Thursday, July 10, 2014

World Cup - US vs Belgium

Gutted.  That's the only way I can describe my feeling after the loss.  Not because I thought the United States were going to win for most of the game, but because they toyed with my emotions once again.  They gave me hope that they were going to do the improbable and pull out the victory when it looked like there was no way it could be accomplished.  I recorded a replay of the game so I could rewatch it, but I still can't bring myself to watch it.  I haven't reached the point where I'm willing to put myself through the roller coaster ride again.

First, it was the miss by Wondo.  You know, the one that would have won it in extra time of regulation.

This is a guy that has thrived on being in the right place at the right time.  And yet, that's about as poor a strike as I've seen out of him.  I'm still not sure how he missed it that badly.

Then, they gave up the early overtime goal.  And then another.  2-nil.  That's it, right?  At that point, I nearly walked away from the game because I didn't think it would be possible for them to come back from a two goal deficit with so little time remaining.

And yet, Klinsmann puts in the young kid with almost no experience at this level and what does he do?  He scores a goal on his first touch of the game.

Let's be honest, it wasn't a clean touch.  He mis-hit the ball.  He didn't catch it as flush as he would have liked, but that might be why it found the back of the net.

Then there was that absolutely stunning set piece, thirty yards from the goal.  A set piece so amazing that I can't imagine even working on it in practice, much less attempting it any kind of game, but especially a World Cup game.  The courage it takes to dial up that play in that moment is something that I hope I never forget about watching the game.

The slightest different touch by Dempsey and this set piece would be forever described in World Cup history as one of the greatest set pieces ever instead of one of the greatest set piece attempts.

I have two takeaways from the game.  My first takeaway from the game and, by extension, the USMNT in general, is related to something I read on the MLS Matchday app (I assume it's available somewhere online, but haven't found it) about "game states."
1. This was the World Cup of game states

The analytics community is big on "game states," as they should be (I say "they" because I was an English major and actually don't remember how to do anything beyond long division). "Game state" means – broadly – what the score of the game is, and how it affects how the two teams play.

In other words, the US played much differently down 1-0 against Portugal than they did when up 2-1 vs. the same. And we played much differently down 1-0 vs. Germany in the group stage – an acceptable result that was likely to seal our advancement – than we did when down 1-0 to Belgium in today's game.

"Just hope," Tim Howard explained on the air afterward. "When we changed over we just said let's try and get a goal and if we get a goal we put them under pressure. And at 2-1 we did that. Dream falls short but like I said this is an incredible group and I'll never forget this night."

No one else should forget it, either, because the US were brilliant in attack once down a goal (and even better once down two). That follows the same pattern against Portugal, as well as the desperation push once Ghana equalized.

Here's the graph of US shots from the first 105 minutes:

And here's the last 15, once desperation kicked in:

In case you don't want to count: that's seven shots each.

Part of this is Belgium falling victim to game states themselves. But the bigger part of it is Klinsmann taking the shackles off and dropping pragmatism for attacking verve, something which should happen earlier and more often going forward. This US is a very, very talented team – one of the dozen or so best in the world. It's time to stop playing like we're the underdog at all times and actually deliver the promise of proactive soccer.
 Every time I saw the US perform poorly in this World Cup, it was because they reverted (despite promises from Klinsmann when he was hired that he would change the strategy), back to the US team that played not to lose.  When I watch the USWNT, their tactics are different.  If one goal wins the game, five is surely not enough.  They never, as far as I've seen, take the foot off the gas.  They have the best goalie in the world, a spectacular defense, an imposing midfield, and a wealth of forwards to finish.  I don't understand why the USMNT doesn't have the same mentality.  They have one of the best goalies in the world, a solid defense, a midfield that includes one of the best in the world, and excellent finishers.  So why does the women's team continue to take it to their opponents, while the men's team tries not to get beat too badly.  Like the writer above stated, the men's team needs to stop playing like the underdog and play like the winners we nearly saw from them at the end of the Belgium game.

My second takeaway?  Tim Howard is a beast.  I told you he was my man of the match in the group stages and he didn't make me regret that in the Belgium game.  The only reason the team had the slightest of chances at the end of overtime is because Howard had one of the greatest games ever by a goalkeeper in a World Cup game.  Wonder what all those saves look like at one time? 

Thank you Tumblr for the gifs...

No comments: