World Cup 2010 (Day 16): Dream another dream; this dream is over …

… A nation was ready to believe on this Saturday afternoon. Across the United States, the hardcores and the newbies gathered alike in bars, basements, and outside viewing areas to watch their new heroes take on Ghana and try to advance to the World Cup quarterfinals.

They were ready to back their heart-filled group of 11 …

… Howard, Bocanegra, DeMerit, Bornstein, Cherundolo, Edu, Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, Gomez, Altidore …

… and then, in a moment the newbies probably couldn’t have appreciated but the hardcores had to know spelled trouble, the lineup appeared on our TV screens with the name Ricardo Clark on it. Robbie Findley also returned, with Maurice Edu and Herculez Gomez taking seats. Findley was returning from suspension, and Gomez wasn’t particularly effective vs. Algeria, so I get that.

But Clark? I’ve never quite understood the fascination with him at the National Team level, but all that aside, the change Bob Bradley made to put him back in the lineup, and break up part of the core that worked so hard vs. Algeria before finally breaking through will leave me with nothing but confusion and anger for the rest of time. I know, Edu was subbed out vs. Algeria, but I fail to see how Clark was a better option.

Clark isn’t of the appropriate level to have played under today’s circumstances. It showed on the first Ghana goal, where when he received the ball in the midfield, it appeared he literally had no idea where he was on the field, had no clue where his teammates were for passing options, and given all of that, had no idea how he was going to beat his man to keep possession of the ball.

Predictably, possession changed, and Kevin-Prince Boateng fired home the opening goal seconds later. I cannot find any possible legitimate justification for Clark’s appearance in this game (he was cautioned moments later). If the excuse was that Edu had a knock, it’d be tough to believe given Clark was subbed out for Edu on 30 minutes, and Edu played the remaining 90 of the United States’ 2-1 loss to Ghana in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Round of 16, eliminating the Americans.

Other then re-adding Findley, there was no reason to screw with the group that worked its asses off on Wednesday. John Harkes and Ian Darke went on and on about fatigue and dead legs, but Ghana played Wednesday, as well. Yet for much of the game, they were able to keep the ball, get into open spaces, and make the US defense look silly. Only through a well-earned penalty and subsequent conversion by Landon Donovan did the US even force extra time.

There, two ills conspired to sink the American battleship. First, through much of the latter part of the second half, and early in overtime, the US refused to keep the ball. They reverted to long balls, skipping the midfield – which to my mind was the strength of this side entering the tournament. Unable or unwilling to possess the ball, Ghana took their chances on a long lead ball for the ever dangerous Asamoah Gyan, who beat Carlos Bocanegra’s would-be challenge with shameful ease, then fired past Howard to give Ghana its eventual game-winner. Bocanegra was beaten so badly on the play, he can be seen looking skyward in frustration after Gyan bounced off his “challenge,” (what we Americans like to call, a little bump) even before the shot was taken.

What was possibly the best chance the US could ever ask for to return to the quarterfinals blew apart as the result of the poor defending we expected, some strange tactics offensively, and the inexcusable lineup change that ended up leaving the United States in yet another early hole. That just can’t happen game after game, and for the US to go behind within no more than 13 minutes in three of its four matches at this World Cup is not a coincidence or bad luck. It’s a systemic problem that never was solved. It was crystal clear to the world this afternoon that Clark wasn’t ready for this game, in this moment, under these circumstances. Clear to everyone, except Bob Bradley.

Harkes and Ian Darke tried to be comforting as the final minutes ticked away, saying the US would leave this World Cup with their heads held high, and this would be good development for the 2014 World Cup. But that’s all garbage. That’s what you say to Little Leaguers who just finished their season 0-1 and the coach is too poor to take them to Pizza Hut.

The World Cup doesn’t work like that. You have to take each glorious opportunity as it comes – not fumble it away through questionable lineup decisions, poor defense, and abandoning the offense that could’ve brought you so much success. And if we know anything about the US, it might be to not expect much in 2014:

1994: Reached second round, lost to Brazil.
1998: Eliminated in group play.
2002: Reached quarterfinals, lost to Germany.
2006: Eliminated in group play.
2010: Reached second round, lost to Ghana.
2014: ???

