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USA Failed To Follow Successful Blueprint in Gold Cup Final

Written by on June 29, 2011 | 6 Comments »
Posted in The Training Ground

Matthew Eison is the latest contributor to the Training Ground. If you have views and  opinions about any aspect of the game and want to express them you can go the “Training Ground” link and submit a piece to be posted on the website.

To the casual USA soccer fan or neutral not familiar with the USA vs Mexico soccer rivalry for the past couple of decades it must have seemed like a blowout.

The USA was outclassed.  Mexico showcased superior technical ability.  Mexico had the majority of possession as well as chances.  USA’s goals came against the run of play and thus were largely undeserved.

The USA was lucky not to have lost 4-0 or 6-0.  I can see how someone who’s never seen these two teams play each other would think that.

However, this is really nothing new in comparison to the last 10 years.  The only difference is, Mexico won for once

USA soccer fans (and I’m sure the team itself) have been continually amazed at the reaction of Mexican coach after Mexican coach, with echoes in the Mexican media, that Mexico dominates, but doesn’t win — “no matter, we’ll win next time” is the refrain.

The only problem with that is that when something happens 10 years in a row, it’s no fluke.

In fact, when the USA went up 2-0 in the first 20 minutes, the game was actually true to form of the previous 10 years.  However, Bob Bradley veered from the playbook, and the rest is history.

The USA built its dominance over Mexico in the Bruce Arena era.  During his tenure, goals for the USA were often tough to come by, but the defense was much tougher.

One can see this trait in the Bruce Arena LA Galaxy team of the past few years in comparison to Beckham & co before Arena came in.  Arena’s approach seems to belie his Italian heritage – a sort of “catenaccio ” approach.

With Bob Bradley, there seems to be no rhyme or reason.  Either we give up early goals and have to chase the game, or get off to a quick start and blow a lead, as we’ve done against Brazil and now Mexico.

Bob deserves credit for winning the 2007 Gold Cup, getting to the final of the 2009 Confed Cup, qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, and for winning a group that included England.

He should also be given credit for bringing along the talented players of the 2010 side, many of whom weren’t even on Arena’s radar in 2006.

It’s also seemingly a new trait of USA teams to be able to come from behind for victory.  However, outside of the masterstroke it took to take down Spain in the Confederations Cup and stage a 3-nil victory over Egypt in the game before that, it seems his in-game tactics fail him on the biggest stage.

Bradley also marries himself to players who let him down, like Ricardo Clark and Jonny Bornstein — both of whom have contributed well at times, but have been put into way too many situations for which they weren’t ready.

In the game against Mexico, it should have been “batten the hatches” when we went up 2-0.  It’s what Arena would have done.

Maybe Arena would never have fostered the style of play to go up 2-0.  Maybe Arena didn’t have to face the likes of Gio Dos Santos and Chicharito.

But Arena never lost to Mexico on U.S. soil.  It’s something to think about.  No, I’m not saying Bruce should have stayed on or that he should come back now.  However, he devised the blueprint, and Bradley ignored it, with the result being the USA’s demise on Saturday.

If you look back at the past 10 years of USA dominance over Mexico outside of Mexico City, many USA goals have come from set pieces and counter-attacks capped off by Donovan rounding the keeper, as happened on Saturday.

However, the difference in the past was superior American defending and goalkeeping won the day.

True, our talent in the back is either immature or aging at the moment, and the pipeline maybe isn’t as promising as years past.  However, I don’t think they were given the best chance to succeed by the choices of the coach.

Bob deserves credit for bringing in Adu, but there are a few things he could have done differently which might have helped:

1. Give Maurice Edu more minutes throughout the Gold Cup.  Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley were way too tired to keep up with the Mexican midfield.

Maurice Edu barely saw the field, and he’s come off an excellent season for Rangers.  A platooning-approach to defensive midfield might have resulted in fresher legs fending off the Mexican attack.

