Right now, Americans need focus, not a new future

[USA CONFIDENTIAL] The U.S. team arrived in Kansas City for its match Tuesday against Guadaloupe that will close out play in Group C. Regardless of their chances of advancement, the players and Coach Bob Bradley are the targets of stinging criticism for their showing Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Panama.

The players excluded by Bradley from his Gold Cup squad are just one bull’s-eye that critics are firing at, and to that list should also be added those he couldn’t select.

This by no means excuses the performance – not the result, but the display over 90 minutes – in a 2-1 loss to Panama, the first Gold Cup defeat ever suffered by the U.S. in group play. Against a fast, confident, aggressive opponent, the Americans defended clumsily and sloppily, turned the ball over in bad spots, and at times looked completely off their game.

Obvious if unstated is that the absences of Charlie Davies and Jay DeMerit – both trying to regain fitness after injury layoffs – and hobbled midfielders Stuart Holden and Benny Feilhaber, as well as young prospect Tim Chandler, have significantly weakened the squad. Their talent and skills are sorely missed, but so are the fire and enthusiasm and zeal of Holden and DeMerit, who embody the unquenchable spirit this team showed at the Confederations Cup and the World Cup.

If what Landon Donovan said about the players being complacent is true, Coach Bradley isn’t the only one whose job should be on the line. Bradley may indeed get the boot, but I very much doubt his pre-match team talk consisted of stuff like, ‘OK, we got this one, no problem.” A malaise of slow starts in important games continues to crop up, and one plausible reason is that staleness and stagnation have set in, as was feared when the federation re-hired Bradley last fall after four years in charge.

Only Carlos Bocanegra and Jozy Altidore, for example, can know what happened on the first Panamanian goal, when Altidore pushed up in a futile attempt to trap Eduardo Dasent offside as Bocanegra, a few yards inside him, frantically waved an arm. The unmarked Dasent headed Gabriel Gomez’s laser-guided cross at goal and when Tim Howard could only parry it, a Keystone Kops scramble ensued that propelled the ball over the goal line.

Howard didn’t dive for the initial shot, and couldn’t smother the ball as Clarence Goodson tried to clear and Panamanian forward Luis Tejada got a touch on it as well. Both Howard and Goodson lay on their stomachs, humiliated, as Panama celebrated. The goal, one of the uglier conceded by the U.S. in recent memory, could have been prevented by just one American making a play, but nobody did.

A wild kick by Tim Ream gave away the penalty kick by which Panama scored its second goal, but a giveaway by Clint Dempsey provided the possession with which Panama drove the ball into the U.S. penalty area.

Ream suffered through a few other embarrassing moments, one of which saw him unbalanced twice as Panama played a combination right up the middle. Dempsey had many good chances, and hit a few decent shots, yet on a ball floated near the edge of the six-yard box by Donovan with the score, 1-0, Dempsey headed feebly at the keeper. A better effort in the final minutes yielded a desperation tip-over by keeper Jaime Penedo; on the ensuing corner, Altidore’s header hit Dempsey and bounced to Donovan, who smashed a shot well wide.

When they weren’t bad, some of the Americans were pretty good, but just not sharp enough or hungry enough or tough enough to get the job done. While many players are coming off a long European season, and are probably physically and mentally fatigued, that can’t explain why they weren’t ready to match Panama’s effort and intensity from the opening kickoff. Regardless of formation or personnel, they weren’t ready to play well.

Despite those enforced player absences, the coach has the personnel to beat Guadeloupe Tuesday and reach the knockout rounds. Missing those four or five players will be felt later in the tournament, and this scenario places an ever greater emphasis on preparation, which to most fans primarily means team selection and tactics. That is only part of it.

The Americans can’t afford another loss in the mental game. Responsibility starts at the top with the coach; then it trickles down through the entire roster. No matter what happens with Bradley or the players once this competition is over, all that matters is Tuesday and the next game, and if necessary, a game or two after that.

As the late Herb Brooks said to the U.S. hockey team he coached to the gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games, “This team isn’t talented enough to win on talent alone.” That victory was an example of great playing as well as great coaching.

12 comments about "Right now, Americans need focus, not a new future".
  1. Edward Purcell, June 13, 2011 at 8:39 a.m.

    Omar Gonzalez in central D.

  2. Andrew Post, June 13, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.

    It is not a question of if bob bradley should get the boot, it is when! He cannot motivate the team to play up to their talent. Instead, time and time again they play to their competition. You mention players that were not availbale, but what about players that were excluded that are available? Torres, Gomez, Beasley, heck even Bornstein. Here is the other strike against Bradley: He plays his favorites no matter what! Why is Klejstan and Rogers on the squad? There are much better players than those posers!
    It is obvious Tim Ream is not the answer for center back right now. Perhaps in a year or two but for now another combination needs to be tried.
    When is BB going to realize that Michael Bradley is not an attacking midfielder? He's awful when he pushes f forward and has not vision to make the kind of passes needed from that position. IS is too much to ask to get a head coach that understands the game and does not play favorites?
    I'm tired of the entire organiztion. They are just as corrupt as the FIFA governing body and Sepp Blatter!

  3. Walt Pericciuoli, June 13, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.

    Ridge's comments are right on. The past performances, team selection, and current status of our team screams for a change at the top. I can think of no other country where ths would be allowed to continue so long.

