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Report Card: Grading the U.S. coach and team for World Cup effort in Brazil.
By Robert Wagman
(Monday, July 7, 2014) -- In the end, the United States men performed better than many observers predicted. Mired in the FIFA World Cup’s Group G -- the Group of Death -- with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, the Americans advanced with a 1-1-1 record and four points into the Round of 16, where they played a scoreless 90 minutes of regulation with Belgium before succumbing 2-1 in extra time.
While being eliminated is never easily accepted, the American fans’ letdown was lessened by goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose 16 saves -- the most by a keeper by three since the World Cup started keeping records in 1966 -- were part of one of the most scintillating Cup performances effort.
Nineteen-year-old German-American midfielder Julian Green also excited U.S. fans about his potential in his Cup debut when he volleyed a ball out of the air into the net to bring the Americans to within 2-1 in the second of two mandatory 15-minute overtime periods.
At home, there were record television audiences for not only the U.S. games, but for other matches , too. All over the U.S., large outdoor viewing popped up all over the country in stadiums and public areas. Sports bars were packed. Now its time for coach Jürgen Klinsmann, the U.s. Soccer Federation, as well as Major League Soccer to take the support and build on it.
Following is a report card of the American coach and his players.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - A: - Rightly called a hero for his 16-save performance in Round-of-16 loss to Belgium, Howard was solid in every one of the three group matches, making at least one key save in each. One can’t ask much more from a keeper. Now the key question: Will he still be around, and as sharp, in 2018 at age 39?
Midfielder Jermaine Jones – A-: In the three group matches, he was everywhere, making defensive stops, making pin-point passes and leading the charge forward in three Man-of-the-Match performances. Against Belgium, he appeared to simply not be able to push his tired legs forward in the second half, but overall he was the U.S.’s most valuable player in the tournament.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - B: - He played every minute of every match and ran himself into exhaustion in the last three. He was competent on defense and, at times, was just about all of the U.S. attack. He was beaten by Portugal’s superstar Cristiano Ronaldo on the game-tying cross deep into stoppage time, but that about his only glaring error. The veteran showed he still has the ability to compete at the highest level and improved game to game in Brazil. He became the first American to play in four World Cups.
Defender Matt Besler - B: - He was the most solid of the U.S. defenders through four matches. He did have a tough time against Belgium at the end when it looked as if he simply ran out of gas. He too has to find consistently better opponents than he is finding for Sporting Kansas City in MLS. He needs to be off to England or Germany.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - B-:- He was quite good when he played but Klinsmann clearly didn’t trust him against Belgium in the Round of 16,leaving him on the bench. When he played, he was solid as a stay-at-home defensive midfielder and worked hard to help his back-line. At 32, this was likely his first and last World Cup but he can be proud of his contribution.
Midfielder Julian Green - B: - Here is one example of the potential U.S. strength at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. and beyond. The 19-year-old German-American, who is not yet playing in the first division in Germany, came off the bench and delivered a highlight-reel goal against Belgium, to narrow the American deficit to 2-1 in the second overtime period. Here, he finally showed a maturity that has been absent from his appearances in friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Whether he should he have logged more playing time than that one brief appearance is one of the intriguing questions left over from the U.S. exit.
Defender John Anthony Brooks – B-: - He only played less than a half of one match in the tournament, but managed the goal that made him a media darling for at least a couple of days. It’s obvious that Klinsmann does not really trust him defensively. He would have seen more playing time. So he gets high marks for his 45 minutes and a question mark for his time on the bench. So it’s back to the Bundesliga’s Hertha Berlin to get the experience he needs.
Forward Clint Dempsey - B: - Dempsey is not a striker, although that is the role he was given after Jozy Altidore went down with a severe hamstring strain 21 minutes into the Americans opening game. Dempsey is a goal scorer coming out of the midfield as he showed by scoring less than one minute into the match against Ghana and using his torso to knock hme a tally against Portugal. At times, he looked like a fish out of water. One of his biggest contributions was defensive clearances on opponents’ corner kicks. He had 11.
Defender Fabian Johnson - B-: - Someday, the addition of this young German-American might be looked upon as one of coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s best deeds. One would want a defender who, first of all, can defend. He was solid in the back through all four matches. Some have said he might have contributed more offensively, as he did in the friendlies before the World Cup tournament, but the quality of the opponent dictated he lay back. He did get forward enough to make an impact.
