So there I was Friday night, minding my own business, watching some meaningless TV. I was having an internal debate about the merits of spending yet another night at Sh’booms. On one hand, it would be AWESOME, as I just discovered what a Vegas Bomb was about 2 weeks ago, and I recently got the top score on the Gemsbok adventure of Buck Hunter. On the other hand, I had like the best sports day ever set up for myself on Saturday. I knew I’d have to get up at 9:30 to start things off with the US match, and then there really would be no rest until 7:30 that night. Before I go any further, let me explain something about myself – Neil thinks (and he’s probably correct) that I’m like an infant. In Neil’s mind, there are a finite number of things that “Raf likes to do,” but really, the most basic things I “do” are things that a small child would do – eat, sleep, and poop. I sleep A LOT – to the point where people have often joked that “Raf doesn’t take naps…his natural state is sleep, and as such, sometimes if you’re lucky, he’ll take an awake.” I know for most people, sitting there from 9:30 am through 7:30 pm watching sports seems like a relaxing day and that there’s no reason not to go out the night before, but I look at that stretch with no naptime as a daunting proposition much like listening to all of In-a-Gadda-da-Vida in its entirety from beginning to end (seriously, if you’ve never done this before, try it! It will kick your ass).
So there I am, going over the sporting events in my mind for Saturday – US Soccer at 10, England vs. Brazil at noon, Gator Football at 3:30 – and having this internal debate with myself, when Neil calls. Neil has left Gaines-Vegas to return to the ATL and do lawyerly things, but he wanted to chat about how the game was going to go. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, we took turns convincing one another that this stretch of international competition was going to be bad. Really, really bad. I watched the game; it was worse than I thought it would be. Incidentally, the saving grace of the weekend was that I did indeed go out, I did indeed play more Buck Hunter (although I got beat by a friend of mine by two bucks on the Wilderbeast adventure), and I was able to make it through the sports marathon yesterday without taking a nap! Onto the analysis:
1.) Seriously, get Jon Bornstein off the field! The game should have been a 0-0 draw. I told Neil during our conversation that our offense would be inept the whole game, but that our back-line would shut-down Slovakia pretty much the entire game. HOWEVER, I also predicted that at some point, our gaping hole at left-back would be exposed, Bornstein would get clowned, and we would get scored upon. Dundundun-dun-daaaaaa, sure enough, Raf is right again. Bornstein got schooled, and then he gave up a penalty. Anyone who argues about whether or not that was a penalty is a fuckin DUMBASS! That was a penalty, 100%, not even a question, and honestly, it should have been a card too. He got beat, and he pulled his guy down – that’s a penalty, and the ref was right. Bornstein needs to go. I think Bob Bradley is the only person on the planet that thinks that Bornstein is the answer.
Now, that being said, I did watch the Chivas game where they lost to the Lando-Beckham’s, and I kind of see where Bobbo is coming from – but only kind of. Against top-flight MLS competition, Bornstein does get forward, and he does make runs down the sideline. The difference between this and international competition is that international soccer is faster. He gets caught out of position sometimes in the MLS, but he is usually fast enough to recover from it. Internationally, he gets smoked, and….I’m sorry…he’s not Glen Johnson or Sergeo Ramos. Bradley needs to get over his “getting forward” infatuation that he’s developed. I’m glad to see that Castillo is on the plane, and I really hope he gets a look against Denmark. I’m not even going to waste my time with the “we have 3 awesome right-backs in Hejduk, Cherundolo, and Spector, why can’t one learn to play right back?” argument. I think everyone with a rational set of brain cells understands that a top-flight soccer player is just a player and that a “natural position” is essentially meaningless. After all, Jon Spector, who is a “right back” started as a striker, was moved to center back for a game, signed by ManU to play there, but now has been relegated to the “right side” by West Ham. A professional sports player is just a player; they can adjust to whatever position they are put into (see Mo Edu, Olympics). I get this, most of the world gets this, but Bobbo’s opinion is the only one that matters here, and he’s essentially an idiot.
