In a few minutes the U.S. national team kicks off against Guatemala in Kansas City. Technically it’s not necessary to win as a draw will move them safely to the next round. There was “technically” no necessity to win on Friday night either against Antigua and Barbuda, but they knew winning was crucial in order to avoid a must win game tonight. They accomplished that.
The problem is on Friday they were forced into winning instead of playing good soccer. They were forced into winning instead of improving. Forced into winning instead of developing youth. Forced into winning instead of playing the right players.
Friendlies are for the young guys, World Cup qualifiers are for the steely eyed veterans. Friendlies are where you try new things and get the young kids a run. I understand all that and know that the main goal is to qualify for the World Cup. The problem is the mentality that fosters for the future. Not the mentality of winning, but the mentality of winning without framing it in the context of the opposition. When Klinsmann chooses a team of the hottest players at the moment, even though they probably aren’t the best for the future, it stalls the progression of U.S. Soccer.
Klinsmann is forced to win, rather than be good. He has to win in order to keep his job. But a win against Antigua and Barbuda should be superfluous to that of improving the quality of soccer. It should be icing on a beautiful cake. A game where points are expected but not so crucial you have to sacrifice the way you play in order to win. When you have to force a win against a team of that caliber it plays with the psyche of the players, and the fans. It makes them think that grinding out a win against a sub par team is worth praising.
If the U.S. had taken care of business properly in previous games they would have been able to relax and play creative soccer and maybe even work in some young guys, the guys who will be peaking in 2014, instead of those lingering on the wrong side of 30. Now, because every game is do or die, those young players only get minutes in friendlies and training, not in matches that really count.
Klinsmann mentioned in pre-game interviews his concentration on younger players, but he also spoke about the need to bring in the guys who are playing well at this moment. It seems like his focus is on the short-term, as I guess he’s forced to do.
He had this to say:
“We always have an open-door policy that if something interesting comes up, we open the door and see where it could lead. For example, Eddie Johnson right now. He worked his way back into the picture. I was connected with Sigi (Schmid) and he mentioned him several times and he got this chance now and he took his chance. There’s a lot going on. At the same time, we want to improve the team chemistry and become more confident to push the whole game a little bit more forward. That’s a process that will take time anyway. It’s all about getting things done right now. It’s all about that game tomorrow night against Guatemala and beating them, winning the group and advancing to a very busy 2013.”
Admittedly, it would be devastating if the U.S. didn’t make the World Cup. But as a team of veterans and players in “supposed” good form frolicked in the rain on a pitch that couldn’t handle the rain, or apparently soccer, the void of quality was shockingly apparent. I know I’ve complained about it in previous posts, but I cannot accept excuses of a bad pitch or a tiring trip to a far off country with stifling humidity. Or a tough away atmosphere without the Nike balls and warm chicken soup that a player’s mom makes before every game, or whatever home remedy makes them play like a different team at home. I cannot accept it anymore.
I will accept a less than stellar performance on occasion, because that happens even with the “gods” of Spain, but I cannot tolerate, nor should any USMNT fan tolerate, these types of lackluster performances whether they win or not.
On a weekend when England chewed the tiny country of San Marino into a saliva soaked wad and spat them out through a straw splattering against the wall in a shameful heap, the USMNT, with a similar gulf in class meandered its way to a last-minute victory over their crumpled piece of Antigua, but left it lingering in their mouths, smelly and sour.
The U.S. is no England, but as a country, we’ll never reach those levels unless we hold our team to a higher standard. I know people are out there theorizing and contemplating, but I ‘m talking about really questioning the state of soccer in the U.S. Even though we won on Friday, it was a pitiful display of soccer.
I did like the inclusion of Eddie Johnson, which I discussed as an option over a month ago in, Klinsmann has a choice, no easy answer.
He not only found the goal, but apart from a few errant passes, looked really comfortable and confident on the ball.
I will also accept the difficulty of playing on a pitch the size of under-9 AYSO fields. A pitch like that can definitely act as the great equalizer.
That’s all I’ll concede though.
It’s about expectations. I know you can argue that a team who can win even when they play badly is a good thing, but this just didn’t feel like a good thing. Aren’t we past the times of simply saying, “Oh well, we’re the U.S., and as long as we scrape out a few wins and qualify for the World Cup we’re happy.”?
I’m raising the bar of expectations. At least in this little corner of the internet where only a few faithful come to read my rants. I thank all of you that do, by the way. This is just my opinion. Maybe a bit harsh at times so feel free to comment if you think so. Kick-off is literally in, oh, wait, there it is. They are underway in Kansas City. Big ups to my little brother, who’s there in KC cheering on the USMNT as I write.