It’s a common theme in the Bradley era that Edu hasn’t been given a fair shake.

2. Make Kljestan the 2nd sub rather than the 3rd.  Agudelo was stranded up top, anyway.  He could have helped out with defending as well.  Edu could have helped out alternately to Kljestan.

3. Shift Donovan over to left midfield to help Bornstein with defending after the 2nd USA goal.  Bornstein was struggling, and Donovan could have helped out, as he’s done so well in the past — most recently in the Argentina friendly this past spring.

Hindsight obviously shows that Bornstein wasn’t the correct call.

However, options were limited.  Ream had made costly mistakes against Panama, so shifting Lichaj right and Bocanegra left might not have fared better.

Ream might be the future, but he would have been a gamble on Saturday as well.  A similar switch with Onyewu I think would have fared even worse than Ream given Gooch’s recent form.

A straight up Spector for Cherundolo might have been the best alternative, but he didn’t inspire confidence in his first half performance at that slot in the Spain friendly.

Really, there were no good options, and Bornstein had performed well at last year’s World Cup.  But honestly, Bornstein hasn’t played much for his Mexican club team — probably the worst of the three admittedly not great scenarios.

What it all really comes down to is that Bob was pushing for the 3rd goal when he should have put the team into a defensive shell.  This Mexican team is extremely talented and they were always going to be favored in a wide open game.

I know that’s what the neutrals like, and I know many were excited by such an exciting final.  However, that’s not how the USA beats this Mexican team.  Bradley should have known that.

The worrying thing is that these tactical mistakes keep cropping up on the biggest stage with Bradley.  Maybe if he stays on and learns from his mistakes, the USA will be better off -it’s the repetition of mistakes that worries me.

So, Mexico won with a great performance on the day.

However, I think the pieces are there for the USA to at least establish parity in this rivalry if the blueprint of the past 10 years of American dominance isn’t once again ignored.

Pushing for the third goal wasn’t the right call.  The fan in me says this game would have ended up 2-1 USA or 2-2 with the USA winning in PK’s.

On the day, the tactics weren’t right.

But give the Mexican team credit, they played well and are deserved winners.

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6 responses to “USA Failed To Follow Successful Blueprint in Gold Cup Final”

  1. jimsakeeper says:

    well put, as was Bobby’s analysis on FSW. We scored two but never looked dominant. I suspect Mexico would’ve shut up shop had they gotten up 2-0 and we failed to do so.

  2. To be fair,
    I think the States were outclassed, dos santos and chicarito might be the best forward pair up top Mexico has had in years, they both play extremely well off the ball, and have all the skills, you add Barrera who is not getting enough mention in my opinion, and the states have a problem.

    Also, to be fair, this may have been Rafa’s swan song. Mexico need fresher and faster legs in the back, and he has done great for them.

  3. alex in houston says:

    I think that Bradleys’ approach to the usmnt is reflected in that of his sons play in the final. His son tried holding & defending the midfield with Jones but frequently chose to join in on the attack. I believe the team and coaches thought they were better than Mexico, enough to not consider fielding a defensive strategy at some point in the game. It was clear to me that he always wanted to attack first & that defending was a distant second behind establishing control of the game through attacking play. Its almost as if patience & having control on the ball as well as staying compact once the ball was lost was beyond him. He has not learned from his mistakes & is not sophisticated enough to try different things in game on the pitch. And where is the pressure to win with this guy its as if he is trying not to lose but is not trying to win the game either….

  4. Alberta Gooner says:

    Enjoyed this piece, Matthew!

    The decision not to give more time to Maurice Edu mystifies anybody who’s watched him play over the past 12 months.

  5. Terry143 says:

    The Mexicans made short no-look pass combinations all night. They have a chemistry that the US can only dream about. If this US team plays this Mexican team ten games in a row, they will lose eleven of them.

  6. Dee Wreck says:

    What happened to “Bunker Bob” when you need him?!?!

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