USA World Cup Scrub

Yedlin = the Future

A couple of days since the USA Soccer team exited the World Cup – beat by a better team in Belgium, but defiant and unbroken in the end.  Everyone has acknowledged the brilliance of Tim Howard, the heart and drive of the field players, as well as their lack of possession and  finishing.  As much as the Team America was outplayed on the ball by Beligum, had Wondolowski and Dempsey scored on a couple of key chances, we could well be talking about one more game against Messi and Argentina.  SI.com’s Grant Wahl summed up the match very nicely (as usual).

Meanwhile, as mass attention begins to drift away from the team, the die hard American fans have begun the debate on strategy and tactics.  We made it out of the Group of Death – unexpected by most.  But we did so playing typically gritty, defensive-minded and opportunistic soccer.  This is not how Jurgen Klinsmann said we would play.  Did we make it to the knock-out rounds because of the coaching staff’s approach and preparations, or in spite of their tactics and roster selections?   Continue reading

Our 23 vs. Klinsi’s

Since Jurgen Klinsmann cut Landon Donovan while trimming his World Cup roster to 23 players this past week, Beemsville has run the reaction gamut:  disbelief, anger, sadness…  But mostly disbelief.  Veteran soccer commentators like Alexi Lalas and Grant Wahl will tell us an emotional reaction is to be expected (and it’s a good thing for U.S. Soccer); after all, Landon has been the face of the National Team for going on a decade.  He’s the greatest player our country has ever produced, scored more goals, had more assists, and come up clutch in big moments throughout his career.  Has he slowed down a step?  Sure.  But since he was quicker than virtually everyone else to begin with…  And since his game is also based on intelligence, technique, timing…  Well, we still can’t believe Jurgen made this call.

Still can’t believe we’re going to line up against Ghana in less than a month, and Number 10 won’t be on the pitch (or at least on the bench).  We’ve listened to a few podcasts, read a ton of articles, and from Taylor Twellman to Brian Sciaretta, we can’t find one person who thinks this was the right call.

What does this say about Jurgen?  He’s certainly a man with a plan.  He’s certainly said all kinds of stuff about earning it, competing, etc., but as Alexi Lalas said, it comes down to personal preference.  And that preference seems to favor the young, and untested.  The problem we have here, is it once again throws the coaching staff’s judgement into question.  Is Jurgen trying to win now or is this part of his construction plan for the next cycle?  Is this to make the World Cup more about him?   Because as of right now, every match played is a referendum on the Landon cut.

So let’s have a look at the Klinsmann 23 and compare it to the final Beemsville 23 from earlier this month:

Continue reading

Pentagram – USA v. Mex in the Desert

The General celebrates new shirts and a goal

Say this for the new away kit:  It looked a lot better in action than it does on the promo material…  And along with the new bomb-pop shirt, Jurgen trotted out a diamond midfield – something the EA Sports FIFA Soccer series tells us is always a good idea (offensively, at least).  Recently heralded German-American, Julian Green – all of 18 years old – debuted and showed some flashes.  And as good as the American midfield looked in the first half, the Mexicans adjusted and controlled the first portion of the second half.

So even though a brutally bad offisides call robbed Eddie Johnson of a clinical goal in the final ten minutes of the game, which would have given the U.S. the win, we’ll take a 2-2 tie.  We’ll also take note of who’s ready and who’s not, because the naming of the World Cup preliminary roster is only a month away.

Five points in this USA-Mexico pentagram from Arizona…

Continue reading

Pentagram: Stayin’ Gold

Jurgen, Landon, and the boys have brought the Gold Cup back to U.S. Soccer. It’s our region’s championship (flawed as it is), which we equate directly to winning your conference or division championship in other sports. The goal is to win it, but it’s not the ultimate or final goal.  Still, in terms of a barometer (or benchmark, as Jurgen would say), this is a competition you want to win as a building block for Brazil 2014.

