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Deja Vu
The United States Mens National Team fell 2-1 to Ghana for the second time in as many World Cups, only this time around, they broke our hearts in extra time.  This time, they couldn’t blame the referee.  But this time can only blame one man, Coach Bob Bradley.
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Yep, I said it.  Just what the hell was he thinking starting Ricardo Clark?  If any of you read the site regularly (unlikely, but hey, I’m an optimist) you know that I downright despise Ricardo Clark.  Now can you see why?  When I saw his name on the team sheet, I turned to my fellow Americans and said, “Clark could lose us this game.”  His attempt to step past Anthony Annan, resulted in Kevin Prince-Boatengs goal from outside the area.  Granted, Tim Howard was poorly positioned, but he shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with.

Gyan celebrates his fantastic strike in extra time.

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Four years of Football Fandom is out the window, because Bob Bradley tried to tamper with the winning formula.  Why?  What would compel you to change the side that beat Algeria, that tied Slovenia, that could have beat Ghana?  In the only game Edu and Bradley started next to each other, the Yanks not only didn’t allow an early goal, they kept a clean sheet!  The Robbie Findley inclusion didn’t flip my lid either, but experimenting up front is much different than experimenting in the middle, especially when we were finally clicking.  Bradley’s only saving grace was his humility.  He had the guts to say, “Ok, I was wrong” and put Edu into the game.  Immediately, the United States started clicking.
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Another thing, why the long ball tactics?  I thought after the first 30 tries at trying to play a long ball in, we would give up and try to outpass them.  Nope.  Just keep thumpin’ it in there.  Eventually, one of their center backs will just let us walk on in.  We clearly showed that when we built up from the back, we had some beautiful passing movements – notably at the beginning of the second half.  We flowed seamlessly into the Ghanaian third and really put them under pressure.  And I know they were tired.  Who wouldn’t be? Honestly.  I cannot fault them in the slightest for being tired.  But you know who I can?  Bob Bradley.  If he hadn’t started Clark, we wouldn’t have been down a goal and a substitution.  Ghana used their substitutions late and they ran us out of it eventually.  What if we could have put Holden in on the wing?  Onyewu in for the tired Bornstein?  It just hurts how much sense it makes and how little Bradley had with this game.
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If we had started the game with Maurice Edu in the middle and got shalacked, fine.  I’ll take that.  It’s just such a bitter pill to go out to the same team that ousted the United States in an identical score line 4 years ago, when we had such a great chance to win.  They didn’t even have Michael Essien and bossed the midfield.

A dejected United States fan's eyes say it all.

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The first half of the game was absolutely abysmal from the United States, and the biggest game changing substitution had to be Benny Feilhaber.  He’s quick, clever and a concise passer.  Almost immediately, he brought an edge to the game that was previously absent as he nearly got on the score sheet.  You only get a few chances like that a game, and, time and time again, you have to finish them.
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Parting shot, the Ghanaians really didn’t show great gamesmanship in their winner here just like they didn’t in 2006.  They flopped like fish out of water and dramatically called for a stretcher every time there was contact.  Look at Clint Dempsey!  He gets treated like he’s in The Octagon every time he’s on the field.  What does he do?  He spits out blood and goes for theirs.
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Be a man.  Get up, stand up, stay up.
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It’s hard to blame one man for the loss, so I’ll blame two.  Bob Bradley and Ricardo Clark…but mostly Bob.  He could have prevented the whole thing in thefirst place.  Clark not only shouldn’t be starting, he should not be on the roster.  Who should? Maybe Freddy Adu.
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There are a lot more things I would like to say.  But I won’t.  Because, if you’ve read this far, you can read between the lines too.  This hurts.  A lot.  My emotional output before, during and after the game could power a small country.
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Bob Bradley just cost me 4 years of football fandom.  Such is life.
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Until next time...

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Coin Flip For Saturday

The United States’s victory over Algeria was historic, and, if you are a United States fan, won’t be forgotten if you were watching it.  However, it is time for the Yanks faithful to snap out of it, because very shortly, they face a physical and dangerous Ghana side that would very much like to knock them out of the competition for the second World Cup running.

