U.S.A Beats Australia, But What Did We Learn?

The United States National Team defeated their Australian counterparts 3-to-1 this morning, with Edson Buddle stealing the headlines on the back of his two-goal performance.

The game, though a nice victory, was a bit of a bland appetizer before next week’s main course of the a first-round matchup against England.   A small stadium, poor field and half-throttle play for stretches of the game made it hard to get over excited about today’s victory.

And while I could use my previously favored method of looking at the glass as being either half full or half empty over a number of areas, with a week before the World Cup – where the glass is either over-flowing or shattered – I will instead just poke at a few interesting themes.

  • I’m having trouble deciding what’s more frightening… Oguchi Onyewu starting against England on June 12th or him not starting against England on June 12th.  If he starts, Bob Bradley has more faith in talent and experience than recent competitive game-time or proven recent form.  If Gooch doesn’t start, Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson need to play a whole bunch better against England.
  • Do we fall out of love that easily?   I’ve seen some of the post-match analysis from the “usual suspects” and the name that seems missing?  José Francisco Torres.   I’ve not been very impressed by the Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark combination’s ability to close things down,  possess the ball in the midfield or add the creative element so missing from most of our games.  Torres was a pint-sized revelation against Turkey, but didn’t get a sniff of the field today.   I haven’t seen any reports regarding Ricardo Clark’s apparent injury, and I hope he’s fine, but an injury there might force Coach Bradley’s hand a new direction.   (However, it’s not clear that it would tilt him toward Torres over Maurice Edu…)
  • Luckily, US fans can move from man-crush to man-crush fairly easily.   With our Torres love being put on the back burner since he didn’t play today, it’s now Edson Buddle, 24×7.  Hey, two goals will do that.  I’m happy to join the bandwagon and am all for playing forwards who are confident and in a hot-streak.  Oddly the USA appears to have at least two of them, but US Soccer golden-boy Jozy Altidore isn’t one of them.  Time will tell how bad Jozy’s sprained ankle really is, but at this point, I’m more worried about the center of the formation – both in midfield and defense – than who is up front. 
  • Clint Dempsey appears to have a chip on his shoulder.  This is good – as long as he doesn’t get pulled into some silly fouls.   I sure hope Landon Donovan wakes up with a similar chip… just so we don’t leave anything to chance.  Can we start a rumor that David Beckham was up in the stands calling him Landycakes? 
  • Every team needs a player who frustrates them by adding some ingredients the team really needs (like speed) while frequently screwing up the easy (looking) things.   For the USA, this is Robbie Findley.

Today’s win against Australia was a positive step forward.   It was imperfect.  It showed areas of weakness. But it was a win.

England, however, is more than a little better than Australia. Luckily, the USA is more than a little better than it played today.

Have a good week boys, the real game is next.

Forza America – Gooch and Rico Head to Italy

Italy is not a normal destination for US soccer players.   However two Americans are moving over to Serie A in Italy albeit in two very different scenarios.   Oguchi Onyewu has a 3 year contract with Serie A powerhouse A.C. Milan, while Ricardo Clark appears to be set for a move to recently promoted Livorno – (props to Ives for seemingly be quickest to find this gem.)  Livorno were also after Landon Donovan, but don’t appear willing to pay what would be needed for him.

Grant Wahl posted a great write up about everything that Gooch is now exposed to at A.C. Milan.   Gooch is used to European soccer as he was a key part of Standard Liège who has been on top of the Belgian league for the last two years.   My being used to MLS and its bare-bones approach, the idea of Oguchi being “dressed to kill in team-issued Dolce & Gabbana” is somewhat hard to fathom.   A.C. Milan’s history is so deep and well catalogued it seems pointless to try to replicate it here.   So I’ll let A.C. Milan tell its own story.

Livorno is a smaller club, one that has bounced between Serie A and Serie B in the last few years.   But they too are not without a deep history and tradition . . . even if that tradition includes some infamous moments and themes.   John Foot’s incredibly detailed “Winning at All Costs – A Scandalous History of Italian Soccer” does a great job of cataloging some of this history  including the 1967 fan uprising that trashed much of the stadium and had referees trapped in their locker room until late in the evening.   Livorno is also known for having the most left-wing fans in the world and as recently as 2002 had unfurled a banner in honor of Stalin.

So what do these two moves mean in terms of their soccer and their position with the US team?   Ironically, there are many more similarities than differences.

Where they are coming from: Onyewu has been extremely successful in a second tier European league, and Clark is a leading midfielder in MLS.   Frankly, both are going to see a big step up.

Style:  Both players are extremely athletic . . . Onyewu as a monster of a man, Clark who covers acres of space like an angry gazelle.   (No, I don’t know what would make a gazelle angry by the way.)   If both of them make sure to keep and pass the ball as well as they break up plays, there is a chance for success.

US National Team:   Both players would be on the plane if it was leaving for the World Cup today.    Presuming it will be much harder for Onyewu to crack A.C. Milan’s starting lineup than it will be for Ricardo to do so at Livorno, Onyewu will need to make sure he stays fresh.   This will be interesting since both positions do have capable replacements on the US team meaning that both of these players need to stay sharp.

Temperament:  This will be an interesting part of the equation.   Both players have had foul/card issues on the biggest stages (Onyewu giving away a critical penalty against Ghana in the World Cup, Clark getting red-carded at the Confederations Cup and infamously over-reacting and kicking Carlos Ruiz.)   The Italian players will be expert at the art of fouling, diving and winding players up – how these two cope might be as important as anything else.

It appears that Ricardo Clark won’t move until January, but the experiment is already started with Onyewu’s playing with A.C. Milan in the US based “World Football Challenge” and the Germany based “Audi Cup.”   Despite many caveats about familiarity and new surroundings, he needs to do better than what we saw at the World Football Challenge.    (And though I didn’t see the game, he was on the field for some of Bayern Munich’s four goals against A.C. Milan this evening.)

Overall, the addition of some new American blood into Italy’s Serie A is a great statement about American players – and maybe what a discount they are on the world market.

Hopefully we aren’t talking about their moves back down the European ladder in one of the next transfer windows.