[Article Commentary] Trecker: USA, ‘big game’ jinx

Jamie Trecker recently concluded his three-part series on why the USA needed to become the second team ever to win in Mexico City.  Since we failed, US Soccer is obviously doomed.  I’m sorry to keep going at Trecker, but since this is related to the last two I’ve commented on, it seems logical to discuss the final chapter.  After this one, I’ll give Jamie a break for a while–I promise.

The USA has done it again.

Two weeks after a humiliating 5-0 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final at Giants Stadium, the USA lost their third straight big game, dropping a 2-1 decision at the Azteca in a World Cup qualifier.

This argument is getting a little old, but I have a hard time calling the USA’s Gold Cup loss a “big game”.  It wasn’t.  If it were, we would have had more than one starter also start in the Mexico qualifier.

The Americans, of course, have never won a game at the Azteca. Lifetime, the Americans are now 0-23-1 at the stadium. Mexico also has not lost a game there since 2001, when they were upset by Costa Rica (their only loss ever in qualifying at the famed stadium).

So why is it a huge surprise/massive disappointment that we lost?

And yet, this was a bad loss for the Americans. All eyes were on this U.S. team after its surprising run to the Confederations Cup final.

Really?  You think casual soccer fans cut out of work early to watch the game on Mun2?  “All eyes” is a pretty gross exaggeration.

And consensus was that this was a weakened Mexico side, ripe for the taking.

This is the first I’ve heard of this.  Yes, they were without Senor Barcelona, but they are a pretty strong team, currently on a good run of form.

…even more troubling than the Americans’ penchant for losing big games is the manner in which they continue to do it.

Once again, the USA failed to control the midfield game, failed to see its ‘stars’ show up, and failed to put together a complete game.

Midfield control is a huge issue.  As good as Clark may be, he still can’t hold and distribute that well.  He’s a ball winner.  Until we find a center mid to pair with Bradley (and I would argue that we have a few in our system, like Feilhaber and Torres), we’ll struggle to win the midfield battle.  If you looked at pre-game analyses from the US Soccer media, they had the midfield battle as a clear win for the Nats.  Player-for-player, we look better than Mexico.  But without someone like Claudio Reyna (I know that’s a lot to ask)–someone who can hold the ball and control the pace of the game–it’s going to be really hard for us to win possession/midfield battles, despite our individual talent.  [Enter: Jermaine Jones?]

The Americans looked solid enough in the first half, despite conceding a goal to Israel Castro in the 19th minute, but then began to fray as the match went on. By the second half, the USA had lost all sense of shape and purpose, and it cost them dearly.

Trecker is manipulating the facts of the match to fit his pre-written narrative (“A Tale of Two Halves”).  The fact is, the USA controlled the game up until the Charlie Davies goal.  Almost immediately after, Mexico took control of the game, and attacked almost non-stop.  The only time the US looked remotely dangerous after the 10-minute mark was around the 60th or 70th when Davies was sprung on a few attacks–he even looked like taking the lead with that wide-open header.  I’m sorry, Jamie, but this is not another “classic” USA second-half blow-up.  Mexico simply dominated 90% of the game.

Many fans will question Bradley’s decision to start Steve Cherundolo and Brian Ching — two players who underwhelmed at the Gold Cup, over Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Spector.

I’ll be one of those.

…while Ching was unable to impose himself on the game as a target man.

To be fair, how much service did he get?

More fans will question Bradley’s substitutions. Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber and Altidore came on and did little with their allotted time.

The problem with Bradley’s substitutions is that you can almost pick them out before the game.  I probably would have guessed: Feilhaber for Ching and someone for Clark (probably Holden or Torres) in the 60s, followed by Altidore for Davies around the 75th.  Far too predictable.  Never have anything to do with the game.  In-game management is definitely Bradley’s biggest weakness.

Landon Donovan made one great pass — to Charlie Davies to score the opening goal in the 8th minute — and then vanished.

He did have swine flu…

Did Moreno (the referee) give the homers some calls? Yep — just as every home team gets, including the USA.

This game can’t be blamed on the ref, but I think you’re fooling yourself if you believe the USA gets the same advantage in their home matches.  That’s just plain silly.

So now the question is who will pay for this one?

The answer to that question is depressingly familiar. U.S. Soccer seems unable or unwilling to make a change at the top, so it won’t likely be the coach. Fans have been making excuses for the players for a generation, so those guys are likely to get a bye as well.

But outside the insular world of American soccer — the only place where Brian Ching is seriously considered a viable international talent — the reaction will be one of disdain and disgust.

…or ambivalence.  It has become clear that Jamie Trecker occupies a universe in which everyone in the world gives a shit about our Gold Cup losses and World Cup qualifying campaign.  In reality, people in other countries probably care as much about our qualifier in Mexico as I do about their countries’ games (not so much).  A 2-1 loss to a decent team on the road is nothing extraordinary.

Keep in mind that sports fans have been burned repeatedly by the hype. They keep tuning in after being told they’re going to see something special. And every time (outside of the Spain match), they’re presented with a group of guys who can’t win the big game.

The fact is, these performances — if left unchecked — will kill the sport in America. That fact seems lost on soccer executives, who keep claiming that these failures are “learning experiences.”

They’re not. They’re confirmation of America’s inability to grow up and take this sport seriously. And that’s why the USA will continue to lose the big game.

I’ve said it every other time I’ve responded to one of his articles, so I guess I may as well say it one more:  Your articles are the reason for this hype, Jamie.  Every time we have a “big game”, we get an article from you about how it’s a must-win.  So important that, if we lose, “the sport will never be taken seriously in America.”

I hate to break it to you, but most of our losses have been learning experiences.  That’s why we’ve gone from World Cup absentees to World Cup fixtures.  That’s why we’ve gone  from struggling to get fans out to games to selling out stadiums.  That’s why we’ve gone from Mexico’s whipping boys to powers of the region, and the kind of team that can beat the world’s best, on a good day.

I’m all for accountability.  I’m not a fan of Bob Bradley.  But it is ridiculously stupid that Jamie really believes a loss in Mexico City should be the final nail in the coffin.  Nobody–and I mean nobody–can waltz into Mexico City and expect to come out with a win.  It’s one of the most difficult environments you’ll encounter in the soccer world–well over 100,000 fans, altitude, and horrible air quality are huge advantages in the Mexico’s favor.  I would go as far as to say that the US will never get to the point where they can expect 3 points from their away tie with Mexico.

Well, there you have it.  Feel free to comment on Trecker’s latest article in the comments section below.

Note:  I thought it was interesting that in Jamie’s analysis, he didn’t hit on one of the biggest problems I had with the game–the ill-preparedness of the US team.  The balls were constaintly sailing long (I presume this is because balls travel farther in the thinner air), and our team seemed winded about 30 minutes in.  I’m surprised the team’s poor preparation hasn’t been discussed more by the American soccer media.

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Trecker, Mexico “last chance for the USA”

Our old friend Jamie Trecker is back at it,this time claiming a win in Mexico is a must.  A win would obviously be fabulous for the reasons highlighted in Trecker’s article, among others, but I’m with reader Josh (see comments in our last Trecker response) when he says he’s a little tired of people expecting a win in Mexico, as if some dramatic shift has occurred in American soccer, now making us favorites when we travel to Costa Rica and Mexico.  No way.  Optimism is nice, but realism is necessary.  Approaching tomorrow’s qualifier with a realistic set of expectations not only makes the likely lows more bearable, but the potential highs more exciting.  We’re not Brazil, and I would argue not even the giants of South America could waltz into the Azteca expecting to win.  Here we go–Trecker, Round Two:

Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier at the Azteca would be special in any calendar year.

In fact, a Mexico vs. USA game hasn’t needed any extra hype since the Americans started taking qualifying for the World Cup seriously back in the late 1980s.

Nevertheless, Wednesday’s showdown between the region’s powers is bigger than usual.

Only because of articles like this.

Bluntly put, it’s a last chance for the USA this year in three significant areas.

I don’t even need to read the reasons to see this is an overstatement.

First, it’s the USA’s last chance to influence FIFA powers before the 2010 World Cup draw.

I hate to say it, but this ship has probably sailed.  Had we won the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup, then a win in Mexico City could have given us an argument for seeding.  Since we’ve failed on the two former, there’s no argument to be made.

Also, and I hate to downplay the significance of what should be a fun match to watch, Mexico aren’t highly ranked.  Unfortunately for us, a road win in Mexico city wouldn’t reflect as strongly in our ranking as it probably should.  It doesn’t take into account our history at the Azteca.  It doesn’t take into account the smog or altitude.  It reads as #12 team beats #30 team on the road in a World Cup qualifier.  For better or worse, FIFA has *attempted to* remove subjectivity from these sort of assessments.

Let’s be honest — FIFA saw the United States’ meltdowns this summer. Sepp Blatter and co. were in South Africa to see the USA cough up a 2-0 advantage in the Confederations Cup final against Brazil and they were at Giants Stadium for that humiliating 5-0 loss against Mexico.

I know this was kind of addressed with my last comment, but I just think it’s funny that Trecker thinks “Sepp Blatter and co.” sit around, judging every game.  Yeah, they probably watched the Confederations Cup final.  If anything, I’d say they were more impressed by the fact that we could take the game to Brazil than they were displeased at our inability to close it out.  Even after the Spain win, I’d be very surprised if “they” expected us to come as close as we did in the final.

If the Americans don’t get some help in seeding they will likely be drawn with the rest of CONCACAF and the Asians. Effectively that means you have no chance to face one of the weaker nations in the 32-team field. It offers the disheartening possibility of landing in a group with, say, Argentina, France and Ivory Coast.

This is actually pretty funny–you’d think Trecker would do a little more research before publishing this stuff.  You know, there’s a reason the USA has been drawn out of the same pot as the rest of CONCACAF in years past, and it’s not because “they” decided we were all equally good (or bad).    Perhaps you noticed that every team in Pot B for the 2002 draw was European.  And in the 2006 draw, every team in Pot C was European.  And the USA is always grouped with CONCACAF and teams from either Asia (2006) or Africa (2002).  This is because FIFA does not seed teams beyond the first tier (unless they changed this policy this year).  They do this because if you put the USA in Pot B, Mexico in Pot C, and Costa Rica in Pot D, you could potentially wind up with a group (however unlikely it may be) with all three CONCACAF teams.  Similarly, you could wind up with a group (or groups) that are 100% European.  I believe this makes Trecker’s first point completely irrelevant.

The best you can hope for in the bottom row is to be drawn against the host South Africans, and that will be no picnic if it happens.

I don’t think the game against the seeded team in any group in any World Cup is a picnic.

Second, it’s the last chance to catch and hold the attention of the U.S. sports fan.

This is a valid point–a win against Mexico would grab the attention of some of the casual American soccer fans.  Hold it?  I doubt it.

The women’s soccer bubble has burst as well. A team that drew a capacity crowd to the Rose Bowl in 1999 has virtually disappeared from the public mind in 10 years. Success in Pasadena did not create a groundswell of interest in soccer, after all.

This is part of the reason I doubt it.

A win at the Azteca and there will be reason to think some momentum exists to carry into the World Cup next summer. A loss, especially a bad one, will consign soccer to its usual position as an after-thought among Americans.

Yes, a win at the Azteca would allow the hype machine to roll on–it, along with the Confederations Cup, would probably be the center piece of all the pre-World Cup shows.  But to pretend that a win–one game–would change anything in a dramatic fashion is just naive.  The growth of soccer in America is not something that can be accomplished overnight, let alone over 90 minutes.  It’s going to take years, decades, probably a couple generations.  Yes, it will get US Soccer on SportsCenter.  Yes, casual sports fans will talk about how the US Soccer team is kind of good now.  But when football season rolls around, US Soccer will be only slightly more relevant than it was last year, win or lose.

Third, it’s one last exam for the current squad and staff.

Yep, one last exam until the next last exam on September 5th…then the next last exam on September 9th…

Bob Bradley is apparently fireproof. He’s a nice man, to be sure, but you know by now how we feel about his team prep and squad decisions.

Haha…OK–Jamie and I aren’t totally dissimilar.

If Bradley is smart, he’ll play a virtual 5-3-1-1 with a three-man triangle in front of Tim Howard. He’ll also have to remind his wide backs that they need to stay at home because every lung-bursting run in the Azteca takes its toll.

For those who don’t remember, Jamie’s argument for a five-man back line centers around our 5-0 loss to Mexico.  This back line included Chad Marshall, Clarence Goodson, Heath Pearce, and Jay Heaps.  Because of their dismal performance, Trecker believes we should play a back line of Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay DeMerit.  My response: Huh?  How are the two groups related?

