USA looks too familiar in Denmark game

By Paul Gardner

Trying to think of one word to describe the USA's performance against Denmark, I have settled on "stale." Nothing new to be seen here, very much the same old same old.

Ignoring the result, which hardly matters, the chief disappointment was exactly the lack of sparkle. Obviously, there was one pretty good reason for that -- this was the USA's second away game in five days.

But why did the U.S. team have to have such a familiar look to it -- not only as far as the starting lineup was concerned, but the substitutions, too?

If this was an opportunity to "look at" new players -- and that seems to have been the general opinion -- then who were these new players? Of the 18 players, only Dax McCarty and Edgar Castillo really qualify.

McCarty got to play about 10 minutes in the 0-1 loss to Slovakia, and he got about the same time in this game. I'm not sure how exactly one defines "looking at" new players, but brief 10-minute slots squeezed in at the end of a couple of games doesn't look like the way to do it.

Of course, Coach Bob Bradley has had plenty of opportunity to watch McCarty in action with FC Dallas, so he should know quite a lot about him. His opportunities for watching Castillo play in Mexico for Tigres were no doubt more limited, but I can't see that Bradley will have learned much from what Castillo did and didn't do in the Denmark game.

Castillo's introduction to the U.S. national team came under rather extraordinary circumstances when he replaced Michael Bradley, for it is a rare occasion when coach Bradley pulls player Bradley off. Jonathan Bornstein continued to play at left back, Castillo's accustomed position. So Castillo became the wide left midfielder, a flank player. By the time he got into the game, Denmark was leading 3-1 and totally in command. The USA, for whatever reason, was having trouble getting possession of the ball, never mind doing anything with it.

So Castillo spent most of his time out on the left flank, where he had no doubt been instructed to stay, as a spectator. Maybe he touched the ball a dozen times. His passes were mostly one-touch, lateral or backward -- the caution of the debutant. There were no mistakes, but there was no dribbling either -- something of a shame that. For Castillo is an exciting player surging forward with the ball at his feet. But not in this game. Tactical instructions? Or the cautious debutant again?

I find it difficult to think of any cogent reason why Castillo should not have started this game. (One good reason why he should have started is that it might have consigned the increasingly erratic Frankie Hejduk to the bench.)

At least that would have given Bob Bradley a meaningful performance on which to make his judgments. These paltry minutes revealed nothing -- certainly nothing that would serve as a strong argument for either dropping Castillo or for continuing with him.

This is not encouraging, for it raises the possibility that Castillo will get the same treatment as Jose Francisco Torres. Like Castillo, Torres is American-born, but plays for a pro club -- Pachuca -- in Mexico. Both players could have opted to play for Mexico -- both, instead have chosen the USA. Torres got his first real chance as a starter earlier this year in a World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica.

A game in which the USA was outplayed in the first half, and went to the locker room 0-2 down. But one of the bright spots in an otherwise poorly played 45 minutes by the USA was the confident and skillful play of Torres. As the half came to a close, ESPN commentator John Harkes was praising Torres, saying the USA needed more players like him, comfortable in controlling and possessing the ball.

Bradley thought otherwise. When the USA reappeared for the second half, Torres was no longer on the field. A very strange decision on Bradley's part, to put it charitably. And the strangeness has continued. Torres was dropped for the next qualifier against Honduras. He was restored to the team for the Confederations Cup, but didn't get on the field in any of the five games.

Since then, Torres does not seem to have figured much in Bradley's calculations, at least not in any methodical way. And now we have Bradley's less-than-whole-hearted way of introducing Castillo to the team. So be it -- it is the lot of pioneers to be misunderstood. And Torres and Castillo are certainly pioneers, the first of the coming wave of American-born Latino players who will bring a much needed stylistic sophistication to American soccer.


14 comments about "USA looks too familiar in Denmark game".
  1. Mike Fredsell, November 19, 2009 at 9:31 a.m.

