Slowly but surely we will get there...
Well, the last couple of days have been one of those stretches. First, the match yesterday gets switched to ESPN2. No worries I think to myself. I pull out my handy DirecTV phone app and DVR the game on ESPN2 just as the match is set to start. I was only able to catch bits and pieces of the game at work, so I planned on settling down to watch the full match last night and provide a full writeup. As fate would have it, my DirecTV (along with a few other friends in the area) was having signal and sound issues. So that was out. No problem I thought to myself, I will just get the piece out early this morning after watching the replay on ESPN3.com (as iron81 suggested in the gamethread). And of course, cue crisis arising at work, hence me going in early this morning. In light of this, instead of providing my full good, ok, and bad, which I prefer to do only if I get a full viewing in, I at least wanted to get a few thoughts up, which if you know me will still end up being rather lengthy anyway. Join me after the break for a few points and why I am still not worrying about the 0-3 Klinsmann start, but rather a couple of other things that need to get ironed out.
This writeup is almost opposite in some ways of the match the other night. Belgium was on the attack for large portions of the game, much like the US did vs. Costa Rica. And that is something we have seen from the US under Jurgen Klinsmann thus far. It is nice to see the quick starts after we had been known for absolutely atrocious starts under Bob Bradley. The challenge now is to find ways to continue that level of play, which the Americans have not been able to do yet. That trait is still a work in progress team wise, as I touched on the other night.
Tim Howard was his usual stellar self yesterday, despite the goal given up, which was a hell of a goal by Belgium. The back line, despite getting pressed heavily for good portions of the game, somehow managed to keep the match close. Apart from the occasional gaffe, the veteran duo of Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra played a good match. Maurice Edu also put in a second steady performance, which was good to see. Brek Shea and Clint Dempsey also played well, with Dempsey showing his usual aggressive, don't take anything from anybody brash play.
As I mentioned above other players were almost the opposite of the match the other night. Jose Torres would be one. He did not play horribly, but seemed pretty tentative from what I saw, definitely not like the other night. Jozy Altidore also regressed from the other night, albeit facing a much more talented team. I still say getting him service is a problem at times. Robbie Rogers, despite scoring a goal in his first appearance, didn't seem to do anything to get involved at all. Tim Chandler was playing out of position but did ok given the opposition and unfamiliarity with the spot he was covering.
Now, on to a few thoughts. I got the chance to listen to the most recent ExtraTime Radio podcast today on mlssoccer.com. There was a good segment with Taylor Twellman which is worth a listen if you get the chance. Although I never really cared for Taylor as a player, I actually kind of enjoy him as a commentator. I think he provides good insight and points at times. He is definitely above the clown that is John Harkes. In the podcast, he had a very good point about the lack of goal scoring. He was talking about the US not using a more traditional two striker look in lieu of the fact we don't have a true no. 9 type that can work up top on their own. This is a sentiment I completely agree with. Of course we have rolled out the 4-4-2 before, but the US tends to deploy a lone striker with someone else slightly withdrawn. While this can work sometimes, it obviously has not been working well at all, especially lately. On a good day Jozy is good at holding the ball up and can make some nice moves, but I don't see him as that Messi type player that can just destroy a defense. He needs service to be at his most effective, and when our midfield is not getting it done, Jozy many times is essentially taken out of the game. What good is holding up the ball if you don't have someone up with you to pair with? Hence sometimes we see Clint Dempsey push up, and sometimes even Landon Donovan does that. And that can work well at times, as Clint showed with some nice moves yesterday. But, as Twellman pointed out, why does the US only go to looks like this after we are behind or need a kick start? Why not try looks like this from the beginning? It's definitely good food for thought and something Jurgen is going to have to figure out. Maybe it's time to try a true two striker look up front for a good amount of time. That way defenses at least have to key on more than one person. And, with a night like last night where the Americans are not pushing into the box, at least one person is not getting left alone up top.
