Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seriously... what the hell are nearly all of you thinking?

Okay, this has been bugging the hell out of me. I had to say something. It is one of those times as humans when we feel we must certainly be alien, because no one else is catching what seems to be glaringly obvious. It's weird.

As we all know, the USMNT played two friendlies last week. In the 1-1 draw against Argentina, Oguchi Onyewu played left center back. In a 1-0 loss to Paraguay, Tim Ream worked the spot.

Afterwards, Ream's assorted player ratings and reviews from around our little niche were almost universally better than Onyewu's, often significantly better. This is where my feeling like alien comes into play.

The essential gist of what the two had in the way of raves and rants across the spectrum of TV commentators, soccer scribes, fans and message boards:

- Onyewu was routinely called off his best, repeatedly hit hard for poor "distribution" and correctly ridiculed for that eighth minute slip-up on the ball by everyone. Several reviewers made brief mentions about having no great beef with his defending. I have done no math on this (for once), but guesstimating, I'd proffer that Gooch received an average mark of about 5, tops.

- Ream was roundly hailed for his passing ability, with but a scant few brief mentions of actual instances where his pass was key. Most also noted that he did have a giveaway or giveaways up the middle, but few seemed particularly bothered by it. Most correctly declared the NYRB man is the coolest cucumber on the ball when shit it going down in our end. Many actually made no mention of his defending. Several others recalled his being ass down when the goal was scored, but few actually held him accountable on it. Many of those cried that he was fouled on the play, which may well be so. Ream's general grade tended to hover around the 6.5-7 area.

Now, here is what I saw in those two games (mind you, I am trying intentionally to grade them both as central defenders):

- After Gooch's 8' fumble on the ball, I did not mark him for a single negative. I certainly did not count hoofing the ball out so his teammates can reset and grab a breath as poor 'distribution'. I counted it as hoofing out, which considering his early ball incident, seems like a great idea to me in the context of facing an on-form Argentina. I kept count of eight times that Onyewu stayed in front of his man when nobody else was closing the gate to halt an away rush into our area
or detour it to safety (including four times it was Messi that he faced up properly to avoid trouble).

Eight. Ocho. Central defender. Leo Messi & Co. Is anyone feelin' me yet? I'll say it: this performance may have been better than Gooch's against Spain in '09, when everyone stationed around him was playing lights out. That was not the case two Saturdays ago, when Onyewu was the only man who never bought it, never left his feet, never buckled to the pressure. He was also the only backliner not implicated in the lone Argentina goal, another thing gone overlooked.

- I marked Ream up for a few nice splitting passes and more so for always moving it so calmly when things gets hairy in defense. Positionally, he was decent enough. I marked him down very slightly for being knocked down on the goal play, as it was his original mark but with plenty of blame to go around. Still, arguing he allowed himself to be waylaid on set piece marking in the area is not exactly a boost. It was mostly unfortunate, not so much bad. However, one of the quickest ways to draw my red pen is to make a frivolous pass up the middle from in front of the goalmouth. He did this three times and Paraguay were baiting him into it.

In the end, I found Ream's a decent outing, nothing too special in event, but more signs of promise and continuing signs of inexperience. Nothing particularly harsh or anything the coaches and player didn't discuss after. Pretty standard shade off average-to-average grade range type of stuff. At least to me. And please don't get me wrong: I like Ream, he's a St. Louis homeboy and I love his potential.

These two particular defender ratings had me soul-searching a bit about the way I see a game to call it or my ideal performance for a certain position, what I value more or less. People all seemed to be punishing while I was rewarding and vice-versa.

Of course, the Argentina ratings I saw were generally strange to me overall.
The team allows one goal to an absolute fire-breathing dragon and fights back to scrape one in turn. It sure sounds a lot better than a 1-0 loss to a decent Paraguay side putting on a "meh" showing. I mean, there should be a degree of difficulty to take into account, right? Not all opponents are equal and doing the same things against us.

