Having Watched My First U.S. U-23 Game…

…and knowing said game isn’t over, here’s a couple things that come to mind:

– Tell me we don’t usually play so fitfully. A couple players have “it” – and I’ll get to that below – but the general vibe I’m getting is damned sloppy. So, tell me this is fatigue. Because, if it’s not, I fear for our future (not literally; all these players will age and, most, improve, but this was ugly…mo-fugly in some places).

I know Breton is live-blogging as we speak, so I’ll keep this brief. I didn’t watch the whole game, but, of the parts I watched, I’ll list the players who stood out – for good or for ill – below…starting with “for ill”…because I’m a bastard.

For Ill
Chad Barrett: I want to like you. Really. But how can I with all those leaden touches, mis-hit passes, and, on the one good chance I saw, limp shooting?

Sacha Kljestan: I understand you were the high-point of the Cuba game, so don’t take this personal, but…you’re passing to the guys in white, son. White jerseys. I’m only saying because you didn’t seem to know that going in.

Dominic Cervi: Not really bad, but shaky moments are shaky moments and you’ve had a couple. Maybe your central defenders played a role?

Sal Zizzo: Either he is tired tonight or 1) he’s playing miles out of position, or 2) he’s just not very good. I’m betting this is an off-night…or rather hoping. Clumsy feet, too static, mental mistakes….I could go on. Suffice to say it wasn’t his best night.

For Good
Orozco (first name, please?): I like him. He’s looking a little more composed than Patrick Ianni and comes forward smartly. Seeing how he grows seems a worthwhile experiment.

Charlie Davies: This cat got ripped after the Cuba game for diving, but he looked the most dangerous U.S. forward tonight. Too few clear chances for my liking, but he’s good enough and fast enough to make his own openings. Why isn’t he being paired with Altidore in a two-forward set-up? I mean if he loses the diving. I think we could do worse than try that experiment.

Dax McCarty: Second half sub, I know, but he’s looked the most composed and intelligent in midfield of all the U.S. players; it’s the composure that really stands out because, had he kept his shit tighter, I’d be listing Eddie Gaven here; he’s having good moments, but he’s spazzing just as often.

Kamani Hill: Good general anticipation, decent forays forward. A solid night and, for tonight, that’s enough.

Stuart Holden: All right, I’ll list him. He’s everywhere, and that’s good, but he’s a little ragged. It’s a marginal call, but he sneaks in.

That’s it. And I acknowledge that the gaps in my viewing may have caused me to put someone in the wrong spot or to omit someone else from one category or another. But, for purposes of this post, anyone not listed neither impressed or disappointed in particular.

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Olympic Qualifying, USA vs. Cuba – Gifting a tie; does Sweden teach diving?

Well, I think it’s safe to say the United States played themselves into a tie. Freddy Adu had the only goal within the first 15 minutes of the first half, but Cuba equalized right before the half. Not thinking coherently right now, I find it appropriate to just lay out what thoughts I can muster:

The lineups were (one or two of Cuba’s midfield might be wrong):

UNITED STATES

—————-Altidore—————–

Davies———-Adu————-Findley

———-McCarty——–Edu———-

Freeman—–Ianni—–Sturgis—-K. Hill

—————–Seitz——————–

CUBA

—————Duarte——–Linares————

Villaurrutia—Vasconcuelos–Alvarez—-Urgelles

Pozo———Diaz———–Bermudez——Boro

——————-Miranda———————

First off – about Cuba – if I had to pick three to defect right now, it would be the three I mention extensively – Leonel Duarte, goalscorer Roberto Linares, and goalkeeper Jose Manuel Miranda. Duarte had trouble getting involved attacks going, but really looked good on and off the ball. Linares was fast and powerful, poking in the one ball that Ianni and Sturgis forgot to track. Miranda was Cuba’s man of the match, hands down. The goalkeeper turned away several Freddy Adu screamers, etc.

– Freddy Adu was the only creative force we had on that field. Kamani Hill certainly tried to get things moving from right fullback, but his forward runs were generally predictable and led to an errant pass or touch.

– Freddy looked rather rusty though. He was lost at times and, for at least 30 minutes, no one could find him. He disappeared like Landon Donovan often does and that can’t happen.

– Dax McCarty looked decent organizing the central midfield but he often overdoes the whole “I’m small and scrappy” bit, hurting his play in the process. If he had just calmed down on several occasions, more threatening opportunities could have been created. With that said, it was only McCarty and Adu willing enough to take the long shots from outside. Both, along with Kamani Hill, were the only ones that fought the whole game. McCarty never stops moving – seems he’s picked up a step or two from Juan Carlos Toja.

– After 20 minutes or so, it’s like the squad forgot the tactic. Using the wings became the last thing they wanted to do. Classic example of a team thinking they are automatically better than their opponent. It was clear they were, but they didn’t do what they had to do.