Bad blood will be flowing when the teams take the field on Saturday.  Their last meeting ended with a 2-1 Ghanian victory won off of a dubious penalty kick “committed” by Oguchi Onyewu.  Clint Dempsey scored the only goal by a United States player in Germany, and will be looking to find the scoresheet again as he typically does in big time games.  However, this time around, we are looking at a different Ghana side as well as a different United States side.

Brian McBride (L), Oguchi Onyweu (C) and Clint Dempsey (R) react to Ghana's penalty in Germany.

Six players from the United States will be present Saturday that were four years ago: Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley.  If Onyewu is fit, he should be a sure thing to start, despite the fact that the defense played well against Algeria without “Gooch’s” help.  And other than DaMarcus Beasley, every one of them should start on Saturday.

Returning for the Black Stars is Stephen Appiah (the man of the match in ’06), ‘keeper Richard Kingson and John Paintsil.  Kingson is usually very consistent for Ghana, as is Paintsil, and unlocking their defense will be quite the task for the Americans.

So what are the keys for beating Ghana?

1.  Win the midfield – Ghana plays a 4-5-1, which means that the midfield will be crowded for Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu/Jose Torres/Ricardo Clark.  They are physical and technically adept, so it won’t be a walk around for the coach’s son, who, so far, has been many peoples’ player of the tournament for the United States.  Also, Benny Feilhaber put in a good show as a substitute against Algeria and may feature on the left hand side, with Donovan on the right and Dempsey moving up top (but we reckon this will happen later in the game rather than from the get-go).  Bradley is key in snuffing out attacks and starting new ones, if he can find his feet early in the game, impose himself on Kevin Prince-Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah, it could mean a win for the Yanks.

Asamoah Gyan will likely be a handful for the back line as he has been all tournament.

2. Steady Defense – Oguchi Onyewu may be key to the keeping another clean sheet against Ghana, even though he wasn’t even part of the back line that did against Algeria, don’t be entirely shocked if Bradley keeps the same back four.  However, you can count on “Gooch” wanting blood in this game, as it was he who allegedly fouled Pimpong for the spot kick in 2006.  Surprisingly, Jonathon Bornstein didn’t look too bad in the last game, but, if he plays, he will be faced with more adept opponents in Anthony Annan and Prince Tagoe, both of whom are capable of skinning the haphazard left back.  Jay Demerit was a veritable rock against Algeria, and he will be key to overcoming the threat of Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s primary hitman.  If he and Onyewu can form a steady partnership, they can neutralize his potent attacking skill.  One option for Bradley, is playing Bocanegra in the middle of the back line, because he knows Gyan better than anybody on the American team, as they are team mates at Rennes.

3. Key Performances From Big Players – Notably Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.  I know what you’re thinking.  Well, obviously they need to have big games in order to beat Ghana, but they are more key for this game than ever.  Jozy will have a very daunting task sizing up against the physically tough John Mensah, the heart of the Black Stars’ defense.  John Paintsil is no slouch either, as the Fulham man holds his own against most clever wingers and strikers than run at him.  He is fast and defensively resolute.  Clint Dempsey will likely be deployed on the right for the start of the game, and, depending on the situation, could be moved up front.  His opposite number could be Andre Ayew or Kevin Prince-Boateng, depending on how manager Milovan Rajevac chooses to line up.  Donovan is key, as always, as he is part

Clint Dempsey celebrates his equalizer against Ghana in 2006.

of nearly every move towards goal and it will be paramount that he has a great game if the United States wants to get on the score sheet.

It’s a sizable task, but both teams will walk onto the field Saturday confident of a win.  Despite the fact that Ghana is without their talisman Michael Essien, they still have a great deal of menace and will assuredly cause trouble going forward and snuffing out attacks.  The United States have nearly everybody fit, and the lineup on Saturday should include Maurice Edu, but the striker position is still a wild card as Bradley has toyed with his options quite a bit.

Either way, the game will have plenty of chances, drama and history.  This game is a coin flip. Question is: heads or tails?



