Neil W. Blackmon
History will report that on November 15, 2013, the United States and Scotland played a friendly match in Glasgow, Scotland and the match ended in a scoreless draw. That history will report such things is only because history is required to report them. The match was as tedious to observe, perhaps taking on the character of a gray, November afternoon in the city where it was played, where life continues to be rather Hobbesian even if the people are arguably more friendly than what one would encounter at a Minneapolis soup kitchen. There is a fine, and rather brief (befitting the whole affair) tactical discussion over at The Shin Guardian, which you can read through the link.
Alternatively, you can accept our judgment,which is that the United States continued its trend under Jurgen Klinsmann of risk-averse tactics in the first half and was unable to break down a defensively stout Scottish midfield and score a goal, despite spells of possession and bright (in spots) performances by Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan, playing for the first time under Klinsmann as a central attacking midfielder. As I tweeted during the match (account link below), the Americans lacked good movement at the outset, particularly from Jermaine Jones and the aforementioned Kljestan, and that meant the US had trouble building possession for the first twenty minutes. When this was corrected (at least by Kljestan), the Americans then made errors in either tempo or distribution (notably, Michael Bradley had a rare pedestrian half) that prevented them from threatening, both through the center and from width, despite quite a bit of possession in the final third to close the half.
The second half was better, but this was less about players and more about tactics: the Americans pushed tempo and found width from a much better Ale Bedoya and later, Brek Shea, which sucked Scotland out of a deeper shell and allowed the Americans, particularly Altidore and Aron Johannsson, to make runs towards space that was less available in the first half. Johannson in particular did a great job of diagnosing where the space would be and finding it, with both central and incutting runs after drifting towards the wide player with the ball. Johannsson had two chances to finish and give the Americans the lead– and certainly could and has, of late, done better at AZ from the positions he took his chances, but it was not to be as one shot was saved and the other went just wide. Ironically, despite the Americans dictating terms in the second half, Scotland had the game’s best chance, but Tim Howard used the power of beard and every ounce of his athleticism to deny Norwich City’s Robert Snodgrass a deserved goal from a brilliant free kick.
All in all, a forgettable affair, but not one that should create too much concern for US fans and certainly not one that anyone will remember too much come next summer.
As promised, we will now offer “Player Ratings” of other soccer writers’ player ratings, if only to demonstrate that US-Scotland, a game that was very much about two tactical games within one group of 90 minutes, is a terrific example of why player ratings aren’t just arbitrary, they are often inadequate as a measurement because players rated are often tasked, while they are on the pitch, with doing very different things. For example, Michael Bradley had, by his standards, a poor first half. But once he was tasked with pushing tempo and helping the US quickly move the ball out wide in the second half, he was better. So is a “6” a fair score, or should he receive two grades- one for each tactical assignment/each half? Probably, the latter. But this goes back to the old Good Will Hunting joke about the arbitrariness of “meeting for coffee” or just sitting around “eating caramels.” (See below).
Is this a long way of saying “Player Ratings are silly?” I suppose.
PLAYER RATINGS OF OTHER SOCCER WRITERS’ PLAYER RATINGS!!!
Jack Bell, New York Times, 5.5– The Bedoya grade is precisely the argument above, right? His play in the second half was way better, but how much was the first half his individual fault given the Americans inability to deliver the ball out wide? And could he have done more in the second half? I don’t know- but you need two grades. Usually more consistent with grades on defenders, too- it’s hard to compliment Cameron without mentioning his positioning errors and fouls led to Scotland chances. A bit strange to give a grade to Shea, but not Diskerud, considering they entered together.
Joe Tansey, Bleacher Report, 5— What’s odd here is that some things are explained and then it’s like the article goes “Man, this game was boring so HERE’S A GRAPH!!” I get the “key player”/”not key player” thing but still- unusual. Only a “B” for MB 90 if he’s grading on a curve. Has to do better there.
Ives Galercep, Soccer By Ives, 6.5– Shows his usual polish in making first half and second half distinctions, which is class. Disagreements can (and should) be made regarding Cameron, MB 90 and Diskerud (too high) and Altidore and Kljestan (too low), but all in all, another solid column (shift) for the veteran.
Jeff Carlisle, ESPN, 6– If Michael Bradley is MB 90, Jeff Carlisle is JC 1,500 (words or less). Only ratings we saw that deducted Brad Evans for a foul throw. That’s the writer’s equivalent of a sitter, folks, and only Carlisle (AND WILL PARCHMAN at Top Drawer Soccer, who I give a 7 because I get to assign arbitrary numbers to things and Parchman at least has warrants to back up claims) buried it. Otherwise, a bit shaky in his midfield distributions– Jermaine Jones gets a 6 but was of little influence– Kljestan a 5.5 but the only semi-threatening US moments were through him in the first half? Also a bit harsh on Altidore- who was much, much better after the tactical shift– but like Harry Doyle said in Major League, the first half was so BLAW!! it was safe to figure “nobody’s listening anyway…”
Jon Arnold, Goal.com, 5.5– He uses stars, so half-point deduction immediately. Explosive criticism of Cameron but needs to mention how the US hasn’t had a center half that can build from the back since hundreds of die-hard fans edited Tim Ream on their Winning Eleven game, so it’s tough to criticize Cameron too much and 1.5 stars is unwarranted. Some pretty heady calls elsewhere, showing a calmness and understanding of this match that wasn’t seen a lot of other places. A strong outing if not for the 3 star on Tim Howard, who played excellent. 3 out of 5 is an Avett Brothers album– Howard’s performance at least warranted four stars, which is a mediocre Radiohead record.
Brian Straus, Sports Illustrated, 9- NO PLAYER RATINGS!!!! But this was USA-Scotland in Glasgow in November. You don’t give 10’s for USA-Scotland in Glasgow in November. You give 10’s to Kid A, Nevermind and August and Everything After.
Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.