Filed under: 2014, American Soccer, International Football, USMNT | Tags: Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF, CONCACAF Qualifying, hercules gomez, Jamaica, Jozy Altidore, Jurgen Klinsmann, landon donovan, marcelo, Michael Bradley, Michael Parkhurst, oguchi onyewu, steve cherundolo, Tim Howard, Tim Ream, Timmy Chandler, USMNT, World Cup 2014, World Cup Qualifying
Flash back to the night of May 26. The U.S. had just drubbed Scotland to extend their winning streak to five international matches with a +8 goal differential. To add to the excitement, the streak included three wins over European teams, including two in Europe and a win over a South American team. Since then Team USA has come back down to earth, winning just one of four and drawing with Canada and Guatemala in a group of four very poor performances. What should fans take away from this downturn? Is this merely growing pains on the way to a quality 2014 showing or is this the emergence of fatal flaws in a mediocre squad that will struggle to even qualify for Brazil?
The first lesson in international soccer is to never trust the results from friendlies. Individual performances or general trends can be evaluated, but the results themselves are at best misleading and most likely irrelevant. Even when the wins were coming in, the U.S. struggled to finish in the final third. While their build up was growing in its effectiveness, chances were oftentimes squandered with poor efforts toward goal. The exception to this, of course, was the Scotland friendly, when Landon Donovan went off for three goals and Michael Bradley was rewarded for consistent hard work. To the disappointment to fans, the team, and Herr Klinsmann, this lethality is officially the exception to the trend and not the trend itself. Four consecutive disappointments have shown that Clint Dempsey remains the only true threat to defenses. Marcelo showed the world how to shut down Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore has not been able to bring his European domestic form to the USMNT. Hercules Gomez has been a bright spot, but he needs to improve drastically to avoid a scenario where Dempsey is surrounded by 4 or 5 defenders whenever he touches the ball throughout qualifying.
On the other side of the pitch, the U.S. defense has continued its turnover from a slow collection of defenders to a younger, faster group of defenders. The problem with this change is the element that has remained the same, poor defending. Given the choice, a coach would want players who have the speed to recover from their mistakes, but it would also be nice if those mistakes never happened in the first place. As sad as it is to say, Oguchi Onyewu has to be done with the national team. He simply doesn’t have it anymore. His mistakes have been consistently costly and Klinsmann would be foolish to trust him out there with a World Cup birth on the line. The same could be said for Michael Parkhurst. Fabian Johnson has been a nice addition to the last line, but he must continue to refine his defensive skills to become a rock on the left side. Timmy Chandler’s indecision has hurt an already thin squad, and if he flips to Germany as many expect the U.S. squad will be in poor shape for the remainder of qualifying. Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo have been good but not great, but their leadership and experience is sorely needed on the back line. Clarence Goodson has improved over the last 18 months and the USMNT needs him, Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream to provide Jurgen some choices in selection. All in all, Tim Howard will still have to save the day throughout qualification. While Howard is very good, he is not the elite goalkeeper that can win points on his own, the U.S. defense must improve for the team to earn a ticket to Brazil.
Overall, the USMNT is getting better as time goes on, but they need to find a way to accentuate its strengths in Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley while hiding is weak defense and lack of scoring options to qualify for Brazil in 2014. These next two matches against Jamaica will likely be a turning point in this campaign, let’s hope it is in a positive direction.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment