First of all, welcome back to For the Game. We have finally (and barely) received our undergrad degrees and now have time to focus our attention on what matters most: the beautiful game of futbol.
It’s been an entire year since
LD… Klinsmann.. and the Yanks traveled to the jungle of Brazil and back again in the 2014 World Cup. The team (well.. some of the team) that captivated us in 2014 is back in action in the 2015 Gold Cup.
So let’s turn our attention to the first match… United States v. Honduras, which took place in the scorching heat of Frisco, Texas at Toyota Stadium in front of a sellout crowd of 22,347. The Yanks did not play their best football by any means, but they were able to get the desired result from the first match of group play: 3 points. They were certainly not in top form, but the Americans were able to win off of two header goals from ex-Captain, Clint Dempsey, 2-1.
If you want a more comprehensive review of the match, check out the summary written by U.S. Soccer here, but I am going to look more closely at the subtleties of the match and give three specific thoughts:
1. Not even close to good enough… but do not sell Honduras short
I think this was the general sentiment of U.S. soccer fans following the finish of the game on Tuesday. We are ranked 34th in the world and Honduras is ranked 80th. We just beat Germany and Netherlands (granted, against their 2nd or 3rd teams), and according to FIFA, we are the best team in CONCACAF. If we want to be a team that can win consecutive games in the knockout stage at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, we should have no problem netting 4 or 5 in the run of play against a side like Honduras.
The point is, we did not play well. We did not play like a team that can make a deep run in a World Cup. We barely looked like a team that could make a run in the Gold Cup. There were glaring holes in our defense, and we witnessed careless defending from Ventura Alvarado and thoughtless decision-making from Timmy Chandler. On top of that, Jozy’s goal scoring ability looked about as potent as the venom of a garden snake, and the Bradley/Beckerman duo could barely string together a pair of passes in the midfield. We did not look like an elite team.
But give some credit to Honduras and their coach, Jorge Luis Pinto, the same mastermind that helped Costa Rica make the quarterfinals of the last World Cup. Honduras played compact, made it difficult for the U.S. in the final third, and countered quickly and effectively. I would not be surprised if we see them again… Our form was far from where it needs to be if we want to be taken seriously in the World Cup, but also give credit to Honduras and Pinto.
2. Remember the End Game: Russia 2018
This second thought is linked to the first one… remember what the real goal is, and remember that it is not necessarily to win the Gold Cup. Do not get me wrong.. I want to win the Gold Cup. If we win the Gold Cup I will be happy, but what I really want, and what, I believe, all U.S. soccer fans want, is international recognition, and that can only be achieved through success on the biggest stage: the World Cup.
We use the Gold Cup as a platform to remind CONCACAF teams that we are the powerhouse of this region, but its true purpose is to prepare the team for the 2018 World Cup. That is why Klinsmann is trying out players like Alvarado: because he knows he is going to have to try out different formulas before he arrives at the winning mixture. The team does not have to be peaking now, in fact we do not want the team peaking now. We want the team to peak in mid-July of 2018 when they finish group play.
I believe what all U.S. soccer fans want, is international recognition, and that can only be achieved through success on the biggest stage: the World Cup.
So when you get frustrated with the pieces that currently aren’t in place, just remember that we have exactly three years to figure it out, and be happy with what we have going for us. We have a 27-year old, electric player who plays on a Bundesliga team, Borussia Mönchengladbach, making dangerous runs on the left side, Fabian Johnson. We also have found an excellent replacement for Tim Howard in Aston Villa keeper, Brad Guzan, and Clint Dempsey is scoring goals. Certainly there are many pieces of the puzzle that are yet to be figured out (Who is the best fit at centerback? Who is going to help Dempsey with the scoring load? Where is Yedlin most effective?), but you can at least see the potential of the final product.
3. An Apology for Timmy Chandler and Ventura Alvarado
First, Chandler. There is no other way to put it other than that he played absolutely horrendously. He completed only 50% of his passes and was dreadful going forward, but remember he was the one who put the team in a dangerous position so we could win the corner that ultimately set Dempsey up for the decisive goal. Would I be upset to see Brad Evans starting the next game? No. But would I be upset to see Timmy Chandler given one more chance? Also, no. Let’s see him play like that again before we try to kick him off of the squad.
Now for Alvarado. Again, let’s remember what the end goal is. This kid is 22 and has only played two matches for the U.S. Klinsmann is trying to see if he’s the real deal. So far… obviously not, but again, let’s give him one more chance before we pull out our torches and pitchforks. Yes, they played poorly, but let’s not let one game dictate our perception of the team and its young players in particular.
Those are my three thoughts on the first game. Please post any responses in the comments section below. I’d also be interested to hear what readers think the optimal lineup for the team should be. Should Besler be pulled back up to anchor the defense? Does Gyasi deserve a starting spot? Where does Mix fit into this system?
Next up for the U.S.: Friday, July 10 vs. Haiti at 9:30 PM EST. The game can be viewed on Fox Sports 1.
We’ll see what sort of changes Klinsmann makes and if he can stir up that stagnant offense and sure up those holes in the back.
By Chris Rios