Defender/midfielder DeAndre Yedlin - B-: - He only played 110 minutes, but they were among the better minutes of any U.S. player. The Major League Soccer defender came on as an attacking midfielder and his pace and fresh legs allowed him to romp down the wing where he sent deadly crosses into the middle. He was key in the play that produced Clint Dempsey’s late goal against Portugal. His youth and inexperience at the position resulted in some errors but, all in all, he had a very good first Cup.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya – C+: Those FIFA stats show he logged almost as many miles as Bradley but, while he was very strong defensively, he contributed little to the attack. While his defensive effort helped greatly, the Americans needed him to make the passes and force the chances offensively. On this he didn’t deliver. He seemed unable to hold up for a full 90 minutes and had to come out when his legs failed him.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - C+: World governing body FIFA keeps all kinds of World Cup statistics, including distances run by players. The official stats show that Dempsey ran 54.7 kilometers (about 34 miles) in the four U.S. games. That is farther than any other player through the Round of 16. How effective he was is another story. He was being asked to play out of position, especially after Jozy Altidore went down. If he was an attacking, goal-scoring midfielder, he would still be playing for AS Roma in Italy. That is what he tried to be in Brazil, and he generally failed, but certainly not for lack of trying.
Defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron - C : - Playing out of position at center-back (he plays right back for Stoke City in England)) and then inserted as a midfielder against Belgium, he generally did fine. He was somewhat error-prone, which put him on the bench against Germany in the Group G finale, but his overall contribution was positive.
Defender Omar Gonzalez - C: He was another defender who was back and forth from Klinsmann’s bench. He had problems against Portugal and also against Belgium. He is one American who could benefit greatly from competition at a higher level then he faces in MLS.
Forward Aron Jóhannsson - C- : He replaced Altidore and didn’t make much of an impression, but he received almost zero service. Jóhannsson was in Brazil to step up if Altidore went down or to act as a second striker if the occasion arose. Why he was not given more of a chance is an open question perhaps answered when his Dutch club team, AZ Alkmaar, announced he will need ankle surgery and will be out for two months.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - C-: He made one perfect corner kick to serve John Brooks’ winner against Ghana. He had a near-miss against Germany. Otherwise, he generally had a forgettable World Cup. Here and there, he did OK, but he did not contribute with any consistency.
Midfielder Brad Davis - D: He was in Brazil for his ability to take corner kick and deliver free kicks. Playing only 59 minutes total, he had almost no chance to do either. He did what he could, but was not able to show his strengths. In the final analysis, it was not his fault.
Forward Chris Wondolowski – F: Wondolowski was on the squad for one purpose and one purpose only -- to poach a goal late and win or save a game. He got his chance, an open net from seven yards, no defensive pressure, and he skied it over the top.
Forward Jozy Altidore - Incomplete: For 21 minutes, he looked like a forward ready to do damage. Then, he was down and out with a hamstring injury that effectively ended his World Cup. Though Klinsmann talked about using him against Belgium, trying to confuse the Belgians, Altidore later said he was hurt much too seriously to play.
Defender Timmy Chandler – Incomplete: Did not play.
Midfielder Mix Diskerud - Incomplete Did not play.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - Incomplete: Did not play.
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando - Incomplete: Did not play.
Coach Jürgen Klinsmann - C: If one was to give the U.S. coach a grade for his overall stewardship of the national-team program, the grade would have to be an incomplete. Klinsmann was brought in at a salary number several times greater than his predecessors for the purpose of revitalizing the American program from top to bottom and to start developing young players with the kinds of technical skills seen in young players in Europe and South America. This is obviously still a work very much in progress. It is still too early to say he has failed. He has four more years so, in 2018, it will be possible to give him a grade.
As for simply World Cup 2014, his team qualified, it advanced from Group G and then was narrowly defeated by Belgium in the Round of 16. Based on that, Klinsmann has accomplished no more than Bob Bradley did before him and not as much as Bruce Arena, whose team advanced to the quarterfinals in 2002, before Bradley.
On one hand, Klinsmann did -- at least on paper -- face a tougher assignment in the so-called Group of Death then did either Arena or Bradley. Then, too, he did suffer significant injury losses with Altidore going down with 21 minutes elapsed in the World Cup, while Jóhannsson had an ankle injury that it would have seemed to eliminate him from playing after the opener.
Klinsmann did shoot himself in the foot over his obstinacy in leaving Landon Donovan at home when it was clear the U.S. wound up needing him rather badly.
Looking closely at Group G, the U.S. was the recipient of a highly unusual and unexpected set of circumstances that allowed it to advance at 1-1-1 with four points. It was not a question of tactics, it was not a question of skill, it was entirely the never-say-die attitude with which the Americans played. They have always played this way; this time around, it was nothing new.
So Klinsmann earned an Incomplete for his overall stewardship of the U.S. program and a C for his work in qualifying, as well as leading the U.S. to the World Cup Round of 16.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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