U.S. World Cup Player Review: Good…but not good enough

June 27, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Bumped from the World Cup by a Ghana team that didn’t outplay them – but outfinished them – the U.S. returns home with full knowledge that they squandered a realistic path to the Final Four of soccer’s holy grail.

Sure, a win over Uruguay on Friday was far from guaranteed, but any path to the last-four-standing that doesn’t include a game against one of the world powers would be considered fortunate by most soccer followers.

It won’t matter, now, of course, because the Americans are on their way home after winning only one of four games played in the 2010 World Cup.

To call their 2010 effort disappointing would be unfair.  To call their accomplishment disappointing might not be unfair.  To wit: had I said before the tournament began that I saw the script and the U.S. would only win once in group play and then face Ghana in the round of 16, you would have said, “Great, who do we play in the quarterfinals?”

For a variety of reasons, the Americans fell short in 2010.  Some of those reasons have little to do with history or pedigree and everything to do with individual players and the good and bad that come with every single man who laces up his boots.  The coach certainly contributed to the team’s downfall with a handful of questionable lineup decisions and it’s likely he won’t be around in 2014 to try and atone for his mistakes.  And finally, despite America’s growth in soccer – both here, from a participation standpoint, and internationally, as a competing nation – we are still far behind in player development and overall soccer technique when applied to the game at the highest level.

Make no mistake about it, this 2010 edition of the U.S. National Team would have been exposed had they faced one of the big boys like Germany, Brazil or Argentina.

Here are my player-by-player ratings for the U.S. in the World Cup.  I only rate players who appeared in at least one game.  The traditional soccer grading system of 1 (low) to 10 (high) is used.

Tim Howard (6) — Was outstanding in the England game after surrendering an early goal, then slipped from there and finished WC 2010 on a downer by allowing a no-excuse near-post goal against Ghana in the elimination game.  Bradley didn’t have a better option in goal, so Howard was never under pressure to perform (or else), but his performance could have been better.  It’s likely that Saturday was the last time you’ll see him in net for the U.S. in a World Cup encounter.

Carlos Bocanegra (7) — The only obvious blemish on his WC 2010 report card was the game-winner on Saturday when Gyan outmuscled him to the ball and fended him off while drilling the ball over Howard’s head.  Other than that, Bocanegra was reliable throughout all four games and was able to play despite coming off a hernia injury back in the spring.  He was one of the team’s better players and, frankly, one of its most surprising performers.

Jay DeMerit (5.5) — Did a nice job shutting down Rooney in the England game, but he was involved in the first goal of that game when he was ball watching on a give-and-go.  Was also a step slow to close down Boateng on his surging strike in the opening moments of the Ghana loss and couldn’t read the play quickly enough on the OT goal and failed to subdue Gyan (along with Bocanegra).  On the whole, though, DeMerit’s performance was acceptable when you consider this was the highest level of soccer he’s ever played.

Steve Cherundulo (7.5) — Splitting hairs – since others will receive a 7.5 rating as well – Cherundulo was the American’s best overall performer in World Cup 2010.  He was beaten for speed a few times in the first half against Ghana, but other than that he was a shut-down force on the outside and was always eager to get involved offensively on the counter-attack.  Was terrific against both England and Algeria.

Oguchi Onyewu (5) — Played in the first two games and then sat the last two, after it appeared he just wasn’t able to compete physically with a dismal performance against Slovenia.  One of the team’s bigger disappointments in World Cup 2010.

Jonathan Bornstein (7) — A surprise replacement for Onyewu, he had two superb performances and was one of the team’s best players in the loss to Ghana.  Heading into the tournament, most followers felt his lack of physical play would keep him from seeing the field, but his soft nature was never on display against Algeria and Ghana and he completely justified Bradley’s decision to use him over Gooch.

Michael Bradley (7.5) — Scored the big goal against Slovenia and found his true role in this tournament, doing all the dirty work in midfield and distributing the ball as well as anyone on the team over the four games.  He was involved in the build-up of a couple of goals against, most notably the first goal in the Slovenia game and the overtime game-winner by Gyan for Ghana.  His habit of not reading the play quickly enough hurt him in both of those instances, but on the whole Bradley was one of the team’s best players throughout the four games and will likely be on the roster in 2014 regardless of his father’s role in the team.

Landon Donovan (7.5) — Ironically, his last two games – in which he scored goals – were the ones in which he was the least effective overall. Was hardly involved at all against Algeria until he pounced on the loose ball in injury time and put it away for one of the biggest goals in American soccer history.  Was again a non-factor against Ghana but did connect on the penalty kick.  Was the best player on the field in the Slovenia game. Overall, it was a very good tournament for Donovan, but his penchant for slipping in and out of the action is still the one thing he has to work on between now and 2014.  Will likely be on the ’14 team, but might not be an every-minute-of-every-game player by that juncture in his career.