See a pattern? Whoever is in control of the US program over the next two years before qualifying begins has to find players who can mark better, especially against speed. Ghana had way too much speed for the US at times today, and the Americans were lucky to not be caught out more than they were.

A nation was ready to believe. For a few sparkling moments, soccer was the talk here, and our national team was all the rage.

Now, sadly, our team will be long forgotten in what will probably be short order – the creators of one beautiful moment against Algeria that some of us will remember for a lifetime, but in the end, just another team in another year that bowed out before the stage got really big. The US leaves this World Cup having just won 1 of the 4 matches it played – about on par for its performance historically (7 wins in 29 matches played).

And while Clark had what he may well remember as his worst day as a professional, the loss doesn’t all come down to him. He, the coach, the defense, and the attack all share blame on this day. All in one form or another didn’t do their duty to the best of their ability this afternoon, and as a result, history has repeated itself with Ghana knocking the United States out of the World Cup.

To me, this doesn’t hold promise for 2014. And my head is not held high. To me, there’s only disappointment in thinking of what might have been … what probably should have been. Now, there’s only the frustration of knowing that the process of becoming successful on the world stage must start all over again, from square one. All the alleged progress in the world that the US might have made during these 16 days won’t help them at all when qualifying begins again. It won’t be worth any points, it won’t help with marking.

Maybe, someday, we’ll be able to hook all the non-believers in again. Maybe, someday, we can make the ride last a little bit longer.

Maybe, just once, we’ll finally get it right.

Until then, a painful four-year wait begins.

* So yeah, Uruguay beat South Korea, 2-1, Luis Suárez scored twice, including a beautiful second. Whatever.

SUNDAY’S PREDICTIONS:
Germany 3-2 England (aet)
Argentina 2-1 Mexico

Today’s Record: 1-1
Tournament Record: 26-24.

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20 thoughts on “World Cup 2010 (Day 16): Dream another dream; this dream is over …

  1. Quite frankly, I was not surprised… given that the whole “making it without a loss” from the group stage was a mirage. They had no business tying the English in the first match (they were outclassed throughout the match), then played a horrible first half against the Slovenians and were lucky to find that score in the nick of time against the Algerians.
    Everyone liked their plucky determination and “never say die” attitude, but attitude can only take you so far if you don’t have the technical skill to match.

    The answer to all of this would be cloning Donovan, who without a doubt is a class of his own (even if he can be quite the jerk…).

  2. Ricardo Clark is a decent, top ten MLS holding mid, although he’s no Kyle Beckerman. Yeah, he was a bit out of his depth. Why do good coaches have these glaring mystery choices?

    Marshall should have started at center back, Bornstein at left, and Boca should have been on the bench. Gooch shouldn’t have been on the roster. But Boca played well before whatever the hell he was doing on the extra time goal.

    You are right that each World Cup is an opportunity in itself. This was not building for 2014. 2014 will have trouble enough of its own. This was Ghana taking its opportunities and us not. THE goal probably did win some fans that will stick with it, but that does not mean we didn’t miss an opportunity today.

  3. Yeah, it pretty much does. He made a mistake that changed the game less than five minutes in. Just like he made a mistake five minutes into the England game that changed everything.

  4. US had more possession against England in the first half, and had a decent shot pushed off the post. England were probably the better team, but the US wasn’t completely outclassed. That just doesn’t stand up to close inspection, especially when you consider England’s performance versus the same opposition. And spare me the goalkeeper howler business. England has weak keepers, and we knew it so we shot from distance. Just so happened the crap keeper lived up to his billing.

    Defense fell asleep against Slovenia, but US won that game despite what that hack referee had to say about it. US had the better of the game in the second half, and the Slovenian team wasn’t a fluke.

    And lastly, the US thoroughly outplayed Algeria, and should’ve put it away.

    Also, it’s very difficult to be successful on the international stage when the refs are borderline conspiring against you.

  5. Oh… I could make a list… but the one that stands out the most is peeing in the pitch of the Jalisco stadium in Mexico as a sign of defiance.