    As I watch game after game of all the national teams I can see one thing. We play with no creativity at any level with any consistency and all we have as coaches are people form the Bruce Arena Coaching tree. The men that like to play direct and have no need of and cannot coach players with any creativity. Why do we have to watch Altidore who's first touch is hoorible and cannot play with his back to the goal when we have Torres and Adu. We don't really win at any international level with our style of play and it looks like we will be out of the world cup very early. When do you think the people that make the decisions will wake up? Probably never.

  2. John Munnell, November 19, 2009 at 10 a.m.

    Completely agree on Torres. It's inexplicable that he came off at halftime of the Costa Rica match --- and unbelievable that he's had no significant opportunity since. One can only imagine that he must be the worst practice player on the planet! Yet Eddie Johnson gets yet another look? Bizarre.

    Equally bizarre was Castillo's introduction. Bornstein played pretty well and is now a known quantity. Why in the world would you not give Castillo a half, at least? Even if you think that he might be better suited elsewhere in this team, wouldn't it make sense to put him in a spot that will make him comfortable for starters?

    I have a lot of respect for Hejduk's contributions over the years. But he is also a known quantity --- and had one of his worst matches ever. Again, why not give someone else at least 45 minutes in a competitive, but inconsequential match?

    I thought the US played pretty well against Slovakia, but that Bradley missed an opportunity to test new players or ideas. The US played horribly against Denmark (credit to Denmark, though...they were better all day), but Bradley again wasted a perfect opportunity to take a chance.

    The US is not good enough to play safe --- everyone has to be committed to taking chances, in every sense of the word. They have to embrace the risk of spectacular failure, in order to have the opportunity for real success. This is the lesson of the Confederations Cup...and it appears that that lesson has not been learned.

  3. John Moran, November 19, 2009 at 10:15 a.m.

    Not sure when this influx of Latino players is coming. The coaching staff is uncomfortable w/ them and the younger teams are featuring players w/ roots in Africa. Perez, Ramos, Reyna, ? This team has no one to fill this role. Frighteningly, Coach Bradley seems to think player Bradley is the answer. Most coaches give National team time to those players in form f/ their clubs so in this case why weren't Torres and Castillo featured prominently. Anyone scoring goals in any league deserves a run before Eddie Johnson. Was it just me or did Altidore not want to play? I am still trying to understand the moaning over Onyewu's loss. He is a card waiting to happen and is easily beaten when forced to move laterally. (one would note that's how he got hurt). Pick a replacement and give him some real minutes. Speaking of cards Hejduk (I always tackle w/ two feet) continues to amaze. If I'm an American rightback and I can't beat out Hejduk that's reason to retire. It's not just the wild defending-look at his crosses. They rarely reach a teammate.

  4. David Gerrity, November 19, 2009 at 10:22 a.m.

    I hope the US figures this out. They should play 3 in the back and play entertaining (a.k.a attacking) soccer. We have a high mountain still to climb to be considered a top world soccer power. The overall dull performance the past 2 games shows that the US lacks depth and is not ready to be a top dog. I am excited that they have qualified but unless they get a dream draw do not see them going to far in SA2010...

  5. Walt Pericciuoli, November 19, 2009 at 11 a.m.

    Once again, Paul has hit the nail on the head. Bob Bradley falls into the same coaching category as all our other American coaches. They are loyal to their "core group" regardless as to who is in form or not. They don't seem to have the ability to recognize new players that can make a difference or the willingness to give the latin "style" player a real chance. It's not a wonder that we have not seen another player like Landon Donovan being developed in our system.
    How long does the experiment with Bornstein continue? What is Eddie Johnson doing out there? Michael Bradley is our attacking midfielder or is he a holding mid? Where is Adu?
    Its' too late for this cup, but we not only need a new coach, but a complete revamp of our current system and philosphies. If we want to learn this game, why not learn from the best. Brazil, Agentinia, Spain, Itlay or Holland.
    By the way, Gus Hiddink might be looking for a job?

