The Dream Is Over

*Branching from our usual recap-style write-ups on World Cup games, the following are my thoughts on the States’ defeat to Ghana. We all saw the game.*

It’s hard to even know where to begin.

Since the end of the game – actually, since Gyan’s goal – I’ve just had an empty feeling. Sure, there’s some disappointment and sadness, but it’s all very subdued. I’m not dejected or mad, either. Putting that feeling down in text, I realize why. This is how it feels when you weren’t bested, but when you beat yourself.

That’s what the U.S. did today. I’ll give the Black Stars of Ghana the credit for playing a great game, and they deserve to advance, but some disappointing performances in the U.S. camp made it much easier on them than it should have been.

If I were going to narrow it down to a single reason why the United States aren’t licking their chops in anticipation of a quarter-final clash with first-ever World Champions Uruguay on Friday, it’d be Bob Bradley. And I promise, I would have said the same thing if he didn’t basically say “I messed up” with his early substitution of Ricardo Clark.

But that’s not to say that’s not a good place to start. There are few people who were excited to see Ricardo Clark in the line-up. When he gave away the ball that resulted in Ghana’s lead, I don’t think I’ve ever yelled louder or more profanities in my life – and for people who know me and my video gaming outbursts, that says a lot. But I wasn’t yelling at his mistake. I was yelling at Bradley’s decision to have him on the field.

Clark didn’t track back with Gerrard when England scored on us and never did anything productive on the other side of the ball. HJe lacks the technique, finesse and creativity to be a good central midfielder, to be blunt. But he was just Bradley’s first mistake. Second was Robbie Findley.

Why is he playing? I haven’t the faintest clue. He started against England, did nothing and was subbed at halftime. He started against Slovenia, did nothing and was subbed middle of the second half. He couldn’t play against Algeria because of two yellow cards, and that ends up being the only game we win. So what does Bob Bradley decide? He starts against Ghana, does nothing and is subbed at halftime.

Of course the game plays out so that a player of that quality gets our best chance in the second half. Played through just inside the top of the box, Findley had a free shot on goal from the right. Instead of working the keeper, he hits it directly at him – an opportunity wasted. But he wasn’t the only awful one up top.

Jozy Altidore was non-existent other than drawing a few fouls. I know he’s only 20 years old, but the fact remains he has been given the nod to be the starting striker for a team in the World Cup knock-out stage. A player in that position has got to be able to score or at least work the keeper when given a free shot at the top of the box. Altidore rolled the ball about five yards wide of the goal. He’s just not good enough. He may rip up Trinidad and Tobago in qualifying, but he rarely scores otherwise. He had to be better if the States wanted to seriously consider a run in this tournament.

Clark and Findley were crushing choices. Obviously Bradley sees the guys on the training field each day and may have seen some things that swayed his decision, but based on their resumes in this World Cup, I can’t imagine what could have transpired off-camera that made him decide to start that pair.

My biggest problem with Bradley, however, isn’t his squad selection. It’s the mentality he preaches to the team… or lack thereof. When your team concedes early in three of its four games, it falls on the coach. It’s clear Bradley wasn’t handling that situation correctly. You’ve got to be able to manage a team and have them prepared mentally as much as physically and tactically. If he had to resort to telling the guys, “Play defensive and clear the ball for the first 10 minutes,” then so be it. You cannot afford to go behind at this level, much less three times in four games. Everyone, Bradley included, knew the magic dust was going to run out sooner or later.

Knowing that, he has to have his guys prepared to play in the first 10 minutes, and that happens with what he says in the locker room before they walk out of the tunnel.

Part of me feels bad criticizing Bradley. He has won the CONCACAF, he took the team to the Confederations Cup finals, beat then No.1 Spain and many other accomplishments, but he’s just not cutting it. It’s fantastic he elevated the level of the USMNT program, but we’re going to need a more knowledgeable, seasoned coach if we want to progress the program to the point the country doesn’t have to goes nuts each time we advance out of an easy group.

I will say that there are few teams of the 16 I’d rather lose to than Ghana. Going into the game, I was seething with a desire for revenge, but at the end of the game I can support Ghana on their quest to the Cup. After the match, you could see what it meant to them to be representing both their country and continent, and you see that it meant just as much to all the different factions of African nations who came together to support Ghana.

The result is unfortunate, because most of the Americans left their hearts out on the pitch today, and for that, I thank them. They could have rolled over last week, feeling sorry about the “phantom call,” but they responded with heart, and in turn, a nation responded with its support.

Thanks again, boys. Keep your heads up, and we’ll see you in 2014.


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