Sunday, January 22, 2012

Some post-Venezuela thoughts

Before we dig into some of my takeaways from tonight's battle with Venezuela (another three-pointer!), the original starting lineup: Bill Hamid, A.J. DeLaGarza, Michael Parkhurst, Geoff Cameron, Heath Pearce, Jeff Larentowicz, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, Brek Shea, Teal Bunbury.

As for the highlights, check out the ESPN3 replay here.

- The game in general was kind of a bowl of meh (until stoppage time of course). The really good was blunted by the Camp Cupcake-y-ness of it all, but look on the bright side. In a game lacking much aesthetic value, the US can claim they deserved the win. They bossed possession and rightly got a goal after a number of chances went begging. It was rarely pretty, but January friendlies rarely are. I was expecting to get a clearer picture of some of Klinsmann's policies, and that's what we got. Not too many complaints. This game showed palpable progress. Which gets us to...

- Much like you might build a car, Klinsmann is building his USMNT hot rod piece by piece from the ground up. His newest part is movement embroidered with intelligence. Say what you will about him, but he's drawing up real outline in bold colors, which is something we could never really peg under Bradley. The countenance of this team resembles a general direction, and the recent course is being charted under the flag of intelligent movement. The XI, whoever was in at the time, maintained a degree of spacial awareness that didn't allow gaps to open up at the back or too much elasticity up top. It wasn't always perfect, but you could see the direction in it. There should be some excitement there.

- The very reason so many find Jermaine Jones infuriating is the reason why I gravitate toward him. He's fearless. In today's sports universe (and this applies to any sport, really), it is increasingly rare to find vocal, outspoken locker room leaders. Not that I was around for bygone eras, but from what I've heard and read, it was rare to find a team that didn't have somebody willing to stoke the coals. Times have changed, which is why a guy like Jones can command so much respect with his breakneck play, which is how it must be done now. He flies into challenges with his RPMs flaring into the red, giving that armband some credence. The downside is that he draws unnecessary cards at times (like tonight), but in my eyes it's a small price to pay. Jones was the best player on the field tonight.

- As always, Benny was cool and calculating with possession, displayed canny vision, was judicious with his passes and stayed tethered to his surrounding teammates. His abilities were covered up with a bad Revs team last year, but it was nice to get another peek at how steady he can be when paired with talent. He played a sly ball on the carpet for Shea in the 20th minute that led to a tidy goal opportunity and was, for my money, the most technically proficient player in large spurts.

- Bunbury nearly shaved the crossbar in the 19th minute on a winsome shot from 20 yards with his left, but I thought he was mildly disappointing as a whole. It is the forward's purview in the 4-3-3 to drift into space as he sees fit, but Bunbury too often was marooned on the right to leave a gaping hole in the center for a roster without another forward. He missed on a chance late in the second half on a nice break started by Hamid, bulging the side-netting with two players ready to poach the rebound. Not so good.

- Graham Zusi is a set piece technician with a fantastic touch on his dead balls. I don't know that he has much value at all in the run of play.

- I was all prepared to slam Rico until he scored the winner. So I know I'll take some heat but I'm going to do it anyway. Ricardo Clark is a negative space player. He's tentative and lacks the basic ability to keep marching forward. He's either looking to square off his pass or knock it backward. Yes, he scored. I'm happy for him (and my buddy, who jumped up and oddly started beating together two of my golf clubs). But he had a halo of two feet on all sides and happened into a training ground header. But he did finish it off. Kudos to him, because that's not something anybody else on the side could have claimed.

- The refs were bottom basement garbage. Not biased. But garbage nonetheless. Lots of missed body slams in the box on corners.

- Wondo continued his streak of getting great looks and failing to finish on the national level. To be fair, his header in the last 5 minutes produced a magnificent save, but Zach Loyd served up a cherry. In the immortal words of Mortal Kombat... "Finish Him." How he can be so lethal on the club level and so snakebitten with the Nats continues to baffle me.

- The back was terrific. They weren't challenged as much, but  A.J. DeLaGarza was a tornado on the right side, and Venezuela barely tested Heath Pearce on the left after it became obvious there was nothing there but brick. Everybody on the back line did something worth mentioning, especially the center back combo of Geoff Cameron and Michael Parkhurst, which was nothing if not reliable. At worst, they earned themselves another look. On the far back, the US has never lacked options at keeper. Hamid's punch in the 34th minute on a high-arcing ball in the shallow portion of his box was nice, and he only had to make one other moderately tough decision. Otherwise, a solid if somewhat quiet night from the youngster.