    His tirades are probably not known or reported in the U.S., but unlike other classier players in the U.S. national team, he takes every opportunity to belittle Mexico and Mexicans in general.

  6. Get over yourself. The dude just had to pee and players pee on the pitch in practice situations all the time. The Mexican press just got its knickers in a twist over nothing to gin up a non-existent controversy. To the extent Donovan belittles Mexico and Mexicans in general (and I sincerely doubt he does) he probably does it in fluent Spanish.

    BTW, I’m no Donovan fanboy as I’ve seen him ruin many a night for me at RFK over the course of his career.

  7. Wow…hypocrisy at its finest here. So basically, he’s like NEARLY EVERY Mexican player when they discuss the US?! My opinions of Mexicans and Mexican culture and history are one thing….and I admire the people, the culture, the history of Mexico greatly. In fact, I admired it so much I got a degree that emphasized studies of Mexican history. However, my opinion of Mexican players is something else entirely and it boils down to repeated interactions over the years with various teams traveling across the border to play.

    I will never hold a good opinion of a Mexican football team, its professionalism, nor its attitude when it comes to showing respect and good sportsmanship when playing Americans. Your comment about Donovan falls on deaf ears considering all the abuse I’ve endured from Mexican players over the years…talk about class! Considering Sanchez’s numerous episodes of class, I’d think carefully about what you say before you say it…

  8. I disagree only because it’s not like Clark is the player-coach who put himself in the lineup.

    Someone gave him the opportunity to screw up. And that’s part of the responsibility as to why we lost.

  9. I cried for 2 hours today. And that was before I was drunk. This is the most emotionally attached I’ve ever grown to any team of any sport, and it just KILLS me that the ineptitude of our manager is the primary reason we aren’t still alive, and I am drunk of alcohol, rather than of happiness. As much as I’ve grown to respect Bradley recently because of the spirit and resiliency he’s installed in this team, his absolutely atrocious tactical tendencies cannot be overly looked. It is with a respectful handshake and a heartfelt “fare thee well” that I send Mr. Bradley on out into the world, where he will undoubtedly follow his predecessor, Mr. Arena, in completely reversing the fortunes of an MLS team (we could use him here in DC, no offense to Mr. Onalfo). He is still a great MLS coach, and deserves our utmost respect for the things he DID accomplish with this team- reaching a FIFA Tournament final, winning the World Cup group, being the man at the helm when soccer’s popularity in the United States really started to gather momentum (which can be construed as a “Right Place, Right Time” kind of thing, or as a compliment due to the quality of his team). But the fact is, he NEEDS to go. Bring in Klinnsman or someone; I really don’t care who. As long as it’s someone with tactical sense and international experience (care to leave Turkey, Mr. Hiddink?). But Bob needs to go. And soon. Hopefully Mr. Gulati will pull the trigger.

    On another note, as I was starting to feel better this afternoon, I just thought- this is it for Landon Donovan. And that made me cry again. This man deserves SO MUCH respect for everything he’s been through, for all the shit he’s taken from U.S. and foreign fans alike, for all the memorable moments he’s given us the past 8 years or so, and for helping to elevate soccer’s popularity by allowing himself to be media-friendly. He will be WELL past his prime by the next time the WC rolls around- somewhat similar to Reyna in ’06, a guy who used to be the face of the team but now is mostly around just to provide leadership. He will be 32, which is old for a midfielder. This was his chance to make a splash, and, unfortunately, we fell once again to Ghana (whom I am beginning to detest more than Mexico and Italy- there was nothing to respect about the way they dived and embellished all game long, especially late in extra time). The poor man. Regardless, I love him to death, though I have never met him and am not likely to ever do so. He is the greatest player in American soccer history, and only a fool would argue the contrasting view. He deserves far better than he has gotten, as do most of the other players on this team.

