It's been awhile since I dropped a hat trick and QOTD, so the time is ripe to bring it back out from the shadows. It has certainly been a disappointing last week for Fire fans, first dropping the result to Columbus and then the shocking loss to the Michigan Bucks Tuesday night in USOC competition. Although many other MLS teams were also upset, I don't have to tell you that the Fire hold the USOC competition in much higher esteem than most, if not all other MLS clubs. We aren't called Kings of the Cup for nothing. Thus, any result falling short of hoisting another Cup is viewed as a failure. Well, Tuesday night went beyond that and was an absolute disaster.
The saying "that's why they play the game" has never held more true than the other night. On paper, an MLS club should have no problem beating a lower division team, let alone a 4th tier team. That is the frantic nature of USOC play and one of the reasons why, in my opinion, the USOC should get much more attention than it does. Granted, it sucks when your team is the one to get upset, but with a tournament like this, on any given day a lower division team can knock off an MLS team. And it happened Tuesday. A lot. The Fire are obviously devastated, but beyond that this should open eyes for Frank, Andrew, and Co. as to what holes the team still needs to fill heading into the summer to put a serious run together. Follow me after the break for the hat trick and QOTD...
1. The intro to this article is painful enough, but it is necessary to not only shed light on the magnitude of the loss, but also on the shortcomings of the makeup of the team. Do I think we are worse than most of us thought? No, I don't. Do I think that we have more holes than most of us thought or suspected? Yes, I do. Recent weeks have featured large numbers of fans lamenting the Federico Puppo signing. I can't say I disagree. Despite a few flashes here and there, he is just not getting it done. Because of his size, he can't be a lone striker or a target striker up top. Even when paired with somebody else, he hasn't been able to break through. Our need for a target striker is still just as great as ever. Chris Rolfe is nearing return but will he be enough? And how long will it take him to round into form if he can stay healthy and contribute regular, steady goals? The fact is Puppo is not getting it done despite being given opportunities to perform. We can't keep putting him out on the pitch when it makes the team worse. How many chances does a guy get before you realize that maybe he just isn't capable of contributing like you had hoped when he was signed? I know for one I am in that boat.
We also can't forget our defensive needs. Although Austin Berry started hot out of the gate, the Berry/Anibaba pairing has been very shaky lately, most recently evidenced again against Michigan. While it would seem that our CB tandem is fine as long as there is one veteran present (Friedrich or Gibbs), the growing pains of 2 young players that are unfamiliar playing with each other is showing. Obviously Jalil and Austin need to step up their play, but the results we are getting from them given the circumstances isn't completely mystifying to me. Jalil is only part of the way into his 2nd season. Austin Berry has a handful of starts. I think we need to keep in mind that some difficulties are to be expected. If this keeps up though, at what point do we need to consider bringing someone in and sitting one of the two players?
There is certainly work to be done this summer. Whether it be via trades or signings, I trust in them to acquire the talent we need. After all, we don't have much choice if we want to make a run in the playoffs this year.
2. Despite an ugly scoreline last night, I thought the US showed good heart and fight in the 4-1 loss to Brazil. Multiple US players put in good performances, notable Michael Bradley and especially Hercules Gomez. While the Jurgen era started shaky, the US has been on Fire as of late. They had won 5 in a row before last night's loss, including a historic win over Italy in a friendly in February and a drubbing of Scotland just a handful of days ago. Brazil is a completely different animal and they showed why they are one of the elite teams in the world. While we have definitely shown improvement under Jurgen, we still aren't on the level of a Brazil and won't be for quite some time. But, the thing to take away is that we were competitive, a bit unlucky, and on a different night could have pulled out a draw or even a win.
Although Brazil dominated the first half, Hercules Gomez was able to pull a goal back in the 45th minute to give the US momentum heading into the locker room. The 2nd half was largely possessed by the US. Again, Brazil showed they were an elite team by netting a late goal against the run of play when it looked like the US might have another historic comeback in them. Again, rather than laying down, we kept Brazil on their heels and at times they were scrambling to defend. We turned the tables and made Brazil look like the USA normally does against the world's elite teams. That is not easy to do. Not to mention Clint Dempsey missed a goal he normally makes in his sleep. Terrence Boyd nearly put another in (it took two huge saves from the Brazil keeper to keep the ball out of the net), and Oguchi Onyewu headed a ball off the crossbar. On another night, the US could have had 4 goals of their own. Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman said it best: the final scoreline was a bit cruel and not indicative of how close the game actually was.
If you have been reading this site for awhile and have seen my previous USMNT coverage, I have preached patience for Jurgen and what he is trying to so. I think last night shows that progress. As I have said, you can't realistically judge the progress of the team under him until the 1-2 year mark in my opinion. Massive changes take time. And we are starting to see those changes, and for the better. In the first handful of games under Klinsmann, we had trouble scoring and even looking dangerous. The team wasn't used to playing together (lots of new, young faces), and they were trying to adjust to a new system. The Scotland game was a good shwoing of the progress the team has made. Although Scotland is nowhere near the talent level of an Italy or Brazil, our performance in that game featured a ton of 1-2 touch passing and possession. This is not something US fans are used to seeing. We played like a lot of the elite teams in the world and it paid off. It was very refreshing for me to watch that Scotland game.
Last night wasn't quite the same because of the skill level of Brazil, but again the US kept the ball moving and created many dangerous chances against one of the top teams in the world. That's pretty impressive to me. We still had a lot of quick touches and passes, and to be an elite world team honestly that's what you need to do anymore. You can't try to dribble through everyone or take 3+ touches every time you are on the ball.
The progress is clearly being made under Jurgen for the better. Come June 8th, the games really start counting. Poor play during World Cup Qualifying can cost you a spot in the World Cup. The US fortunately has an easier group, with Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, and Guatemala as our opponents. Those teams should not be taken for granted however as the Fire loss to Michigan demonstrated. The USMNT seems to be in good form heading into WCQ, and that's all we can ask for. If we keep playing like we have the last 6 games, we will be just fine. Imagine if this kind of progress keeps up what this team will look like in 2 years time for the World Cup. We could really make some noise. Be proud of our team's play last night, we showed the growth we are implementing and we will be a force to be reckoned with sooner rather than later.
3. While we will have our normal preview/gamethread up for the Revs game, it will be a game in the spotlight Saturday night. It is the only MLS game on the docket, and both teams are coming off losses to lower division teams in the USOC. I think it is safe to say that this game could get crazy. Both teams have built up a healthy rivalry, and given the fact that both are coming off of tough losses and looking to make statements, I expect this game to be very chippy.
The question is whether the starting lineup will change after some of the performances against Michigan. The argument could be made either way. On one hand, constant changing of the lineup can prevent cohesiveness, or at the very least slow it down. On the other hand, what we have been trying recently has not been working well. At the very least, we have not really developed any consistency all season and we desperately need that. We have to find a way to consistently score and perform at a steady level.
We desperately can use Chris Rolfe. We at least know what type of player he is and what we will be getting with him. And introducing him into the lineup could unleash Patrick Nyarko even further. Rolfe could be the boost that we need to take it to the next level. Let's hope we see him soon and he can stay healthy and on the pitch. Even if he does bring the changes we all hope, last night's result still shows there is building and work to be done beyond Rolfe.
One other key to the game will be the Berry/Anibaba pairing vs. Saer Sene (I will touch on this in the 3 questions exchange with Bent Musket). The young CB tandem has had trouble in recent weeks, especially with talented strikers. Sene already has 7 goals this year, and if our backline (especially the CB's struggle), it could be a long day. Let's hope this is not the case Saturday night.
QUESTION OF THE DAY