Does Mr. Trecker not remember how poorly our team played with a lone striker?  1-3 to Costa Rica.  1-3 to Italy.  0-3 to Brazil.   What happened we started playing with two strikers?  3-0 against Egypt.  2-0 against Spain.  2-3 to Brazil.  So how do we win in Mexico?  Let’s not do what got us the three most impressive attacking performances of recent memory.  Let’s do the thing that got us two goals in three blowout losses (both of which were penalties).  In fact, let’s take one of the midfielders from those losses and replace him with an extra defender–that should keep the goals rolling in.  Lord knows Brazil didn’t put three in on us because we were struggling to hold possession–it was because we needed a fifth defender back there.

Up front the team can rely on Landon Donovan for a big game.

I don’t think any game plan that requires one of the players to have a “big game” is a very good one.  A good game plan is one by which if all players play at their normal capacity, the team should get a result.

So, a win can take this team to a place where many fans have argued it has long belonged. A loss means many will write off this summer’s high points as another example of American soccer over-selling and under-delivering.

Articles like these are what’s responsible for the over-selling of American soccer.  Articles like these that not only claim a win should be expected going into the Azteca–a stadium in which we have never won, located in a country in which we’ve never won!–but anything less would be a failure that would inevitably doom American soccer to bad Cup draws and obscurity.

Here’s my proposal:  Let’s go into Wednesday’s qualifier with realistic expectations.  Let’s not hype it to the point that anything less than the improbable is completely unacceptable.  Let’s ask for a strong performance.  Let’s be happy with a point.

The forgotten Youth World Cups

It’s been in the back of my mind all summer that the U-17 and U-20 World Cups were approaching, but I wasn’t sure who, what, where, when, why, etc.  Well, the U-17 World Cup draw just happened, and it doesn’t look too bad:

GROUP E

United Arab Emirates

Malawi

Spain

USA

Based on my limited knowledge of the U-17 game, I’d say the USA should be a favorite to make it out of their group.  Apparently the U-20 draw happened a while ago.  This one looks pretty tough:

GROUP C

USA

Germany

Cameroon

Korea Republic

Again, based on my limited knowledge of the U-20 game, all of these teams could be pretty tough.  The African teams always seem to out-perform their seniors in the big competitions.  I believe the US drew with Korea in the last U-20 World Cup (yes, different groups of players, but I don’t have a lot to work on here).  Germany…well, they’re Germany.  And last time I checked, our boys were being coached by Thomas Rongen.

Anyway, the U-20s will be playing from September 24th to October 16th, and the U-17s will play from October 24th to November 15th.  We’ll try to keep any eye on those tournaments when they roll around…maybe we’ll try to do a brief preview for each.

Article Commentary: Jamie Trecker’s summer review

It’s been a while since I’ve done an article commentary, so I thought I’d take on Jamie Trecker’s latest article about the USA’s summer results.  I’m not Trecker’s biggest fan, but this commentary isn’t as much about bashing his article as it is about spurring a little debate.  Trecker questions how successful this summer was for the Yanks, and it’s an good conversation to be had.  I’d be interested to hear what you all think in the comments section below.  Here are some select bits for discussion:

But a look at the results of the thirteen games played by the Americans played over the past two months reveals that unfortunately the bad times outnumber the good.

I’ll spare you the grammatical commentary…  You could argue that the bad outnumber the good.  I’m not sure if the bad outweigh the good, though.  I would say the highs–perhaps limited to victories over Egypt and Spain–are far more significant than the bad–losses to Brazil, Italy, and away to Costa Rica–which were, you must admit, expected.

And, in both those finals, they’ve conceded eight goals in the second half.

That number is a little disturbing.   But to be fair, 5 of those goals came with our C-team on the field.

The coaching staff has not prepared the team to compete at the highest level. If the Americans hope to perform well at the World Cup next year, U.S. Soccer needs to make a change.

Despite our anti-Bradley posts in the past, the Spain victory, if nothing else, proved that a coaching change isn’t necessary for success.  One could argue it would help.  But there is absolutely no way it will happen.

The USA has also had an unusually high number of players ejected.

This was probably the most disturbing part of the Confederations Cup.

The USA’s biggest wins came against Grenada (4-0 on July 4th to open the Gold Cup), Egypt (3-0 to reach the semifinals of the Confederation Cup, with help from Brazil) and Spain (2-0 in the Confed Cup). Their other wins all came against Honduras (3), a team that has not won against the USA in eight years, and Panama, and that one required a penalty kick in extra time. And, they were held to a draw against Haiti.

I’m a little confused as to why the Gold Cup is so prominently featured in the analysis of this summer’s action.  I don’t see what our C-team’s results against Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Grenada, and Mexico say about US Soccer as a whole–good or bad.

