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USA Falls to Ghana and Other National Team Thoughts

Since it's a lazy summer weekend many are still talking soccer in these parts.  If that's of no interest to you I extend our apologies - you won't have to bear with us much longer.  And I hope you jump on the bandwagon four years down the line when the lads head down to Brazil.  But while it's still fresh in our minds I've collected some thoughts on the US performance and I'm curious to hear the thoughts of others:

The loss to Ghana happened in predictable fashion.  Mistakes in the midfield and poor positioning on defense gave Ghana a much too easy 1-0 lead.  The first half was a replay of the Turkey friendly or the Slovenia group game as the United States couldn't maintain possession and struggled to get any foothold in the game.  But for all the possession Ghana had in the first half, the US had in the 2nd.  The American ability to relentlessly attack and press when they need a goal is impressive, and while watching the 2nd half unfold I couldn't help but feel that an equalizer was inevitable.

I'm less inclined to blame anybody for Ghana's 2nd goal.  A long ball sent in to a lone striker against two centerbacks rarely leads to even a solid shot, but this long ball was perfectly placed (probably a huge bit of luck), Gyan played a spectacular first touch off his chest, impressively maintained his balance, and fired an impressively strong strike that left Howard with no real chance.  Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to the opponent.

Soccer can be a cruel game.  The United States created more good chances than Ghana, and more inspired finishing might have seen this match finish 3-1.  Ghana, a team that struggled with their finishing for three games, found that touch twice yesterday at the worst time for the US.  For the majority of the knockout phase of the Cup you'll watch a  game in which both teams have an equal chance to go through, and yesterday's game was no different.

Some brief thoughts:

1)  This World Cup was not a failure for the US, and it's been annoying to hear a few (admittedly tiny) voices dismiss the team.  One can reasonably argue that it wasn't a success either, considering the chances the US had to advance against Ghana.  But the performance and incredible resolve the team showed in Group C makes South Africa fair from a failure in my mind.

2)  Imagine what this team might have accomplished with a healthy Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu.  The two biggest areas this team needed help in:  1) Finishing ability from strikers, and 2) Cohesion, pace and confidence in the back two.  The United States has become a strong enough soccer country to have class at nearly every position, but they do not yet have any real depth.  Players like Davies and Onyewu (along with Donovan, Dempsey, Howard, Bonanegra, Bradley, etc.) are difficult for the US to replace.  In a way it's a credit to the team that they did as well as they did despite the injuries.

3) People should lay off on critiques of Jozy Altidore.  Admittedly, Jozy failed to score in four games, and the US really needed finishing from their strikers.  But I think that would be missing the forest for the trees.  For one thing, Jozy is still incredibly young (20) and his progress has been obvious, club team struggles aside.  For another, looking at his lack of goals ignores what he did do well - he consistently maintained possession in the box (something very difficult to do) created chances for his teammates, created fouls and yellow cards that gave the US set piece chances and was a frequent menace to the defense.  If he keeps the ball down under pressure against Algeria, or doesn't step on a defender's foot against Ghana he would have a couple goals.  Four games is a very small sample size to judge a striker for not scoring, especially considering his role in the key goals against Slovenia and Algeria.

4)  The US learned a lot about young players with a future, and what they learned was almost uniformly good news.  Stars and Gripes writes:

Finally, one more thing.  We’ll be in Rio in a shade under four years.  Michael Bradley and Jose Torres will be 26, still a few years short of their primes.  Maurice Edu and Charlie Davies will be 27, just hitting their stride.  Jozy Altidore will be a ripe old 24.  Benny Feilhaber will be 29.  Donovan will be a late-peaking 32, and Dempsey 31.  They’ll be complimented–or supplanted–by a wealth of new talent.  The last four years were fun.  The next four?  Well, get on board–it’s gonna be a helluva ride, and I couldn’t be more excited.

So here are some questions for you:

1)  If you're a long-time follower of the National Team, are you happy with the US performance? Are you optimistic for 2014?

2)  If you are essentially a first-time follower of soccer, do you plan on making a try at following the sport more closely?  Or will you be only be back in four years?

3)  Do you think this World Cup will just be another blip on the radar as soccer passes from the public eye for another four years?  Or was Donovan's goal against Algeria a turning point of sorts?  Or do you think this is just another event in a steady climb of interest and recognition the game receives state-side?