USA soccer is packing up its bags and making the trek back to the states after a disappointing 2-1 defeat versus Ghana in extra time of their Round of 16 match. However, before the team ever even took the field, USA soccer fans were questioning what was happening. What was Bob Bradley thinking with the starting 11 he slotted in before the match?
Bradley is a coach known for his eccentric lineups, player selections and substitutions, and by and large they have worked out fantastically throughout the World Cup qualifying stages and in the Group stage of the final tournament. Credit is deserved for that. However, his lineup selection for the USA vs. Ghana Round of 16 match was curious, if not inexcusable.
Robbie Findley and Ricardo Clark were both reinserted into the starting lineup. Neither player had seen much success in the Group stage. In their place, players such as Benny Feilhaber and Maurice Edu were making things happen. They were winning balls in the middle of the field, creating scoring opportunities and sticking with their men on defense.
The USA went down early yet again in the match against Ghana, this time in just the fifth minute. It was Clark who gave up the ball, and he was then substituted out early in the first half after picking up a yellow card. The substitution wasted a valuable move usually reserved for late in the second half of matches. Findley had a great scoring opportunity and put a terrible shot on net, a missed opportunity and another wasted effort.
Edu was the player who came in for Clark early in the first half. Feilhaber came in at halftime. Both players, particularly Feilhaber, played a large role as the USA soccer team surged in the beginning of the second half, eventually tying up the game on a penalty kick by Landon Donovan. But our hand was dealt. We had no more substitutions… they were wasted bringing in the players who should have started.
As such, Ghana retook control by the end of the second half, against gassed USA players who could not be changed out. One substitution in extra time of a tied game was not enough. Ghana was fresher, with more energy, and was able to break through a porous USA defense yet again for another weak goal, this time the clincher.
Asked about whether he started the strongest 11 after the game in a televised on-field interview, Bradley said he had confidence in all of the players, and he always questions decisions after the fact, continuing, “It is what it is.” Yes, it is what it is…. and the results are that a winnable game was lost, and a weak starting lineup for USA soccer contributed greatly to that outcome.
The USA soccer team could not have asked for a better group and a better bracket in the knockout stages to make it as far as the semifinals, avoiding all of the powerhouses like Brazil, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany. But the team failed to pull through, and the culprit was a combination of poor early game play and inexcusable tactics and player selections by coach Bradley. The USA vs. Ghana Round of 16 game is a match that will be long remembered for all of the wrong reasons, a crushing blow to the growing momentum of soccer in the United States.