- Overall, there weren't any really bad takeaways. Some things we already knew, some new revelations and some too-close-to-calls. But hey, it's another Klinsmann win, and over a South American side to boot. That should quiet the message boards for, oh, another few days anyway.

- Will Parchman


Anonymous said...

Good analysis. But one quibble: Venezuela is only a "South American side" by the virtue of its geography, not football pedigree. Venezuela has historically been pretty firmly a baseball-mad country and has only begun to show real promise with its soccer very recently.

Not to detract from the kids' win tonight (though Jones came off to me as a punk more than a leader), but I think if Clark hadn't scored that game winner, we would all be asking much tougher questions of Herr Klinsy.

Anonymous said...

"The refs were bottom basement garbage. Not biased. But garbage nonetheless. Lots of missed body slams in the box on corners."

I have never seen anything like it. I don't think the ref "missed" those calls, I think he was just unwilling to call them for whatever reason. It was literally nutso how that #8 was taking guys to the ground every. single. corner-kick. and nothing was called. it was absurd.

Jones was, by far and away, the best player on the pitch. The guy is a bulldozer one minute, making huge fleet footed runs the next and deftly making great passes. Love the guy. And I think it was smart to make him the Captain. That responsibility puts you in a different frame of mind - gets him thinking about the importance of being "the leader" and keeps his irritation based bad habits in check a bit. I really think he could flourish in that role.

I agree completely about Clark. He doesn't have the talent nor the awareness really to be playing for the national team.

The only thing I disagree about is DeLaGarza. I thought he looked terrible.

Will Parchman said...

Well, I include Venezuela in the cacophony of South American soccer teams because they (and I say this recognizing that both sides are sapped by club commitments) made a run to the Copa America semis last year. That's not to include them in the list with Brazil and Argentina, but it's not as though the US just walked over T&T, either.

Joshua said...

I think it's time we start asking more form our midfield. I've watched a lot of USA soccer and it is really frustrating when our center mids (clarke,Larentawitz,Zusi etc.) can't shake anybody and only play negative balls. Sure they do a great job breaking up plays but we really should be asking more than just "sit in front of the back four." Hell Geoff Cameron did a better job getting forward than they did. It's tough to watch sometimes.

UnitedDemon said...

Clark and Bornstein have the same MO: Score goals just often enough to keep their National Team vitals going. How I loath them both.

dikranovich said...

the officials last night were mexican, so that should really explain it. i dont know if venusuela has ever produced a player with the pedigree of a dwight yorke, but i doubt it. this team did look a lot like central american opposition, which will resort to cheap fouls when they know they are outclassed. they probably should have received as many cards as ajax got in this mornings dutch matchup.

jaredlaunius said...

I have to come to Graham Zusi's defense. He's not a wing player. Vermes ran him out there on multiple occasions this year in an attempt to get him on the field with Jeferson, Arnaud, et al and he was always far less effective out there. Similar to Stu Holden, he's a box-to-box guy with some creative juices, not the type to run at defenders and wreak havoc on the wing.

I hope he gets a shot there in Panama City.

LReszetar said...

Although my ESPN3 feed was terrible, it seemed that J-Lau played a decent game. I thought he played some nice passes to space and tracked back well. However the feed was so bad and the announcers so terrible that it could have been Jones.

Greg Seltzer said...

If you saw nice probing passes, it was Jones. :D

Castrollin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Castrollin said...

Bunbury was disappointing for me - very wasteful with the ball. Though he generated a few chances for himself, he could have generated a lot more for his team if he had decided not to barrel straight towards goal every time.

Wondo's movement and touch were great this game. It took him no time to make several dangerous chances due to his slick, efficient movement.

He really should have buried that header from the goal box... Though IMO strikers should be judged more heavily on how many dangerous chances they generate rather than actual goals (at least in the medium term). Messi's play in the last WC is a good example of this - he broke the record for most shots and SOG without a goal. Does that mean he's a bad striker or that he generated an absurd amount of chances and got unlucky?

Lawrence said...

Feilhaber is like our Febregas (in play style). I wish as good. He is the closest thing to Reyna we've had since.

Matt said...

The element that stood out for me was how much better everything worked with a back four comfortable on the ball.

And Parkhurst was in the right place all night. We haven't had a defender that good at positioning himself since Eddie Pope. I've been wondering why he's been missing in camps for so long, I feel like I was right to wonder.

I like De La Garza, but he needs to be much more aggressive with the ball when he moves forward - quicker and more incisive. But maybe he'll pick that up.

Jay said...

De La Garza has also been playing the entire last year as a center back, so...