“Yikes” is what I said when I saw Ricardo Clark throw his legs at Gennaro Guttuso.
“Awwwww,” is what I said when I saw the red card above Clark’s head.
I talked myself into the United States getting a draw against Italy (maybe even winning) but all my hope burst out of me when Clark was ejected in the 32nd minute. Donovan’s penalty did make me think,”well, you never know,” but it was impossible to ignore reality.
The top tactician in the world, up a man, with world-class players was going into halftime to figure out a strategy to break down a backline of Spector, DeMerit, Onyewu and Bornstien. There was no way the U.S. was going to hold on and they didn’t. In 45 minutes, 1-0 U.S. turned into 3-1 Italy. To the grades….
GK Tim Howard — Should he have stopped Daniele De Rossi’s goal? Looking at the replays it’s hard to tell if he was screened on the 30-yard shot or if the shot simply surprised him. It would have been a very good save, but the top goalies in the world make very good saves. I’m beginning to conclude Howard isn’t one of the top goalies in the world. He did make two stellar saves in the final 10 minutes to keep the U.S. down only one and it goes without saying he had no chance at either of Giuseppe Rossi’s goals. Grade: B-
RB Jonathan Spector — I haven’t re-watched the tape yet, but it seemed the Italian strategy in the second half was to attack Spector down the left flank as opposed to going after Bornstien on the right. Maybe Italy feels more comfortable coming in from the left than the right, but I found it slightly curious Italy didn’t try to pick on Bornstien more. Anyway, Spector played OK. He was forced to defend for 90 minutes, holding his own for the most part. I don’t recall him making any horrendous errors. Even counting Cherundolo, I think Spector is the favorite to be the starting right back next summer. Grade C+
CB Jay DeMerit — Other than getting completely abused in the build up to the Italians third goal, DeMerit also played OK. He got his head on the ball when he had to and he didn’t wander out of position. Maybe he should have stepped up to challenge Rossi’s first goal, but if someone is going to fire a 35-yard shot like you just have to give him credit. He is no better or worse than Bocanegra. Grade C+
CB Oguchi Onyewu — It’s hard to overestimate how well Onyewu played in the first hour. He got his head on almost every cross and consistently broke up the Italian attack when it got into the penalty box. He seemed to tire as the match went on and his lack of concentration contributed to the Italians game-winning goal. Being out-of-contract right now, it’s safe to say there will probably be a few more clubs trying to get his signature after watching his performance. He’s by far the best American defender and you could make an argument he’s simply the best player. Grade B
LB Jonathan Bornstien — He looked quite scared in the first 10 minutes but settled down as the match went on. He had a tough time keeping up and his lack of size hurt him against the taller Italian attacking players. But in the end, (and I know I’m repeating myself) he played OK. He worked hard and made a couple of plays to at least stall the attacking onslaught. He definitely didn’t lose the match and if you had to chose a player before the match that was most likely to lose the match for the U.S., you probably would have picked Bornstien. Grade C+
RM\AMC Landon Donovan — The reason why you can’t say Onyewu is the best American soccer player is because of Landon Donovan. For the second straight match, he played fantastic. He made creative passes, ran at the Italians and he worked his ass off. His penalty was perfectly taken and he even defended well. You couldn’t ask for anything more, but one has to wonder if he will have anything left for Brazil. Grade B+
DM Michael Bradley — Maybe his worst match for the national team. Completely out-classed and little more than a cone to the Italian attack. In fairness, he was given an almost impossible task after Clark was ejected and his other central midfield partner (Feilhaber) isn’t exactly a great defender (that’s a huge understatement). But, still, he didn’t play well. Grade D+
DM Ricardo Clark — Clark came into the match in manic mode. He was sliding here and there, running every which way and turning the ball over when he kicked it up field. So you could kinda see it coming when he slid in late on Guttuso. Did it deserve a red card? Maybe not, but it’s hard to argue with the decision. Looking at the play in slow motion it doesn’t look too bad but in full speed it’s violent enough. It would have been one thing if he just slid in late, but he added a kick to the slide that probably sealed his fate. It was a stupid play on a non-threatening part of the field and put the U.S. in an impossible position. Grade: F
CM Benny Feilhaber — After I wrote my last U.S. report card, some readers left comments and sent e-mails telling me I underestimated Feilhaber’s contribution in the win against Honduras. OK, I thought, I must have missed something or I didn’t watch him closely enough. Maybe I did or maybe I didn’t but there’s no way anyone is going to convince me he played well today.
Before I explain why he had a bad game, I need to go on a rant….
I don’t understand why American commentators and supports seem so high on Feilhaber. He played well in the Gold Cup two summer ago, I’ll give you that, but what’s he done since? He spent a year at Derby where he was mostly hurt and then he went to AGF, a club in Denmark. I admit, I’m not an expert on Danish soccer but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the quality of play isn’t exactly top stuff. Are they really playing better soccer in Denmark than they are in Major League Soccer? If AGF played the Houston Dynamo tomorrow, who would win?
Nobody has seen him play in two years and for some reason a lot of people think he needs to be in the U.S. starting 11. It’s completely illogical. So I’m making a stand right now. NO MORE FEILHABER. If he goes back to Scandinavia and becomes the Riquelme of the Danish league, fine, he can come back. But all this talk about him being some brilliant creative midfielder needs to end.
