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American Breathing Room

U.S. keeps World Cup Qualifying hopes alive with win over Guatemala

The first five minutes of tonight’s game were depressing.  The U.S. defense was AWOL and Guatemala scored an easy tap-in goal.  Fortunately, Clint Dempsey had his game face on and scored a pair of first half goals, which, along with Bocanegra’s goal, gave the U.S. a relatively comfy 3-1 lead by halftime.  Speaking of game faces, did anyone notice the hilarious giant placard cutout of Dempsey’s wild-eyed crazy face (that he made in the last game against Jamaica) in the stands?  Good times.

The U.S. shored up their defense in the second half and passed more calmly and efficiently.  They should’ve added a few more goals, but I was just relieved to see them keep Guatemala from climbing their way back into the match.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s Andre-Villas-Boas-like celebrations after each U.S. goal were undoubtedly echoed by U.S. fans around the country.  We can all breathe a sigh of relief for now.  There is a very long way to go of course, but the U.S. bought itself some more time with the win tonight.  Time to regroup, get healthy (Donovan!), and figure out how to play some stingy D before the next round of World Cup Qualifying kicks off in February!

What changes does the U.S. need to make to survive the next round of qualifying?

Not Cool, Mon

Jamaica puts U.S. in a dreadlock with 2-1 defeat

My thoughts exactly.

Clint Dempsey scored for the U.S. in the first minute of last night’s World Cup qualifying match in Kingston, Jamaica.  Looked like it was going to be a good night for the U.S.  But it wasn’t.  In unfortunately typical fashion, the U.S. flushed away their crucial road lead, this time by granting Jamaica two free kicks, which the Reggae Boyz converted to goals.

I don’t want to completely flog the U.S. team; after all, they’ve shown a lot of promise since Klinsmann took over and have enjoyed some good friendly wins this year.  But I do want to decry something that has bothered me for years about the U.S. men’s teams:  their lack of mental discipline in matches.  You’ve got to think out there.  For the full 90 minutes!  In the heat of battle it often seems this raw, brute force, overly aggressive American athletic instinct takes over that produces boneheaded fouls in dangerous areas and at inopportune times.  When will we learn?

And when will we learn that 1-0 leads aren’t enough in World Cup qualifiers away from home?  They usually aren’t enough in World Cup qualifiers at home either.  It may be enough of a lead for the Spains and Brazils of the world, but not for us!

One last vent… Kyle Beckerman – seriously?  I’m a Jurgen Klinsmann fan overall.  I like that he’s mixing things up personnel-wise, giving players like Brek Shea an opportunity.  But I don’t get what he sees in Beckerman.  I know we missed Donovan and Bradley in the lineup last night, but why not try Bocanegra in a holding midfield role, or start Shea?  Spector, Jose Torres, and Zusi were also on the bench and are each a better option than Beckerman.

The only silver lining here is that the U.S. doesn’t have to wait long to right the ship.  The return leg against Jamaica is this Tuesday in Columbus.  Here’s hoping the U.S. can rally with a big shutout before their World Cup qualifying picture really gets messy.

Need to vent about the U.S. loss to Jamaica?  Feel free to comment below…

USA v. Mexico

Wednesday’s “friendly” ended in 1 – 1 draw

The U.S./Mexico match in Philadelphia Wednesday night was noteworthy only because it was Jurgen Klinsmann’s first match as the U.S. men’s national team coach.  Otherwise, it was a fairly sloppy game with lively patches few and far between.  Here are my match notes:

-The US starting lineup was unexciting.  Buddle over Brek Shea or Freddy Adu?   I know Adu’s not necessarily a forward, but still.  Buddle?  I thought we’d see Klinsmann begin to reinvent the wheel, even in his first game, by naming a bigger ratio of newbies to veterans.  Instead, the starting eleven was a pretty familiar bunch.

-17th min:  Fluke Mexican goal, which ricocheted off a green-shirt via corner kick.

-Interesting, old school move by Klinsmann to remove names from the back of the US jerseys.  It sends the signal that the team is rebooting.  Some seem to think it’s an unnecessarily junior league thing to do.  I kind of like it.

-The US was very drab in the first half, creating next to nothing.  Zero shots!

-It was weird to see Jose Torres out there (for the US) because I’d almost forgotten about him!  I thought he was pretty swell in World Cup 2010 so it was good to see him back.  He had a quiet first half, but showed some promise in the second.

-At halftime, ESPN’s Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman were rightfully upset by the lack of American creativity in the first half.  I agree with the frequently grumpy-seeming Lalas that there is far too much emphasis on the US somehow needing more Latin players to improve.  At a recent FC Dallas game, I even overheard a dude ask his buddy whether or not he thought the booming Hispanic population in the US would mean we’ll win the World Cup soon.  Degree of latin-ness has nothing to do with it.  I’m pretty certain soccer skill has not been detected in the genetic code in any part of the world yet.

