Home > World Cup > U.S. v. Ghana: Initial Impressions

U.S. v. Ghana: Initial Impressions

It ends in the same place it did in 2006: a 2-1 loss to Ghana.  But unlike 2006, there is no sense that the U.S. got cheated.  We earned our yellow cards.  Failed to put the ball in the net in the run of play.  And allowed a team that had only scored two goals (both on penalty kicks) to score twice on good strikes.

Will Bradley’s decision to start Clark be criticized?  Of course.  Even Bradley seemed to admit it, taking out Clark in the 31′ minute and brining in the man everyone expected to start: Maurice Edu.  (Bradley said in post-game interviews that the decision was based on the yellow card Clark earned after retaliating for the goal.)  Edu came into the match completing 76% of his passes.  Clark managed only 53%.  And today, while Edu completed 69% of his passes, Clark managed only 54%.  In the middle of the field, you need players who can move the ball well.  Michael Bradley can:  completing 68% of his passes and leading the squad with Jay DeMerit in passes completed (47).

But the score was tied from the 62′ minute until the 93′.  The U.S. clawed back from possessing the ball less than 33% of the time to a 51-49 split with Ghana.  And both teams completed roughly 60% of their passes (US-60%, Ghana-63%), put six shots on goal, though the US took more total shots (20 to Ghana’s 16), and averaged the same speed (14.3 mph).

So where’s the problem?  I’ve said it time and time again:  it’s passing.  Ghana passed 711 times to our 632.  Their two forwards (Gyan and Prince) totalled 59 completed passes.  As for Altidore, Findley, and Gomez?  19.  Altidore led the way with nine.

Combined, our forwards completed fewer passes than either of theirs.  In other words, when the ball got up to our forwards, they either shot it or lost it.  We didn’t do much better passing in the Confederations Cup:  where the U.S. lost in the final to Brazil.

Altidore’s completed passes in that tournament:

ITA 8
BRA 8
EGY 14
ESP 13
BRA 12

And Charlie Davies’ stats:

ITA 4
BRA
EGY 8
ESP 13
BRA 6

So, what’s the impact on the match?  Players run more and give up possession too quickly.  It’s like in football: if your defense is on the field for a long time, most coaches want their offense to work some running plays into their scheme: run some time off the clock and give their defense a chance to rest.  But there’s no rest for the weary in the U.S.  who ran 8,000 meters more than Ghana did.  That’s almost five miles more running.

I recognize that there is a whole school of thought that the U.S.’s apathy towards passing is part of a brilliant strategy.  Certainly, the best/most frequent passing teams do not always advance.  But look at the list of Group Stage passing by team.  PC = Passes Completed and PCR = Pass Completion Rate.  Italicized teams did not advance.

Team PC PCR
Brazil 1647 84%
Spain 1630 80%
Argentina 1468 78%
Germany 1424 78%
Netherlands 1346 74%
England 1221 73%
Italy 1220 73%
Mexico 1209 76%
Cameroon 1201 73%
Portugal 1145 75%
Côte d’Ivoire 1125 76%
Chile 1112 74%
Serbia 1074 72%
South Africa 1058 74%
Algeria 1058 72%
Ghana 1053 74%
Paraguay 1051 69%
Australia 1045 70%
Denmark 1036 73%
France 1004 70%
Slovenia 915 69%
Korea Republic 904 68%
USA 871 68%
Slovakia 870 67%
Greece 842 68%
Switzerland 832 68%
Korea DPR 804 65%
Nigeria 799 68%
Uruguay 787 66%
Honduras 757 64%
Japan 709 62%
New Zealand 663 61%

Notice that all of the top six passing teams advance.  Eight of the top ten.  The top 16 teams in passes completed had an average of 3.8 goals scored in the Group Stage.  The bottom 16 teams in that category averaged 2.9 goals.

Are completed passes a guaranteed ticket to the next round?  Obviously not.  But the more passes you can string together, the better your chances of winning.

UPDATE: As usual, all statistics in this post compiled from those provided by FIFA.com

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Categories: World Cup
  1. June 26, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Nice to see Africa still represented in the quarter finals

    • Michael
      June 26, 2010 at 6:51 pm

      While I would prefer it hadn’t come at our expense, Africa has been a tremendous host. Ghana could keep the continent cheering at least into the semi-finals.

  2. July 1, 2010 at 12:33 am

    I wanted the states to win… oh well, Uruguay vs Ghana will be a nice game.

    • Michael
      July 3, 2010 at 8:52 am

      You called it. Was on the road and had to listen to the match, but quite a good one. And the Suarez ban could be an interesting precedent.

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