DEADLIFT #2 – I Wondo What Went Wrong?
I watched the US Men’s National Team second game of group play versus Portugal with some friends last night, Americans who were definitely backing our boys, but admittedly knew very little about the game of football (simple as it may seem). I don’t claim to be a vast wealth of soccer knowledge, but I can explain the offside rule and I do I understand some of the fundamental theories of the game, and I found myself fielding question as the moments ticked away to extra time. Initially, the questions were fairly basic- “C’mon- there are six minutes left…nothing is going to happen right? I mean, Portugal won’t score will they?” I answered that yes, there was time, and that with a guy like Ronaldo out there, yes, anything could happen. And it did happen deep in injury time, as Michael Bradley bungled in possession, giving the ball away to Ronnie who promptly delivered a drone-strike cross onto the head of a patiently waiting Silvestre Varela, who simply had to nod the picture-perfect service past a valiant Tim Howard.
Well, I looked like a clairvoyant to my pals watching the game with me, I felt like someone had mule-kicked me in the groin.
And then the questions got tougher; we were all disappointed- a serious chance had slipped away. It’s terrible to run down the list of ‘what-ifs’ that dreams of a US win over Portugal spawn. Let’s see- we would have advanced to the knockout round of 16 out of a group laden with quality. Beating a power like Portugal to advance, especially with Ronaldo in the side would have been a benchmark moment for US Soccer? The symbolism of a victory over a team like that is obvious, and would have heralded our arrival as a dangerous team that can compete in the big tournaments with the big European powers. The gents I watched with wanted to know “why’d Bradley give it up there instead of just ripping it out (in clearance)?” and “WTF was that first goal?” and “why would we put a forward in when we are leading and there are barely five minutes left?”
I had no answers, and found myself harboring some of the same questions. I can understand Bradley’s error- a number of factors can contribute to that, even just exhaustion. And Ronaldo is class and is going to deliver that cross every time. Cameron just mishit his clearance to spill that opener for Nani- again, a heartbreaking, horrible gaffe, but basically a forgivable transgression, and not a mental error.
But the substitution(s)? I gotta hear this.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not lambasting Jürgen for his sub philosophy on the day, as surprising and unorthodox as it seemed to me. The humid conditions were utterly stifling in that stadium nestled in the dark, sweaty heart of the Amazon basin, yet Jürgen didn’t hit the sub button until 87’, when he dumped Clint Dempsey for Wondolowski, a bit of a like-for-like move. Now, at this point, the Portuguese had long since used their subs up, and a lot of that had to do with guys tiring in the conditions. While Klinsmann’s counterintuitive (lack of) substitutions worked really well through the first eithy-seven minutes, I would love to know the rationale behind bringing Wondo instead of a tall, strong defender to babysit that lead over the last few minutes of what could have been a monumental win. Wondo came in and did what he does and managed to hold it up and bring it down in the Portuguese third to chew up some minutes…but it wasn’t enough. Why was Wondo on? And could a defender like a young John Brooks (already a True American Hero) have clogged play in the danger area enough to keep Varela from equalizing?
One can only Wondo…