Monday, June 15, 2009

Winning Isn't Everything

AP Photo/ Rebecca Blackwell

It's a shame.

Non-soccer fans in the States and American critics will look at the U.S.'s 3-1 loss to Italy in the opening match of the Confederation Cup and view it as a major setback. They will think that the U.S. showed that it still cannot compete with soccer's elite.

However that was not the case.

It's unfortunate because the final score did not match the effort put together by Sam's Army. Sure, there were some poor plays, but overall the U.S. put together a good outing against a formidable opponent.

The first positive was the courage the squad displayed.

After Ricardo Clark's foolish challenge in the 33 minute earned him a red card, the team was forced to play almost an hour's worth of soccer a man down, not to mention a man down against the defending World Cup champions.

Yet the team played even more spirited after losing Clark. They were more dangerous in the attack and created more opportunities, giving themselves a 1-0 lead going into halftime.

Landon Donovan, who scored the team's lone goal on a penalty kick, really stepped up to the challenge today.

Donovan did a great job creating offense for himself and for his teammates, which has been a problem lately.

The U.S. has had trouble scoring in the flow of play. Their goals have come off of dead balls: free kicks, corner kicks, and penalty kicks.

While their only goal of the day came off a penalty, the Americans were much more dangerous. Good passes lead to great scoring opportunities in the box from Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Even Sacha Kljestan's shot in the 88 minute nearly curled in.

Now that they are creating chances, they need to be hungry and finish them.

Another part of their play that was much improved was the spacing.

The U.S. was disciplined enough to keep their shape and proper spacing on the field, even when they had to defend the floating playmakers Andrea Pirlo and Mauro Camoranesi and when Clark was ejected.

Proper spacing makes it harder for defenders to cover a single area and frees up space for creative players like Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore, to make plays.

The biggest negative came from the central midfield.

We still don't know who to pair Bradley with.

Clark's red card, while debatable, was still a reckless challenge, and he has a history of doing such things. He is not a dependable player.

Benny Feilhaber was another central midfielder who got an opportunity today, but he made nothing of it. Although he was supposed to create offense he wasn't heard from at all, save for when he was stripped by Guiseppe Rossi, who then scored the equalizer.

The U.S. needs to find an effective player to pair with Bradley.

While this tournament may be just to test the team and individual players against top competition in preparation of the World Cup, the nation still needs to finish out its qualifying and having two competent center mids will be an important part of that.

Still, there is even a silver lining for that situation.

Jermaine Jones, who will change international status from German senior international to American senior international, will be able to join the team in October, and will most definitely slide in nicely with Bradley.

The U.S. will again have a tough task in its next match against Brazil, and will need at least a point to keep its chances of advancing to the next stage alive. However what is most important is to see continued improvement from this young squad, especially against quality competition.

It's a shame the outcome couldn't match the effort.

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