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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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U.S. defense just wasn't good enough

I took away two things from the USA's loss to Ghana on Saturday: It was obvious American coach Bob Bradley never did figure out who his best starting lineup was for this tournament and, like I've said from the outset of the tournament, you simply cannot keep giving up the early goal and continue fighting back. Clearly, Bradley just didn't sort out the 11 who gave the U.S. its best chance at winning. Why else would he have started Ricardo Clark in midfield and, after he gave away the ball so easily in midfield that led to the first Ghana goal, taken him off and replaced him with Maurice Edu? And why was defender Oguchi Onyewu good enough to start the first two U.S. matches but not play a minute of the last two? I think leaving him out was a mistake. He blocks shots and is a stable type of player. That's just two more visible examples, but there are others. But the more important point is allowing the other team to go ahead. Why? Because in the end, I thought the Americans were emotionally running on empty. In the final 15 minutes of overtime, they looked like they had gone one bridge too far. They went behind against England and Slovenia. And when England went up 1-0 on Slovenia on the final day of group play, the Americans were actually down again. They knew that score and had to score an injury-time goal against Algeria to avoid elimination.
So when the Americans found themselves down 1-0 just five minutes into the game against Ghana, they had to dig deep once again. Give the U.S. and Bradley credit. They regrouped at halftime, dominated the second half and got a deserved equalizer on Landon Donovan's penalty kick. Then in OT, the U.S. fell behind again on another goal that could have been prevented. But by then, I think they had nothing left emotionally or physically. Yes, Bradley did recognize what was wrong during this game and tried to put things right. He made substitutions and, at halftime, changed the system by playing midfielder Clint Dempsey up front. But it was Bradley's mistake in the first place - with his team selection - that put them in this situation of continually having to rally. To me, something was clearly wrong defensively with the U.S. squad, and that was never really solved, was it? The Americans kept going down a goal game after game, and it finally came back to bite them. Even the goal Ghana scored in the overtime I thought was a very bad goal to give up. Yes, Asamoah Gyan took it fantastically. And overall, I thought Ghana played very well. But really, that winning goal was just a hopeful poke of the ball down the middle of the field, and the two U.S. central defenders couldn't deal with one forward? You can't do that at an international level. So what do we take away from the tournament for the U.S.? I thought its overall showing was superb. The Americans played with passion and heart and were technically on par with some of the top teams. The big question for me is in four years, how many of these U.S. players will be in the next World Cup in Brazil? There's some young talent like Herculez Gomez and José Torres. But Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit are all in their late 20s or early 30s. After this experience, if you can keep the nucleus of this team together, who knows, the U.S. could go a stage farther. As far as Bradley's future goes, I would wait for the dust to settle to make a decision on whether to keep him. When I look back at this World Cup and why the U.S. is heading home, I would definitely say its defense just wasn't good enough. Ultimately, the coach is held responsible. But if it were me deciding what to do, I would give it time. I would sit down and talk about the philosophy behind his decisions and his starting lineups. I would not rush to judgment at all. But in the end, the U.S. posted just one shutout in the last 14 games. At the World Cup, all that type of defensive showing will get you is a plane ticket home.
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