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Commentary: How Goes it With US Men’s National Team?

Coach Bob Bradley’s US Men’s National Team played two international friendlies in the last few days, drawing both games.  Their Saturday night match against Poland in Chicago ended as a 2-2 draw, while Tuesday night in Philadelphia the USMNT was unable to get on the scoreboard against Colombia and ended up in a scoreless draw.  Many American fans are disappointed with the team, in that they were unable to get even one win on home turf.  Including their 2-0 loss to Brazil earlier this summer, the USMNT are winless in three matches at home since the 2010 World Cup, with, two most recent contests against rather middling competition.

What does this say about the state of the USMNT?  There was a loud clamoring among American fans for the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann following the World Cup, and while the USSF flirted with appointing Klinsmann as national team coach, the romance ended unsuccessfully again, as it had after the 2006 World Cup.  Bob Bradley was rehired, and personally I have no problem with that.  Bradley appears less rigid in his thinking about the makeup of his squad than earlier in his tenure, experimenting with both new players and new formations.  And if one thinks a new head coach is always the answer, let me refer you to the English and Turkish national teams and their current frustrations with renowned coaches Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink.  Both teams have been less than inspiring in their 2012 European qualifiers, including England’s dismal scoreless draw with Montenegro and Turkey’s inability to score not only against Germany but also against Azerbaijan.

Clearly, Bradley is in an experimental mode, and this is the time, at the very beginning of the 2014 World Cup cycle, to be so.   German-American midfielder Jermaine Jones made his long-awaited debut for the USMNT Saturday, and clearly showed that he belongs in any American starting XI, as his vision, aggressiveness and experience add greatly to the American mix.  His talents, however, overlap somewhat those of established American holding midfielders Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu (not to mention Ricardo Clark), and in the first half of Tuesday’s contest Bradley went with a 4-3-3 formation, which was obviously an uncomfortable fit for all three individuals.  Wingers Stuart Holden and newbie Brek Shea were unable to provide width, and Jozy Altidore looked too often rudderless as he searched in vain for service.  The USMNT’s attack, if it can be so generously described, was all lateral and back passing, and the 4-3-3 was scrapped in the second half and Edu substituted out.  The lone offensive highlight of the first half was Stuart Holden’s quality free kick into the Colombian box that unfrotunately went for naught.

The second half was brighter offensively for the USMNT, with the introduction of Clint Dempsey in midfield and Eddie Johnson as a partner with Altidore, although Johnson did little to show that he is a prime-time international striker.  Benny Feilhaber’s substitution in also helped, but the most impressive substitution was that of Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj.  The right back showed poise and attacking ability down the right flank, and surely looks like he could inherit Steve Cherundolo’s right back spot on the USMNT someday.  Defenders Clarence Goodson and Heath Pearce showed that getting regular time on the pitch is more important than sitting on the bench with a big club, as both were solid.  Brad Guzan started in goal and got the clean sheet, though he wasn’t really tested. 

So how goes it with the USMNT?  Not bad, I say.  Although the results have been less than we have come to expect, I don’t mind the experimentation at all.  We now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jermaine Jones can contribute mightily to the squad (although one can’t forget that he missed the entire 2009-2010 Bundesliga season with injury, along with the vast majority of the 2005-2006 season with a different injury).  Jones belongs.  We have also learned Eric Lichaj is a player with an international future, and though Brek Shea failed to impress, he at least now has broken the ice with his first senior team cap.  We also know that Eddie Johnson currently isn’t an answer upfront and that Oguchi Onyewu, while still a force in the back, needs to get playing time either at AC Milan or perhaps on loan.  We know that the American midfield is crowded, and it’s up to Bradley to shape the tactics to take advantage of the midfield talent the US has.  And, despite the poor play while aligned in  the 4-3-3 formation, I hope that Bradley doesn’t abandon it completely yet.   Perhaps employing that formation against South Africa in November will show a better result as the players become more accustomed to roles they were obviously uncomfortable with on Tuesday.

Bottom line….no the USMNT won’t be moving up the FIFA World Rankings based on the last few friendlies.  So?  I agree with Bradley’s experimentation with tactics and players.   If anything, the USMNT needs more experimentation, particularly in looking for help up front, in the back four, and yes, in goal.  So while disappointed in not gaining wins, and suffering while watching the painful American play in the first half Tuesday, I believe Bradley is doing the right thing at the right time.

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2 Responses

  1. I agree with you that it is best to consider the big picture. It would have been nice to get victories for the American fans though. One thing is for sure, if we ever need a scoreless draw (and sometimes you do in group play of a competition), the tactics, formation and personnel deployed in the first half versus Columbia will absolutely guarantee that. As for the coach, I really think the US National Team would be better off with Klinsmann leading us to the 2014 World Cup. He is the right coach at the right time for our National Team program. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bob Bradley but we need a foreign influence leading our program. We all saw what kind of impact a foreign influence had on the pitch in these two matches.

  2. Just finished watching Edu play for Rangers vs. Valencia in Champions League. His total performance validates that he is a holding midfielder who gets forward and not a central defender. I sincerely hope that Bob Bradley saw the match and it influences his next team selection. I like Michael Bradley a whole lot but it is time for him to ride the pine so we can all see Germany Jones and Edu dominate the midfield.

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