Clint Dempsey, one of the few players to show up throughout the tournament. USA loses today 2-1 to Ghana.
Photo from ussoccer.com.

The USA earned a well deserved exit from the World Cup today, losing 2-1 against Ghana. This loss wasn’t as disheartening as the loss against the Crezh Republic, but it definitely hurt. Especially considering that Italy did us a favor by beating the Czech Republic so as long as we took care of our business we could have advanced.

I was actually trembling a bit before the game I was so juiced and ready for the game to start. However, when I saw the opening lineup I was more than a bit surprised. My prediction that Conrad, Bocanegra, and Dempsey would start was accurate, and I think, the right call. However, there were three things that Arena did not do which were very troubling to me.

  1. Lewis got the start instead of Convey at Left Midfield.
    I just don’t understand this. Convey brings more speed and aggresion offensively. Is just as good if not better on freekicks, corners and crosses. Lewis plays a bit more defense, but thats why you have Bocanegra back there at Left Defense so that position doesn’t have to worry as much about defense.
  2. Started Beasley.
    I don’t even know where to begin on this one. Beasley hasn’t been the same since injuries last year and being benched for most of this year at PSV have indicated his poor form. Convey in every game leading up to the World Cup played better than Beasley, making sure the position was his. At most, Beasley would have been a backup to Convey. I won’t get into the public back-and-forth between Arena and Beasley as this is another reason I would have benched him, but instead focus on the field. Some said that Beasley wasn’t comfortable on the right side. Untrue. He plays for PSV on the right side and has been used there in the past by Arena (although, admittedly infrequently). But never, ever have i seen beasley play well in the center of the field. And that is where Arena put him today. His touch was never good, and recently good ol’ Leadfoot has been worse, and the center is a place where you simply cannot afford to take a bad touch. Fortunately, this only led to a few mild turnovers and nothing serious. In fact, his poor touch is what made him lose the ball and then regain it which led to the cross to Dempsey for the US’s only goal.
  3. Did not start Eddie Johnson or another striker with McBride.
    I was hoping. No. More than hoping, I was expecting that Donovan would fall back into his preferred attacking midfield role which would leave a place for EJ or perhaps Brian Ching to start up top alongside McBride who probably felt very lonely in each of the previous two games. Instead, his slot went to Beasley (see above) who played with Donovan in withdrawn roles.

So this instantly told me a few things. We were not going to play very offensively. This is a move to clog the midfield and score on a counter or set-piece. The plan which worked to perfection in the first two games. [Please note the sarcasm in the previous sentence] This also tells me that we were more scared of Ghana than Ghana was scared of us. It also, just like against the Czechs, left us with little option regarding subs. We could not change our style of play without making major subs.

Brian McBride has been a steady player for the US as well as for his club team for many years. He is not now, nor has he ever been, the type of player who will beat 2 or 3 defenders for a goal. So setting him up by himself against anywhere from 2-4 Ghana defenders is just instantly making him ineffective. Why even bother?

The US came out of the gate well as far as effort level. Not as high as against Italy where they were really “on”, but a good enough level where I felt good about the game.

Then disaster struck.

Reyna on the ground after a foul. A sign of things to come.
Photo from msn.foxsports.com.

As my buddy Chris said (I was at his house for the second half), none of the USA “stars” showed up during this tournament. Reyna who actually had a pretty decent tournament up until today had the most unbelievable turnover you could imagine. The US had won the ball and was trying to play out of their end. Reyna received the ball and had an opportunity to pass it. Inexplicably, he held onto the ball and then tried to cut past a Ghana player. Of course he lost the ball and Ghana was off to the races for a 1-0 lead. To add injury to insult, Reyna had to be carted off the field as the Ghanaian player knocked knees with him when he took the ball from him. So here is a player the US is depending on to step up and help the team advance and not only does he make the error that leads to a goal, but he takes himself out of the match. In likely his last World Cup for the USA, he sits on the bench knowing he put his team in a hole, AND he can’t help them get out of it.

For the third game in a row, the US has had to dig itself out from a hole. In the first game, they went down a goal in the first 5 minutes due to mistakes (restart too quick, out of position, beat for a header). In the second game, they went down a goal due to mistakes (unneccessary foul, Pope pulling an offsides trap by himself). And in the third game, they went down a goal due to a mistake (Reyna with a bad turnover leading to fastbreak). Do you have any idea how hard it is to come back from a goal down? They managed to fight back in the Italy and Ghana games, but you can’t just spot the other team a goal in each game and expect to do well.

Donovan was nowhere to be found, just like in the Czech game. Beasley was nowhere except for the one time when he assisted on Dempsey’s goal. Eddie Johnson was too little too late. Again, as Chris pointed out during the game, the names you heard whenever we approached Ghana’s goal were guys like Dempsey, Convey and McBride. These aren’t the players we were supposed to ride to glory, but instead they were supposed to be complementary players.

I almost reached through the TV and strangled Donovan towards the end when he got the ball on the wing and cut to the middle. Do you think he took it upon himself to shoot from INSIDE the penalty box with an open look at goal? Nope. He passed it (a poor pass at that) like a hot potato to another teammate who was covered and promptly lost the ball. This is the time when you earn your reputation as either a leader who drags your team along to victory, or as just another guy who choked under pressure. He didn’t want the shot, he just plain didn’t want it. This is the posterboy of American Soccer.

Ghana deserved the win today, and I applaud them. They took advantage of US mistakes (as any good team does), and I wish them luck in the next round against Brazil.