OK, I feel better. For every good play Feilhaber made against Italy (I think John Harkes pointed out all of them) he made five bad plays. He turned the ball over way too often and was completely helpless in trying to stop the Italians coming forward. Italy’s second goal was a direct result of Feilhaber giving up the ball way too easily and, later, he was lucky he didn’t get a card (maybe even a red one) on sloppy challenge just outside the penalty box. He looked helpless. Grade: D
LM Clint Dempsey — When Dempsey plays for the U.S. national team, he reminds me of the Demitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian forward doesn’t run much and is invisible for 90 percent of the match but you can count on him doing something world-class in the other 10 percent. Dempsey is the same, except there is no other 10 percent. He’s just there, looking cool and wandering around the field. After the U.S. went down a man, Dempsey needed to start flying around the field and put in a real defensive effort. It never happen. Maybe he’s tired after a long and tough Premier League season but if he doesn’t play better in the next two matches the U.S. is going to finish the Confederations Cup with no points. Grade: D+
FW Jozy Altidore — After a decade of Brian McBride, American commentators believe it’s impossible for the U.S. to succeed without a pure “holding” forward. Someone to trap long balls and lay it off to midfield players. Therefore, less skilled players like Brian Ching and (heaven forbid) Conor Casey must be in the starting lineup. This train of thought needs to die because the U.S. has a forward that can do it all.
Can you think of an under-20 forward in the world that you would rather have than Altidore? I can think of one — Alexandre Pato — and I’m confident there might be one or two others, but I can’ t think of them off the top of my head. McBride in his prime couldn’t have played better than Altidore did against Italy. He held up the ball, he found open space against the best defense in the world and he was responsible for the lone American goal. The way he won the penalty was brilliant. As soon as he got the ball, his strategy was to force a foul and he did just that. It wasn’t a perfect performance; he passed off a great chance when he should shot early in the match and he did lose the ball a little too often. That said, this guy is for real. Grade: B
FW Charlie Davies (66)— Had the best scoring opportunity when the U.S. was down 2-1, but his wide-open header off a corner kick sailed over the bar. It was symbolic of his entire performance — rusty. He’s going to get another chance in this tournament and he’s going to have to be a lot better. (Replaced Altidore) Grade: D
MF DaMarcus Beasley (72) — He came into the match to give the team a spark and, in short, he didn’t. (Replace Feilhaber) Grade: D
MF Sacha Kljestan (85) — He did give the team a spark and had a nice shot from distance which made me say, “Ooooooo..awwwww, damn.” With Clark suspended, he will probably start against Brazil. Grade: B
Coach Bob Bradley — He likes Feilhaber more than I do, fine, I can accept that. It wasn’t outrageous he started, but it was outrageous he wasn’t subbed at halftime. The guy can’t defend and the only way the U.S. was going to win or tie was if it held onto it’s one goal advantage in the second half. Bradley does get some credit for not starting Conor Casey, which I really feared he might do. Grade: C
Note on Giuseppe Rossi — He saved the Italians. Italy probably would have scored anyway if Rossi didn’t come in, but the way Rossi took over the match as soon as he stepped on the field was impressive. He reminds me of a young Michael Owen, but he might be even better.
His decision to play for Italy over the U.S. doesn’t need any defending, but for those you out there (and I sure hope there aren’t very many) who think he’s being unpatriotic to play for Italy, let me say this. If I got married in the U.S. and me and my wife decided to move Italy and we produce one of the great soccer prodigies in the world, would he be betraying Italy if he wanted to play for the U.S., the country his parents came from? Of course not.
ESPN coverage — It wasn’t a complete disgrace. I know that’s a low bar, but it’s an improvement. Usually when listening to JP Dellacamera and John Harkes my neck feels sore after shaking it in disgust for 90 minutes. It wasn’t that bad today, but it sure wasn’t good.
What was terrible was the commentary after Clark got his red card. It was probably the most important and controversial play of the tournament for the U.S. and after the ejection JP asked the standard question to his color guy, “Do you think it deserved a red card.” Harkes response, “It doesn’t matter what I think.” True, it doesn’t matter what you think, or what I think or what all the people watching at home think, but, John, you’re getting paid to have an opinion. It’s your job!
Stunned by his answer, JP responded politely, “Well, I would I like to know your opinion.” Realizing his job entails having opinions, Harkes said he didn’t think it was a red card. At halftime, Alexi Lalas really didn’t think it deserved a red card, saying, “That’s not a red card in Rome, or New York or anywhere.” At least he had an opinion, but he’s wrong. Like I said earlier, it was a borderline call which probably deserved only a yellow but a red was by no means absurd.
The other big issue I had with the coverage was no one talked about how well Onyewu played in the first 60 minutes. He was literally playing the game of his life and was almost single-handily keeping Italy off the scoreboard. I think the hard core American soccer fans watching realized how well Onyewu was playing but the average sports fan, who makes up the vast majority of the audience, needs to be told when a defender is playing well. Instead, the only commentary about Onyewu came when he made a mistake on Italy’s second goal, which didn’t give him justice.