  4. Kerry Ogden, June 13, 2011 at 10:48 a.m.

    As for Ream's there isn't a better center back in the MLS or US that is as good as he is, he made a mistake like alot of the players did that day, Omar Gonzalez is nowheres as good as Ream's, I've seen him also make mistakes, It's going to be a ruff road for the USMNT untill they can get more playing time together and hopefully get the connectivity they need to be successful!

  5. Gus Keri, June 13, 2011 at 11:10 a.m.

    The last 30 minutes of Panama's game proved that the US is not short on talents and capable of playing good attacking soccer. Also it showed that fatigue from a long season is not the case here either. It's simply a motivation problem. You need to motivate the players to start the match like their lives depend on it. Donovan was talking about compacency. Did he include himself? Because he didn't show up until very late in the game. As a leader and the most experienced player on the field, he has the duty to be an example. Don't talk the talk if you don't walk the walk, Donovan.

  6. dcd 10, June 13, 2011 at 11:47 a.m.

    @Kerry Ogden: While I agree Gonzalez is inexperienced at this level as much as Ream, Spector is a better player than Ream. Spector has a better pedigree and with his experience, would have proven a better choice than Ream. Sure we know Spector isn't fast to play on the flanks or strength to play like Gooch or Goodson in the air, but he reads and has better ball skills to distribute than Ream. He is good enough to play as defensive MF as seen during the latter part of the season with West Ham.

  7. beautiful game, June 13, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.

    If anyone should take the brunt of criticism it's coach 'no tactics' Bradley, LD who didn't show up as well as a few other vets that go through the motions. This game needs 100% focus and efficiency of movement and execution which the USMNT seems to lack as a team. Ream made a few mistakes, but to crucify him is too harsh...he's one of a handful of players that is calm on the ball and delivers the outlets into the MF on a consistent basis.

  8. Kerry Ogden, June 13, 2011 at 12:59 p.m.

    DCD 10 I'll disagree on the technical aspect between Ream's and Spector. Reams technical skills are better than Spectors any day of the week, I do agree that Spector has the experience but that's where it stops.Getting the back four to work like a well maintained machine is what's missing at this point and only more playing time will sort this out! It's definately an uphill battle for the Team and coach!

  9. Scott O'Connor, June 13, 2011 at 3:36 p.m.

    Ream - Yeah he got schooled a few times but that's what young center backs get early in their career. However, his distribution of the ball was terrific. It was so good that even Tim Howard stopped lumping it long every time he had possession of the ball. Tim H. would simply roll it to Tim R. and then it would go to the midfielders. Not giving up possession after 50% of Tim Howard's touches, is worth some growing pains for now. I was thinking that maybe Ream should be moved to holding midfielder to begin the distribution forward, although I think his tackling skills would be more glaring there.... Anyhow, just an extra take on things. I see the Guadaloupe game as a win-win. If we win, we go through as 2nd place. If we lose, we win because US Soccer will have to make a serious change early enough not to affect World Cup Qualifiers...

  10. Mj Lee, June 13, 2011 at 4:19 p.m.

    We're all getting tired of complaining about Bradley. Lack of player motivation is about the coach. Lack of strategy and tactics is about the coach. Roster merry-go-round all the way up to the Gold Cup is about the coach. These are all reasons why the USMNT does not play like a team. It's time for "CHANGE", and it should start with both Gulati and Bradley.

  11. David Huff, June 13, 2011 at 4:53 p.m.

    After Klinsmann, the Argentinian Ricardo LaVolpe was my next choice for the USMNT going back to WC 2006 after LaVolpe coached Mexico to a respectable 1/4 final finish which included the best game of the entire WC, Mexico vs. Argentina. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that LaVolpe would run rings around MLS Bob. If Mexico in WC 2010 had LaVolpe rather than the incompetent Javier Aguirre, El Tri could have gone very deep with perhaps what was arguably its most talented squad ever. It is time for Team Bradley to be blown up and for a process of national renewal to begin. Clean house with Bradley, Gulati and Flynn, it is time for them to go . . .

  12. Philippe Fontanelli, June 13, 2011 at 8:49 p.m.

    Mahoney still holds back calling the spade a spade. Why not admit that the players have no respect for B.Bradley. He cannot motivate the players with his tactics of college soccer of 20 years back. Second even if Junior would have been a better player the rest of the squad would never accept the blind nepotism. The Panama game reflected an immature formation. Panama attacked and went through the US midfield like the knife in the butter. We may had attacking players but the formation was anything but attacking. Donovan should have been the attacking midfield and third forward behind the double AA and not Bradley.It is Donovan's best position. But of course that would meant that leaving Bradley out. The two most talented midfielders Donovan and Dempsey placed in an outside (non productive)roles. Shouldn't the coach form the team around those two as done by other national teams instead his son? Everything and every formation Bradley lines up is to accommodate Junior where as he can even fit in in a club team close to be relegated. And every team he has played for were relegation bound and often left off the roster. And how many times he has been realesed from clubs to clubs? This is the player the USMNT is built on? Give me a break please! BTW why aren't Diskerud, Chandler, Burnburry and all the Latino players were not selected? Also I think Bradley is not a bad player but not outstanding nor good enough for the starting 11 on MNT. Not just yet maybe with a different coach! Alas I have said enough! I used to be die hard fan of US Soccer but lately it has been a major turn off I don't even watch the MLS anymore let alone the dissapointing MNT. I am sure that will happen to a lot off you if the US Soccer program and performance continues on this road.

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