Champs

The 1-0 victory in Chicago’s final had a few surprises.  First, that so many fans who likely initially bought tickets to cheer for Mexico showed up to support the U.S.  Yes, we are a county of divided loyalties among a large segment of our fandom, but this is still a sign of progress.  Second, that the USA was unable to score more goals on Panama (EJ should have had a second), although the Panamanians are looking tough and should be on track to qualify for the World Cup.

Probably the most positive and welcome surprise is the first point in our post-Gold Cup Pentagram…

Continue reading

Pentagram: Utility Wins for the USA

US Soccer can see Brazil on the horizon.  Thanks to two wins in the last week, last Friday’s 2-1 victory in Jamaica and Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat of Panama in Seattle, Jurgen Klinsmann and co. are top of the Hex in World Cup Qualifying.  The team has 10 points from five games over this first stretch that included three road games.  16 points has guaranteed qualification in past cycles, and with a majority of home games remaining, a win next Tues. over Honduras and the team can shift emphasis a bit.  It will be more about building the team and less worrying about getting to Brazil next summer.

The team also looks much, much better.  A number of factors contribute here:  time together, diminished quality of opponents, and a likely change in some coaching/communication methods.  The key component has been the emergence of important utility players, who have stepped into new or less familiar roles.  This can be a tricky proposition; oftentimes when you play guys outside their natural or familiar club position, they’re tentative or ineffective.  But Jurgen seems to have pushed the right buttons in this case, and his plug-and-play lineups have succeeded – at least against these regional opponents.

Five points for your two World Cup Qualifier utility wins…  Continue reading

Pentagram: Schooled in Cleveland

The U.S. Soccer Team found out what facing a World Cup Quality opponent will be like with this current roster.  The result, a 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland, pointed out the obvious flaws – mostly in the back and up front.  Team America, without three of its best players in Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, and Landon Donovan, couldn’t generate much in the offensive third.  Meanwhile, that backline still hasn’t developed any kind of consistency, with Coach Jurgen Klinsmann trotting out the sixth different defensive combination in the past six games.

Geoff Cameron learning on the job

It doesn’t get any easier for the U.S. on Sunday, as they play Ze Germans at RFK in D.C. – a celebration of the centennial of U.S. Soccer that could get ugly.  Then next Friday, it’s a step down in weight class but a step up on pressure as they take on the Jamaicans in a World Cup Qualifier in Kingston.  We understand why you want to play a team like Belgium at this time – you learn more from a good opponent than watching another draw with Canada or beating down some lesser team.  But that didn’t make watching last night’s schooling any more enjoyable.

Five points in your Cleveland Pentagram…

Continue reading

Point Made, Jurgen

Jurgen can’t dance

USA Soccer enters a busy summer with a late May – early June stretch that includes three World Cup Qualifiers and a couple of high profile (money grab) friendlies.  Those vital qualifiers feature matches at Jamaica (June 7), then a pair of home games against Panama (June 11) and Honduras (June 18).  Team America should be angling toward a couple of wins and a tie in June, which would essentially qualify the team for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.  If they stumble badly, though, qualification could be in doubt.

Seems like a pretty important stretch.  Seems like you’d want your full-strength squad.  So why has head coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the roster?

Here’s the squad:

GOALKEEPERS (6) : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8) : DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg)
MIDFIELDERS (10) : Michael Bradley (Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Stoke City), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5) : Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)

No room for the greatest American men’s soccer player?  You mean to tell us, Jurgen, you believe these 15 forwards and midfielders in camp are better than Landon Donovan?   Continue reading

Pentagram: Historic Azteca Win

Juergen Klinsmann beat Italy on the road and now he’s managed a first ever victory over Mexico at Estadio Azteca.  Where Team America has never won.  In fact, the US was 0 wins, 1 tie, and 23 losses all-time in Mexico.  Until last nights 1-0 win.  Signature victory for Coach Klinsi.

