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U.S. Olympic soccer dreams suddenly in grave danger; serious flaws now revealing themselves

Mar 24, 2012, 9:35 PM EDT

Lucas Cavallini, Doneil Henry

Building an Olympic team is tricky business. Because you’re constructing a team more or less from scratch, and focusing all efforts into a very limited number of meaningful games.

By the time any major flaws have been identified, it might be too late. Because flaws proving more significant than originally believed can turn fatal, and right quick.

There’s no sugar-coating it: the United States is in a dark corner after Saturday’s surprising 2-0 loss to Canada. Caleb Porter’s team must win Monday against El Salvador to ensure passage into the critical semifinals in Kansas City.

A draw against El Salvador, a tiny nation now inspired by the massive Olympic opportunity in front of them, probably won’t be enough for the U.S. under-23s.

So, about those “flaws:”

Dynamic formations and shrewd, fluid arrangements of so much attacking talent doesn’t mean a thing, as we can see, if the old-fashioned elements of leadership and want-to come up missing. Or, perhaps, were never there in the first place. Without the benefit of meaningful matches to test these elements over the last few months well, you never really know until you know. You know?

Saturday, “urgency” went on holiday on the U.S. side. The Canadians ran and ran and poured everything they had into the night. Too many American players might be asking if they did the same Saturday.

Going into the match, you could say there was definitely still a little bolt-tightening to be done in the U.S. defense. Seeing things unravel so spectacularly against Canada, it looks now like more than that. The problems start with center back Ike Opara, who just never looks completely comfortable or very smooth back there. His timing and positioning aren’t as astute as central partner Perry Kitchen, but that’s not the least of it. Some nervous indecision near goal nearly turned disastrous as Opara almost sneaked one past Bill Hamid at the near post in the first half.  He got all turned around on a Canadian break midway through the second half, and then completely lost his mark on Canada’s second goal.

Opara can definitely can be a bother on offensive set-plays. But that’s not enough, and that spot looks like a real doozey of a U.S. problem.

The first Canadian strike was clearly on goalkeeper Bill Hamid, whose inexperience became a crusher. He was way too timid in claiming what should have been a routine ball into his six-yard box. By failing to grab the floating corner kick at its highest possible point (Goalkeeping 101) and not attacking the moment with authority, he turned a fairly benign cross into a fiasco.

Freddy Adu isn’t playing badly, really, but he’s sure not anything to shout about, either. Bottom line: he’s not doing enough. The U.S. captain (and most experienced international man) must press the game more and ask further questions of defenders in front of him. He’s quite competent in helping the Americans keep possession in the middle third. But he’s not stretching defenders the way Brek Shea did on the left (for a half Saturday, anyway). And when Adu came into the middle after the break, he was even less effective, never establishing himself as the playmaker Porter apparently asked him to be in a halftime tactical adjustment.

Speaking of that tactical adjustment: it didn’t work. Not at all. Joe Corona, Thursday’s three-goal scorer, wasn’t finding the spaces that he did against Cuba’s awful defense. And, as noted, Adu wasn’t having his best night on the right wing. So Porter removed Corona, switched Shea to the right, redeployed Adu to attacking midfielder and added Joe Gyau to the left. Result: things got worse. Only in the last, desperate 10 minutes did the Americans begin seriously threatening Canadian goal. Down by two at that point, it was too late.

  1. tdotbronco - Mar 24, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    Let’s go CANADA

  2. slxc - Mar 24, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    Second spending probably will go to Mexico

  3. soccerknowitall - Mar 25, 2012 at 7:18 AM

    I feel bad for our us fans, there being duped still by us soccer and media who dont know the difference between good and great players or teams. We ran into a team equal in physical/athletic ability, organized, rested n hungry; they took us out of are game/comfort zone, an well they won ugly. coach porter would rather lose playing his rigid possession style than win ugly i guess. props to Canada.

    freddy adu is worthless as captain/leader, an just a little better as a player. when u struggle or fall behind u need a guy like lando yelling and inspiring your team on the field. they also need tim howard in goal this summer organizing the backline and doing his thing in goal.
    coach porter talks big, ” were here to win all 3 games in group” how bout 1 game at a time like ncaa basketball. Porter wants to play pretty soccer & dominate teams,” score early to bring them out of there shell to play with us” has been his repeated quote this week. but had no plan in place when they fell behind, or failed to score at all during the first 57 minutes. the canadian team practiced together 4 Days! 4 days! and got a win against US, with our team/ coaches spending months together. the canadian coach stood on the sidelines instructing and cheering his team on. Coach Porter, sat with arms folded on the bench chatting it up with Reyna!
    having viewed the game film a few times tonite i see many glaring player/coaching problems for US. one is they lack a killer instinct around the last third of field; they’d rather pass the ball then take on the pressure/responsibility/ criticism of dribbling at an shooting on goal, this I see as a lack of training/coaching philo by pass happy porter/reyna-Reyna whom scored 8 goals with MNT in 111 games.
    Does US soccer/coaches review game film the way NFL coaches do? i guess not!!!
    also team usa players seem to receive the ball at there feet standing still & flatfooted way to much in the attacking third, when the mind set of a natural (south american/european player) is to advance, dribble and shoot. i could go on but i experienced this same thing with a pro team here during my playing days in the early nineties in california. US players/ and college coaches are so groomed and caressed, that they seem to lack many of the instincts and mentality were so used to seeing in euro leagues. its hard and sad to watch soccer at this level when you watch fox soccer channel all day.

    Finally, dont be surprised if mexico dumps wednesdays game, takes 2nd in group and avoids US in semis though. we still have the quality, teamwork and skill to beat mexico any given day, just not at the levels of euro/ S american players of same age. maybe one day in future! but these kids are still missing out on superior coaching, soccer mentality and natural footballer instincts of the game as a player…… IMHO

    • Steve Davis - Mar 25, 2012 at 10:23 AM

      some good thoughts in there. Mexico to tank it, eh? interesting theory; hadn’t thought of such a possibility. it’ll be interesting, eh? …

      • soccerknowitall - Mar 25, 2012 at 2:16 PM

        hey steve, you seem to really know your stuff about the critical aspects of the game, unlike the espn, fox writers. I think your not originally from the us. england maybe. Anyways steve, keep up the great writing here!
        gl to the usa team, i’d really like to see us succeed in london this summer, just need to win a couple of times this week. gl guys.

  4. Steve Davis - Mar 25, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Oh, c’mon! I can’t be from the US of A and not know which end of a soccer ball is up? … (Just kidding, of course. Thanks for the kind words. And for the record, I grew up in Texas. Ye-haw!)

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