Thursday, May 25, 2006

USA 0 - Morocco 1: Breakdown

It took me a couple days to wade through the mindless midfield toiling and Morocco's unflinching commitment to sending as few players into attack as possible, but I finally finished watching the USA's first of three main tune-up games ahead of the quickly approaching World Cup.

If you didn't see the game, it wasn't one for the casual fan trying to "get into soccer". Morocco came out with a either a 5-4-1 or a 4-5-1 formation (depending on your perspective), and, though they made some headway early on, stuck to defending en masse for the better portion of the game. They created a couple chances -- one a header early in the second half created by a simply unacceptable marking job by the Americans -- but mainly stayed conservative and organized.

The USA, on the other hand, lost captain and midfield general Claudio Reyna to a hamstring injury -- the guy is always injured -- after fifteen minutes and then never looked like winning. He was replaced by the more defensive-minded Pablo Mastroeni, a bright spot. Our best couple chances were an Eddie Johnson header from a corner, a Bobby Convey right-footed drive from 23 yards, and a Landon Donovan shot from the edge of the penalty area that forced the Moroccan keeper into a good save.

And all that would've been fine; after all, I'm a career defender who sees nothing wrong with a 0-0 draw if neither team really deserved to score. It's definitely the cynic in me, but in a 0-0 game with less than a minute on the clock, I don't leave a single fullback one-on-one while I send everyone else forward. When Morocco cleared Donovan's very lame 90th minute free kick and sent the ball downfield, only poor Steve Cherundolo was there to cover. He misplayed the situation badly, coughed up the ball to the pressuring Moubarki who passed it to the wide open Madihi. Madihi controlled and knocked the ball over the onrushing Kasey Keller with ease for the winner. If it wasn't enough that Cherundolo was left to chase alone, it was an absolute travesty that Moubarki had time to take a touch look up to find a THREE-ON-TWO on the top of the Americans box, with only Mastroeni recovering to help out.

Most of the Americans were medicore -- fine in defense and possession, but offering little in attack. Comanche/soul player ratings:

Keller - 5. Did fine, went down a little early on the goal.
Pope - 6.5. Looked impressive back there, didn't lose any big battles.
Onyewu - 5.5. Is certainly not a right back and, should Arena play a 3-5-2 (see below), there's no real place for him. Looked much better at center back alongside Pope.
Cherundolo - 4.5. Would have been higher but mistakes like that will send the US home early in Germany.
Gibbs - 4.5. Was not particularly impressed with his play. Some quicker Moroccan attackers got too much separation from him.
Reyna - no rating. What's the deal with this guy? Why can't he stay healthy?
Donovan - 5. Was he out there the whole time?
O' Brien - 6. In 45 minutes, alleviated some concerns. We badly need this guy on the field.
Beasley - 5. Defended fine, fought hard, created next to nothing.
Wolff - 5. Not a winger, but looked sharper in the second half when he moved to a more central, advanced role. Still our best bet to partner McBride.
McBride - 4.5. Sub-par. It's been a long season for the Fulham man, and maybe he's a little worn down. Either way, we will not win a game in Germany if neither starting forward can muster a single opportunity on goal.

Mastroeni - 7. Probably more like a 6.5, but his effort and presence bump the score up. His fitness may not be ideal as his passing seemed lazy late in the game, but broke up countless plays and could easily figure into a starting lineup in Germany. Don't forget his clutch, composed performances in 2002.
Convey - 6. Looked pretty good to this viewer. Some dangerous serves, a decent strike with his off-foot, ran at players. Maybe worked himself a little closer to the picture. Looking forward to seeing what the ex-DC kid can do in the Premier League next year.
Johnson - 4.5. Had our two best chances. Put his header close, but wide and high (offensive headers down!), and badly sliced the rebound from Donovan's shot. Still, you get the feeling he is just one clean finish away from a scoring tear.
Dempsey - 4.5. Looked ready to attack but didn't get much of the ball. Doesn't offer enough width in a 4-4-2.
Ching - NR. Can't remember any touches, though he won a dangerous free kick.

Bottom line:
A performance even remotely resembling this one will get us, at best, a 1-0 loss again. Enough with the formation tinkering: we don't have the kind of backs that can handle a 3 back system. Eddie Lewis at left back will provide a considerable more attack from that flank, as well as solid experience. Onyewu and Pope are the center backs, without question, and, despite his terrible error, Cherundolo is still the right back. Eddie Johnson deserves a full runout to see what he can do with McBride. Can Beasley play on the right and Convey on the left? O' Brien and Reyna are no-brainers. If one isn't healthy, Mastroeni is the obvious choice.


At 3:10 AM, Blogger Tory said...

Is the title just a description of your analysis, or a cynical attack on Cherundolo? I really wish I could see the next couple games to figure out how the US is looking before the Cup, but alas.

Australia beat Greece 1-0 last night in their final home warmup before leaving for Germany. Australia looked very composed, efficient, and dominant in the first half, then the subs couldn't muster anything in the second while Greece firmed up their attacking midfielders to put more pressure on. I would say Australia have a very good chance to make it out of their group if they play like they did in the first half. Calm, controlled passes across the middle to switch the direction of attack almost at will. It looked good. They were also missing Kewell and Cahill, which will give them a lot more speed, control, and attack out of their midfield. And hopefully Viduka will actually do something the next time he gets his foot on a ball.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Graham said...

Just a description of my analysis. Cherundolo played a good game...just one poor error though cost us badly.

I like Australia to advance. With so many guys in Europe these days, they've got good experience and leadership and should have a fanbase to match. Croatia is a solid team, but the spot is theirs for the taking. I'm not expecting much out of Japan this time around.


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