After the first of these five most recent games by the U.S. men’s national team, most of the headlines about the dominant 5-1 victory over Scotland centered around the hideousness of Nike’s new uniforms. From there however, there were far more interesting and important story lines that developed over the final four matches.
So, without further ado, here are my soccer related thoughts from the weekend.
Let’s start with the basics: First let’s look at Jurgen Klinsmann’s preferred starting XI:
Obviously, there were several adjustments to the lineup due to Clint Dempsey‘s injury as well as all injuries at left back, but I think throughout these five games, the one thing we seemed to have learned is who are Jurgen Klinsmann’s preferred players.
This seems to be his ideal formation and selection:
Jose Francisco Torres—–Clint Dempsey—–Landon Donovan
Maurice Edu———————Jermaine Jones
Fabian Johnson-Carlos Bocanegra-Clarence Goodson-Steve Cherundolo
The first thing I’m sure that US Soccer fans noticed right away before the Scotland game was Klinsmann’s implementation of a 4-3-3. Obviously I have no way of knowing for certain, but I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this formation elated most US fans. It’s amazing that Jurgen Klinsmann is actually doing what he said he was going to do back when he took the head job. He’s encouraging the USA to play a more attack minded brand of football. But he’s not just doing it for aesthetic reasons or because he wants to seem revolutionary. Instead, he’s doing it because it best fits the US personnel.
But after that game, we seemed to immediately go back to a 4-2-3-1, which I didn’t really understand. For Brazil it was the smart decision. It’s impossible to try and win an up-tempo offensive minded slug-fest against them. But then, the players on the pitch tried to do exactly that. It resulted in a 4-1 thrashing.
The one thing the game may have done, and for which I am incredibly grateful, is that it might have permanently ended Oguchi Unyewu‘s tenure with the national team. Klinsmann has tried to be quite conciliatory to the older U.S. veterans, but Unyewu looked downright terrible. I have never been a fan of the big stiff centerback. It just seems every time I see him play that he gives up a penalty kick. Goodbye, I say. And good riddance.
Clarence Goodson on the other hand seems to have done himself quite a bit of good during these friendlies and qualifiers. Goodson seemed to earned a permanent starting spot for Bob Bradley during last year’s Gold Cup, but had to re-prove himself for Klinsmann. But after Geoff Cameron‘s own goal and Unyewu’s disaster effort, he really didn’t have to do much. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Goodson. I think his strength is a real problem and that he would be exposed in a World Cup against big and strong European strikers, but he is an ideal player for CONCACAF style soccer.
The one player though who seemed to make the biggest impression on Jurgen over the five games may have been Mexican based Herculez Gomez. He was the lone bright spot for the USA during the Brazil game and Klinsmann preferred him up top even when Dempsey was placed more forward. He and Jose Francisco Torres definitely did the most to improve their standing with the national team over these past couple weeks. Both of these guys are players I really like and should bring us a different dynamic that we don’t often possess, that creative ball control and attacking style.
Overall, I’m still a little perplexed by the limited selections by Klinsmann. If we were to take this preferred starting XI to a World Cup today we’d be out of the tournament by the end of the second group stage game. It’s time to phase out a couple guys and that may include Cherundolo and Bocanegra.
The German-American connection: Two of the more interesting performances that required keeping an eye on were those of Fabian Johnson and Terrence Boyd. The development of this German-American sect of players by Jurgen Klinsmann has been an interesting one. Even with Timothy Chandler out of the mix, Jermaine Jones remains a near regular and Danny Williams, Boyd, and Johnson continually earn curious looks by Klinsmann.
Johnson seems to have the left back position all but sewn up. Despite the admirable performance by Edgar Castillo during his spot start, there seems to be no one Klinsmann likes here other than Johnson. During the Scotland game he gave Terrence Boyd a look. Probably more out of curiosity than anything else. The young German-American has yet to earn a first team appearance with his club, yet Klinsmann gave him a start due to Dempsey’s injury. It was definitely clear that Jurgen knew how poor a side Scotland really was and thought he’d give Boyd a chance to shine. But he is certainly not ready. It took him far too long to get the ball off his foot. He seemed more than a little overwhelmed. Luckily Herculez Gomez stepped up well into the role of second striker.
I think it would best be described as over-matched. It looks like Clint Dempsey isn’t going to make it back in time to play Brazil, which is devastating to the US fans that are itching to see Dempsey and Donovan on the field together. I’ve listened and read to a good bit of commentary about tweaks Klinsmann could’ve made to do better against Brazil. But the honest truth is that this team was completely overmatched, even against a Brazil B-team.
The qualifiers. There’s no doubt that anytime you get to watch the U.S. Team for five games over a short span it’s fun because it’s such a rarity. But going win, loss, draw, win, draw isn’t exactly tearing it up. Especially considering they only really played one quality opponent. The draw against Canada was inexcusably lifeless.
But it was the draw at Guatemala which was most frustrating. Now granted, I didn’t see it because I didn’t have $29.95 to spend and I was too busy watching Mexico take on El Salvador in San Salvador. While Mexico took care of business with a great late goal by Hector Moreno in abysmal conditions, the United States was giving up a free kick by Chicago Fire midfielder Marco Pappa, missing out on two points.
How’d our rivals do? Speaking of our Mexican rivals, I think it’s also worth mentioning that Mexico played very, very well over their five game set. Unlike the U.S., they won all five of their games including a sound 2-0 win over Brazil in Dallas.
Andres Guardado—–Giovani Dos Santos—–Pablo Barrero
Jesus Zavala—————Carlos Salcido
Jose Torres-Nilo-Hector Moreno-Francisco Rodriguez-Severa Meza
This seems to be the lineup of choice for Chepo De La Torre going forward. Certainly the front four looks the same. With Carlos Vela seemingly out of the national team picture and Aldo De Nigris best suited as a super-sub, these four young players seem destined to be the same come Brazil in 2014. Even Giovanni Dos Santos, who cannot find a good club situation seems as good as ever whenever he puts on his Mexico jersey. De La Torre also seems much more comfortable with Corona over Guillermo Ochoa, who I thought had a fabulous game against Bosnia. But regardless, this young Mexico team seems to know exactly where it’s going.
Their one big area of weakness: defensive midfield seemed to be in flux as veterans Gerrado Terrado, Israel Castro, and Rafael Marquez all seemed to be ready to be phased out of international duty. But De La Torre seamlessly moved left back Carlos Salcido up to midfield alongside Mexican league star Jesus Zavala. In particular, the 24 year old Zavala seems to be another great young core player for Mexico to build around.
Conclusion. And that really in and of itself is the big difference between these two national teams. Last week, after the Canada friendly, I heard a commentator on the MLS Extratime Radio Podcast actually say that Canada, like Mexico was chasing the United States for title of top team in CONCACAF. Now, perhaps I misheard, but I’m pretty sure he claimed the U.S. was the best team in the region.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
While Mexico is continually phasing out 30-something regulars in favor of players in their early 20’s, the U.S. is still trying to figure out if Oguchi Onyewu has anything left in the tank. MLS has given such a wide breadth of young players to choose from that it has become frustrating. I understand that we’re nearing the end of a generation of Americans that gave us great soccer memories, but that doesn’t mean they get to stick around the team longer than they should. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if a 35 year old Carlos Bocanegra at center back and a 35 year old Steve Cherundolo at right back are our best options for those positions in 2014, then we’re not going to go anywhere significant.
There are so many Americans to choose from these days for National Team selection and there often isn’t much separating one player from two or three others at their position other than personal preference. This is always going to make player selection a contested issue for the United States. I just think going with the same old players is going to get us the same old results.