-57th min:  Solid header by Bocanegra off a corner.  Mexican GK had to make a great diving save.  Should’ve been the equalizer!

-Overall, I expected to see a lot more US hustle since everyone is auditioning for Klinsmann.

-60th min:  Brek Shea replaced Jermaine Jones.  Juan Agudelo replaced Buddle.  The US tempo almost immediately spiked.

-61st min:  Youthful waste of a shot by Agudelo.  Sorry, but I don’t see what all the excitement over Agudelo is about.  He did make some decent passes before the night was over though.

-73rd min:  Shea slid the ball through the box from the left side to Robbie Rogers (?!) who tapped it in!  Game tied 1 – 1.

-Donovan finally woke up for the last 15 minutes.  Not sure what took so long, but his late surge was a reminder that he’s still got skill to spare.  Perhaps he’ll be unleashed to play with more freedom under Klinsmann.

-Robbie Rogers was a surprise.  I’ve never been too impressed with him, but he demonstrated potential during his short stint.

-I was most excited to see Brek Shea get some quality time.  He made the most of his trial.  What I like so much about Shea is his hustle.  He always works hard.  I think we’ll be seeing him in Brazil in three years.

-It was a good first result for the US under Klinsmann.  No one was expecting much since he’s only been on the job a couple weeks.  Still, we got to see some new faces, and we didn’t lose, so overall, a positive night.  It is refreshing and fun to see Klinsmann on the sideline.  He will be good for US soccer.

What did you think of Klinsmann’s lineup choices?  Feel free to share your thoughts below…

Post-Gold Cup Debriefing

Changes needed before US can book 2014 trip to Brazil

Unfortunately, if the Gold Cup is any indication, US qualification for World Cup 2014 is not a forgone conclusion.  It should be.  I still expect them to make it, but we’ve got to tighten the belts and get to work to be certain.  Here is a handy to-do list:

1)  The US needs a defensive overhaul immediately if not sooner.  Fast counterattacks from the opposition should not be a surprise, yet fans hold their breath every time the US faces one because it’s inevitably a shaky moment.

Cherundolo’s the man, and Bocanegra has a lot of guts.  However, they’re not getting any younger and who knows where they’ll be in their careers three years from now.  Goodson and Lichaj have potential, but I’m not convinced they’re up to World Cup standards.  Maybe they will be by 2014, but in the mean time, we need to have a massive nationwide search for the best and the brightest.  Uncle Sam Wants You… to play some airtight D!

2)  The US needs someone to accelerate into space with the ball and attack the goal.  The best teams always seem to have a player or two who can move the ball solo when necessary, creating panic in the opposing defense and scoring opportunities (just look at Dos Santos and Hernandez in the Gold Cup final).  The US doesn’t have anyone like that right now.  Dempsey, currently the best all-around US player, is more confident and poised on the ball than he’s ever been.  But he doesn’t have the kind of open-field speed with the ball that the team needs.

Anyone who remembers the US teams of the 90s knows we’ve come a very long way in our possession game.  Now we just need to ratchet up the tempo multiple notches.

3)  Figure out our best roster and stick to it.  Teams need time to gel.  If we’re still tinkering by spring 2014, it will not be a good sign.  Give Maurice Edu some minutes (I don’t know why he spent most of the Gold Cup on the bench).  Kljestan surprised me in his limited appearances.  He’s worth another look.  Time-wise, the most proportionally impressive US player during the Gold Cup was actually Freddy Adu.  He needs to figure prominently in qualifying plans.

I’m not writing off Altidore yet because he’s young and could still develop into a great player, however, he’s had more than his fair share of chances the past few years and hasn’t produced nearly enough.  It’s time to look at some other striker options.  By the way, Agudelo and Wondolowski aren’t the answers.  I don’t like this strategy of cherry-picking whoever’s hot in MLS at tournament time.  Not that MLS can’t provide some excellent talent – it can – but the MLS picks for South Africa and the Gold Cup did not pan out.

4)  It’s time for a new coach.  I like Bob Bradley.  I didn’t at first.  After giving him a chance and reading more about him (Filip Bondy’s book Chasing the Game has a great section on Bradley), what I initially perceived to be arrogance I came to see more as dignity and wisdom.  He represented the country honorably and I admire that.  However, it’s time for a fresh start.  We need someone like Guus Hiddink or Jurgen Klinsmann.  Maybe someone with professional playing experience.  It seems counter-intuitive for Americans to pick a foreigner to coach our national team, but we could really benefit from the different perspective and experience a foreigner would provide.  Now is the best time to make a coaching change before World Cup qualifying gets fully under way.

What do you think – should Coach Bradley stay or go?  What else does the US need to address ahead of World Cup 2014?