean, look at him. Dork. Looks like Stephen Merchant. Please. Defoe and Bent are speedy, but our defenders are really awesome at coping with speed. Jonathan Spector could mark either one right out of the game. You know what our defenders really struggle with, though? Lumbering, low-scoring strikers who don't play much. I shudder to think of the damage Emile Heskey might do.

4. How many fragile central defenders can you afford to bring? Ferdinand and Ledley King are both coming off of injuries, meaning that Carragher, Dawson, or Upson might be pressed into service.

Whichever option maximizes the odds that Matthew Upson will see the field is the right play here. Just imagine: Upson and Green, the linchpins of that stingy West Ham defense, reunited for England! Hell, I'd be willing to let Jonathan Spector switch nationalities just to see that combo weave their magic one more time!

5. Who completes the front four? The options are Cole, Lennon, Walcott, Wright-Phillips, and Milner.

Well, it can't be Milner, since various articles I've read already have him penciled in at left back, center mid, goalkeeper, and third base. Lennon and Wright-Phillips are similar players - how do you break the news to the one left out without hurting his feelings? Leave them both out. Cole already had one good World Cup - he doesn't need another. Go with Walcott. Why? Because I love "tantric soccer" - all buildup, no finish. And Walcott is an expert. What good is an amazing run down the wing if you immediately overshadow it with a powerful strike or a well-placed pass? Much better to trip over your own feet and let the ball roll harmlessly out of bounds. That way, we learn to find enjoyment in the buildup instead of seeking the immediate gratification of a finish.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 10:52 AM EDT
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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Robbie Findley is Dick Cheney
Topic: US National Team

When Bush 43 was president, every liberal fantasized about him getting impeached. We imagined a Nixon-esque shame-filled walk to a helicopter, broadcast on every network. The nation would howl at the reviled president, his legacy forever tarnished. We pictured the helicopter taking off and growing smaller in the distance, thus removing Bush and his policies from our lives forever. We’d flash a self-satisfied smile, breathe a sigh of relief that a dark era in presidential history was finally ending, and then welcome the new president…

 

Dick Cheney.

 

That’ll jolt you back to reality in a fucking hurry.

 

Brian Ching haters: Robbie Findley is Dick Cheney.

 

If you read yesterday’s post, you can guess that I’m not thrilled that Bradley took Findley over Ching. But it’s not really the fact that Bradley took Findley over CHING that bothers me. What bothers me is the fact that Bradley took Findley over Bedoya. I don’t like what that probably means for the starting 11. Here’s my thinking…

 

Do you play your best 11, regardless of position? Or do you play the best player at each position? It’s an old debate. I generally believe in playing your best 11 (within reason). The Findley pick – along with both Gomez AND Buddle being included – makes me think that Bradley plans on putting one of these three in our starting 11. That worries me.

 

In my mind, the best attacking formation is definitely Altidore and Dempsey up top, Donovan and Holden on the wings. If you slide Dempsey back to midfield, then you essentially replace Holden with your underwhelming striker of choice: Buddle, Gomez, or Findley. The fact that Bradley picked a forward over a midfielder makes me think that’s exactly what he plans to do. And if that’s NOT what he plans to do, then why take what amounts to five strikers?

 

We’ll learn a lot about Bradley's plans from the game against Turkey on Saturday. And hey, I’ll be 100 percent behind whatever guys we put on the field. I hope that Findley fulfills his promise and that Buddle and Gomez take their recent success to the World Cup. But I think the percentage play is to start Holden.

 

One thing to consider: it seems that Ching might still be carrying a hamstring injury. Here’s what Bradley said yesterday:

 

"Plain and simple, Edson and Herculez have had real good stretches, scored a lot of goals. Brian has been such an important player but it's tough when you have an injury at an inopportune time."

 

So, there’s that to factor in. I’m inclined to give Bob the benefit of the doubt: he’s the one watching training every day, he’s the one getting reports from the trainers. I hope he made the right call.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:51 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
The US Roster: Who Should Make It, Who Should Be Cut, and Who Should Be Put to Death?
Topic: US National Team

Ramping the soccer blog back up in anticipation of the World Cup. I hope to write a post every day, and since I will be: 1) going on vacation next week, and 2) seriously half-assing my job for the duration of the Cup, it might actually happen.