2.) We might be OK with the Gooch thing. One thing that baffled Neil and I was the question mark surrounding the absence of Gooch? Would it be Marshall? Or, could it be Spector? Interestingly, Bobbo has shown that left-back in the only position on the field where you must be a “natural” there, as Spector, who is a “right back” played admirably at center back in Gooch’s absence (pointing out this contradiction is totally necessary here). Don’t get me wrong, I love Gooch, but Spector played very well yesterday, and if he continues to perform like this, missing Gooch might not be as bad as I thought.
3.) Cherundolo needs to start consistently. The only offense that we could generate the entire game was when Cherundolo and Rodgers would make overlapping sideline runs with one another. He’s the best option at right-back, and he needs to be on the pitch the whole time. He had a great game yesterday, maybe even the best game out of anyone.
4.) We really missed Lando. I knew we would Friday; so did Neil. That’s not to sleight Robby Rodgers at all – he played a really good game especially for him, but I think Lando may have been able to finish on at least one of the sideline runs that Rodgers and Cherundolo were making. At the very least, he may have provided better service into the box where Jozy and Mallrats could have capitalized. If Lando had been in the game, we still may not have scored, but it would have helped. It’s a moot point, because MLS playoffs obviously supersede an international friendly, but it would be negligent of me not to mention this.
5.) Feilhaber is a streaky player. Really, I thought of it in the 65th minute. Feilhaber is Rex Grossman from 2004-2006. When “good-Benny” shows up, he’s unstoppable. When “bad-Benny” shows up, he’s so bad, it’s not even funny. Yesterday, it was bad-Benny (as to be expected against a big, strong, fast Slovakian team), but when bad-Benny is around, it completely exposes our lack of creativity in the midfield. It also makes us lose, and it makes us not score. Especially with….
6.) We have a BIG striker problem without Chuck D. This is also something we’ve all known since the accident. I think everyone knows that Connor Casey blows, and in Bobbo’s mind HE’S THE BEST ANSWER RIGHT NOW?!?!?!? Aieeee! Not good when the host of Truth or Date is the 3rd best striker in America. Really, the guy fell for the poop fingers trick. I thought he was completely overmatched the entire game. He’s “strength” – being a big, strong, hold-up striker – was non-existent. In fact, against a bigger, stronger, more physical Slovakian defense anchored by Martin Skrtyl, he was made to look like a little girl. He was thoroughly outclassed. If what he’s supposed to do is be big and physical, but he gets out-physicaled, what purpose does he serve? The answer is zero. See what I did there? I answered my own rhetorical question because I’m pissed that this guy gets minutes.
Here’s what we need to do, and there are two options. Eddie Johnson actually played well. Well enough to deserve a second look at least. Maybe his first-touch, which has always been his problem, has improved some. If so, he may be a good pairing for Jozy for now, as his athleticism has never been a problem. Option #2 is to put JFT up there. I think this is the way to go, as he’s the most similar to a Chuck D-type player we have available. Aaaand, he plays there about 50% of the time for Pachuca. I get that he isn’t there right now because of club duties, but really, we need to give this a shot.
7.) Sacha is on the road to redemption like TI! I’ve been making noises about this for about a month now, but he had been playing better in the MLS, and when he got in against Slovakia, he was terrific. Let’s not rush this, but I think he should start against Denmark so that we can see what he can do for a full 90. An in-form Sacha Kljestan is what we need really badly right now.
8.) Clint Dempsey rules. Enough said. I’m not even going to explain.
9.) MB90 – I don’t want to talk about it. It frustrates me that he never comes out of the games.
What does all this mean? Unfortunately, I think the Slovakia game is indicative of my worst fears headed into 2010. Let’s look at the big picture: we are US Soccer and what can go wrong will go wrong (it usually does). In our group, there will be 4 teams. One will be much better than us. It’ll be someone like Brazil or the Dutch. We’ll play heroically, but lose tragically in that game. There’ll be one team that we should KILL. We’ll choke via a red-card or something stupid like that, and end up tying that game 1-1. There then will be a game against a mid-level team like us – i.e. Slovakia – that we must beat to advance. We couldn’t score against Slovakia, and although we dominated possession, our chances (except for some Sacha and Clint free kicks) were never really that great. If we can’t beat a team like Slovakia, we’re screwed next summer. We need to figure out what to do without Chuck D, we need to figure out the left-back situation, and only when we do this will we have any chance of getting past the group stage in S. Africa.