Getting beat by a goal in over time is always crushing. There’s no two ways about it. It doesn’t matter how it happened, how badly you played, or how much better your opponent was. The reality is that you made it that far, you fought hard, and you didn’t give up. Props to the US for that. We didn’t fold and kept fighting through the whole game. Ghana wasn’t head and shoulders above us. They didn’t out class us on the field. We had the better chances through out the majority of the game. A couple of different bounces and we’re off to the quarter finals. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
What happened was incredibly frustrating (in addition to being crushing). You can only comeback from behind so many times. The first time or two you do it is exciting; exhilarating even. But when it happens again and again and again, it stops being exciting and starts being really frustrating. This has been an all too common theme with the USMNT under Bob Bradley’s tenure. Through out the qualification process, there were numerous times where we went down against a team that we shouldn’t have conceded to and had to fight our way back. Often times we conceded very early in the first half. First against El Salvador. Then against Honduras. Then against El Salvador, again. The against Honduras, again. Then against Costa Rica. In the World Cup it was against England first, then against Slovenia, almost against Algeria, then against Ghana. Its great that we can show a lot of heart and fight back from behind. Why can’t we show a little bit of character and not go behind in the first place? Ultimately, it shows that Bradley has a problem with getting the team prepared.
Sure, Clark’s give away in on the first goal was pretty atrocious. He completely telegraphed his movement and paid the price. After that, his head was so far out of the game that Bradley had to sub him or look even more foolish. More foolish because he shouldn’t have had Clark in there in the first place. Clark was at the center of the blame for Gerrard’s goal in the game against England. His performances in the pre-Cup friendlies had been uninspiring and Bradley rightfully benched him against Slovenia and Algeria. Who replaced Clark and looked by far the better player? Well, there was a brief interlude where Torres rocked Turkey’s world after he replaced Clark at the half, but he pulled up short against Slovenia and was replaced. Whenever he’s stepped on the pitch, whether as a sub or a starter, Maurice Edu has looked to be a better midfield option than Clark, by far. Why start him at this point?
For the second game, Bradley made a half time substitution that paid big dividends. When Feilhaber came on, we effectively shifted to a three man centeral midfield. This negated Ghana’s three-to-two man advantage in the middle that had helped them so much in the first half. There’s two ways to look at half time subs. One is that the coach made a smart tactical move to change the face of the game and should be lauded. The other is that the coach should have had things figured out tactically before the game even started and made a mistake which needed to be corrected. Which view you take largely depends on how much of an unknown the other team’s line up is. Ghana just played three games in the past two weeks. Its not much of a secret that Ghana plays with three central midfielders.
Bradley has been incredibly loyal to his players since he became head coach. With a decision like starting Clark today, I think that we can fairly say that he’s been too loyal in some cases. It was obvious to everyone, including Bradley, that Clark didn’t have what was needed. After Edu came on, it was obvious that he did.
The other place that we obviously suffered was because of our lack of depth. Jonathan Bornstein played a decent game. He didn’t cost us any goals. He limited turnovers and he didn’t have any of boneheaded clearances. He even made some good contributions to the attack. That said, he was only on the field because of our injury/depth problems in our back line. I think that it was legitimate to say that we started the same backline against Algeria because we needed the speed. Against Ghana, not quite so much. Onyewu was needed to be starting and would have been if not for the months off due to injury With both Ghana goals coming down to our centerbacks trying to shut down a streaking Ghanain, its easy to see the difference that an in form Gooch could have made. Robbie Findley is another example of our problems with depth. He provided a ton of pace, but how much could we have used Charlie Davies? We know that he has the same kind of speed and we also know that he’s a much better finisher.
Losing this way sucks. Its not an issue of all the what ifs. Its an issue of what is. Yes, we can leave the World Cup with our heads held high. The stated goal was to get to the knock-out round. We did that and we made some pretty serious noise in the process. However, we had better to bring than what we brought today (and in the game against Slovenia for that matter). Our players certainly left everything on the field, but we couldn’t put our best players out there. We didn’t put the best ones out there for the game that we were playing. Injuries and coaching mistakes are inevitable, but when they get exposed so glaringly in a game with so much emotion riding on it the agony of defeat pretty quickly gives way to the burn of frustration.