Last night we saw the US scrubs lose 4-2 to the Czech scrubs - I'm sorry..."szcrubs". Bob Bradley will name the US 23 at 1PM today. The loss to the Czechs confirmed what I've been feeling for a long time: this team doesn't have a lot of depth. My level of confidence really plummets once you get outside the core group of guys.

I don't want to get into the Gomez vs. Buddle/Beasley vs. Bedoya debates. Those are depressing. You know how on "Lost" they kept saying "once you talk to the smoke monster, it's already too late"? In the World Cup, once you start contemplating that Edson Buddle might be your best option, it's already too late. So, instead of simply naming my preferred 23, here are my feelings on all 30 guys.

I'm feeling good. Jozy, Dempsey, Landon, Bradley, Holden, Bocanegra, Gooch, Demerit, Cherundolo, Howard.

These are the core guys - this is our best team. Yes, I rate Cherundolo above Spector, though I know that Bob Bradley has them the other way around. And yes, I like Holden a lot; I think he's going to break out in 2010 the way Dempsey did in 2006.

Please, Bob: take this list and make a lineup out of it. I know that means putting Dempsey up top (nothing wrong with that) and sliding Bocanegra left (not ideal, but not bad), but just do it.  There are ten of these guys, but not to worry: there are still decent options before the talent level falls off a cliff.

*Also feeling good: Guzan and Hahnemann. I like them both. If this were club soccer, I'd be on the phone with England about a trade. But we're unlikely to see either of them, so I'll keep them in a separate category from the field players.

I like those odds. Spector, Edu, Torres.

These guys are usually pretty good...usually. Each has a glitch in his game. Edu's passing can get sloppy. Torres, who plays in Mexico, sometimes succumbs to the curse of Mexican soccer: he forgets that you get points for GOALS, not for stringing together meaningless passes. Spector plays every game the same: 89 solid minutes, good passing, a few enterprising runs up the flank, one catastrophic mistake. Still, I'd feel pretty good about seeing any of these guys on the field.

At this point, we're at 13 guys (plus the two extra goalkeepers). You can make a lineup out of these 13, inserting Edu for more defense or Torres for offense. Spector can slide in wherever you need him in the back, meaning you can afford to lose one guy. But outside of these 13, the talent level really starts to drop off.

Serviceable subs: all is not lost. Ching, Clark, Feilhaber, Goodson.

It's true: I am not a Ricardo Clark fan. I think he's serviceable...nothing more. Also true: I am a Brian Ching apologist. I, unlike many US fans, am not filled with dread when he takes the field. And I think that Clarence Goodson might be the Jimmy Conrad of 2010. Here's how to best describe my feelings about these guys: if they come in when we have a LEAD, I'll feel okay. They can play - I don't expect them to come in and suck. But if they come in when we're behind or tied - i.e., we're relying on them to provide a spark, or they represent our best option - then I won't be feeling very good.

I've got a bad feeling about this. Gomez, Buddle, Bornstein, Beasley, Bedoya, Rodgers.

Remember the Ghana game in 2006? Remember when Reyna got stripped for Ghana's first goal, hurt his knee, and Ben Olsen came in to replace him? Now, I'm a DC United fan; Ben Olsen is my favorite player, and I was pumped to see him come in. Everyone at the Arlington Drafthouse, where I was watching, applauded. But I know the rest of the nation had...well...a somewhat different reaction. Sort of a nation-wide sinking feeling. A collective "so, it's come to this, has it?" That's the way I'll feel if any of these guys get on the field. It's not that they can't play - on any given day, any of these guys can be pretty good. And I'll be praying that they come up big. But I won't like our chances.

About Beasley, Buddle, and Gomez: past performance does not necessarily predict future results. I am so sick of hearing about Beasley's World Cup experience. He had experience in 2006, and that didn't keep him from sucking. He's also been getting Freddy Adu-level minutes in Scotland. Buddle and Gomez are both riding hot streaks, and both have some impressive tools (Buddle's pace and size, Gomez's shot from distance). But both also have many, many years of MLS mediocrity on their resumes. As a baseball fan, I need to see more before I'll be convinced that either are experiencing anything more than a temporary spike in form.

Please God, no. Kljestan, Marshall, Findley.

