21 January 2012

U.S.-Venezuela running diary and player ratings

Parkhurst, Clark celebrate winner
I tried to keep track of players with a simple +/- system today: writing down a + for good plays and – for bad plays. It’s totally subjective, of course, and very flawed, but I’m curious to see how it compares to the number grade I would give the player just based on my impressions of the game.

I’ll post the +/- and 1-10 numerical ranking at the bottom, but here are some of my in-game thoughts watching the ESPN3 broadcast as the U.S. kicked off 2012 against Venezuela.

8:55 p.m. – Let me say from the outset that I like this lineup. I’m usually not a big fan of playing only one forward, but I have a fondness for a true 4-2-3-1 that goes back to the 2007 United States U-20 World Cup team. I think this formation has almost every player in his best spot. Graham Zusi as a true right mid/wing is questionable, but I’m excited to see how the formation works. For my money, the Cameron/Parkhurst center back pairing has a very high upside, and this is a chance for both players to prove they deserve a look in bigger games.

9:02 p.m. – My event is about to begin. Per ESPN3 instructions, I am standing by.

10’ – Not the most high-energy friendly you’ve ever seen at this point. Both teams being careful to stay behind the ball when their opponent has it.

19’ – A.J. DeLaGarza hasn’t seemed scared, which is a good sign, but he also hasn’t looked quite up to speed just yet. It’s still early.

20’ – Jones with a steal and feed to Bunbury, who wastes no time in teeing it up on his left foot and doesn’t miss by much. I’ll give him a ‘plus’ for that. So far, I don’t feel very good about my system. As I say that, Cameron, Feilhaber combine with great passes to set up Shea, who shoots wide. All three gets plusses in my book. Feilhaber might deserve two. But I love the (left-footed) pass out of the back by Cameron. One reason he can play at the international level is that he has the technical ability of a midfielder.

22’ – Still no plusses or minuses for Pearce or Larentowicz. Fitting, since I think Pearce is a generally ‘blah’ presence, and Larentowicz tends to be steady but nowhere near spectacular for 90 minutes at this level. I love Larentowicz in MLS, but I’m not sure he’ll be a presence at the next level.

25’ – Pearce finally gets a mark in my book when he blows a counter-attack with a slow, predictable, an off-target pass. Ruins a great touch from Feilhaber, who gets another plus.

26’ – There you go, Heath. Geoff Cameron shows him how to hit a driven switch and sets up DeLaGarza for a cross.

27’ – Is it Bill HAM-id? Hah-MEED? Or Hah-MID? I’ve always heard and said Hah-MEED, but his MLS Extra Time Radio promo features the D.C. goalkeeper referring to himself as Hah-MID, I believe.

28’ – I sincerely hope nobody’s doing a drinking game with the word ‘great’ tonight.

31’ – Parkhurst even looks like Lothar Matthaus. … And Pearce and Shea look completely out of sync together. Leftover struggles from Pearce’s Dallas days?

33’ – You can almost hear Geoff Cameron thinking, “Should I dribble forward here? No, I don’t want to get Jurgen mad at me yet. I’ll do it in the second half,” before dropping the ball backward to Parkhurst.

37’ – Interesting to watch Cameron and Parkhurst marshalling the back line. Vocal players, but in slightly different ways. I really like Parkhurst so far.

38’ – One thing I notice from this lineup/formation is that the key pass out of the back to start a play seems to come more often from one of the center backs or holding mids than from the outside backs, as it often does in an MLS 4-4-2. I’m not sure whether that’s due more to the formation or the personnel. It certainly seems an effective route for this team, however, given that outside back has not been a U.S. strong suit.

41’ – Bunbury dives near the end line and fools the announcer, but not the ref. That’s a minus in my book. Wonder if Bunbury learned it from Bravo or Kamara.

45’ – No surprise that it’s scoreless at the half. It’s a January friendly, remember.


10:12 p.m. – While waiting for Venezuela to re-emerge, ESPN cameras pan to Chris Wondolowski and Ricardo Clark sitting next to each other. Comparing notes on the sales of their respective Houston homes? We also get a close-up of Wondo lip-synching “It’s a Beautiful Day.”