Clint Dempsey (6.5) — Other than his fluke goal against England, Dempsey failed to get on the scoresheet at WC 2010 and that alone knocks his performance rating down.  He got better as the tournament went on, though, and was a thorn in Ghana’s side all afternoon in Saturday’s OT loss. Seemed to be more involved when moved up top by Bradley, and that could be his position in the future if he can become more threatening in the air.  Was one of the team’s most reliable performers overall.

Maurice Edu (7) — Gave Bob Bradley everything he had and did so with a variety of responsibilities, depending on the opposition and the score of the game.  Was terrific after subbing for Ricardo Clark against Ghana, stuffing the middle of the field and going shoulder-to-shoulder with the bigger, faster Ghana midfielders.  Lost the ball a little too much for Bradley’s liking in the Algeria game, but his expertise is emerging as a defensive stopper type, not an offensive-threatening midfielder.  Has a decent chance to make the final 23 in 2014, but he’ll need to do better at holding and distributing the ball if he wants to be considered for a starting position.

Jose Torres (6) — Got the start in the Slovenia game, but was bounced off the ball on numerous occasions and earned the 45-minute hook from Bradley and didn’t see the field again.  Should be part of the 2014 team as long as he continues to improve.  Needs to learn to handle the hectic, physical pace of international play, something he obviously wasn’t able to do in his 45 minutes of work against Slovenia.

DaMarcus Beasley (5) — Saw brief action against Algeria but failed to deliver much in 10 minutes.  In hindsight, was probably the wrong guy to add to the final 23, as Bradley could have gone with the more experienced Brian Ching to take Beasley’s spot.

Benny Feilhaber (6.5) — The U.S. “super sub”, Feilhaber was often brought in to give the Americans a different energy in the midfield.  Had his best game against Ghana, nearly scoring in the opening moments of the second half and later dishing off the ball to Dempsey that resulted in the penalty kick for the U.S. when Dempsey was brought down in the box.

Stuart Holden (5) — Saw limited action against England and didn’t do anything worthy of comment.  Could be part of the mix in 2014, but will need to be better with the ball and add creativity to his distribution.

Ricardo Clark (3) — Played in two games and was responsible for a goal against in both of them.  Decision making and lack of vision crippled him on both occasions.  Simply not good enough at the international level.  Not this time around, anyway.

Herculez Gomez (4) — Saw action in 3 of the 4 games and was unable to disinguish himself at all.  Had a glorious opportunity early in the Algeria game and failed to finish it.  Does nothing without the ball and lacks strength and drive with it.  Another questionable selection by Bradley, in hindsight.

Edson Buddle (6) — Showed glimpses of something in his two appearances, but was mysteriously unused by Bradley in the Ghana game.  Had a point blank scoring chance against Algeria and failed to head it in, but showed more grit and savvy than Gomez without question.  With improvement, might be one of the starting forwards in 2014.

Jozy Altidore (6.5) — No goals in four games is unacceptable from the forward who played every minute of regulation (360).  Put himself about quite a bit in the four games and was a handful to contain, physically, but was never able to finish a chance despite having four or five gift opportunities.  Was horrendous and uninterested in the first half of the Ghana game, but bounced back to have a spirited final 45 minutes and wore down Jonathan Mensah throughout the 2nd half.  Subbed in overtime of that game, a sign that perhaps Bradley had finally lost faith in him.

Robbie Findley (4) — Another major disappointment and someone who played far more than his production warranted.  Had the chance of a lifetime in the first half of the Ghana game and looked like a high schooler with the ball, simply drilling a shot into the body of Richard Kingson (GK) from 12 yards out.  Offered little in the England or Slovenia game and then sat out the Algeria win after earning two yellow cards.  He’s quick and willing to go forward, but his finishing will have to improve in order to be seriously considered for 2014.

Coach Bob Bradley (6) — Was cruising along with a fine WC 2010 until he somehow inserted both Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley into the lineup and saw them both stink up the joint.  Commenting afterwards, Bradley remarked that with two games in four days, he felt “fresh legs” might be the difference in the game and he was right.  Clark’s “fresh legs” and Findley’s “fresh legs” helped Ghana win.  On the other hand, Bradley sniffed out right away that Onyewu wasn’t capable of competing and surprisingly handed the starting job to Jonathan Bornstein and he came through with flying colors.  Might his team have been better with Brian Ching on the roster instead of Findley or Clark or Beasley?  Perhaps. It’s likely that Bradley won’t be the coach in 2014, but he was the right man for the job in 2010 and will go down as a successful coach for the U.S. National Team, guiding them to a 6th straight World Cup appearance.

Top five U.S. Performers in WC 2010 (must have played 100 total minutes or made 2 starts)

1. Landon Donovan

2. Steve Cherundulo

3. Michael Bradley

4. Clint Dempsey

5. Jonathan Bornstein

Bottom five U.S. performers in WC 2010 (must have played 100 minutes or made 2 starts)

1. Ricardo Clark

2. Herculez Gomez

3. Robbie Findley

4. Oguchi Onyewu

5. Tim Howard