And that brings me to my next point, which is the problem with the talent pool itself. I don't think I have to tell any USMNT fan reading this that developing strikers is an Achilles heel of ours. I hope Juan Agudelo turns out to be the next big striker for the USA. I would love to see Charlie Davies get his mojo back. But, the problem of striker development is still an issue in America and is something that a full, US wide Klinsmann system will ideally fix down the road. But, down the road is not now. Jurgen has had goal scorers with the German National Team. He had goal scorers at his disposal at Bayern, although he did not last a long time there for reasons beyond the scope of this piece. Coming into this job, he knew what the talent pool was like. And any realistic USMNT fan did too. I think this will be Jurgen's biggest challenge as USMNT manager: finding a way to best utilize the talent we have to score goals. While Clint Dempsey beating other teams into submission sounds fun, we can't obviously do that. We will have to score goals. And sometimes lots of them. We can't always count on a 1-0 win. Obviously, Jurgen is trying as many different looks as he can to try to figure out the best way to put the pieces together. Also don't forget that the Americans haven't played with anything near their full strength team yet. Landon and Clint have yet to play together. Stu Holden is still hurt. Charlie Davies may be out of the picture for good. Thus, Jurgen has turned to lots of new faces and youth. And I like that look. The more players he can look at, the better. And that is what he has tried to do so far. Now all that remains to be seen is how Klinsmann plans to kick start the attack. I don't have a clear cut answer for all of you. And that's why Jurgen is getting paid to figure that out and I am not.
Still, despite growing uneasiness and disappointment with the start of the Klinsmann era, remember this is a work in progress. I realize that some fans don't want to hear that or ask how long this excuse will still be used. Well, whether you want to hear it or be patient, it is true. What Jurgen is trying to do is IMMENSE. Imagine walking into a new job and your boss expecting you to be an expert at everything after a few weeks or a month. Jurgen has lived in the USA for a long time, so he was already no doubt familiar with a lot of the players. But, that is nowhere close to what it is like to coach them. He basically is inheriting a new team, and implementing a whole new paradigm while also slowly trying to change the culture of a sport in an entire country. After reading that, re-consider what should be evaluated after 3 games. I am not trying to be a Jurgen apologist either. For those that know me for occasional strong reactions to things, this should show the rational side of my thinking regarding Jurgen's progress made so far. I was a fan of the hiring, and still am. Some people expected a miracle overnight, and that is just not going to happen, no matter who was in charge. And it was time for a change. The USMNT had grown stale under Bob, and I didn't see any signs of that changing. The only way for the US to ever evolve into more of a legit soccer power is to change the system in the US, as it obviously needs to change from where it is at to compete with the rest of the world. Who knows, maybe it can never change enough to make us a world soccer power. But maybe it can too. But it certainly was never going to happen under Bradley. At least Jurgen has a plan and a vision for the US to try to evolve into. To me, he was clearly the best choice to take the USMNT over. And, I think the timing is good too, with a good chunk of time to look at candidates in preparation for games that really count next year. Would you have really wanted him to be hired next year right as qualifying kicks off with no preparation at all? I wouldn't, that's why these friendlies are ideal to help him get a feel for a new national team and it's players without the pressure of qualifying for the world's most prestigious tournament.
Despite unrest after 3 games, the true results should begin to show next year when World Cup Qualifying kicks off. By then Jurgen will know what works, what doesn't, and how all the pieces fit together much better than he does now. I know it's hard to wait, but it's just not realistic to expect his whole plan to be in place already without anywhere near a full US lineup as of yet.
In the end, these first 3 results DON'T matter. I want the US to win every match as much as the next guy, but these are friendlies. If you had been around me during the World Cup last year, you would see how much I want the US to win every match. To me, there have been encouraging signs in the last 3 matches. And that's what I am looking for right now above all else. Although the goals haven't come recently, we have been able to actually look good early on in matches vs. starting out like we are asleep. We are seeing some young players like Brek Shea really start to shine. And we are giving a new coach time to learn players, formations, and lineups. This is necessary to be successful down the road. It's like anything in life. It's not always fun to put in the hard work, but once you hit the end result and look back, you find the work was worth it. And I think that end result will make fans, including myself happy. And that's why fans should not be concerned about the scores of the past 3 matches.
Yes, the striker issue needs to be figured out, which has always been there. I am confident that Jurgen can puzzle it out. The difference is that he has a plan for the current team and a plan for future generations. Whether that turns out like we all hope it will, only time will tell. I will take that any day of the week vs. a manager that continues to stay set in his ways and refuse to address the fact that the striker issue will always be there if you don't try to fix it. Whether it can be fixed or not, it surely won't be fixed if no one tries. And Jurgen has finally gotten Gulati and the USSF to at least concede there is a problem, or should I say convinced them to let him try to do something about it since it didn't seem like they wanted to. Give Jurgen time. Rome wasn't built in a day, the new USMNT team and US soccer system in general won't be either. Losing is hard, but if losing a meaningless friendly means the team will be better off for it, I think we would all take that.