I suppose I should tackle this in chronological order, although I’m taking this article on right after watching the latter, more recent match…
I had to work during the Ecuador match and didn’t record it, so all I have to go on are the highlights of the goals floating on YouTube. I am quite impressed that Landon Donovan has been able to score the 1 v 0 longball kind of goal. This is the sort of thing that is expected in lopsided, international play, and when it is not seen in a friendly, warm-up match we should be disappointed, so this was a good showing.
Tonight’s match against Guatemala was not quite as disappointing as I’m about to make it sound, but it’s still demonstrative of bad habits.
Counting the last World Cup, USA have been absolutely terrible against sides that deliberately play them defensively, or play in a style that suggests three or less main attacking players. Guatemala did not give any space in their side of the field, because they rarely left their side of the field.
In situations such as this, USA must show more creativity in attack. Complacency in feeding the ball to the usual suspects in the usual places will mean losing the ball, and in teams that are much better in the defensive style than Guatemala were, this results in predictable counterattack goals that look a lot like the ones I just praised a few paragraphs ago. Easy for me to say from the couch, but…
Justin Mapp had several opportunities to put a goal on if his strike had been more solid. Higher quality teams in the same situation usually have about three midfielders and maybe a defender or two that you can name as threats in situations where the forwards cannot get the ball in traffic. I can think of Americans with potential to be that sort of player, but I can rarely think of one that actually -is- that sort of player. In fact, recalling every player on USA since 1992, I can’t name one. Well, almost. Cobi Jones would occasionally defend with Los Angeles (but not on USA) and I want to believe Chris Armas can attack, pass, and defend equally, but he was always injured when USA needed him most, and now, he’s considered aging and is being overlooked. Landon Donovan comes close, but I haven’t seen him defend correctly. Freddy Adu is a work-in-progress that should not be playing on the youth team if anyone still believes in Project 2010. You remember Project 2010, don’t you? It was a manifesto that USA will win the World Cup. In 2010. The next one coming up.
In the 70’s, the Netherlands (and most famously, Johan Cruyff) introduced the world to the principle of “Total Football,” the idea that every player must be at least capable of filling out every role on the field, at least temporarily, in the interest of creating space in situations where none is available. That is the way you win when the other team refuses to attack, and I can’t think of enough players in the US Soccer system that are students of the game in enough of a sense to try to learn to do it right, even for moments. To be successful, I believe there must be at least five players that understand this capability.
Every time US Soccer resets itself, there’s this global scouring for talent that has potential that is never met within the four years. I think the reason for this is that our coaches look for players that fill roles, when they need to find players that can do anything.
If Bob Bradley will not coach the senior US men this summer, I hope the next staff will have the recognition to keep his son on the team; Mike showed he has some pretty good presence and understanding to distribute the ball very correctly. He even showed some good tackling, so he needs a shot. Not just a chance to play, though, I mean he needs to demonstrate the ability to score when the goal is open in front of him.
If Bradley maintains the ‘interim’ title throughout the summer, it will make the US coaching situation move from inexcusable to completely pathetic.
Then again, considering the state of Trinidad and Tobago (their program went bankrupt and is canceled for now) and many of the football associations in Africa, I suppose there’s quite a bit to look forward to.
Hope everyone is doing well.
See you next time.