United States – Algeria Preview

Three points are there for whoever wants to take them.  Both teams are dying to advance from this group, as the United States has the expectations riding on their back and Algeria would relish the thought of an underdog victory.  Albeit, Algeria would need to defeat the United States by at least 2 goals to make it.  Still though, Algeria are a wounded animal and won’t be giving anything away without a fight.

United States vs. Algeria

Four years of World Cup qualifying comes down to 90 minutes in Pretoria tomorrow.  Every game played in the stadium thus far in the tournament has produced a victor, and both sides will be gunning hard for the spoils.  A victory for the United States sees them through to the next round, but in first or second spot remains to be decided by the England – Slovenia game.  Should the United States draw, only a Slovenian victory will still see them through to the next round.  Should the England game come to a draw, the difference will come to goals scored (which, right now, the United States has the edge in).

Bob Bradley’s team selection shouldn’t be too much of a mystery except for the two toss-up positions.  With Ricardo Clark

Ghezzal (right) will look to get on the scoresheet against the States.

finally being seen as less effective, he may very well be replaced by Maurice Edu who put in a decent show with Slovenia.  Edu would bring more composure and experience on a bigger stage than Torres would and is more of a box-to-box midfielder than Clark.

The other position is alongside Jozy Altidore, who has yet to get on the score sheet in South Africa.  Edson Buddle is tipped as the favorite, as Robbie Findley wasn’t particularly amazing against Slovenia and Buddle is still fresh in the memory with his two goals over Australia.  Buddle should hook up well with Jozy, however, it might be slightly concerning that they play a very similar style of play.  Still, there is no denying that Buddle has talent, and Bradley could well opt for him tomorrow.

However, as Group C has learned, Algeria aren’t the easiest of opponents.  They possess great pace and the technical ability to

Michael Bradley will size up against Karim Ziani tomorrow in what will be a crucial match up.

break on the counter, something which Slovenia exploited very well during their match against the States.  Also, there is the worrying fact that  Abdelkader Ghezzal is back from suspension.  Karim Matmour and Ghezzal are both players love to find the soft pockets between the midfield and back lines, something that was a weak spot for the Yanks against Slovenia.

Nadir Belhadj is an obvious man to mark as his pace and ball skills have been a joy to watch in the Group thus far and he could have his way with slower defenders like those in the United States back line.

Key Match Ups –

Michael Bradley vs. Karim Ziani

Steve Cherundolo vs. Nadir Belhadj

Prediction – The United States has the quality to take the Algerian side, but an early goal from the Desert Foxes could, once again, put the States in a hard place.  The first 20 minutes will be very key to the remainder of the game.

United States 2 – 0 Algeria



Grass Green-er for United States

What started out as looking like a long match for the United States, turned into a fighting display to claw back and snatch a point from Group C favorites, England.

After Steven Gerrard had put the Three Lions up in only the 4th minute, all looked like it may be a tough match for the States.  But this didn’t put the United States off, says midfielder Landon Donovan.

The newly crowned English captain nets the opener.

“The Czech Republic game four years ago (in the World Cup), when they scored that goal early, there was this sense of ‘Oh no’,” said Landon Donovan. “Today, I didn’t have that feeling. We just felt like ‘Okay, let’s get back in the game. We don’t have to go get it in the next five minutes. Eventually we’ll get back in the game.  And, sure enough, we got back in the game.’

However, the Yanks weathered the English pressure after allowing the early goal and were rewarded 36 minutes later when Robert Green allowed Clint Dempsey’s shot to trickle through his hands and across the line.

A howler.

The English might have found it hard to rebound from the calamity of Green’s and looked disjointed for the rest of the match.

Tim Howard clutches his ribs after the tackle from Heskey.

That’s not to take credit away from the United States’ defense.  The back line, coupled with Tim Howard performed admirably and stifled out Wayne Rooney & Co. with aplomb.  Oguchi Onyewu is finally showing he has recovered from his knee injury in October and, after the lax defending for the 4th minute opener, Jay DeMerit, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo all had their hands full with the English but held their own against a talented attack force.

