By Paul O'Donnell
What next for the USA? Take the flight home, that's what.
As I was saying, they can't score, and that inability to play an attacking style when the situation demands it became their glaring fault. This is the shortcoming that was evident in the warmup matches that had me worried about the possibilities before the Cup got started. But, was it really the players, or was it the tactics set forth by Arena? Or, the attitude and mental frame of mind that seemed to permeate this team? I think we saw today where that came from.
What next for the USA?
Take the flight home, that's what.
As I was saying, they can't score, and that inability to play an attacking style when the situation demands it became their glaring fault. This is the shortcoming that was evident in the warmup matches that had me worried about the possibilities before the Cup got started. But, was it really the players, or was it the tactics set forth by Arena? Or, the attitude and mental frame of mind that seemed to permeate from this team? I think we saw today where that came from.
Frankly, I believe Arena's decision to play too many guys out of position along with his choice of a single striker alignment for a match where the goal was to produce offense was simply a fatal mistake. Arena put his players in a bad spot from the start. At times the five-man midfield seemed to get in each others way they were so close together on the pitch. A few times Dempsey got in McBride's way going for the ball instead of playing off him.
Though the mistakes by players you'd expect to do far better, such as Claudio Reyna having his pocket picked cleanly which led to the opening goal by Ghana surely couldn't be put on Arena. I'm sure Reyna couldn't hear the "man on" call but he's supposed to be better than that and on this day his error was crucial. He clearly didn't expect the challenge and as he turned, exposed the ball and that was that. 1-0 Ghana and Reyna was hauled from the pitch on a stretcher after the clash of knees (his bad one at that). He made it back but had to be subbed out after a few minutes and the USA was now missing it's captain and holding midfielder along with Pope and Mastroeni. Without those guys, and now Reyna too, the entire central core of this team was no longer on the pitch.
That said, nothing excuses the poor choice by Carlos Bocanegra in first half stoppage time. It wasn't Arena making that choice, but you have to wonder after seeing that sort of mistake happen far too often. Less than two minutes after the USA had pulled even on a nicely executed counter attack Carlos attempted to play that ball along the sideline instead of touching it out for a throw allowing his defense time to get back in position. Remember how that final warmup game was lost to Morocco? The very same sort of error produced the game-deciding goal in that one. Here it led to the penalty call on Gooch and the match winning goal on the ensuing PK.
Whether the PK award was warranted is another issue (the replay surely didn't suggest it was) but those things happen. The point really is, the ball should have never been there in the first place and it wouldn't have been but for Bocanegra's bad decision to attempt to play it instead of giving the throw. Once again, the "safe" (smart) play didn't happen and the end result was the match winning goal for the opponent.
In a second half that was as frustrating to watch as it must have been for the players they again couldn't deal with a team packing it in and willing to play that counter attacking game much like the match against the Czech Rep. They did manage to produce a couple of good chances but in typical fashion, didn't convert. The result was the same; another loss.
Ghana was a better team and better prepared too. Their guys came to play. Better on the ball for most of the match, played smart soccer and won the match, deservedly so.
Frankly, the lack of urgency by the USA was discouraging. Surrendering that go ahead goal on the PK almost immediately after getting the match level seemed to take the fight out of them instead of inspiring them for the second half. Knowing Italy was winning giving them a real chance to advance wasn't even enough to get them going. If you watched Arena after the match you know why.
Arena's after match press conference was almost as disappointing as the game itself. If you thought the USA's effort fell short in that second half, all you needed to do was watch Arena's performance and you'd see where that came from. It was clear he couldn't put that call out of his mind and its as certain as day leads to night that that message got through to his players too. He couldn't even think of anything he might have done differently if you can imagine that. If he's out of ideas that tells you it should be the end of the road for Bruce Arena.
If US Soccer doesn't find a new head man for the USMNT, I'd be very surprised and disappointed too.