Last night, in previewing the U.S./Ghana match, I suggested that the U.S. could overcome its shaky back four and defeat Ghana if goal-keeper Tim Howard came up big and “coach Bradley get[s] his central midfield pairing right before halftime, for a change.” Unfortunately, Howard did not come up particularly big and, more importantly, it again took Bradley until half time to get his midfield right. Consequently, Ghana defeated the U.S. in overtime.
Since our match against Slovenia, I’ve been touting midfielder Benny Feilhaber and advocating a line-up in which he, Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley play centrally, with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey out wide. The grounds for employing this approach were simple — the U.S. has played by far its best soccer using it. Surely, Bob Bradley would recognize this in time for our match with Ghana, a team capable of controlling midfield and converting that control into goals.
In fact, however, Bradley not only failed to start Feilhaber in a three man central midfield, he benched Edu in favor of Ricardo Clark. Clark had played so poorly against England that I was sure we wouldn’t see him again. In fact, I did not include Clark on the “cheat sheet” I prepare before a match listing the players likely to appear and their numbers.
Yet there was Clark, giving away the ball on a play that led to a Ghana goal in the first five minutes (Howard could have saved the day, but failed to stop a shot he normally would reach). Shortly thereafter, Clark, who plainly was chasing the game, was yellow-carded. By the half hour mark, Bradley had seen enough and replaced Clark with Edu.
Down 1-0 at the half, Bradley brought on Feilhaber. The team now consisted of exactly the line-up I have been touting. Suddenly, the Ghana midfield didn’t have time and the ball, and looked quite ordinary. We went on to tie the score and dominate the second half. Unfortunately, we seemed to tire in the overtime (using two of our three allowed subs before the start of the second half didn’t help), and Ghana seized back control for a deserved victory.
We can’t be sure that the outcome would have been different had Bradley gotten his formation and personnel right from the start. But we do know that, during the period when my preferred midfielders were playing, we outscored Ghana 1-0 and nearly played them off the pitch. We also know that the pattern was similar in the previous two matches.
I’ve always thought highly of Bob Bradley and he deserves credit for many of the good things the U.S. did during a mildly successful World Cup run. But I cannot fathom how Bradley believed he could protect an obviously suspect back four with a two man central midfield anchored by Ricardo Clark.
A FEW MORE THOUGHTS: Ghana’s goalkeeper Richard Kingson can’t get a game for his English club, lowly Wigan. However, he has been just fine in the World Cup, even on high balls which are said to be his weakness. Kingson might just have been the man-of-the-match against the U.S.
I thought it was a positive development for the U.S. when Kevin-Prince Boateng (scorer of the first goal for Ghana) left the match due to injury. However, replacement Stephen Appiah (a star of Ghana’s 2006 team, but a forgotten man this year) beefed up Ghana’s midfield and, in my view, helped turn the match back in Ghana’s favor.
Ghana’s team is young, but its players aren’t naive or immature, the downfall of many a talented African team.
Ghana could be hell on wheels at the next World Cup.
Jozy Altidore could also be heel on wheels before long. His World Cup at age 21 was solid — at least as good as the debut big tournament for a number of stars of the past I could name. But he needs to improve his touch and his finishing to become an international star.
After this tournament, does Everton still have a shot at picking up Landon Donovan? He had a great loan spell on Merseyside this winter. Our fans loved Landon and Landon loved our fans, expressing a desire to return. But after his excellent performance in South Africa, he may receive a huge offer from a bigger club that will be difficult to resist.
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