But even [the US’ solid back line] is a mirage of sorts. The improved back four of Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Oneywu and Bocanegra did blank Spain, too, but was shredded by Brazil in the second half of the final.

Am I the only one who doesn’t think the back line looked that bad against Brazil?  I think the problem stemmed more from our midfield’s inability to hold possession.  If you let Brazil attack for an entire half, they will probably put some goals in.

The way Mexico destroyed the makeshift back four Sunday added further to the argument that the Americans might consider playing five at the back with Steve Cherundolo wide right, Spector, DeMerit and Oneywu forming a trident, and Bocanegra playing wide left.

Just so we’re clear…you are saying, because Heath Pearce, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, and Jay Heaps contributed to letting 5 goals in against Mexico, we should play five in the back, with Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, and Carlos Bocanegra (note: there are precisely 0 repeat players between the two groups). 

[On Mexico’s Gold Cup victory] This wasn’t a “learning experience.” You don’t learn anything from having your head handed to you by your biggest regional rival — save for the fact that you made some very poor selections on your side.

I would argue the exact opposite.  The Gold Cup loss was nothing but a learning experience–in fact, it was very clear that this whole tournament was nothing but a learning experience from the moment the roster was announced.  We got to see which players could put in decent performances against bad teams, mediocre teams, and in the case of Mexico, pretty good teams.  We learned which players could help us out in qualifying, and which didn’t belong in a US shirt ever again.

I agree to some extent that roster selection was bad, but it’s not because we lost.  It’s because too many players were selected that will never factor into the US’ plans.  I have a hard time believing that Jay Heaps would ever be called upon for an important match.  Why not test out a younger, up-and-comer who might be able to contribute down the line? 

I thought long and hard about whether Bradley should have called in the Confederations Cup players he had at his disposal for the final.  To me, it would have been a wrong move.  The group of players that got you to the final have the right to play for it.  It would be disrespectful to all-of-a-sudden bring in the “real” players to snatch the glory.  You could argue that a 5-0 loss means Bradley’s faith was misplaced.  I’d argue that bringing in the ringers was lose-lose.

Demerit likely wouldn’t have gotten that chance had Bocanegra not been injured. This long time unwillingness on the part of Bradley to make roster changes, even when they would clearly benefit his team, has been a subject of much debate among fans.

I actually think this is a very good point.  Some writers want to give Bradley credit for finding an ideal back four (Spector, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra).  But this foursome was available to us for a long time.  How did Bradley “find” it?  Cherundolo got hurt, forcing him to use Hejduk; Hejduk got hurt, forcing him to use Spector; Bocanegra got hurt, forcing him to use DeMerit; Bocanegra returned from injured and was slotted in at left back.  I won’t say he had no options here (he could have gone with Marvell Wynne, Danny Califf, and left Bornstein at left back), but it took three injuries for him to arrive at the best defensive quartet we’ve seen…well, maybe ever.  You’d like to think the coach would have a better feel for his players. 

The Americans gave away the huge psychological edges they held over both Mexico and Costa Rica.

In the case of Mexico, maybe.  But deep down, they know they beat up on a group of second- and third-choice Americans.  In the case of Costa Rica, no way.  The Americans have never won in Saprissa.  In fact, the last time they played there, they lost 3-0 (2006 qualifying cycle).  The US has traditionally traded results with Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying.

Italy, Mexico and Brazil all pummeled the USA in the second halves of their matches, signaling that as the Americans tire and the adrenalin is replaced by tired legs, the good teams can take full advantage.

Against Italy, we were down a man, which didn’t help.  The Brazil final was at the end of a tightly-packed tournament.  And for the last time, I think the Mexico result is completely irrelevant to this discussion.  Yes, I’m making excuses–none of those results were desirable–but to claim that they demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the American soccer program is an overstatement.

That directly calls into question…the ability of MLS to prepare players for the world game.

I do agree that MLS-ers have some trouble adjusting to the pace of the international game.  There are some obvious exceptions to the “rule” (I guess that doesn’t make it a rule…), but this tournament demonstrated the need of young American players to move to Europe if they hope to compete effectively on the world stage.  Call me a “eurosnob”, if you will.  I’m a big MLS fan.  But I’m also a realist.

After playing six Gold Cup matches, there is only one field player to emerge as a “possible” for the Americans down the road and that is Stuart Holden. To play an entire tournament to ID only a single man is a ridiculous waste of energy and resources.