The dark spot on the match is the fitness of Tim Howard.  Howard was bundled into by Emile Heskey in the second half and may have broken some ribs.  If that is the case, we will likely see Wolverhampton Wanderers keeper Marcus Hahnemann or Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan.

Also, as many probably guessed, Ricardo Clark was mediocre at best, and could easily be replaced with the choice of Maurice Edu or Jose Torres.  Though he had some moments against Frank Lampard when he put in some crunching tackles and simple passing.  Regardless, the fact that Bob Bradley stays with Ricardo Clark is a worrying fact.

Robbie Findley made a start alongside Jozy Altidore, which was slightly surprising to the United States fans.  Neither found the net in the match, but Altidore came closest in the 64th minute after he shrugged off Jamie Carragher to fire at Green, who turned the ball onto the inside of the post and out of the goalmouth.  Probably the best chance of the second half.

Clint Dempsey celebrates his gift of a goal with Michael Bradley (R) and Jozy Altidore (L)

Wayne Rooney was fairly quiet given his form at Manchester United and failed to cause the United States defense grave concern.  He was wily enough, but failed to make an impression on the match and live up to the pressure that millions of British have placed on his shoulders.

The result doesn’t do either side much hard, despite the fact that Slovenia picked up a win (albeit a rather lucky one) against Algeria to top Group C.  Slovenia plays the United States in their next game while Algeria will play England.  All to play for in Group C, and the fireworks could still go off there in South Africa.



Set Your DVR For…Pt. 1

Group A –

– South Africa vs. Mexico –

The young Mexican will open up defenses in Group A.

Yep, the opening game.  It will be the first test for both sides hoping to make it out of one of the more exciting groups.  Recently marred by the Benni McCarthy scandal, the nation will be eager to get behind their boys and cheer the Bafana Bafana to victory. However, they are coming up against a battle ready Mexican side featuring the likes of Andrés Guardado, Giovanni Dos Santos, and Cuauhtémoc Blanco.  But, it is important to stress the effects that homefield advantage can have on a squad (cue 2002 South Korea).  Whatever happens in Group A, it should amount to some fireworks.

Prediction

South Africa 1 – 2 Mexico

– France vs. Mexico –

To say France has drastically underachieved in qualifying could be putting it lightly.  Les Bleus have one of the strongest rosters in the world, but have failed to live up to that potential.  Forever famous for his handball (the Hand of Gaul), Thierry Henry, the French’s leading scorer, will look to net early and often against a Mexican side that isn’t without its flaws.  Rafael Marquez has only just returned from injury and could be prime for a runaround, a fact that Franck Ribery knows assuredly, as well.  One of the only consistent performers for the French, and only recently, is goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.  The youngster has been in superb form for Lyon and will more than likely attract the attention of big European clubs in South Africa.

Snugglin'

Prediction

France 1 – 1 Mexico

Group B

– Argentina vs. Nigeria –

Most likely the most anticipated match-up of Group B, as the attacking flair of the Africans and the unrivaled talent in the striking

department of the Argentines should provide fireworks.  The Nigerian defense isn’t half bad either.  With the likes of Joseph Yobo, Danny Shittu and Taye Taiwo, they won’t be push overs.  However, when you consider the opposition of Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Milito and Higuain up front, it’s hard to be confident.  Expect a high scoring match with little being offered by either team to defensive standoffs.

Prediction

Argentina 4 – 2 Nigeria

Group C

England vs. United States –

There is a lot of buzz surrounding this match, as the two nations have an illustrious history.  Wartime foes and allies, fierce

So much Wayne. So much angst.

rivalries in sports (Ryder Cup anyone?) and the constant claim that the Americans will never be up to snuff in the footballing world.  And with a squad like England’s, it’s hard to argue…at least this time around.  Despite losing Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry (for the opener only), England still has plenty of bite.  Their pacy wingers will be eyeing up the slower Yank defense and licking their lips.  However, the Americans prosper as underdogs and have proved it before against Spain, Italy and nearly Brazil.  They also do have a few game changing players in their ranks in the likes of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.  Michael Bradley will surprise some critics at this World Cup for his stifling defensive work but will have his hands full with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard…especially if Ricardo Clark starts and keeps being useless.

Prediction

England 2 – 2 United States

Group D

….All.  The Germans look favorites to top the group, who could blame them?  They are historically dominant and just legit all the time.  Without Ballack, there will be a big hole in midfield that some undersized plugs will try to fill, but the Germans will still manage to oust this group.  The Ghanians will obviously be missing their star man, Michael Essien, but there is still hope as Asamoah Gyan will be a viable option up top and Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah will look to anchor down the middle of the park.  The big physical play of the Serbs could see them through this group as they have sufficient talent all over the pitch, namely defense. Aleksander Kolorov, Branislav Ivanovic, Neven Subotic and Nemanja Vidic…enough said.  They won’t allow many goals and won’t be devoid of goal scoring options up top.  The Australians might be the underdogs of this group, but not by too much.  Their defensive work, like the Serbs, could make up for any menace they lack going forward.  Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill and keeper Mark Shwarzer will be up to the task to snuffing out more than enough attacks.  The question is: can they hold off enough of them to get forward themselves to score?  We don’t think so.

Prediction

Germany to take top spot, with Serbia and Ghana slugging it out for second.  Slight edge Serbia.

Group E

Cameroon vs. Denmark

Simon Kjaer will be entrusted with stifling Samuel Eto'o

The two would-be runner up contenders will contend what we believe to be an intense contest.  This is backed up by a little guycalled Christian Poulsen.  He’s explosive, he provokes players and he’s violent.  After run ins with Francesco Totti, Gennaro Gattuso and Kaká, Poulsen has made a name for himself as a bit of a dirty player.  That coupled with the intensity sure to be building up within the Cameroonian midfield could lead to a show.  Don’t put it past Poulsen to make a racial slur, provoke one of the Lions.  That said, Cameroon have an iconic hitman in Samuel Eto’o, however that may be slightly scuppered by the big Danes, Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer.  Cameroon are also dealing with internal team issues with Samuel Eto’o being called out by legend Roger Milla, essentially for being a baby.  Denmark will look to snuff out attacks with their big boys in back and counter through their young gun Nikolas Bendtner.

Prediction

Cameroon 1 – 0 Denmark



Alti-Doh!

Jozy Altidore has sprained his ankle during training in South Africa.  The Haitian-American hitman  is certainly one of the

Gomez has been electric in Mexico and marked his first international call-up with a goal.

players Bob Bradley would have a hard time replacing as the striker, though only 20, has been a staple in their run to the World Cup Finals.

Though it is only classified as a mild sprain and he is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis, it is still worrying news for Yanks nationwide.  Odds are, he’ll sit the Australia game and save up for the Brits on the 12th.

However, this may serve as a blessing in disguise.  Altidore has started just about every game in qualifying and leading up to the World Cup.  One of the biggest question marks for the side, is who will partner him up top.  The fans have only gotten sneak peaks at all three other options (Gomez, Buddle, & Findlay) and this could serve as a perfect platform to decide who gets a start.

Bob Bradley will likely rest Jozy for the match, start two of the three stikers remaining, and, whoever has a worse half, gets replaced by the third option.  As it stands right now, all three strikers are desperate to stake their claim, and doing so against a side that will feature in South Africa will be ideal for all three of them.

Question is…who will be the standout?



United States v. Turkey

The United States Men’s National Team got a big time send off in Philadelphia as 50,000+ fans cheered the Yanks on to a great victory over a Turkish side not devoid of talent.  Guus Hiddink, Turkish manager to-be, watched as the Turks gave up a lead to lose 2-1 at Lincoln Field.

The United States lined up in a somewhat interesting fashion with Benny Feilhaber on the left wing, Landon Donovan on the right, and Clint Dempsey playing the floating striker role behind Jozy Altidore.  Within seconds, Dempsey combined with Donovan to play a cross into the Turkish area, but it was some of the only attacking for the States all half, as the Turks pressed hard against the US back line that many were asking questions about.  Captain Carlos Bocanegra filled in at left back, Johnathon Spector at right back, while Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson were paired in the center.

