Thursday, July 2, 2009

What We Learned

Photo Credit. AP Photo/ Paul Thomas

The FIFA Confederations Cup was meant to be a warm-up for next summer’s World Cup.

The competition, the venue, and the team that was sent was all put together to allow for select nations to get an idea of where they stand and what they need to do in order to be successful in South Africa one year from now.

The United States learned quite a bit over the past few weeks. Here is a look at some of the things that the Americans can take out of the Confederations Cup.

The U.S. can compete with the world’s best

Some of the team’s games have not been pretty. However, this Confederations Cup really forced them to step up to the competition and step up they did, eventually.

They beat Spain, the No. 1 ranked team in the world, 2-0 to reach the finals and then they pushed Brazil to the limits, even though they lost 3-2.

These outings were quite impressive and proved that the U.S. can stand toe-to-toe with any soccer power in the world.

It is imperative though that the team came out with a sense of urgency and with a chip on their shoulder. Without those things, they cannot compete.

In recent outings against Costa Rica and the first match against Brazil, the Americans were undisciplined, lagging, uninspired, and complacent, and they got pounded because of it.

When they play with heart, when they fight, when they scrap for loose balls, when they show that they want to be out on the field and they want to win—come hell or high water—they pull out some great performances.

That’s a team that the whole country can get behind.

Tim Howard is one of the world’s best goalkeepers

Howard proved that he is in the elite class of keepers in the world.

Sure, some of the scores were a bit high; 3-1 loss to Italy, 3-0 and 3-2 losses against Brazil, and in the shutout against Egypt backup Brad Guzan was in net. However, watching the games you would see how valuable Howard is.

Howard has incredibly quick reflexes, great poise, and good decision making skills. These traits, combined with his athleticism, allow him to make marvelous saves.

Had Tim Howard not been in net for the Americans, especially in the match against Spain and the final against Brazil, you can bet the scores would have been very lopsided and the country would be nowhere near as proud of this team as they are today.

You can thank Tim Howard for that.

The team is still young and immature

Thirteen players from the 23-man Confederations Cup roster are 25-years-of-age or younger, and only seven have over 25 Caps.

Their immaturity and their inexperience at the international level still surfaces.

Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan, and Ricardo Clark were all given red cards for late and reckless challenges. While the color of the cards were questionable, they were still unnecessary and lazy tackles.

Jozy Altidore was given a yellow card for taking off his jersey after scoring against Spain. While it is true his emotions were running high, taking off one’s jersey is explicitly against the rules and it is a silly way to get a card.

Card accumulation and a potential second yellow card in the game could have had Altidore suspended and the team shorthanded. You need to control yourself better than that.

They are young, and they will learn, but the learning curve has to be faster and they cannot make foolish mistakes that will cost the team.

If players are going to transfer to clubs overseas, they need to go where they will play

In order to be a competitive team, players need to be competing at a high level on a regular basis. Practicing with top flight teams is not enough.

Take a look at the Confederations Cup roster. Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu, DaMarcus Beasley, and Heath Pearce have trouble even making the bench at their respective clubs, let alone playing in games.

These guys will not get better if they do not play. Plain and simple.

What we didn’t learn:

Anything about Freddy Adu

My boy Tom DeRiggi wrote to me, “Freddy Adu= what we learned= he can cheer on the people actually playing with the best of them."

We have no idea what kind of player he is, how effective he can be. He really has not been tested at a high level.

He struggled to get off the bench in the beginning of his time with D.C. United. In a (shortened) season with Real Salt Lake, he made only 11 appearances.

He has played in only 11 games for Benifica, and barely gets any time with AS Monaco. He also has only been on the field for the senior national team 13 times, and didn’t see the pitch at all this tournament.

Many were excited he made the roster, but without seeing him play, he still remains a question mark.

Is he more dangerous offensively than Benny Feilhaber?

Can he complement Michael Bradley?

Does he defend adequately enough? Is central midfield the proper place for him to be playing, or should we utilize him on the wing or as a striker?

No one knows these answers.

Hopefully the Gold Cup will shed some light on Adu’s game.

Other musings:

Landon Donovan needs to learn when to pull the trigger. He had a number of chances to shoot during different games, but didn’t.

He’s the captain and needs to take the initiative. PK’s are nice, but you cannot depend on getting them all the time.

Clint Dempsey still has some magic while in a U.S. uniform. He disappeared in the beginning of the tournament but really stepped up against Egypt, Spain, and Brazil to renew the country’s faith in him.

Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector did a great job during the tournament and could really complete a defensive line that had some questions.

And how many times did we hear “Sacha Kljestan is a player without confidence right now”? Too many.

I’m all for getting a guy’s confidence back, but if he is not believing in his ability and it is affecting his performance on the field, why is he subbed into the tournament’s final, against superpower Brazil, in a 2-1/2-2 game (he got off the bench when it was 2-1, but didn’t come in until after Brazil scored the equalizer)?

Overall, the tournament can be viewed as a success.

The team learned a lot over the course of these five games about themselves. They also were able to get familiar with the country and the stadiums, which is only an added bonus next year (provided they do indeed qualify).

The focus shifts onto the Gold Cup now, and hopefully the team can continue to improve and perform at a high level.

Photo Credits.
Howard and Benny Feilhaber: AP Photo/ Martin Meissner
Adu: AP Photo/ Elane Thompson

No comments:

Post a Comment