I disagree.

Where were, for example, Jose Francisco Torres…

Tired, requested a rest.

…and Danny Califf?

Useless.

Why was Freddy Adu allowed to return to Portugal — where, once again, he is not playing?

He requested before the tournament began to leave after the second match.

Why did Kenny Cooper, who finished on the Gold Cup all-tournament list, see so few minutes in comparison to Brian Ching (who may have played himself off the side)?

Ching played himself off the side?  Ching did exactly what he always does: everything but score.  I don’t know why these games would do anything to change Bradley’s opinion of him.  Cooper did start one game, and didn’t look that good.  How he ended up on the all-tournament team is a mystery to me.  He’s got talent, but he needs some refining before he’s ready.  That said, yes, I wish he would have gotten a few more minutes in the Gold Cup.  Maybe one more chance to start.

Why was Jay Heaps given more than a single game when it is clear that at his age he couldn’t possibly be a factor in South Africa?

Agreed.

Why was Michael Parkhurst called in to replace the injured Jimmy Conrad — and then not play?

Because he looked pretty bad in the Gold Cup and Goodson looked pretty good.  I would argue that his call-up only due to Conrad’s injury makes him third-choice by default.

Why was Altidore, who didn’t exactly rack up the minutes in Europe, allowed to take the time off after being named to the roster? Why were Conor Casey, Ricardo Clark and Johnathan Bornstein added to the roster, only to not be used?

Perhaps because Bradley had already gotten extensive looks at all of these players in a tournament we actually cared about.

Sadly, coaches have rarely been held accountable by U.S. Soccer for their performances. This time, they should be.

I totally agree with your point.  In the past, I’ve talked about how all coaches are given a free pass since they only have one real expectation: to qualify for the World Cup, which really isn’t that hard.  Perhaps they are expected to make it out of group, too.  But in this case, I think you’re off.  Coaches should be held accountable for coming runner-up in a tournament they regarded as a throw-away from day one?  I just don’t see it.

There’s an August 12 game in Mexico City coming up that must be won if the momentum gained in the Confederations Cup isn’t to be totally surrendered.

Really?  Momentum will be surrendered if we don’t accomplish a task that we have never accomplished–a task that only one team has ever accomplished?!  A win would be nice.  It seems more possible than ever.  But we should be realistic–walking out of Mexico City with a point would be a great accomplishment, and it shouldn’t be expected.

But what do think would have happened Sunday had the final score been, USA 5, Mexico 0?

I think Javier Aguirre would have said goodbye to his players before his last press conference as coach.

Aguirre would have been fired because his B-team failed to accomplish something that no Mexican team had accomplished for over a decade?  I find that very hard to believe.  Jamie–I’m all for accountability, but you’re making far too big a deal of a pretty meaningless game.

Alright.  I’ve had my go, now it’s your turn.  Feel free to comment below!

Jack McInerney feature

I’ve enjoyed Justin Rodriguez’ stories for Soccernet on the US youth system.  His latest is a feature on Jack McInerney.  For those of you who don’t know/remember McInerney, he is the kid who seemingly came out of nowhere to score 5 goals and 3 assists in the U-17s’ 3-game CONCACAF Championship campaign.  I knew nothing about him before that tournament, and I’ve learned little about him since, so I’m glad Rodriguez chose Jack as his latest topic.  In potential transfer news, apparently McInerney has a trial with a first-division Dutch side.  Let’s hope it goes well–an early European move would be fantastic.  Here’s the article: McInerney shoulders the goal-scoring load for U-17s.

Gold Cup recap

The Gold Cup is over.  While the final was certainly a disappointment, it’s important to recognize the purpose of this edition of the tournament–it was an opportunity to evaluate our fringe players, hopefully identifying who should (and should not) be considered for the 2010 roster.  Here’s our take:

 

HELPED THEIR CAUSES:

Troy Perkins (G) – It would probably be more accurate to say that he benefited from Luis Robles hurting his cause.  Yes, he had problems with distribution at times.  Yes, he let in 5 against Mexico.  But right now, he looks like the front-runner for our #3 GK spot.

Heath Pearce (D) – He seemingly had fallen out of the left back race before the Gold Cup.  He played pretty well, for the most part.  Could potentially sneak in as a back-up left back.  Finding a club that will play him is a must.

Chad Marshall (D) – He looked composed for the US.  He has passed Califf in the pecking order and should definitely be considered for the 2010 roster.