  6. Lloyd Elling, November 19, 2009 at 11:15 a.m.

    I was excited to watch the USA VS SLovakia & Denmark as both of these teams are quality competitiors and headed to the 2010 World Cup. We all knew that Davies, Donovan, Dempsey, Onlyewu, DeMerit and Howard were not available. Michael Bradley and Carlos Bocanegra should have sat as they must be exhausted with the minutes they have put into the national team....a well deserved rest. My excitement turned to disappointment as our play was boring, tired and old.

    It was time to take a good look at several new players....time to experiment. I could not wait to see what it would look like with players not seen enoug; Jeff Cunningham, Jose Torres, Edgar Castillo, Freddy Adu, Marvell Wynn, Michael Orozco, Jimmy Conrad, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Dax McCarty, Jonathan Spector, Robbie Rogers, Brad Guzman and Marcus Hanhnemann. It was time to look at a new creativity of play with players who have dominion over the ball. It was time to search for the players that would make the USA far less predictable. It was time for our coaches to say to the new style of players; show us your best skills and do not be afraid to take risks on the field.

    I fail to understand why our USA National Team Coaches did not take the chance to turn loose some creativity. Winning was not the concern in these final two matches to me. It was time to dance with new partners and we did not do it.

    My family and I want to travel to South Africa and see exciting "futbol". We want our team to win with a beautiful and creative style of play. Please do not discourage us with more of the same old bland approach. We want our USA team to bring in the players who can play with Landon Donovan. We want players who are risk takers. We have players who never give up...determined...physically strong....outstanding goalkeepers...technically strong and solid on defense. We lack the pursuit of players who are creative risk takers, defenders who can dribble out of the back, midfielders who can dominate and technical finishers. Let's find them and quickly.

    Our thoughts and hopes are with Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu. We absolutely need these players. HEAL GENTLEMEN HEAL!!!

  7. Doug Huston, November 19, 2009 at 1:12 p.m.

    Paul, you are 100% correct in your assessment of Bradley. Although we have come a long way, there are 2 problems with US soccer. First, American coaches come from a background of coaching with total control. American sports, baseball, basketball and football, are based on coaches having total control of players. We praise the coach who has a program where players are tools in a reality computer game. Soccer is a game that flows and needs creative minds to solve problems instantly. The coach, except for substitutions, is a minor actor in the play that is the game. Americans haven't grasped that idea and coaches don't know what to do with a player with a creative mind because the coach has no control over that creativity.

    The second problem is that the African-American community has been totally ignored by soccer, at all levels. Look at any other sport in the US and you will see significant African-American participation. Until US soccer addresses this, US soccer will always be second tier.

  8. John Moran, November 19, 2009 at 2:28 p.m.

    Marvell Wynne proves my point. Here is a young, athletic rightback, but he isn't good enough to replace Hejduk. Until someone is a real option what can Bradley do. As anyone who has ever chosen a team (be it select, state, school, etc.) knows there will always be players missed. That said as Ric Fonseca wrote this is the longest running topic in US soccer. Much time and money has been devoted to this issue w/ little improvement. Player development, identification, liason w/ minority players, willingness to fit systems to players rather than players to systems, and an ability to incorporate rising players into core lineups continues to plaque US soccer. Somehow we need more opportunities to field various teams in real competitive situations. Our B- team can get us through the early qualification, our Gold Cup, Copa America, and MLS all conflict and we can't force anyone to care when we play in Europe.That said I'm still grateful f/ the tremendous growth of the game since I found it in the 70's.

  9. Gonzalo Munevar, November 19, 2009 at 9:09 p.m.

    Exactly. Torres was the best American player in that game. To take him out was shocking. Not to play him again is even more shocking.

