June 26, 2010


World Cup: In U.S.-Ghana match, the past and the future will play roles: For the Americans, it's a chance to put 2006's knockout loss behind them and to 'do something very special.' (Grahame L. Jones, June 25, 2010, LA Times)

On Saturday night in Rustenburg, the teams square off again, this time in the knockout stage -- it's win or go home -- with a place in the quarterfinals on the line. First, however, the ghosts of 2006 have to be banished.

The ill-tempered game in Nuremburg was decided in 10 frantic minutes at the end of the first half.

Ghana had taken the lead midway through the half. The U.S. lost captain and playmaker Claudio Reyna to injury five minutes before the half ended but still managed to tie the score on Dempsey's goal off a Beasley cross three minutes later.

Two minutes into injury time at the end of the half, Onyewu and Ghana forward Razak Pimpong clashed over the ball, German referee Markus Merk ruled that Onyewu had committed a foul and Ghana scored the game-winner on the resulting penalty kick.

The controversial penalty is still a sore point with the U.S., and Donovan, for one, can't shake the memory.

"That was not a good day, for me or for the team," he said. "What I remember most personally is my tentativeness and the immediate feeling afterwards of the finality of it and how disappointing that was."

Michael Essien was a towering figure on Ghana's 2006 team but is missing this World Cup due to injury. Even so, Donovan said the Black Stars present a formidable challenge.

"I've been impressed with them," he said. "I thought they would struggle a little bit without Essien, but I think they've looked very good and they're going to be very difficult to play against. Like a lot of African teams, they're fairly unpredictable sometimes, so that could be a plus or a minus."

With the Ivory Coast having been eliminated on Friday, Ghana is Africa's last standard-bearer in the tournament, something that is likely to swing neutral fans in the Black Stars' direction.

...not only is our group one we should come out of but this game in particular should be easy.

Ghana is supposed to be a rising squad thanks to the talent coming in from their youth team, but for now they're just inexperienced, not especially well-organized, and have no offense (both their goals--they scored only two--came on penalty kicks.)

Hopefully they're reading their own press and think they can out-muscle us and score, because we'll annihilate them on the counter attack and Jozy Altidore will foul two of their defenders out of the game by himself (the number of cards he's drawn on defenders in the tournament so far is the most under-reported story going.)

Look for a 3-0 final--the same score by which we beat the best African side (Egypt) on South African soil in the Confederations Cup last year--with Ghana down to 9 men by the end.


Indeed, this match-up is easy enough that if the medical staff believes Gooch Onyewu can recover fully over the next two weeks then he should start and play himself into game shape. However, if that timetable is unrealistic then Carlos Bocanegra, who did a much better job of staying with his defensive partner, Jay DeMerit, should obviously get the nod.

Maurice Edu was rather unimpressive in his start against Algeria and as Michael Bradley assumes more of an offensive role it's comforting to have the defense-minded Ricardo Clark paired with him.

And it's long past time to acknowledge that Clint Dempsey is a completely different--and better--player when you push him forward. Just pair him with Jozy, bring Benny Feilhaber into the midfield, and save Herculez Gomez for a shot of energy in the 2nd half. Hopefully Bradley and Feilhaber can not only provide service to the front two but find Landon Donovan more consistently so that he doesn't disappear as he had for nearly the entire 2nd half against Algeria.

How Good Is Michael Bradley? The Stats Say Very Good (JEFF Z. KLEIN, 6/25/10, NY Times)

Even though most soccer commentators and fans pay little attention to stats, they are there, as Tom Dunmore of the Pitch Invasion blog outlines here, and no less a personage than Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger says he relies heavily on statistical data.

That said, FIFA’s own stats for this World Cup show that Bradley is an unstoppable midfield machine.

That sense you have that Bradley is everywhere, all the time? He has run 35.56 kilometers in the Americans’ three group-stage games, or just more than 22 miles; only three players at the tournament have covered more distance (Gerardo Torrado of Mexico at 35.86, Sami Khedira of Germany at 35.87 and An Yong-hak of North Korea at 36.22).

That impression you have that Bradley is always pushing forward when the Americans are attacking? He’s 12th in the tournament in distance covered while his team is in possession (13.52 kilometers) — more, for example, than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

That feeling you’ve got that Bradley is always a threat to win the ball? He’s tied for second in the tournament at tackles made to gain possession (four), and tied for fourth at “recovered balls” (six).

He and Jozy Altidore had the best games of their careers against Algeria. If they're coming into their own we are a contender for the Cup. But Bradley got a lot of help from how far off him the Algerians played.

[One of the strange things to watch was how often he worked give-and-go's with teammates who didn't get the ball back to him. He plays in the German league where they love that play but he'll have to teach it to the other Americans.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 26, 2010 8:13 AM
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