Jimmy Conrad (D) – I was always a little confused why his name wasn’t in the center back conversation.  He’s pretty good, and he showed it in this tournament.

Clarence Goodson (D) –  Too bad for him, two other centerbacks equalled his performance.  Regardless, he has proven himself as a reliable back-up.

Steve Cherundolo (D) – Limited playing time, but he showed why he was a lock at right back before he got hurt and Spector took his chance to impress in the Confederations Cup.

Stuart Holden (M) – Showed flashes of the creativity that the US midfield is sorely lacking.  At times, he looked like a genius.  Other times, he was giving the ball away and crossing wildly.  The potential is obvious.

Kyle Beckerman (M) – Gives the ball away more than you’d like, but he showed good composure on the ball, impressive workrate, and the ability to shoot from distance.  Too bad there are so many players sitting ahead of him on the depth chart.

Benny Feilhaber (M) – Very limited playing time, but he showed what a player of his quality can do (and should do) when put into a game against weaker CONCACAF opponents.  He is clearly a front-runner for one of those center mid slots.

Robbie Rogers (M) – Started out very well, ended very poorly.  Not many people were talking about him as a potential World Cup team member before the tournament, but competent natural wingers are hard for us to come by these days.

Charlie Davies (F) – Similar to Benny Feilhaber, he highlighted the gulf in class between the first team and second team in his limited time on the field.

 

HURT THEIR CAUSES:

Luis Robles (G) – Put in an absolute shocker against Haiti.  Perkins isn’t so far ahead of him that he’s out of the race, but he’s definitely got some catching up to do.

Jay Heaps (D) – Was this guy ever really in contention for a roster spot?  I’m glad that this MLS vet got the opportunity to represent his country, but he should never suit up for the US again.

Michael Parkhurst (D)– I’ve never been a big fan of this guy.  And with Marshall, Goodson, and Conrad all putting in good performances, it’s hard to see how he will even come close to cracking the 23-man roster.

Colin Clark (M) – Looked pretty bad against Haiti.  Seems like a non-factor at this point.

 

NEUTRAL:

Jon Busch (G) – Was not given the opportunity to help or hurt his cause.

Freddy Adu (M) – Not as good as you would have liked, but not bad, either.  Needs playing time if he wants to make it to South Africa.

Santino Quaranta (M) – Not a bad showing.  Helped the US past Honduras.  I just don’t see him making a case for a roster spot.  That said, he is still only 24 years old (wow.), so it’s hard to call him a lost cause.

Sam Cronin (M) – Not quite there.

Brad Evans (M)– Meh.

Brian Ching (F)– Thought about putting him under “Helped Their Causes,” but what did he really show us?  He showed us what we already knew: he can hold the ball well, distribute well, and draw fouls, but he can’t take his goal-scoring opportunities.  He’s probably the starter right now, but you’d hope Davies and Altidore would be the clear favorites with one more year of development.

Davy Arnaud (F) – Looked alright at times, but I can’t imagine this guy making the roster.  His last two matches were pretty bad, and I’d be surprised if he got too many more looks (if any). 

Kenny Cooper (F)– Failed to make the most of his opportunities to impress.  He may very well be our #4 true striker at the moment (I’m excluding Landon from this list), but if he fails to improve significantly over the next year, and no one else steps up, I can’t imagine he’ll be coming along for the ride–we’ll probably only take Ching, Davies, and Altidore.

 

Let’s summarize by breaking this down into four categories:

Locks (if the roster were chosen today):  Troy Perkins, Chad Marshall, Steve Cherundolo, Benny Feilhaber, Charlie Davies, Brian Ching

Legitimate Contenders: Heath Pearce, Jimmy Conrad, Clarence Goodson, Stuart Holden, Freddy Adu, Robbie Rogers

Long Shots: Luis Robles, Michael Parkhurst, Kyle Beckerman, Kenny Cooper

No Shots: Jon Busch, Jay Heaps, Logan Pause, Sam Cronin (for 2010), Brad Evans, Colin Clark, Santino Quaranta, Davy Arnaud

