wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Friday, March 24, 2006

Germany 4:1 US--Player analysis

As I wrote earlier, this game was all (well, mostly) about individual performances for us. So what can we take away from it? Whose stock is up and whose has gone down?

Blue-chippers on the rise:

Gibbs: He was one of the main ones to watch this game. A bad game could have scuttled his World Cup chances altogether, but he truly rose to the occasion. He played Gerald Asamoah tough from the get-go and basically marked him out of the game. He also came forward well along the left, and got a shot off early that was earmarked for the far corner if it hadn’t been well-defended by Josh Wolff.

Convey: The only player all game long who could create danger with the ball at his feet. Other players did well with a shot or a pass, but Convey ran down the left all day long, with creativity and skill. He’s definitely going to be on the roster come June, perhaps as a super-sub (a role in which I think he’d excel) or even as a starter if DMB doesn’t improve his game. (Also, did you know that according to some ranking system he’s the best player in the English first division?)

Johnson: Not the post-injury breakout game that I’m still waiting for (perhaps against Jamaica?), but he showed something I didn’t think he had in him: a tough, hard-fought ninety minutes. EJ was well marked but provided our only danger on set pieces, twice getting headers on goal (that would have resulted in at least one score against a lesser goalie than Oliver Kahn). Plus, he tracked back well on defense, and was as responsible as Dolo for the flukey goal we scored, bearing down on Kahn to create danger even in minute 86 of a game we were losing 4-0. He still needs to improve his first touch and link up better with teammates (both making and seeing runs off the ball), but based on what I saw today I’m excited to see what he’ll bring after some MLS seasoning.

They’re dogs with fleas—dump ‘em:

Berhalter: largely responsible for the three goals we gave up toward the end. The second and fourth goals were the result of some miscommunication, though Gregg was beat on the second, and was standing in the box as Ballack headed in the fourth. So those two might be partially on Conrad, but the third was all Berhalter, with the awful giveaway gifting Klose a chance clean in on goal. Shades of the turnover to Adriano that created Brazil’s only goal in their 1-0 defeat of us during the 2003 Confederations Cup. He shouldn’t be on the roster, but Bruce loves him, so I fear he may be.

Ching: two good moments. A nice shot on goal that forced Kahn to save well in the tenth minute, then he battled well to win a 50-50 ball in the box, but was wrongly whistled for the foul (the ref likely didn’t want to whistle it on the German player who did commit the foul—that would have meant calling a penalty). In sixty minutes, that’s not nearly enough production. Ching is a good guy, and a solid MLS player, but not good enough at this level.

Conrad: not as bad as Berhalter, and in fact very good in the first half and up until the minute 70 debacle. He even went forward a few times and had a decent chance on goal (that he flubbed, not surprisingly). But two of the three late goals were partly due to his hesitation and miscommunication, and when the US defense was in pieces late on, he was a major contributor. Centerbacks have to be steady 100% of the time. JC’s not at that level yet, and while he will be important for us in Gold Cup and Concacaf games, I doubt he’ll ever be a world-class defender.

Zavagnin: A few decent moments, but basically invisible. He’s like Pablo in that you don’t notice him that much, but unlike Pablo in that he doesn’t have the same ability to control and calm the midfield. When you’re a holding midfielder and you’re not effective at holding possession, you shouldn’t be on the team. I don’t see him on the final roster.

Klein: He was only on the roster thanks to Noonan’s injury, and only got in the game thanks to Wolff’s injury. Barring a similar series of lucky breaks, he won’t be on the World Cup squad, especially after his consistently unimpressive play on Wednesday.

Unchanged after heavy trading:

Keller. He really can’t be blamed for any of the four goals. In his best moments, he’d come up with wonder saves on some of the breakaways and point blank chances, but when you leave Ballack wide open in the middle of the eighteen-yard box or allow Klose to run in unmarked on goal, you can’t hold the goalkeeper responsible for the resulting score. His angry reaction after the game suggests that he’s emerged as the unquestioned team leader as well.

