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Klinsmann v. Donovan

Landon unwisely left out in the cold for upcoming U.S. games

Landon Donovan

Last week, US Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his roster for this month’s friendlies and the World Cup qualifiers in June.  The big brouhaha is his failure to include Landon Donovan on the list.

Though the team’s overhaul hasn’t materialized quite the way I hoped it would by now under Klinsmann’s guidance, I continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The team is a work in progress of course, but it is precisely because it’s a work in progress that it seems crazy to leave out Landon Donovan.  The team needs him during the course of figuring out the best starting eleven mix for the 2014 World Cup (and even after that’s figured out, it’s hard to imagine Donovan not being one of those starters).

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Is anyone on this latest roster – besides Clint Dempsey or perhaps Michael Bradley – currently a stronger overall player than Landon Donovan?  It’s hard to imagine Argentina leaving out Messi, or Portugal leaving out Ronaldo.  Yes, Donovan’s older than those superstars, but his leadership, stature, and quality are of parallel importance to the U.S.

I’m not sure the tension and controversy created by omitting Donovan is the kind of division you want to have when you’re about to enter the heart of World Cup qualifying.  What would’ve been the harm in putting Donovan on the roster?  It doesn’t mean you have to play him if you don’t think he’s up to par.  It seems there’s much more to lose by leaving him out.

If Donovan doesn’t make the roster later this summer for the Gold Cup, and the US makes it to the semifinals of that tournament (for which I have a ticket), I’m going to be an extremely disgruntled camper – along with a lot of other US soccer fans.

What do you think about Donovan getting left out?

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?

Gold Cup Meltdown

US Defeat Raises Many Questions

The US loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup Final was a disappointing end to an eye-opening tournament for the Americans.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t that surprising to see the US squander an early 2 – 0 lead.  Fans of the USMNT are used to such ups and downs.  I have a lot of affection for the current core group – there are some real fighters among them (Cherundolo & Dempsey were gutsy standouts during this tourney).  But boy does the US have its work cut out for them to get ready for 2014!

Mexico was the better team Saturday.  The frustrating thing is we had a real chance.  Perhaps the US meltdown was due to the fact that we have virtually no experience taking such an early lead, much less maintaining it.  No excuses though.  The US should’ve done much better.

Mexico had surprisingly little possession or build-up, but they didn’t need it.  All they had to do was stop the often snail-paced US advance or wait for the US to cough up the ball, then speedily counterattack.  If I had to put my finger on one thing Mexico had that the US did not, it was the lethal counterattack.  They were also better at being in the right place at the right time.

I’m not usually one to blame goalkeepers for losses, but Tim Howard’s performance Saturday was frustrating.  Losing Cherundolo so early on undoubtedly made for a long afternoon for Howard (and don’t get me started on Bornstein as Cherundolo’s replacement – if he’s our best defensive bench option then we’re in more trouble than I thought!), but Howard should have stopped at least three of the four Mexican goals.

Howard’s play was particularly head scratching during the mad box scramble that led to the fourth Mexican goal.  Much has been made of Dos Santos’ skillful chip-in, but what about Howard’s blunder?  That goal clearly shouldn’t have happened.  Based on his post-game outburst regarding the Spanish-language award ceremony, it seems Howard knew he had a bad day.  Howard is a world-class keeper, but his best days don’t coincide often enough with the occasions when the US needs him most.

Mark J. Terrill – AP Images

So where does the US go from here?  I suggest the drawing board.  The Gold Cup loss isn’t the end of the world, but the US is an established enough soccer nation that total domination of CONCACAF – including Mexico – should never be in question.  The fact that it is in question, with World Cup qualifying just around the corner, is cause for concern.