Recap: Gold Cup first round

I headed over to Nevada Smith’s on Saturday night to watch the USA take on Haiti.  I’ve always been a little reluctant to watch games there because it tends to attract this brand of American soccer fan that I find particularly annoying–the fan who wishes he were born English.  Symptoms of this condition include: the desire to argue with anyone who uses the word “soccer”; the inability to watch an MLS game in its entirety (usually coupled with the desire to make fun of the low quality of play to anyone who will listen); the necessity to call the referee “wanker” at least once per match; etc.  It took me about five minutes to realize that not only was I standing by one of these guys, but I was standing by the king of them all.  Most leave it at, “Aw, dude, the ref is a total wanker!”  This guy went well beyond that mere child’s play.  “FAWKEEN’ELL!!”  “FAHFUCKSAKE!”  “FUCK OFF, MAN!!!”  “FAWKEEN CUNT!”  “FAWKEEN WANKAH!”  His accent was so convincing, in fact, that I thought there was a chance he might even be British.  Not the case.  At halftime, I overheard him talking to an Englishman wearing a West Ham polo.  “Aw, man, we may hate each other in six months from now [writer’s note: ???], but tonight we can agree to pull for the stars and stripes.” 

“Uh huh.”

“Aw, man, West Ham?!  Let’s sing some West Ham songs.  I know a few!”

“That wouldn’t make sense.  We’re watching a USA game.”

Shot down.  But our drunken compatriot didn’t leave it there.  Later on in the second half, the Englishman tried (unsuccessfully) to start a “Come on you Eagles!” chant:

“Come on you Eagles!  Come on you Eagles!”

[American footie fan gets within an inch of Mr. West Ham’s face, sticks arms out and sings screams:]

“STEVEN GERRARD-GERRARD!!”

This guy was amazing.  He was screaming so loud, I was astonished he could muster a whisper, let alone another “FAWKEEN CUNT WANKAH!” by the end of the game.  Most would have buckled, but this guy was a champ.

I know what you’re probably thinking at this point.  I’m deep into a tournament recap and I’ve failed to mention a single player’s name, result, or anything of the sort.  But that’s just it: after watching the last game of the group stage, the most entertaining thing I’ve seen so far were the antics of that guy at the bar.

Enough with the nonsense.  Here’s the one real lesson we’ve learned from the first round:  there is a monumental gulf in class between our first team and our B team.  There have been some promising performances–Robbie Rogers, Stu Holden, and Chad Marshall, come to mind–but most have been totally forgettable.  I know I was probably expecting too much going in, but I really thought Jay Heaps and Colin Clark could at least hold their own against Haiti.  The fact that Kyle “Battlefield Earth” Beckerman–a player who has no business playing in any meaningful games for the United States–could step into that game and look decent shows just how weak this team is.

I am a fan of MLS.  I appreciate everything it has done for American soccer and what it will continue to do for us in the future.  But any player who is a career MLS-er is faced with a huge problem–they’ve been playing a game for their entire lives that takes place at about half the speed of international soccer.  While Jay Heaps, Colin Clark, and Logan Pause struggled to keep up with the competition in the first round, even the more viable options for future call-ups–Kyle Beckerman, Luis Robles, and Michael Parkhurst (yes, the latter two are playing abroad)–were mediocre at best.  (Some will point out that the first team contains MLS-based players.  I would counter that these players are the few exceptions who are capable of playing in bigger leagues.  Ching might be the exception to this exception, but I see him as a place-holder between the McBride and Altidore generations.)

Perhaps the gulf in class is best demonstrated by our second game against a less-than-full-strength Honduras team.  What was a neutral game, arguably favoring Honduras for the first 60 minutes, was completely turned around by Benny Feilhaber (soon to be our fifth-choice center mid after the arrival of Jermaine Jones) and Charlie Davies (arguably our third-best striker).  These two were clearly in another class and were able to tilt the game in our favor.

The point of this analysis is not to be alarmist.  The USA has enough depth (just barely) to remain competitive, even when faced with some injuries.  The point is also not to make fun of the MLS.  But at the end of this competition, what we’re really looking for is a group of players who can step up and challenge for 2010 roster spots.  Unfortunately, not many people have shown the ability to do that.  I could see Chad Marshall displacing Danny Califf.  I could see Robbie Rogers making it in as a back-up winger.  Maybe–just maybe–if Adu goes another year without significant playing time, Stu Holden could sneak his way into the field of 23.  Beyond that, none of the non-Confederations Cup participants (with the obvious exceptions of Cherundolo and Ching who were both injured) have shown that they’d be able to compete at the international level.  I’m happy for career MLS-ers–those who have dedicated their careers to growing soccer in America–getting the chance to represent their country, but I cringe thinking of a scenario in which we’d actually have to rely on them.