Alexi Lalas, key contributor in the one tie from the late 90s said of the Azteca, “This is Thunderdome.”  Usually we only play our noisy neighbors on the road in World Cup Qualifiers – all other ‘friendlies’ taking place on American soil, where the Mexicans pack the stands and outnumber us in our own stadiums.  But for some reason El Tri agreed to play this one in their fortress, giving the US the chance to get a little more familiar with the altitude, smog, and hostility they will likely face in next year’s final round of qualifying.

Adding to the drama, Team America left stalwarts like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra, Jozy Altiodore, and Steve Cherundolo with their club teams in Europe – either to allow them to prepare for the season or for impending transfers.  Klinsmann called in a group of mostly MLS and Mexican-based players, a definite B-team, anchored by Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, and Herculez Gomez.  Mexico, meanwhile, trotted out 9 of their 11 first-choice squad.  They’re coming off the emotional high of having beat Brazil for the Gold Medal in London, and their youth squads have been impressive in the last round of U-20 and U17 championships.  Advantage Green.

Not so fast.  1-0 good guys.  So how did we do it?  How did Team America snatch its first victory in 25 tries on Mexican soil?  Five pentagram points…

Continue reading

Roster Questions for Klinsi

Timothy Chandler

New USA Soccer Coach Jürgen Klinsmann unveiled his call-ups for a pair of upcoming friendlies:  Sept 2 in L.A. against Costa Rica and Sept. 6 in Belgium.  We gave Klinsi a pass on his first roster for the Mexico game, but in the time-honored tradition of armchair coaches everywhere, we’re honor-bound to second guess and nitpick his most recent roster.  The 24 players who have been summoned:

GOALKEEPERS (2): Bill Hamid (D.C.United), Tim Howard (Everton)
DEFENDERS (9): Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Edgar Castillo (Club America), Timmy Chandler (FC Nürnberg), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Jose Torres (Pachuca)
FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy)

There are always injuries and club commitments and reasons why certain guys don’t get the call.  Michael Bradley, for example, needs to get a club.  George John is just about to move from F.C. Dallas to Blackburn.  And no one would be surprised if a veteran like Steve Cherundolo or even Landon ‘tweaked their hamstring’ and had to pull out of these friendlies.  So these rosters aren’t yet final.  That said…

Most glaring omission:  Freddy Adu (Philly Union) – and that’s an easy one.  Freddy worked himself into the starting lineup and had the look of an attacking game-changer by the end of the Gold Cup.  He was one player former Coach Bob Bradley got right in that tournament.  So why not bring him in now?  He was in camp last time out – is Klinsmann dissatisfied with something?  Does he just not rate Freddy?  It’s true, Freddy doesn’t appear to be at top fitness yet, but we hope some intrepid report at least tenders the question. Continue reading

Can Klinsmann redefine the program?

We were about to blog about how the Women’s World Cup had almost conveniently deflected the limited American soccer spotlight away from Sunil Gulati and Bob Bradley and the stagnant and troubling recent performances of the Men’s team.  Then…  Bam!  Coach Stoneface is gone, and enter Ze German.

  As one soccer blogger put it, “it’s one of the greatest days for the umlaut in modern America.”

Ze German is, of course, Jürgen Klinsmann:  a former great player, an articulate motivator, and a coach with some good and some bad on his resume.  You can read his about his full CV here.

In brief, after a successful career as a striker in the 80s and 90s, he took the Germans to the 3rd place game in the 2006 World Cup, revitalizing their approach and strategy to the game and building a system still in use and envied by many.  At the same time he reorganized their youth development system, which is now arguably the best in the world.  On the other hand, when he went to Bayern Munich, Germany’s most famous and successful club, he bickered with their board, got uneven results, and didn’t even make it the full season before resigning/getting fired.

More recently, the US Soccer Federation under Sunil Gulati has attempted to hire him twice in the last five years as National Team manager but could not come to an agreement.  Conventional wisdom was Jürgen wanted more control over youth development, scheduling,  and the program in general than the USSF was willing to give.  Some have opined that salary may have also been an issue. Continue reading