USMNT: On to the Hex One
Go ahead, take that sigh of relief you’ve been longing for since the stumble in Jamaica.
Yes, it is true that the rumors of Jurgen Klinsmann and his US Men’s National Team were greatly exaggerated. After a nervy opening 5 minutes the vets stepped up and got the job done.
Of course there are some issues that will need to be addressed if qualification for Brazil 2014 is to be achieved, but let’s take a look at the good things from the last week of international play before we dive into the bad.
- Clint Dempsey is everything we thought he was…and more
When the lights were the brightest, he put on a show. Two goals and an assist to boot (or head…) were exactly what the team needed. If you weren’t on team Dempsey before, there is no way you can deny your soft spot for the man now. He has taken a step beyond just international level star, but has a tenacity that is so inspiring you can’t help but know he’d run through a brick wall for this team.
- Danny Williams is quietly becoming one of the most important members of this team
He might not have the star power of Dempsey or Bradley, and you might agree with Preston Zimmerman about “fake-Americans” but if you want this team to succeed at the highest level, Klinsmann needs to use every tool available to him. While Jermaine Jones can be a bit of a hot head and accumulate yellow cards like it’s halloween candy, Williams is level-headed and a thinker. When in possession of the ball he is calm and more than happy to pass it along without trying to take on the world. At only 23 years of age, this could turn out to be one of the greatest players to ever play the position for the Red, White, and Blue.
- Michael Bradley is twice the player he was under his father
There were plenty of questions about what would happen to Bradley when his father moved on. He wasn’t getting consistent playing time at a struggling club side, but daddy kept picking him. Without the safety net of his father he has not only gotten steady time at the club level, but moved to an even higher profile club. At the international level he has nearly cut out all of the mental lapses that plagued him before. The firing of his father might have been the best career move for Mikey.
- Eddie Johnson and Graham Zusi are helping the MLS cause
Klinsmann’s approach to building a roster has been to favor European and Mexican based players. With the outstanding play of Johnson and Zusi in the last few qualifiers hope has been restored to the USMNT hopefuls in MLS. Omar Gonzalez, Steven Beitashour, and Chris Pontius should be smiling right now, while struggling players abroad, like Robbie Findley, should be on the phone with their agents about coming home.
- LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is world-class
Columbus still holds the pole position for hosting right in big-time USMNT games, but Kansas City can’t be far behind. The Cauldron, reinforced with members of Sam’s Army and the American Outlaws gave as ringing an endorsement for soccer fandom in this country as any 66,000+ fans at a Seattle game. The loud-and-clear reminder of “You’re not going to Brazil” is something I hope haunts Carlos Ruiz well into his retirement.
Okay, since we’re feeling sky-high about the team now, let me bring everyone back down to Earth.
- The back four cannot remain a work in progress
Yes, injuries hurt the team the last two matches, but there is no way Carlos Ruiz should have been able to score that early in a match. I still believe Bocanegra is capable of playing at this level and Cameron is the second best player at the position, but the Gold Cup needs to be used wisely. Either used as an opportunity to test out possible alternative options or to build chemistry between the two first choice backs.
- Klinsmann and Landon Donovan need to get on the same page
The interview of Donovan questioning his own mindset at this point in his career still haunts me. When you watch Dempsey talk about how focused he is and watch him take on opponents with the ball at his feet or in verbal conflicts during dead ball situations makes it all the more obvious the two best players in the player pool are at opposite ends of their careers. If Donovan is going to come back into the roster (and I do think it is necessary) he needs to prove to Klinsmann and the other members of the roster that he truly wants to be there. Lackadasisical Landon has no place in the USMNT XI.
- Is it lack of ego or lack of belief in the player pool that stopped Klinsmann from calling in replacements for injured players
There were a number of withdrawals from the USMNT camp before the two qualifiers. Shea and Donovan were known injuries while Castillo and Johnson sprung up. If the answer to the question is lack of belief, then upcoming friendlies and the Gold Cup need to be used to strengthen the understanding of available players. Test the water and see who can at least fill in if an emergency situation like this were to arise. On the other hand, if it was ego that prevented the necessary coverage, the Hexagonal could be a whole lot more difficult that it has to be. Hopefully Klinsmann is learning how difficult CONCACAF can be and he will put those lessons into practice.
- There is a ton of pressure on this team
Media coverage has never been higher for American soccer and the amount of apocalyptic articles about the state of the USMNT were staggering. While the road to the Hex did not go as smoothly as it should have been, I had a hard time believing it was really as bad as was let on. It might be a little far fetched to agree with Hope Solo that the media should be supportive of the team’s, but it can’t be healthy for the players to read all that has been out there.
- It is 2012, why are we still huddled around a computer screen searching the internet for an illegal stream of USMNT qualifiers
Once cable companies work out their own deals with beIn Sports this issue might become an non-issue, but for the time being it is a sore spot for a lot of could-be soccer fans. ESPN offered great coverage of the game in Kansas City, but the fact someone couldn’t be flipping through their channels and end up watching the USMNT play a qualifier is not good for the game’s growth in this country. It wasn’t a great game for a casual fan to watch, but the more soccer on TV the better.
So with the third round of qualifying behind us the path is clear on what the USMNT needs to do in order to qualify for Brazil 2014. Joining them in the “hexagonal” will be Jamaica from Group A, Mexico and Costa Rica from Group B, and Panama and Honduras from Group C. Jamaica and Panama will replace El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago from the 2010 Hexagonal, in a clear upgrade in talent. This will not be an easy group to qualify out of. Once the schedule is set, keep an eye out here for a full preview of the hexagonal and how it works.