Home > Uncategorized, US Men's National Team > Two red cards, two 3-1 losses, and yet two wildly different results: Accrington Stanley v. Fulham and USA v. Honduras

Two red cards, two 3-1 losses, and yet two wildly different results: Accrington Stanley v. Fulham and USA v. Honduras

Jimmy Conrad

Jimmy Conrad: Not South Africa-bound

Yesterday morning (eastern standard time, at any rate), in England’s cold northwest, League Two side Accrington Stanley took the field against Premiership side Fulham. Despite Leeds United’s recent successes against top-class Premiership sides, few honestly expected Accrington–a full division lower–to pull off an upset. And they didn’t. After levelling the game at 1-1 in the 25th minute, their hopes were dashed when Darran Kemptson was shown a deserved red card after a bad foul on Zoltan Gera.

The game was over. Fulham went on to win 3-1. Yet anyone who watched the match probably thought that the final score didn’t reflect the run of play. Even down a man, Accrington Stanley held its ground, passed well, and continued to press forward. Fulham’s victory, and goals, came not so much from luck, but from the intangible bit of class that defines top-flight Premership players (see Zoltan Gera’s goal, the third of the match, for reference).

Jump in space and time over to the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, 9pm Eastern Standard Time. The United States national soccer team, featuring predominantly MLS players, is playing against a Honduras side fielding only six normal starters. Despite fielding a so-called “B” team, the United States is still favored to win–it is a home match, after all, and, excepting a 5-0 drubbing by Mexico, the B team played well against CONCACAF opposition in the Gold Cup last summer.

The game starts messily for both teams, which is more or less expected considering that most of the Americans haven’t played a competitive match in months. The reasonable expectation is that the play will settle down as the game progresses, as the Americans start to feel comfortable with one another. Right.

In the 17th minute Jimmy Conrad gives the slightest of tugs to Jerry Palacios, who goes down far too easily in the box. The Mexican referee, who apparently didn’t get the memo that this was an international friendly and perhaps not the occasion for soft red cards, flashes Conrad his second yellow and points to the penalty spot. Goal, Honduras, 1-0.

***

When all was said and done the US had lost 3-1 in an ugly, ugly performance. The two Honduran goals scored after the penalty were not touches of pure class but capitalizations of American defensive mistakes. In the 27th minute, Palcacios dove from between two American defenders to head the ball past Troy Perkins. In the 54th minute, some cheeky triangle passing left a clueless Marvell Wynne stranded at the top of the box. His mark, Roger Espinoza, remained free inside the area, finishing his chance easily.

Yet it wasn’t just defensive errors that defined the loss for the US.

“I thought our passing was poor,” Bob Bradley said after the match. “Some passes that could’ve been played on the ground ended up in guys’ chests.”

Indeed. Except for Benny Feilhaber’s usual sublime touches and passes, the midfield was a mess of misplaced passes and wild first touches. The whole team, as usual, played rushed rushed rushed. The speed did not match the technical ability, resulting in messy, inconsistent play at all ends of the field. It was a wholly and sadly deserved loss.

***

The difference between the US national team’s performance and Accrington Stanley’s is important. Yes, we can make excuses: Accrington was playing in the oldest soccer competition in the world, and were in mid-season form, whereas the Americans were mostly in their off-seasons and playing nothing more than a friendly. But this was a League Two side playing on a wet cold bumpy field against Fulham, a well-managed and workmanlike Premiership side that was fielding–current injuries excepted–its best players. And the Americans were playing in a friendly, sure, but this was less a friendly than a World Cup tryout. The motivation ought to have been there.

A team that is down to ten men succeeds not just through superior fitness, but also by continuing to possess the ball as much as possible in the midfield and the opponent’s end (albeit to a lesser degree than if they were full strength). This is only accomplished through superior tactics: quick, one-and-two touch passing, smart movement off the ball, and superior first touches. Accrington Stanley did this. The US did not.

In the Confederations Cup last summer, Bradley’s advantages were made evident: his ability to get the most from his players, to drive them forward and forward with determination and resolve. His team’s play with heart, and when mixed with the imported class of the US “A” players, on a given day they can beat the best in the world.

By collapsing before our eyes against a mediocre Honduras side, certainly the weaknesses of the US “B”–and the gulf between the A and B sides–was left bare for all to see. But so was the lack of real soccer class in Bradley’s system–the dependence on heart, grit, and fitness and the stubborn resistance to sound tactical basics and intelligent, timely substitutions. It’s a system that can bring big upsets and that can grind out important results against weak CONCACAF opposition. But it is not a system that should make US fans resoundingly confident about South Africa.

***

I’d love some feedback, as always. Am I putting too much emphasis on a simple friendly? Overly critical of Bradley? Also, for a good read of the Accrington Stanley-Fulham match, check out the Times Online’s write up here.

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  1. Big E
    January 27, 2010 at 3:05 am

    All true, but the caption is wrong. I still think Jimmy Conrad makes the 2010 roster. Just maybe not the captain’s armband again.

    • K.M. Morris
      January 28, 2010 at 1:17 am

      Fair point, Big E. I think I was a little harsh on Conrad, actually.

  1. January 26, 2010 at 12:28 am

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