– Why no Sal Zizzo? I understand he’s been on the bench for Hannover 96, but come on – on behind Gaven and Barrett? Between Robbie Findley’s finishing and Charlie Davies’ diving, their inconsistent play on the wings was a big reason nothing was getting accomplished. On three separate occasions, Charlie Davies clearly dove instead of staying on his feet and taking a shot on net. Ives Galarcep sums up Davies nicely after he was subbed for Chad Barrett – “Barrett coming in for Charlie Louganis, I mean Davies.”

– I agree with Piotr Nowak that Altidore was taking himself out of the game and looked tired, but who else was an option? Both Findley and Davies showed no composure and couldn’t make chances for themselves. Chad Barrett was useless (was that just me?). Eddie Gaven needed another 15 minutes to actually get in the game.

– It is safe to say that Ianni and Sturgis in central defense is definitely one of the weaknesses. Our fullbacks – Freeman and Hill, however, worked well at times and were probably – positionally that is – the best overall for the US.

– Chris Seitz didn’t get much to do. Maurice Edu looked like he was almost too good for the game. Between him and McCarty, nothing really ever got going. I might be judging them harshly, but a 1-1 tie to Cuba in front of 50 people speaks for itself.

***Expect an aggressive American side come Thursday. Probably a team more reminiscent of the squad’s first 10 minutes tonight against Cuba. Nowak needs to let them take men on a bit more – like Edu’s quick swivel in the box that set up a shot, McCarty’s change of pace that opened him up for a 20-yarder, and Adu’s fake which he then chipped over the Cuban defense and into the path of Robbie Findley.

FC Dallas 2007 Review: Succeed…Choke…Repeat

FC Dallas
Record (W-L-T): 13-12-5; 37 GF, 44 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Some recent constants held for FC Dallas in 2007: lead the Western Conference in the early-mid part of the season – check; head into the post-season like a pack of whipped dogs – check; consequently, lose in the first round – check; have at least one offensive player enjoy a stellar season, Arturo Alvarez’s 2007 to Kenny Cooper’s 2006 – check; have the work of the offense compromised by a shaky defense – check…well, sort of. A lot of similarities tied the campaign just past to the one that came before and upgrades in personnel, changes to the coaching staff, none of it seems to matter.

It’s got to be the grand narrative – the whole pattern of “succeed…choke…repeat,” familiar since 2005 – that most pains Dallas fans and players. It’s like the definition of insanity – e.g. doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results – except Dallas should have a choice. You’d think the coaching staff would order the players to take it easy during the first half of the season, have them rest through August – something – to switch it up. But the pattern persists and has over the past couple seasons.

For all the similarities, some changes did occur on the detail level. Combining an exciting offense with a dodgy defense has been part of Dallas’ reputation since Carlos Ruiz joined the club. That was definitely part of what I expected to discuss when I sat down to type this review. Even knowing Ruiz had an off-year and that Cooper went down after June 9, seeing a meager 37 goals still came as a shock. What about Juan Toja’s arrival? Alvarez’ breakout season? It’s not until you get down to individual stats (all available here) that it adds up, beginning with the fact that Ruiz’ seven goals led the team. This team, possessed of so many well-known weapons, finished fourth from last overall in scoring. Continue reading

MLS Week 24: Four Teams, Two Games, Two Levels

I held true to my viewing schedule for once: my Saturday featured Red Bull New York’s gutsy draw against the Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution’s (at-long-last-hallelujah) sharp win over visiting FC Dallas. By coincidence, both games threw two roughly equal teams into contention. By lesser coincidence, the gap in quality between the respective teams showed in the quality of the games – simply put, FC Dallas and New England look playoff-primed. Chicago and New York…eh, less so.

Dallas and New England went at one another with unrelenting pace and energy. Dallas, in particular, aggressively pressured every ball anywhere inside their half – defenders attached not only to the player on the ball, but the team as a whole shifted quickly to cover any nearby players as well. The amazing thing: quick movement and passing generally allowed the Revs to play out of that pressure, while smart, well-executed dribbling took care of the rest. Dallas, facing similarly intense attention, very nearly managed as well…the final score, of course, speaks to where they failed.

Individual efforts on both teams added still more to the equation. Khano Smith ran the Dallas right side stupid, while Pat Noonan’s general unpredictability in the area sporadically unhinged Dallas defenders. James Riley served as the shaky presence in the Revs’ back-line, which Carlos Ruiz exploited a couple times; bustling efforts by Dax McCarty and Abe Thompson demanded the studied attention of the rest of New England’s defenders. In fact, it’s worth wondering whether the Revs’ defense is their greatest weakness going into the post-season; with Dallas, that’s less a question than a living example of an Achilles’ heel.

In the big picture, though, both Dallas and New England appear confident enough with most their players not just singing from the same sheet, but singing a decent song and well. Sure, Dallas would have looked that little bit better with Juan Toja on the field and they’re still figuring Denilson into the attack, but they’re up to beating any given team on the right day…obviously, Saturday wasn’t it for them. As for New England, let’s just say that was something else: a win they fully earned through hustle, smarts and coordination, as opposed to God punishing Carlos Mendes for…I dunno, idolatry or some such… Continue reading