Despite it being an international friendly, no one really expected the US to come out and beat France. Although the US put in a hardworking effort, the same lack of scoring and midfield play again doomed the US to a loss under new-ish boss Jurgen Klinsmann. I still stand by my view of not judging him until World Cup Qualifying begins and we get a look at a full, veteran, "A" side US team. Keep in mind he hasn't had Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan on the same pitch yet. I think people have been forgetting that fact. On the flip side, it also means we still rely heavily on legit, proven veterans. That is ok, especially for a soccer nation like ours where we don't have near the talent pool to draw from as the world soccer powers. However, that shows just how uncertain and shaky the future is once these veterans start retiring in the next handful of years. Things like these are a major reason why Jurgen Klinsmann is trying to reshape the face of US soccer to mirror that of other countries. Although many of us are aware of this fact, the loss the other day is a perfect example of this. Follow me after the break for a little look into the US/France friendly and one of the huge issues that needs to be addressed before WCQ begins.
One of the glaring problems the US is facing is lack of striking talent being developed and coming through the pipeline. I have touched on this before, so I don't need to go into it again. I will sum it up by saying that we all know striking is a problem but Jozy Altidore continued to show a fine form he has been in lately. Whether it is his club team or his USMNT performances, Jozy played well again against France. The problem is that he isn't a stand alone striker that can dribble through everyone and put the team on his back. He has gotten better at using his body as well as an improvement holding the ball up. Despite the US offense looking anemic vs. France, Jozy was able to create a few nice plays that just never panned out. He really needs to play off another striker up front with him, but unfortunately we don't really have that right now. Yes, Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan push forward, but it's not the same as having another striker up top with Jozy for defenses to have to pay attention to.
The defense had a solid game. Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra put in steady performances. Tim Howard again played well, and in truth he was responsible for keeping the match at a 1-0 scoreline. The problem, as it has been at various times in recent friendlies, is that the defense eventually buckles under constant pressure. Even the best defenders and goalkeepers concede goals after constant pressure, and that's what happened on Friday. Without legit striking options that the other team is afraid of, they can cheat up a little which puts them closer to our goal. And, given one of the major issues right now is a midfield that can't hold the ball and build attacks (thus causing the defense to have to deal with constant pressure), you have a recipe for disaster.
Although I am still reserving overall judgment of Jurgen, I do have complaint. He HAS to figure out the midfield situation. I know France isn't an easy opponent, but when you can't complete more than a few passes in a row and struggle to hold possession, it's pretty hard to be almost anybody.
Although Kyle Beckerman has been serviceable and even done well at times, I don't think he should be an option in the US midfield. He may very well not have the playing time he has been enjoying if not for midfield injuries right now to Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan missing the match to prepare for the MLS Cup. I just don't think Beckerman is international quality. Fortunately these are just friendlies, and Jurgen is needing to look at numerous different players and combinations to get a feel for his talent pool. There are simply better options that Jurgen should be utilizing.
Jermaine Jones has been playing better of late, and has put in some pretty good performances for the USMNT as well. He went through a bit of a rut, but has been playing well for his club as of late. Still, he hasn't seen much time at all. It could be that Jurgen knows what he is capable of and saving him for more important matches. Even if this is the case, it's good that he gets minutes now so he can get used to playing with all these new faces.
However, the really perplexing thing to me is he lack of use of Michael Bradley. It's like the guy is in a CDLC type of doghouse. While Maurice Edu patrolled the midfield on Friday, Edu is very streaky and doesn't do a good job of putting in consistent performances on a steady basis. I have read that some people speculate that Bradley is not seeing much time because Jurgen wants to show he is moving away from the Bob Bradley system. I don't buy that though. Jurgen is a professional coach, and to say he would willingly put inferior lineups on the pitch just to separate himself from Bob Bradley is a bit far fetched to me. No, for some reason, Jurgen doesn't see it fit to give Bradley much time. And I can't understand that. He is playing well for his Serie A club, and is much better than either Beckerman or Edu. Yet on the bench he still sits. I just don't understand that. Why Jurgen is not playing him, I have no idea but it is driving me crazy and it is one of the criticisms I would have if I had the chance to talk to Klinsmann.
As I mentioned earlier, it will be nice to get Donovan on the pitch agains as well as Stu Holden, who may be longer off still after re-injuring himself. And therein lies the root of our problems. The lineup used on Friday in midfield just wasn't good enough in the midfield. This affects the whole team as the midfielders haven't been creating reliably for the forwards nor possessing the ball. This causes lack of scoring opportunities since our forwards have no ammo, and it puts enormous strain on the backline when the midfield can't control the match.
Obviously goal scoring is a concern, but when we have our best XI on the pitch, I am not so worried. They scored under Bob Bradley, so I know they can score with Jurgen. It's a matter of putting the best team on the pitch. This is a good time to mix and match and test things out. As I mentioned before, it is dangerous not having your regulars playing together either. It's tough to learn a new system, and it becomes tougher with new faces or even with familiar faces under a new coach. Developing strikers is a problem, but it's going to take longer to fix that. The midfield issue can be improved greatly by putting the correct players on the field.
Jurgen still has time to test, but not much time. WCQ starts next year, and we can't afford to have an inferior team on the pitch. I am confident the goals will come, we can't score much less than we have. You can't expect to be a goal scoring machine with a majority of players earning their first few caps comprising the teams you are putting on the pitch. When real results are necessary vs. winning a friendly, that's when we need our veterans, our best players, our "A" team. Jurgen needs to get this figured out as his honeymoon is quickly evaporating with many USMNT supporters. And the biggest issue is the midfield. This MUST be fixed. It's something that can be remedied more quickly than the numerous other issues facing the USMNT and the soccer system in general in the US.
Fortunately US fans won't have to wait long to see if Jurgen makes any changes. The Americans have a rematch of the 2010 World Cup against Slovenia tomorrow. The match will be broadcast on ESPN2, ESPN3.com, and Galavision at 11AM CST.