Dolo. Another typically great game from someone who’s locked into the starting XI as solidly as any of our players. Plus, have we ever had anyone score from behind the midfield stripe? Hey, maybe he’s the solution to our striker problems…

Mastro: Celo Balboa called it right—Mastro is steady. He knows his role and executes within it, helping give the midfield coherence and stability. It’s no coincidence that right around the time he was subbed out in the second half, things began to go to pieces. Reyna is probably better and deserves the start if healthy, but even if Claudio’s unavailable, I think we’ll be OK with Pablo shoring up the midfield.


Blogger mirarchi said...

Well said. I completely agree with your analysis. I'm really pleased that Gibbs and Convey had such good games, and that Johnson showed that he could be rounding back into form (let's hope he lights it up in MLS this season).

It was interesting that Gibbs played left back. I actually thought he didn't look too out of place there, and he actually did well getting down the flank and into the attack on occasion. I'm not really sure about this, but I think I remember Gibbs getting some playing time as a defensive midfielder for St. Pauli early on in his career -- if so, that might explain why I was pleasantly surprised by Gibbs' forays forward. As between Gibbs and Boca at left back, I think you have to go with Gibbs, at least if his performance against Germany is a reliable barometer of his comfort there. Of course, Convey, Lewis, and Hejduk are also all options at left back. For as much flack as Hejduk takes, when he's in form, I think he might be our best bet at left back -- he defends better than Convey and Lewis, and is a stronger attacking threat than Gibbs and Boca (though not quite as strong as Lewis or Convey). In any case, it will be interesting to see who gets the starting nod there, come June. Ultimately, I think Bruce will choose a left back based on our opponent -- against the Czechs, and probably the Italians, I predict Bruce will want a left back who first and foremost can defend, so we'll see either Boca or Gibbs get the start. Against Ghana, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lewis or Convey get the start.

It was good to see Mastro give a solid performance. Even with a healthy Reyna, I'm not sure Mastro starts on the bench. I think Mastro is a much better destroyer/ball-winner than Reyna. And against the Czechs and Italians at least, Bruce may want that extra bite in our midfield. Arena could make room for both Mastro and Reyna by going with a box midfield, with Mastro and Reyna as the twin holding mids, and Donovan and Beasley playing in front of them. Or Bruce could start Donovan as a forward, which is, after all, where he played during much of the '02 WC, IIRC. That would mean Reyna gets the start as our attacking midfielder, a prospect that I'm not thrilled about, given how conservative Reyna tends to be. I really think our attacking midfielder should be someone with more creativity and someone who can create dangerous chances (which Donovan can certainly do as an a-mid, when he's on top of his game).

4:34 PM, March 24, 2006

Blogger DF said...

Interesting about Hejduk. I'd prefer to see Eddie Lewis at LB. He may not battle as hard defensively as Frankie, but he's skilled on the ball, great at crossing (where Hejduk is hopeless), and has more speed. Admittedly, LB is not Eddie's natural position, but I tend to think getting the best XI players on the field is the right move, and with DMB and Convey likely to start at left mid, having Lewis slot in defensively strikes me as the best move. That said, I think Hejduk should be on the roster--he works hard, has the wheels, and always picks up his game for the big occasion.

4:49 PM, March 24, 2006

Blogger mirarchi said...

There's certainly a case to be made for Lewis at left back. And you're absolutely right that there is no comparison between Lewis and Hejduk when it comes to crossing. I'm just really nervous about our starting left back being someone who plays exclusively midfield for his club. But I also understand your point about getting our best eleven on the field. If that's the goal, then I think you have to go with either Convey or Lewis at left back.

I think Hejduk is a lock to make the final roster. Like you said, he's shown that he kicks it up a notch in the WC (I still remember his fantastic performance against the Germans back in '98 -- he was one of the only US players who didn't look scared out there). And he's the only real backup we have to Cherundolo (unless I'm forgetting about someone).

5:17 PM, March 24, 2006


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