With the States pushing forward in numbers, the Turks were happy to counter attack with blistering pace through Arda Turan and

The tricky winger proved a handful for the United States back line.

the veteran Tuncay Sanli.  Sanli cut open the US back line on more than one occasion, and it looked to be a long afternoon for the Yanks, especially after Arda Turan broke down the left and slotted past Tim Howard to give his side the lead.

Jozy Altidore provided the lone high point of the first half, as he craftily slipped through three defenders and laid the ball across the face of goal only to have Dempsey fail to connect with it.

The second half brought significant changes as Bob Bradley used 4/6 of his changes allowed. Feilhaber (who was mediocre in the first half) was replaced by the relative unknown at the international level Robbie Findley, Onyewu came on for Goodson, Cherundolo for Spector, and importantly Jose Torres replaced Ricardo Clark.

“Night and day,” was how Bradley described the two halves.  Anybody who watched would be compelled to agree.  Robbie Findley’s work rate was immediately evident as he chased down every ball and made it clear he wants to make his mark in South Africa.  Torres became a key player in the United States game as he pulled the strings on several occasions in attack.

Within a few minutes of the first half, Michael Bradley had a near open goal but his shot was blocked but a towering Servet Cetin.  From then on, the Yanks pressed hard into the final third.  WIth that pressure, the Turks were happy to counterattack and nearly capitalized on more than one occasion.  However, In the 59th minute, Robbie Findley played a lovely chip over the back line to Landon Donovan who danced around the Turkish keeper to set up Jozy Altidore for a tap in and a great goal.

After the goal, the fans at Lincoln Field began to find their voice and encourage their men on forward.  Dempsey came close, hitting the outside of the post after a fantastic run and cutback from Michael Bradley.  Torres hit the same post with a whipped in freekick minutes later.

If you're a United States Soccer fan and don't like Clint Dempsey...that's just absurd.

Finally, in the 75th minute, Steve Cherundolo threw in to Donovan who picked out Dempsey on the left side of the Turkish 18 yard box.  The ball bounced off Dempsey’s hip and into this path, where he kept his composure and slotted under the onrushing Demirel.

After the second goal, the Americans played with a sense of ease that the Turks simply could not cope with in the second half.  What was the difference?

One can’t help but feel that the problem with using Ricardo Clark with Michael Bradley in the center of midfield, is that Clark is the same type of player as Bradley…but worse.  They both are players who can break down an attack and start one of their own.  What helped was replacing him with a playmaker like Torres, who was able to move the ball around much more and was more mobile than Clark.  Torres and Edu should be contending for a starting spot alongside Bradley.

Robbie Findley was a refreshing sight for American fans as his work rate and pace somewhat resembles fallen star Charlie Davies.  Findley’s pace got the better of him a few times and he probably should have gotten a cross in, but instead he ran the ball out to the goal line for a Turkish goal kick.  He’s still young though, and will find that awareness in time.

If you had asked before the game, who would you rather see at left back: Jonathon Spector or Steve Cherundolo, most would probably opt for Spector.  The young right back plays Premier League soccer for West Ham and would seem a more competent pick.  However, Cherundolo quickly proved adept as he stifled winger Arda Turan, who had previously given Spector a serious problem.

Some glaring issues would be Bornstein, Clark and Spector.  Bornstein literally looked like a high schooler and got turned over more times than you could count on one hand.  In no way, shape or form does anybody feel comfortable with him on the pitch.  Clark isn’t a bad player, Bradley is just much better and it is superfluous to have them both on the field.  Spector may just need time to adjust, however, like Bornstein, he struggled significantly with Turan and only triumphed when aided by DeMerit or another player tracking back.

All-in-All, it’s great that the Yanks are carrying a win (albeit a meaningless one) to South Africa.

Projected Line-up for Australia

———————–Howard———————–

Cherundolo—–Onyewu—Demerit—-Bocanegra

Dempsey——Bradley—-Edu/Clark—Donovan

—————-Buddle——-Altidore—————-