Wednesday, August 17, 2011

U.S. National Team Players Just Don't Get Enough Minutes

There's an eye-opening article on about Americans abroad having a chance to impress new United States men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann--a clean slate if you will. The author makes the point that Klinsmann's philosophy is going to be so radically different from Bob Bradley's that anyone has a chance to make an impact with the #USMNT.

She scores more in Italy
than #USMNT players
Fair enough, and maybe so. Writer Avi Creditor makes his case well noting that Chris Rolfe, for example, has two goals in two games for his team in Denmark, and how Joe Corona is making his case in Mexico with Tijuana. Cool. Good enterprise angle. So is the reporting on how Americans have fared over the first two weeks of domestic play worldwide. Creditor went country by country, player by player providing details on how many minutes each played and whether they scored, etc.

If you ask me, that's the meat of the issue. It's not the opportunity these players have in front of them, but just how few minutes Americans with a chance to make the national squad actually play! In England, where the biggest pool of Americans swim overseas--where the likes of Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Eric Lichaj, Stuart Holden and others play--four of the 15 in England started their games. One, John Paul Pittman of Oxford United in League 2, came on as a sub. The rest were either not on the 18-man roster or were, but didn't see playing time. Says volumes if you ask me.

Let's keep going. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones - in the 18 for their respective squads and 0 minutes of live action. Same for Steve Cherundulo and Ricardo Clark. Carlos Bocanegra, the U.S. captain, not in the 18 for St. Etienne in France. Same story for Oguchi Onyewu with Sporting.

See where I'm going here? Our "best players" can't get on the field. It's great they're in Europe, being exposed to soccer cultures and supposedly better training and attitude about football. But what's the point if they're playing in reserve games and never getting a sniff of Sunday football?

What world football power operates this way with its players? Xavi and Rooney and Schweinsteiger, they'd be just as good for their respective nations if they sat every Sunday, correct?

To me, this raises tons of questions about the U.S.: Does our player selection just suck? Is the MLS single-entity system strangling national team development? Are we over-rating our best talent; worse yet, are our coaches and federation officials doing the same? They are supposed to be the experts here.

Kudos to Klinsmann for saying he needs more Latino influence in the #USMNT and for promising to play different faces and adopt a new philosophy. Maybe the answer is to open up MLS and make it more appealing and enticing for our best to play here in front of their national team coach. And yes, the U.S. needs more Latinos and more Euros, but only those who are playing ball every Sunday. Which is more than we can say for the Adus, Onyewus and Bornsteins of the world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

FIFA U-20 World Cup: Gloriously Rooting for Laundry

Whoever said kids should be seen and not heard has not been watching the U-20 World Cup. Stand up and shout boys, this has been one hell of a tournament. Watching the semifinals this weekend was euphoric and anxiety-inducing, just like good football should be.

Where to begin? With Portugal's one-for-the-ages penalties win over Argentina? Or how about with France gagging away a 1-0 lead with 7 seconds left in added time, and almost doing it again in extra time? And what about Brazil and Spain in extra time?

I wish I knew more about the players; I felt like I was rooting for laundry at times. I was. I was also rooting for good and dramatic football, which was hard not to do.The skill level is pretty high, in fact about the only distinguishing factor here from "senior" football is the size of the players. Most of them are tall and skinny and haven't really hit the weight room much yet as their older counterparts -- just a guess on my part.

Tactically however, the games are fun and fascinating to watch. They're playing for so much and for a lot of them, this may be their only shot at international glory. Imagine, all four quarterfinal matches went to extra time and two of them to penalty kicks. The games were tight, but you couldn't help get caught up in the drama. I can't advocate more than for you to watch tomorrow's semifinals. Brazil-Mexico and France-Portugal should be epic. A Brazil-Portugal World Cup final is epic at any level; Mexico, should it make the final, continues to make its case as a huge threat for the 2014 and 2018 World Cup (remember, Mexico won the U17 World Cup a few weeks back). France? Well, yeah, OK. Anyway.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Klinsmann, Not U.S., Needs to Win Tonight Against Mexico

Jurgen Klinsmann--Not Bob Bradley
Does Jurgen Klinsmann need to win tonight? You bet your ass he does. Now that doesn't mean the U.S. has to defeat Mexico tonight in Philadelphia, but it had better be a good show. He'd better play some young guys, show some hints of a new philosophy and the defense better not be a sieve. These were all the things that did in Bob Bradley, and to see more of the same would definitely set the Klinsmann Era off on the wrong foot. After all, we don't want smart-ass bloggers to start calling it the Klinsmann Error, do we?

Now seriously, it's humungously unfair for Klinsmann's first game at the helm of the United States men's national soccer team to come against the region's best team and the U.S.' biggest rival in Mexico.Nothing good can come of it unless the U.S. beats Mexico 2-nil. And even then, Klinsmann will be hailed as the savior and all future shortcomings will be judged against this--at least for the time being.

Maybe it's a good time to set expectations; consider this kinda like a tryout. Klinsmann is working with a slew of potential assistant coaches, starting with Tab Ramos, Thomas Dooley and Martin Vasquez. OK. The final 20 players Klinsmann brought to Philly includes some surprises. Clint Dempsey isn't on the roster, while DeMarcus Beasley is. So is Freddy Adu, Robbie Rogers, Kyle Beckerman, Zach Lloyd and Edgar Castillo. Who? Yeah. It's the young guys you've been clamoring for; the players Bradley never developed and never nurtured for 2014 and beyond. Bradley rode the veterans like Donovan, Dempsey, et al. And there's some justification there, mostly self-preservation--and in the end that didn't work.

Klinsmann has been around enough world-class football to understand the importance of playing younger players in meaningless friendlies and urge them to succeed and play at their highest level. This is the best way to evaluate young players; and at least most of these guys play regularly in MLS, for whatever that's worth. At least those are meaningful minutes, unlike Bradley who had no qualms about putting guys like Adu, Oguchi Onyewu and others who barely were on club rosters somewhere in the world, much less playing at all. And for some unfathomable reason were playing and starting on a national team roster! Says plenty about the state of U.S. football.

This might be the first mountain Klinsmann decides to climb. He needs players who are game fit mentally and physically. He needs players who understand the subtleties of game flow and rhythm. He needs players period, and not just players for today, but players for the next two to four years.

If you're a fan, tonight is must-see TV. Don't sweat the small stuff like winning or losing, because tonight it doesn't really matter. Let's see who Klinsmann plays, how the team plays and try to figure out what he likes and doesn't care for in this team. And tomorrow, let's talk about whether Klinsmann, and not the U.S., wins or loses.