The US Soccer Team took its first steps on the road to the World Cup Finals in Brazil. And they’re tired already. Last Friday’s 3-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda, followed by Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Guatemala, served the reminder that qualifying, while mandatory, ain’t easy. It’s the same old mantra for qualifying out of our region: win at home, draw on the road.
Juergen Klinsmann will take the results. He will also have to take some of the criticism, because the team looked pretty underwhelming and was actually pretty fortunate not to lose that last game. The players were obviously tired, from Juergen’s demanding fitness schedule following long club seasons. Roster/player selections were an issue, as were some of the deployments and tactics. While we applaud the overall strategy and philosophy the coach is trying to implement, a year in and we’re still wary…
But the team is off until September, when it will play Jamaica twice in five days. Win at home, draw on the road, get to the next round. Still, we need to improve depth and the offensive gameplan to win the Hex and arrive at Brazil in position to make some noise.
Five points in the pentagram…
- This is Clint’s team now. Not just because he pops up and scores the important goals, not just because the rest of his teammates look to him to playmake and shoot, but you can just tell that Clint Dempsey’s time is now. Hopefully Klinsmann can figure out the most optimal tactical approach to maximize his skills and toughness. We don’t really need him dropping far back in the midfield, and you don’t want him too isolated out wide. I still say he’s as close to an advanced #10 as the US is likely to see. Clint’s going to get hacked a lot. He’s going to score. He’s going to over-dribble at times. You know what they say about having your best player also be the toughest, hardest worker – that’s an awesome asset right now.
- Juergen needs to keep looking at midfield options. The ball just isn’t moving with enough fluidity through the center, and your best midfielder – Michael Bradley – needs to be closer to the goal. Mo Edu is great at recovery and squashing counters, but his passing was pretty bad. Jermaine Jones works hard, tackles, hard, but he was trying to playmake and advance too much. He’s much better for Schalke when he plays simple and defends. Right now, we would argue for dropping one of Edu or Jones (probably Edu), having Jones play the deep d-mid, and inserting Jose Torres alongside Bradley. If Stuart Holden ever gets healthy, he’d be perfect here. Danny Williams probably figures here as well. If Juergen insists on deploying the three-man central tandem, we must get better passing and less turnovers from the d-mid spot.
- Must incorporate the younger defenders. Bocanegra and Cherundolo are both a whisker away from being done. Onyewu appears to be past it. Klinsmann has to find reps for the up-and-coming defenders in the pool. You just have to accept the fact that Boca and Stevie won’t be guaranteed 90-minute guys two years from now. Again, we’ve harped on Eric Lichaj’s exclusion from this camp. Get him in ASAP. It was good to see Geoff Cameron quietly spell Clarence Goodson in the second half of the Guatemala game: he was efficient and safe. Guys like Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and even Timothy Chandler (if he snaps out of it) need to be involved. The sooner the better.
- Still not sold on the 4-3-3. It looks good at times, and we like the flexibility to drop into the 4-5-1, but why not try a diamond-midfield 4-4-2? Why not at least trot it out? Let your outside backs continue to provide width while your midfielders pinch in as necessary. Let Clint play attacking mid with freedom to roam. Deploy Landon as more of a link-up with license to cut in. Get two strikers on the field! This has to happen when Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo get it rolling again, because the prospect of one or both of them partnering with the wily Herculez Gomez is just too good.
- We need the flexible nasty. After the Brazil friendly, Juergen talked about needing to ‘be nasty’ to get results. We don’t disagree with that at all. This team sometimes defers too quickly or allows the opponent to manipulate the refs too much. At the same time, here’s some advice for the coach: keep it flexible, Juergen. The coach talks about his depth-chart and who is ahead of whom in the pecking order, based on camps, club form, etc. He has his rating criteria (which we’d love to see; I imagine a spreadsheet with separate components). The only problem with that is it forces some rigidity on the player selections. Just like we need to be able to play in several different formations, Juergen needs to understand that sometimes you have to call in a young guy or a creative player and give them a shot. This team could use some Freddy Adu or Josh Gatt or Benny Feilhaber in certain situations. But who knows how far down they are on Juergen’s depth-chart? Say one thing for Bob Bradley – he capped a lot of players and gave a lot of opportunities early in the process. Klinsmann would do well to adopt this approach also.