My days as a Sacha Kljestan apologist are over. He just turns the ball over too much; I thought it might go away, but it hasn't. I like Marshall when he's healthy, but he's clearly not healthy. Findley is Eddie Johnson Junior: his speed makes everyone ignore the fact that he hasn't yet shown that he's any good at soccer.

Put him in a rocket, shoot it into space, turn off the tracking equipment. Heath Pearce, Eddie Johnson.

The second and third Czech goals were bittersweet: I wasn't happy that they scored, but they DID both contribute to hopefully keeping Heath Pearce off the plane. I'm sorry: he's just not national team caliber. He only plays one position, and he doesn't play it well. Leave him at home, take seven defenders, and use Edu at center back if you absolutely have to. Eddie Johnson is still riding that hat trick he scored against Panama in 2004. Eddie Johnson, Smashing Pumpkins, Margaret Cho: they haven't been good for a long time. Give up the ghost.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 10:28 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 26 May 2010 12:02 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Looking Back at England, Forward to Spain
Topic: US National Team

  Friendly number 2 of 3 against quality opponents is today. The first one, against England, went badly. My post last week covered seven things I'd like to see against England, so I'd like to revisit those seven things:

 

1. Eddie Johnson on the bench. Nope - he played 90 minutes, and, to be fair, I thought he played better than normal. Which is to say: he still did not play very well.

2. A decent scoreline. This was probably the big victory, if there was one. 3-0 or maybe even 4-0 would have also been fair scorelines.

3. A good game for Bocanegra. Actually, I thought that he - and the entire back line, actually, played pretty well; they were just under pressure the entire game. The one criticism I have is that they didn't play the ball forward extremely well, which contributed to them being under pressure the entire game. Bocanegra probably didn't help himself much in the eyes of most Premiership managers, but he probably didn't hurt himself much, either.

4. A good game for Freddy Adu. I thought he was fine, but it's not like he made an irrefutable case for more playing time to Benfica's new manager. I think he'll get a shot today against Spain; with Donovan out, a creative option is sorely needed, and he's the only other name on the roster who fits that description.

5. A good game for Beckham. Yep, pretty good. Better than Gareth Barry, in my opinion. Now that I'm seeing Beckham play on a regular basis, my opinion of Beckham is this: without his right foot, Beckham is a good player. Not a great player by any stretch, but a solid, quality player with good technique and a decent work rate. But his right foot is absolutely atomic. It bumps him up from good to world class. I can't think of any player who can strike the ball as accurately and with as much pace as consistently as Beckham. Roberto Carlos has a laser beam free kick, but he can't play the bending ball that Beckham plays all the time. Juninho and Nakamura are probably Beckham's equivalent as far as scoring from free kicks is concerned, but Beckham is probably the better crosser both from dead balls and the run of play. If Beckham got hurt and could only take free kicks, it would probably make sense for the Galaxy to just play with 10 and then trot him out there for each dead ball. He's that good.

6. A good game from Michael Bradley. Nope - I thought he was pretty poor. He tackled well and didn't draw a red card, but that's about all. He really didn't play the ball forward well. He did poorly in tight spots. He didn't link up with the forwards, and didn't get forward much himself. Not an impressive showing. I think he'll be paired with Mastreoni today; maybe that will allow him to focus on offense a little bit more.

7. Minutes for Kenny Cooper. Okay, I really blew it on this one: Cooper wasn't on the roster. But I'm a comedian writing about soccer; I don't think it's reasonable to expect me to have even the vaguest idea what I'm talking about. 

 

Other thoughts from the England match, Larry King News & Notes style:

- I've felt this way for a long time: the national team really needs Landon Donovan. That doesn't bode well for today's match versus Spain, which Donovan will also sit out.

- Dempsey had a howler.

- I've never liked Josh Wolff much as a striker (he can't finish), and was not surprised when 1860 Munich started playing him on the right wing. I though that's where Bradley was going to put him against England, with Dempsey up top.

- The US striker pool is pathetic. When you can make a convincing argument why Nate Jaqua should be starting - and I think that you can - you've officially fallen on hard times.

- It's only a friendly, where you want to test out promising young players, and we still put Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis, and Josh Wolff on the field. Nothing against those guys, but the fact that we can't replace them at the moment is a very bad sign.  

 

 Now on to today's game against Spain. I think we'll get a better performance based on the fact that our guys want to atone for the England match, but I really worry about the team that we'll be putting on the fied. For starters, we still have no strikers. Eddie Johnson is like a koala bear: the koala survived because it had no predators, and Eddie Johnson keeps getting minutes because there's no-one there to displace him. That being the case, here's the line that I think we'll see versus Spain, which also happens to be the lineup that I hope we'll see:

 

-------------------------Johnson----------

--------------Adu---------------------------

Beasley-------------------------Dempsey

---------Bradley------Mastreoni---------

Pearce---Boca-----Onyewu-------Dolo

----------------Howard--------------------

 

Yes, that's right: I am advocating a starting lineup that contains Eddie Johnson. Ugh. It's come to that. As I mentioned, a good argument can be made for Jaqua instead of Johnson, but I think that we'll have to defend and counter against Spain, and Jaqua isn't built for the counter attack.

Of course, the real solution to the striker problem should be obvious by now: Jozy Altidore must be sent into deep space, where he will age at a faster rate, a-la Planet of the Apes. He needs to be 22 now. World Cup qualifying starts in a few weeks; if we can't get Altidore on the field somehow, then somebody better get Brian McBride on the phone.



Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:05 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 28 May 2008
What I Hope to See Against England
Topic: US National Team

  Friendlies are like open mics: the result is less important that what you learn. Here's what I'm hoping for against England:

 

1. Eddie Johnson on the bench. I'm over him; he's not the guy. My worst fear is that he'll play and have a semi-decent game, which will subsequently earn him another ten games of back-passes and donkey touches that cause the commentators to say "he just needs to find his form..." He has found his form: his form is shit.  

Of course, it looks like Donovan might not play, which means that Johnson probably will.

 

2. A decent scoreline. I'd love it if the US won, but England are the stronger team and they have to be considered the favorites. If the US lose by two goals or one, that gets remembered as: "The US came to Wembley and England won." If we lose by three goals or more, that gets remembered as: "The US came to Wembley and got their asses kicked."

 

3. A good game for Bocanegra. He's out of contract with Fulham and is looking for a new team. He's proven that he's good enough to play in the Premiership; a good game here could help him latch on with a Premiership team. 

 

4. A good game for Freddy Adu. He's dominating at the U-20 and Olympic levels, and he's still only 18 (which seems impossible - shouldn't he be about 35 by now?). It's time to start giving him regular looks with the full national team. Benfica have a new coach and some good performances in high-profile matches should help Freddy get a look.

 

5. A good game for Beckham. If Beckham plays poorly, everyone in England will say: "His form is shit because he plays in MLS." We need a good game from Beckham in order to be spared that inane chorus. Of course, a good game from Beckham will not cause anyone in England to give MLS any credit whatsoever, but it will at least minimize the disparaging remarks.

 

6. A good game from Michael Bradley. Another guy who's basically on trial; he could all but cement a spot in the Premiership with a good game tonight. Most important for me: no brain farts in the closing moments of the game. He has a very bad habit of drawing stupid cards and committing stupid fouls after the 80th minute. 

 

7. Minutes for Kenny Cooper. He's the anti-Eddie Johnson: he's consistently good, and yet nobody seems to notice. I don't think he'll ever be a great national team player, but I could see him being a reliable, solid option, a la Jimmy Conrad. 


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:55 PM EDT
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Sunday, 20 April 2008
Eddie Johnson Sucks. At Soccer.
Topic: US National Team

  Everyone over at Soccer by Ives is wondering why Eddie Johnson isn't playing at Fulham.

  I'll tell you why he isn't playing: it's because he isn't good at soccer. At all. He is the one American player whom I do not want to see on the field for Fulham, and it's because he's just not good. At soccer. Not even a little.

  Maybe this will help people understand...

 

Eddie Johnson cannot play,

He sucks in many, many ways;

 

He cannot shoot, he cannot pass,

He often falls down on the grass;

 

His touches often take him wide,

He's always, ALWAYS caught offside;

 

He does not work, he can't defend,

He does not get from end to end;

 

He is not good with back to goal,

He is not good in any role!

 

He can't play high or on the wing,

He is not good at anything!

 

He is not good when with his club,

He is not good used as a sub;

 

His is not good when with the Nats,

He is not good and that is that!

 

He's played his first and last World Cup,

US fans should give it up!


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:01 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 23 January 2007
America Demands Soccer Editorials from Unknown Comedians
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.


Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 12:01 AM EST
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