However, I have yet to find one in the media where the 11 USMNT starters averaged so much as 6 for a 1-1 draw with Leo Messi and the area raiders. One major newspaper gave Tim Howard only a 7.5 (please do slap yourself, sir) and the line-up averaged a hair past 5 as a team. Some went so far as to describe the result as 'lucky' - a rank insult to the team's bust ass effort and successful adaptation in my book.

The epilogue: I have been roundly laughed off for my Onyewu v Argentina observations as a momentarily silly boy, while everybody and their mother is claiming Ream should be starting now after how he played against Paraguay.

What, now?

Is everyone that fooled by what I charge is a rather obvious "expectation to perceived (read: cherry-picked) performance ratio" system they are using to grade these two performances and stack the depth chart? Or am I the alien here? Do I just view the game from a different angle than most of my colleagues and readers? Can two reviewers give opposing marks and neither be "wrong" because they use different grading scales altogether? Can I ask more questions to make a point?

Yes, I can. Quick quiz, my friends: What do you think the result would have been were Ream playing in place of Onyewu against full flight Argentina? Still only one goal leaked? More goals for the 'Nats even, what with all the extra "distribution"? Get real.

And everyone says the same exact thing when I explain why Gooch was so good against Argentina and Ream not so great against Paraguay. They say they fully understand my reasoning, but continue to not agree. Many feel Ream should be ahead of Onyewu now. And they now seem as confused by my takes on the two as I had been about theirs.

But here's the absolute topper: I have yet to see or have anyone mention that Ream and Onyewu need not be in a one-or-the-other duel in the first place.

The ideal central defense tandem, especially for a team trying to run a 4-3-3/4-5-1 has one good cop and one bad cop. One smooth criminal and one Godzilla. One guy who excels at stopping the ball moving at their goal and one who excels at moving it in the other direction out of trouble. In other words, it would ideally be a duo, like say... officer Onyewu, a natural righty, and officer Ream*?

But nah, it seems Onyewu is sad old news and Ream the sunny forecast. The former is being lambasted for what he does after stopping plays, while the latter seemingly gets present points for future potential. And no one seems to get that they just might make the best available USMNT center back combo.

Seriously... what the hell are nearly all of you thinking? Folks need a Gooch stare or something.

- Greg Seltzer

* = Well, technically, I'd still rate Goodson above Ream, but he's injured at the moment.


tom said...

Hey, I do agree that Onyewu got shafted; but they are just ratings after all. I would further point out, that it was the choice to play him at the left CD position that made things especially odd. Typically, he's paired with Boca, who is a lefty and that gives Gooch the chance to cheat more to his favored right. On the other hand, Tim Ream is a left CD, period. So he is the direct replacement for Boca, not Gooch. I would be interested to seem Ream paired with Gooch, as there is the contrast in styles. Gooch is imposing, a defender's defender, while Ream is much more deceptive. I would note, in Ream's defense, and I see him play for the Red Bulls every week, that he is a very clean tackler, who rarely fouls and usually wins possession or even makes the pass as he wins the ball. With all due respect, that beats hoofing it out any day of the week. Hoofing it out leaves you still defending, while winning possession gets the ball going the right way up the field. But I agree he has a lot to learn about the international game. Gooch wasn't perfect when he was 23, either.

Greg Seltzer said...

Yes, all things being equal, playing out beats hoofing out. But hoofing out has its place in the right context. And as I said, considering the context of the first half against Argentina in particular, I preferred Gooch hoofing out to what might have been with Gooch playing out. And sometimes, the defense needs to reset and clear head because they know there's another wave coming. I'm not going to count anybody down for being back up against a wall by Argentina in full flight. What I'm marking is how they deal with it. That Saturday, they bent but did not break but once. They bend was pretty much everyone around him and Gooch was usually the one holding up upright.

Had Gooch done the same things against "Meh" Paraguay, I'd have been less understanding in that context. And similarly, had Ream hoofed out a few times in certain situations playing that Argentina game, I'd not have even thought about counting off for that either.

tom said...