66’ – DeLaGarza and Shea look disjointed on the right, and DeLaGarza’s cross hits Shea in the back. Moments later, Jermaine Jones gets a yellow card. That was the most predictable event of the night.

72’ – The U.S. has looked distinctly uncomfortable in the 4-4-2 – Clark/Jones are basically the same player in the middle – yet still get a chance from a bad Panamanian clearance, but Zusi rips high from a tight angle.

76’ – Classic Wondolowski, hustling to bump a player out of the way with a hip check, swiveling and ripping a shot on ogoal (one touch!), but it’s right at the Venezuelan goalkeeper.

87’ – “Wondolowski can’t be a lone forward,” Twellman says nonchalantly, as if it’s patently obvious. Somewhere, Bob Bradley scratches his head and ponders this statement. Moments later, Zach Loyd breaks free on the left, predictably cuts back to his right foot, and plays in a great cross that yields the best U.S. chance, but it’s denied again by Morales.

91’ – Good times. Sapong cleans out the Venezuelan goalkeeper, then DeLaGarza goes down softly to earn a dangerous free kick. Venezuela players go nuts. Give Loyd credit for a great volleyed ball in (with his right foot, of course.) Three minutes later, after the arguing is over, Jones bends the free kick well wide.

97’ – What a moment for Ricardo Clark! Even in January, a goal in the 97th minute is fun. Of course the provider is Jones with a great corner kick (after a ‘plus’ Shea cross was headed out), and Clark finds himself wide open to head it inside the left post. It’s a great moment for the young U.S. team and a great end to the first game of 2012.

Player + - +/- grade
GK-Bill Hamid 1 0 +1 6
Rarely touched the ball. Took a chance on one punch, but it worked out.
RB-A.J. DeLaGarza 2 3 -1 4
Looked a step behind most of the night and did not have the confidence to go forward often, although he did draw a late free kick.
CB-Michael Parkhurst 4 0 +4 7
One of the best U.S. players on the day, was characteristically composed and organized.
CB-Geoff Cameron 4 -2 +2 6
For the most part a good night and some good long-range passing, but his control in tight areas could be more consistent.
LB-Heath Pearce 0 2 -2 4
Contributed very little most of the night.
DM-Jeff Larentowicz 3 0 +3 5
Kept the ball moving and had some good switches that earned him plusses. Was the less active of the D-mids.
DM-Jermaine Jones 7 4 -3 5.5
As the most experienced and skilled U.S. player, he had the most good plays on the night, but he was very sloppy at times, particularly the first part of the second half.
RM-Graham Zusi 4 2 +2 5
Was on the ball a lot and delivered a great set piece to Shea for a chance, but didn’t look truly comfortable.
CM-Benny Feilhaber 5 1 +4 6
Was the most dangerous U.S. player in the final third of the field, repeatedly playing the ball through. Could still be more consistent, but a good night for him.
LM-Brek Shea 4 2 +2 5
Had good moments early in terms of creating chances, but fell out of the game in the second half and struggled to beat players 1 v.1.
FW-Teal Bunbury 5 1 +4 5.5
Did well holding the ball up – that’s where most of his plusses came from – but rarely looked dangerous in the penalty area.
DM-Ricardo Clark (sub) 1 0 +1 5.5
Other than scoring the game-winning goal in the 97th minute, he didn’t do a whole lot. But it was a great moment for him.
FW-Chris Wondolowski (sub) 2 0 +2 5.5
Looked dangerous in pressuring the back line and even set up a chance with a backheel, but he has to score to keep getting call-ups.
LB-Zach Loyd 2 0 +2 6
I’d love to see more of him at right back, where he’s on his more comfortable foot, but he delivered two great balls with his right from the left side.
FW-C.J. Sapong 0 1 -1 INC
Struggled to get involved at times but showed his above-average work rate.
RM-Brad Evans 0 1 -1 INC
He lost the ball once and defended at other times but wasn’t on the field long enough to get a grade.

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