  10. Kevin Leahy, November 19, 2009 at 10:42 p.m.

    The U.S. lack of skill players is appalling fifteen years after the '94 World Cup. Bob Bradley plays Michael Bradley as the creative force on a team without any. I like Bradley's instincts but, he is better suited for a differant role. Donovan wide, running at players is about the only way this group has a chance of breaking down anyone. Torres and Adu's exclusion is proof enough to me that this coaching group is only interested is stealing games. I don't know enough about Castillo but, he has to have something to be playing where he is. I like Dempsey's instincts around the box but, he is a real liability with the turnovers in the midfield. If we are going to lose the least you can do is entertain me!

  11. Reuben Valles, November 20, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.

    My big issue with Bob Bradley the past few nights was i feel he really missed an opportunity to look for some new players. Castillo should have started. Torres should have played. Dax McCarty should have had more minutes. I dont want to bring up the whole complicated latino style and finding talented and creative players issues we all know exist.
    I want to know why our most talented soccer media people....people like those who write for Soccer America and ESPN ect arent in the post game conference rooms to ask Coach Bradley the questions that Paul brought up in this article? There is a post game conference and i dont think the American Soccer media does enough to put the real soccer beat writers in that conference, so that Bob Bradley has to answer why Torres has not played since the Costa Rica game? Why did he not let Castillo play any significant minutes since he desperately needs to find another defender since Gooch went down? Why another chance for Eddie Johnson? ect. These are great questions that i want answered by Bob Bradley so that i at least get to know what he's thinking. Thats why i pay for a Soccer America subscription! Im sick of the weak post match interview questions and answers. There too simple. I'm a huge US fan, but i just want the heat turned up a little in the interview room with some knowledgable US Soccer beat writers present to ask a few more pertinant questions.

  12. Philippe Fontanelli, November 20, 2009 at 10:32 a.m.

    The trouble i sthat Bradley doesn't read all the above and Paul Gardner's remarks. I have mentioned several time that the problem is Bradley the coach. He is trying to fit the midfield around his son, thus there is seldom a flow between the midfield and front line and midfield and defense. We must get rid of the Bradleys (in plural) for the next time around because it is sad to say the present coach and team will not go very far in SA.
    Furthermore I agree with all that are other talents out there to pursue but Bradley coming from the Arena school (which was already mediocre at best) is either too ignorant or just plain soccer dumb. By the way if you all rememmber who lost ROSSI now playing for Italy and rather well......Arena! The US Federation must get their act together and bring in soccer savvy professionals because we have players but urgent need of pros to cultivate them. Remember the fish stinks from the head down.

  13. Trudy Wells, November 20, 2009 at 10:56 a.m.

    Why exactly are there "Friendly Games"?
    Shine when it matters!
    World Cup 2010 . . . the USA will show up with their hearts beating for their country!
    America, be there!
    Soccer rules!

    Trudy Wells

  14. Kent James, November 20, 2009 at 1:15 p.m.

    I hope Bradley reads Gardner's column and these posts, since there is much wisdom in both. But I do not think Bradley is a lost cause. I think he's done a lot of things right. I'm glad to see him bring in some creativity in Feilhaber, Holden and Bornstein. Although Dempsey has a knack for scoring, I hope Bradley realizes he's a liability in midfield. I was appalled when Bradley started using Connor Casey up top, yet he scores the crucial goals that allow us to qualify, so I have to give credit to Bradley there. The treatment of Torres was indeed shameful. He was the only spark in the first half of the Costa Rica game, and I could not understand why he was taken out or not given more time. He needs to get an opportunity to prove himself, especially given what he gave up by choosing to play for the US over Mexico. Although Michael Bradley gets a lot of playing time, I think he generally deserves it (and I was initially skeptical). But he's not a creative force, he's more of a destroyer who can distribute and score from distance. He's better as a defensive midfielder, behind someone like Feilhaber or Torres.
    There is some time prior to the World Cup, but we need to get busy. I do think it would be better to play all out attacking soccer (as we did against Spain & Brazil), rather than focus on defending and trying to grind out a result. I think Bradley is a smart coach, and is capable of adjusting to the circumstances. I just hope he has the guts to throw caution to the wind in order to play a brand of soccer we can be proud of.

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