I don't necessarily think it's an either/or situation, although I have a hard time thinking of significant number of times that Ream chose to play it up, not out. He does seem to be judging when to play it out more often than he did last year in MLS. That said, I think Ream is skillful enough, if he chose to play it out as a common practice, he would be able to play it a good 20-30 yards upfield from anyone else, on average. But if that's your range, typically there are teammates who are open, too.

strago said...


I agree 100% with your assessment.

Greg Seltzer said...

Thank you, fellow alien.

(does alien hand sign thingy)

Greg Seltzer said...

Wow... reading my earlier comment, it appears I need to change my keyboard batteries. Heh.

over there said...

To my obviously uncalibrated eyeballs...

Gooch looked a step slow physically and mentally, like he was a second behind the game. I still think he is two months of regular playing time away from being himself. That being said, I still see him starting (and doing well against CONCACAF opponents)in the Gold Cup.

As for Ream, I didn't see the Paraguay game, but I still think he is Michael Parkhurst v2.0. A nice, composed MLS centerback who isn't athletic enough for the international game. I like Goodson.

Greg Seltzer said...

A lot of people felt he look a step behind it all, but nobody actually described when he got beat. I thought he looked in control, not slow to act. He was waiting out all the fakes and tricks and flicks. And no one got past him.

I do agree, one particular game aside, he is still time away from his best. I'd be more concerned about his defending on the run then his bunker skills, which were obviously on display against Argentina.

Tee said...

After watching both games, it never occurred to me that Ream was a replacement for Onyewu and I, too, was surprised by the flurry of pro-Ream comments. Not saying he can't get there, but...However, I do think Gooch appears a step slower and a thought slower...not than Ream, but than the old Gooch. I know he hasn't had regular playing time and I am hoping that is why. I would welcome seeing him back to his best.

Alex Larsen said...

When I think of the optimum "Gooch time" (trademark?) I think of the time building up to his knee injury and while I feel like he isn't quite there yet, it's probably the reason for the criticism of him being a step behind when really as you said Greg he's just "in control" and that could be him mentally adjusting thru experience. What will be interesting to see come Gold Cup time is if he keeps using this "in control" and combines it with the form he gains with Twente and if that happens it could make for an excellent Gold Cup for him. What I find more frustrating is his tendency to play long balls and I'm not confusing this with hoofing balls out; I have no problem with safe over sorry but when he does have time I feel like he goes long too quickly too often sometimes. However, I like the "good cop bad cop" center back system and Gooch's role is the enforcer and he's well suited for that and Ream might be able to play the other center back role in the future. But hey, these kinda things are why the sport is so great.

Matt said...

Awesome rant. The best part is that you WAITED a week to post it and STILL nearly melted your keyboard while banging that out. Impressive.

All I want is for Tim Ream to turn into Simon Kjaer. Is that too much to ask? But, seriously, I think this whole discussion speaks directly to the average American fan / sportswriters inferiority complex about our soccer abilities. Gooch "hoofing it" out is too reminiscent of AYSO-style soccer. Ream spraying out 25 yard passes with ease is much, much easier on the eyes, and I think that's how it's being graded.

Good analysis, regardless.

Connor Walsh said...


chrisa said...

See, this is exactly what's wrong with US Soccer and the Nats.

Have some players with speed? Move 'em up front or to the wings. Have a player who can take on multiple defenders? Kick him in nuts 'cos they're not passing the ball then stick him in the midfield. Any remaining players who play a decent weighted ball? Join the non-dribbler in the midfield. Who's left? Send 'em to the back.

We don't develop the tactical acumen and playing skills to absorb pressure and play out of trouble when we're on defense. And until we do, we'll always be a third-rate side.

So keep Gooch in the line-up. Keep playing a high ball out of pressure back into the opponent's possession. Keep thinking that "reset" is option 1. Keep aspiring for mediocrity.

Greg Seltzer said...

Hmmm. I don't believe I said or have said any of that. Consider the context of the Argentina game compared to most other USMNT matches.

Now, if you specifically think Ream is currently capable of playing out every time against that Argentina showing two weeks back, then we disagree on that particular point.

As someone who has openly been harping on the USMNT to open up offensively for several years now, I certainly do not subscribe to the rest of that stuff.

Erik said...