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Monday, July 2, 2007

Copa America: Paraguay 3 x USA 1: A Failure to Finish

In another example why American soccer still has a long way to go, Paraguay won and eliminated the USA from the tournament, 3 x 1.

I counted seven opportunities with either a one on one with the keeper, or clear chances to score, and they failed every single time. With the exception of Ricardo Clark, who scored the only goal in the 40th minute, and had another excellent shot stopped in the second half, nobody on this team was able to convert. Kljestan, Eddie Johnson, Bornstein, Feilhaber, Mapp et al could not finish what for them should be easy chances. This is a recurring theme that was last seen in the Gold Cup.

Roque Santa Cruz, who scored 3 times against Colombia, was held in check. The US team played well, and created chance after chance. But only one was converted. You can say that such things can't be taught; however, in order to raise the game at this level, the USA must find a way to convert open chances. It comes with practice, along with a mentality to analyze why this facet of the American game remains a critical issue. In the Gold Cup final against Mexico, Landon Donovan called Benny Feilhaber's excellent volley, "A one in a thousand event." Why not one in 10 or 100? Why not expect such feats with regularity? Better yet, let's learn how to convert clear chances at this level.

Technically, we still do not have a touch for the ball, along with instincts in the box, that are present with the elite teams. One can argue that Yanks don't grow up with soccer. I don't buy that rationale. Many others around the world don't grow up with basketball as their primary sport or passion; however, they become good enough to play in the NBA. Fundamentally, you can see that they are very sound. (Witness the the last Olympics and the World Championships). The same can not be said for American soccer players. They play very hard, are organized, and are in excellent physical condition. But the fact remains that fundamentals need to be emphasized. If you have 9 goal scoring opportunities at this level, especially clear ones on goal, you need to convert at least one-third of them. Preferably more. Tonight, the score could have easily been USA 5 x Paraguay 3. Despite some defensive lapses that contributed to two of the Paraguayan goals.

Coach Bradley prepared this experimental team very well. He is a very good manager who obtains significant effort from his players. More work remains, and this tournament has served a purpose. The US team needs to improve on the basics in order to reach the next level. You can win games like this against weaker opposition found in the CONCACAF region. Because you will create and convert more chances to score than they will. In South America or Europe, such will not be the case. The USSF does not like criticism. But this topic begins at the youth level. Until you master the fundamentals of the game, you will not beat the best teams. Or as was the case tonight, a team in the latter half of the top 20 in the Elo world football ratings. The same place on the Elo ladder as the USA.

Learning from better teams

I was just watching Juan Roman Riquelme of Argentina head a ball into the Colombian net. Before that, Hernan Crespo calmly converted a penalty kick. In the process, he injured himself. Riquelme placed a perfect free kick through a gap in the Colombian wall for the third score just before the first half ended. It is one thing to review game tapes from a distance of such teams. It is quite another to play them. No doubt, Coach Bradley and the USSF took good notes from this experience.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

Note: 03 July 2007

Apparently, Thomas Rongen read my post and placed it on the U-20 team bulletin board. ;-) They demolished Poland, 6 x 1, and Freddy Adu had three of the goals. Two of the assists were by Sal Zizzo. Brasil awaits Mr. Adu and friends. It should be an interesting match. Especially since Poland defeated the samba kings, 1 x 0, in their first group game.

For a video of the U-20 success, please click here.

1 comment:

wilablog said...

Well, I totally agree with you on the need to finish. The display by the US against Paraguay was pretty weak. I thought that overall, we played really entertaining and good soccer most of the game. But the finishing was absent. I agree that it can be taught and fundamentals are part of it. I wonder if we need to find a way to teach presence in the box - the ability to focus, not panic, target the goal, have a nose for finishing...all of the intangible mental aspects that great forwards have. We need those. Witness Beasley missing a wide open goal from 4 yards out in the Gold Cup. Watch Johnson swing and miss a couple times. Is it just skill they are lacking? Or is it also poise?

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