Monday, February 9, 2015

Confirmation Bias and the U.S. Win over Panama

As we all know, you don't always get to view games in environments that foster complete focus. You can be at a bar, for example, in a seat miles away from the TV showing the game with some god-awful regional college football game hogging the rest of the atmosphere and all of the volume. And anyone who takes any interest in the game you're watching only does so long enough to tell you he/she hates soccer. Which is nice. It’s also possible that you're spending that time with family who feel like friends and friends who feel like family. I had the latter, better experience on Sunday when the United States took on Panama.

So, no, I didn't watch the game too closely, just enough to form a general impression. A Panamanian attack or two produced a mildly anxious start, but that only afflicted the U.S. like a low-grade fever till Michael Bradley broke it with that silky Olimpico. Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey combined for a slick little goal a few minutes later and that ended the game in just about every way. Panama's efforts foundered after that and generally in the U.S. midfield. If I'm not mistaken, Sean Johnson, the U.S. 'keeper for the second half, touched the ball just once.

The win was nice, but only in the same way as a 50-degree day in January: fine, but only remarkable due to circumstance. When I got home, though (again, see visiting), I sat down and read a bunch of match analysis. Most of that confirmed what I was able to piece together in between watching toddlers careen around over hardwood flooring. Hold on...taking a break to pat myself on the back...wait, not as flexible as I used to be...OK, got it. There, that felt good.

Now, to delve a little deeper...hold on, one more. I saved Matt Doyle's "Three Things" article for my last read yesterday because I generally agree with his thinking enough that I feel smart when I'm done. So, read that. I'll wait. Back yet? OK, good. the nitty-gritty.

As pointed out by Doyle and elsewhere, the U.S. reverted to its familiar 4-4-2 (or maybe it was a 4-2-3-1), Bradley lined up deeper, Jermaine Jones had Matt Besler to cover him, etc. I think this was better, but, to credit some guy named "Kev," who posted a comment on SBI's breakdown, the U.S. would have been wiser to experiment with a 3-5-2 against Panama instead of Chile because that's a better measuring stick for a variety of reasons (good on ya, Kev!). By common consent, though, Bradley played looser and better than he has in months, but that applied to just about everyone whose name contains neither  "DeAndre" nor "Yedlin." Basically, every time I looked up, I saw the U.S. rolling toward Panama's goal, with either Bradley or Zardes or Dempsey leading the charge. And that's good.

Relevant to that, I read/heard/saw someone deflect away Zardes' assist to Dempsey to celebrate the same player's chest-bump near-assist to Michael Bradley (ah, there it is; in the body of SBI's breakdown). That’s a good thing to flag, because there's no replacement for having good ideas in and around the area. This is definitely a place where more meets merrier.

After that, it seems like Jurgen Klinsmann can't say or do anything lately without inviting a lot of second guessing. His choices of personnel with whom to experiment proved no exception. As asked in their write-up, where was Wil Trapp, or more minutes for Luis Gil or Lee Nguyen? I second those questions with Trapp and Gil, in particular, especially given what Herr Klinsmanns's musings about what he might do with next January's camp (related: does this smack of arrogance and an inability to trust others to anyone else?) . This time around, at least, Klinsmann came up aces with Zardes by universal assent. Against that, fewer people bought into the Miguel Ibarra experiment and small wonder - from what I saw, his afternoon amounted to a flubbed cross and running that broke equally between impressively fast and disturbing aimless. Klinsmann, meanwhile, seems a little too eager to prove his reading of this player. Oh, and to claim unseemly credit for Bradley's Olimpico (he comes perilously close to saying he planned it in here).

It's kind of a nothing game in the end, even if the crappy run that came before inflated its importance. In the end, though, Panama is Panama. Only an idiot takes them lightly, but we own the series against them for inescapable reasons like resources, population, interest, etc. They're improving, without question, but zero to one is 100% improvement by definition. A loss here would have been embarrassing, but nothing more, no jobs lost, no one dropped irrevocably from the U.S. Men's set-up and so on. And, yes, that's a problem, if only in context. Another post for another day...

I'll wrap this up by seconding or quibbling with the player ratings posted on (yeah, yeah, I'm working on expanding my sources; gimme time). Here goes:

1) The comment on Besler's passing (e.g. “smooth” at 67 of 68) bears noting for future experimentation with the 3-5-2. I got into a quibble with a (smart) guy on reddit about using Besler (or someone else) as a stopper and Jones as a sweeper; he assumed I meant in terms of formation, but I was really talking about function. I don't care if Klinsmann wants to play Jones as a defender and let him wander, but only if he's got someone who stays at home behind/beside him. In other words, I like a four-man back-line, or a loosely-interpreted three-man backline.

2) I saw Mix Diskerud, but only when he was closing down the opposition. I don't remember any clearly positive contributions, but I might have on closer viewing.

3) I don't think Jozy Altidore earned a 6.5 (nor did Ibarra). He did look eager, though (as did Ibarra). That said, I won't mind seeing him again (or Ibarra).

4) I was pretty well tuned out by the time the subs came on. So, um, their ratings don't mean much to me.

All for now. Like a lot of people, I think we'll learn more from the next camp and set of friendlies. Camp Cupcake/Struedel was definitely a wash this year. Unfortunately, the stuff that came before it, notably the blowout loss to Ireland, was emphatically not a wash. More later...and, hopefully, on some different people.

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