The Wales Draw -- And Looking Forward
(Please see testy analysis by George Wilson and John McDermott, below)
Soccer is a cruel sport.
Always was, still is.
One team can plan well and play well and take a lead that has its
fans dreaming of the old soccer cliché, “a just result.”
Then one mistake can nullify much of the careful work.
That is what happened with the United States in the World Cup on Monday – or rather, that is what the U.S. did to itself. One sloppy tackle turned a victory into a 1-1 draw, setting up the next week of apprehension and doubt and maybe even fear.
Could it happen again? Athletes have to fight off that feeling, but it is not easy, knowing how easily a lead can vanish, with the flourish of a pair of soccer boots.
I was sitting in front of the tube, watching the U.S. play its best
soccer in many months, and I was trying to put together the reasons this was happening.
I was giving some credit to the coach, Gregg Berhalter, who has not won over hard-core fans yet -- judging from some of the snide remarks on the Elon Musk Daily Blatt -- despite Berhalter's lifer pedigree as a stalwart on the 2002 quarterfinalist team.
Berhalter had a huge hand in choosing the squad, and the starting lineup. I learned this around 2010 when I spent a few days with Bob Bradley as he prepared for the 2010 World Cup. I saw how he and his assistants (Jesse Marsch, now of Leeds United), had daily contact and tapes from scouts and spies and American players overseas. Coaches know who is on a roll, and who is not, and very often why.
Listening to the grapevine, Berhalter recalled Tim Ream, a defender who seemed to have fallen out of favor with the national staff. However, Ream, 35, was being reborn on the Fulham team in the Premier League of England, playing alongside the outside left back, Antonee Robinson, 25 and lanky and ambitious, with his American passport and his Everton roots. Robinson likes to take off downfield, sometimes winding up near the goal, assured that Ream likes to stay at home.
The pair of Ream and Robinson is not exactly Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, the great back-line engine of the AC Milan team and the Italian national team of the 1980s-1990s, but it’s an honor to pop up in the same conversation.
Coaches make other decisions, the way Berhalter did in naming Tyler Adams captain -- a tribute to Adams and also a favor to Christian Pulisic, who labors under the terrible injustice of being labeled the face of the current U.S. generation. Pulisic is too flightly, too moody, to be a leader.
The decision by Berhalter helped both players. Adams played a 360-degree sheriff in midfield while Pulisic free-lanced, slipping an elegant little forward pass to Tim Weah, who found a corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Decisions like this made the U.S. dominate well into second half, with . Gareth Bale, 33, playing in his first World Cup, seemed to be puffing hard with every breath. But Bale did not excel this long without inner resources. In the 80th minute, Bale materialized in front of the U.S. goal and defender Walker Zimmerman, knowing not to give him space, slid recklessly into Bale’s feet – certainly worth a penalty kick at that spot, at that time.
Bale, with the poise of a long-time star, waited for the keeper to commit, and then put the ball high and to the right.
The sizeable red-clad Welsh section began to sing. Well, of course they sang. Take it from a long-time visitor to Wales, everybody in Wales sings, whether Bryn Terfel from Pant Glas or Tom Jones from PontyPridd, or Shirley Bassey from Cardiff or Bonnie Tyler from Skewen, near Swansea, whether in a church chorus or an eisteddfod, a regional session of music and poetry.
Every Welsh person in Qatar or far-away Wales no doubt sang, as Wales drew 1-1, pretty much ruining the start by the U.S., as U.S. fans yelp at Berhalter: where was Gio Reyna?
Now both squads have to take on rebuilt England and unimpressive Iran -- no guarantee of advancing to the second round, no promises of a "just result."
* * *
(Guest Commentary by George Wilson (our grandson)
To start I think that Wales bringing on Kieffer Moore changed the game and allowed them to hold the ball up the field, something they failed to do in the first half. This completely bewildered Berhalter and he didn’t seem to have an answer to it, which shows from the second-half stats. We were outplayed and probably deserved a draw.
It’s frustrating to see a coach whose only experience comes from the Swedish Division and at the Columbus Crew get out-coached by the opposition simply putting a big guy up top. Another indictment of the Berhalter system is that our only shot on goal yielded a goal -- this is not sustainable for any sort of success.
We will not win anything if we cannot create chances and test the keeper. Playing the ball wide to Pulisic for him to cut inside and play a ball in simply cannot be our only avenue of attack. On that note -- why is Pulisic taking our corners? His delivery really leaves a lot to be desired and I just can’t imagine he’s the best choice for them.
In a lot of ways, Berhalter is emblematic of the USA - he’s flashy, knows the right people and can sell a big idea but upon delivery it is immediately clear something is off. He’s the McKinsey consultant of soccer with a fun shoe collection. His focus on positive reinforcement places him closer to BF Skinner than to Joachim Löw.
So now, with England looming on Friday the question is what tweaks will Berhalter make? I expect an over-correction on his part. The only thing that gives me the slightest glimmer of hope is that Southgate is nearly as inept as Berhalter. I’d predict a loss to England barring several moments of divine intervention.
11/22/2022 12:57:43 am
Tyler Adams was the fulcrum and he was nearly flawless. Pulisic was a tireless source of energy and creativity and just when it mattered he delivered a perfect pass to the cool and composed Tim Weah. The fullbacks were strong, as was McKennie. Tim Ream was steady and reassuring at the back. Then, ust when the Americans looked like they not only belonged but like they could actually do something really good in this tournament, it began to slowly unravel. Three subs had the opposite effect to that which the coach had surely intended. The game changed, and not in a positive way. Then a loss of composure by a central defender and-poof!-two points down the drain. Maybe I am too conservative in my approach, but three subs all at once, then another one very shortly thereafter, is never a great idea. In any case, the USA went in an instant from being a convincing, cohesive side that looked like they belonged to one which will now be holding its breath while trying to squeak through to the next round. I don't see England dropping any points in their next two games. Wales never really looked very good, but they should beat Iran. So it will all come down to goal difference between Wales and the USA-if the USA can, as it should do, also beat Iran. In the meantime, as George says, "Where was Gio Reyna?"
11/22/2022 07:04:00 am
The game is just like life.
11/22/2022 08:23:15 am
Hi George: Brazil is a champion of the unjust results in the World Cups of the '50s, 78, 82, 86, and many other games. The U.S. went very well against Wales. But... it's soccer...
11/22/2022 11:22:16 am
My first priority is to record the games, as I am busy with work and otherwise and unable to watch live.
11/23/2022 09:31:40 am
The knockout stage of the World Cup always tense and full of drama. However, the group stage as the feel of the early rounds of a NCAA championship basketball tournament. Many a surprise upset when a top seed gets knocked out by a14, 15 or 16th seed.
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.