World Cup 2010

Nine points! Nine out of nine possible! Yes!

Okay okay, I know we’re now the giants of CONCACAF and we’re supposed to beat teams like Guatemala, Cuba, and Trinidad & Tobago, but there’s a hell of a lot to be said for doing what you’re supposed to. Especially when you finish the first half of group play with a flourish like the team did on Wednesday night.

So, one time through the group, nothing but positive results, seems like a good time for reflection/evaluation. Kick back, get a drink (a celebratory one, not a beverage of the “drink the pain away” variety), and let’s do this thing.

The game away at Guatemala went exactly like most of us would have said it was going to go if we were asked beforehand.

Unnamed Friend or Coworker: Hey Jon, what’s the U.S. gonna look like in Gautemala tonight?

Me: Well Unnamed Friend or Coworker, it’s gonna be an ugly game. If you’re a fan of free flowing attacking football you should probably find something else to do. But if you’re a fan of professional boxing this game will probably keep you on the edge of your seat.

And sure enough we got treated to Lennox Lewis-Shannon Briggs, albeit on a barely maintained pitch and under ten-watt light bulbs.

The Guats (I can say Guats right? It makes them sound like a succulent sausage or fruit item) bunkered back and dared the Yanks to find a way to score, and eventually that good old American set piece goal reared its familiar head. This after pushing and shoving, bilingual insult hurling, red cards to each side, and bloodshed courtesy of Eddie Lewis’s head.

The result was a hard fought 1-0 victory in which the Americans demonstrated tremendous focus and will to win. Now I’m usually strongly against people who write about sports using such ambiguous terms. They usually come at the end of “throw away” sentences, but I don’t know how else to describe what I saw after Cherundolo’s red card. Everyone on the team seemed to get pissed, but in a productive “We’ll be damned if we’re gonna let the ref’s, Guatemala, or anyone else prevent us from winning this game,” kind of way. Beautiful.

The Cuba victory was beautiful in another way. The match away at Cuba was what anyone who follows college football would instantly recognize as a “trap game.” Florida on the road this year at Arkansas, USC at Washington State right after a clash with the AZ State, USA in Havana. Trap games. It’s the type of game we might have dominated for 85 minutes before giving up a penalty kick goal.

That didn’t happen! We dominated play and eventually we got the breakthrough, so be thankful and get the hell out of Cuba, after grabbing a couple cigars and a media noche of course. Note: For those readers not reared in South Florida, a media noche is a delicious Cuban sandwich that you can read more about on my food blog, Delicious Foods That Give Me

What can I say about the stunningly offensive 3-0 victory over T&T in Chicago? I expected the guys to do that about as much as I expected the Chicago Bears to put up 29 on the Colts last Sunday night. Team U.S.A. looked like F.C. Barcelona out there, it was awesome!

Neil already weighed in on this game, so I’ll spare you the overlap and just add a couple comments of my own.

Sacha Kljestan. The kid is on his way to becoming an offensive maestro in the midfield. ESPN’s commentators seemed to think he really got himself into the game in the second half. I can only guess that this is because he had more room to dribble around in the second half, but dribbling isn’t the reason Sacha is becoming such a great player. I’m much more interested in where the ball goes when it leaves his feet, and it always seems to be going somewhere good. In the first half he sent a number of good through balls up the right side where most of our attacks were stemming from, and when such an opportunity isn’t available he almost always makes a useful pass. Kljestan made the pass that enabled the Dempsey-Beasley-Dempsey give and go that put the team up 2-0 and was prettiest play of the game. And for those of us that watched the Olympics or Chivas U.S.A., he can shoot too.

Set pieces. This team continues to score on them. Two set piece goals in the T&T game. This is very important. I understand that Trinidad & Tobago are our strongest opponents in this group, and it’s very encouraging that we were able to play such a successful open and attacking style of offense against them, but this will not be the norm against more formidable teams on the international stage. Hell, it might not be possible when we play a slightly less depleted T&T side back in Trinidad. This is why the ability to put those set pieces in the back of the net is key. We’re still a Mid-Major on the international stage, and much like the 3-ball in college hoops, the American set piece can be our great equalizer.

And finally, on Eddie Johnson. I get a text message during the game on Wednesday night from a friend who may or may not also write on this blog. Said text message disparaged Eddie Johnson on his way into the game. I responded with, “I bet he scores.” This response had everything to do with the sheer number of offensive opportunities the Americans were generating/being afforded. It had very little to do with any sort of esteem for the “striker” play of Mr. Johnson. I agree with Neil’s assessment, Johnson needs to go play at Cardiff City and earn himself another shot at the U.S. roster. In the meantime, Jozy Altidore should use the rest of goup play to find his niche with this team and develop chemistry with the guys that he should be playing alongside in the 2010 World Cup.

Daniel Seco