    But, looking ahead, in 4 years we have:

    Howard aged 35
    Guzan 30
    Hannehman (sp?) 42
    Dolo 35
    Gooch 32
    Boca 35
    Demerit 34
    Bornstein WHO CARES, NO OTHER COACH WILL EVER CALL HIM UP!!!!
    Spector 28
    Goodson 32
    Dempsey 31
    Holden 29
    Donovan 32
    Beasley 32
    Torres 27
    Edu 28
    Bradley 26
    Clark 31
    Benny 29
    Jozy 24
    Buddle 33
    Gomez 32
    Findley 29

    So we’ll have to replace almost the entire defense, which is not a bad thing- they were clearly the liability this tournament. The midfield will be in its prime for the most part, and so we have that to look forward to. Jozy will hopefully have matured by then, and will have experience on the big stage. Davies will be 27 also, and will HOPEFULLY be back in form, or close to it. So our offense should be absolutely phenomenal in 4 years, it’s just defense, as always, that we need to worry about. Also, let’s hope they don’t make the Kasey Keller in ’06 mistake of starting Howard when he’s 35 if Guzan has reached his prime by age 30 and Timmy is on the downside of his career.

  10. Sorry for the long post, and I ran out of space, but I think I just had to convince myself that there was hope for the near future. It seems as though our WC success is cyclical, and thus next time would be elimination at the group stages, followed by a quarterfinal run in 2018 (which I hope is on American soil; we wouldn’t want to not advance if we get it in 2022).

    Anyway, for people who were near-suicidal today like me, there is hope in the future. Yes, we have to go through the arduous qualifying and put up with the ridiculously pointless Gold Cup for the next four years (seriously? Can’t we just merge with CONMEBOL and have a TRUE Copa America? And qualifying would be so much more interesting and satisfyign, too), but it’s worth it. I have scarcely been more heartbroken than I was this afternoon, but at the same time, it was completely worth the emotional investment I put into the team. I love following the Nats more than almost anything, especially now that they are expected to do well.

    Well, I guess it’s back to fuming over DC United’s inadequacies. Hopefully they won tonight, I didn’t have the heart to watch.

  11. First off… I’m not condoning what Oswaldo does. He is another jerk, and I was extremely happy when he was not called to be a part of Mexican’s national team. Not only is he classless, but he is poisonous to the Mexican team as well, splitting the team. However, that does not make Donovan any less of a jerk. In reality, Donovan with his antics and quotes has been the one who has rarefied the air in those Mexico – USA matches. The belittling he does against Mexico is not related to the national team, but the country in general:

    “They hate us because we have a life and they do not have anything, that is why they despise us”. – Landon Donovan to the media, September 2nd, 2005

    This is the reason why people like that Neanderthal Sanchez seem to have a vendetta every time they play US teams. I can almost guarantee that the moment Landon leaves the USMNT, the rivalry will come to more acceptable levels, both in passion and sportsmanship.

    Having said all of that, Landon on the field is money. He is without a doubt the best player the U.S. has had, and unless the U.S. finds a good replacement soon, or completely change their style of play to bring people who are a little bit more technical in the way the handle the ball, he will be sorely missed. The current team does not have a person (other than Donovan) who has that package of good field vision, good technique, clinical finishing and guts. I hate to say it, but at 28, this was his world cup. I doubt he will have the same pace in four years time. Father time does not wait for anyone.

  12. You quote something from 5 years ago, when Donovan was 23, as your evidence?

    Yeah. Sorry. Not buying it. He’s matured incredibly. I’m pretty sure you said some things you regretted when you were 23, too. Some stupid, impulsive, inflammatory, immature things. Your evidence for Donovan being a jerk is insufficient.

  13. I don’t know. But Ricardo Clark is often so far as I can tell. Recently there was the England match, then there was his encore performance in the Ghana match…he also likes to deliberately kick people in the face when their down. Ricardo Clark is a jerk.

    I’m not saying it’s all Ricardo’s fault for USA losing today, I’m just sayin’…go look up the “Ricardo Clark Kicks Carlos Ruiz” video.

  14. Ricardo Clark just isn’t a very good player. His kick to Ruiz’s chest (not his face; Ruiz faked it) sort of endeared him to me.

  15. Kicking Carlos Ruiz is easily the best moment of Clark’s career. It’s probably why he keeps getting called up.

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