Philly Sports Live

I Have a Cunning Plan: Five Thoughts on USA / Canada

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American soccer fans have spent 187 minutes of the past year watching the United States Mens National Team play against their counterparts from the Great White North in some of the most dreadful, uninteresting and uninspired examples of athletics ever witnessed.  The average American will only live for 36,792,000 minutes.  Jurgen Klinsmann has much to answer for.

There’s really not much to be said for Tuesday’s scoreless draw which kicked of the centennial year of organized soccer in the United States.  As Edmund Blackadder would say, “It started out poorly, dragged a bit in the middle, then fell apart at the end.”  A game whose sole meaning was the opportunity to test younger and more promising players was shorn of any significance by an inexplicably conservative lineup which proved incapable, once again, of getting past a packed midfield.  For that very reason, it’s hard to read too much into the draw.  that said, here are five observations we were able to glean from a bad night in Houston.

Gonzo Journalism:  For all the talk of Omar Gonzalez getting his first significant look as a international centerback, the LA Galaxy’s big man wasn’t much tested by the Canadian attack, and he left much of the distribution to Matt Besler, who excelled with it.  Gonzalez did threaten repeatedly on set pieces, particularly after Benny Feilhaber took over duties in the second half.  Gonzo is almost a lock to be called into next week’s Hex kickoff in San Pedro Sula, and with recent injuries to the first team’s back line, could even start.  The speedy Hondurans will provide much stiffer opposition.

Wondo-wall:  During the national anthems at the start of the match, there was a smile of pure joy on Chris Wondolowski’s face.  The MLS Golden boot winner didn’t get his first national team cap until age 28, and it’s doubtful there was a player more grateful to simply be there.  Sadly, it’s likely Canada marked the end of Wondo’s shot at a meaningful role with the Stars and Stripes.  As incredibly potent in attack as the San Jose striker has been over the last three years, Wondo has simply never converted that form into national team results.  With younger options like Terrence Boyd, Juan Aguedelo and Will Bruin banging on the door, there simply isn’t any time left for him to figure things out.  This wasn’t Wondolowski’s last game in a US shirt, just his last one with a hope of moving up.

Dread-ful:  From the minute the January camp roster was announced two facts were abundantly clear; Kyle Beckerman would be starting against Canada at CDM, and Kyle Beckerman would wear the captain’s armband.  Neither of these were necessarily deal breakers; in the right formation, Beckerman can be effective.  The bottom of a diamond midfield between two sedentary outside backs and a CAM-in-name-only is not that formation.  The RSL captain can still play the role of destroyer with relative skill, but when tasked with linking the defense with the attack the cracks in his game yawn wide open, and ineffective pass after ineffective pass fall into them.  If nothing else, Beckerman’s performance last night should give Danny Williams’ critics pause.

Speed Kills:  Josh Gatt is going to be a great weapon for the US, but when?  In only his second cap, the speedster from Molde was a constant threat from the moment he stepped onto the pitch, showing a willingness to take on attackers with the ball at his feet which is lacking in almost every other American player, and just the threat of his movement on the wing changed the complexion of the Canadian defense.  His inexperience showed in that he tried to take on literally every player between him and the goal, and inevitably wound up dispossessed by the second or third defender to swarm him. Diego Maradonna might be able to dribble past an entire team, but for all his speed, Josh Gatt can’t.  Success will come with experience and better teammates.  He could get the latter next Wednesday in Honduras.

Lahms to the Slaughter:  2012, Jurgen Klinsmann’s first full year incharge of the USMNT was the team’s most successful, in terms of record, its 100 year history.  The sparkling record hid some recurring problems which continued to be evident against Canada.  Player selection was far too conservative, with Brad Evans starting at CAM over Graham Zusi, who was rendered impotent by being forced out to the right touchline, Benny Feilhaber and Mix Diskerud, who wasn’t even in the 18.  Chris Wondolowski and Eddie Johnson, both well known quantities, started over Will Bruin & Josh Gatt.  More damning was the absolute failure to adapt to Canada tactically, even though the Tophats employed the same tactics as the last two times the two sides had met, indeed the same tactics Klinsmann himself had used against Italy last February, clogging the midfield and forcing attackers to the outside or over the top.  By the time Klinsmann brought in players like Gatt and Feilhaber who could break down the Canadian midfield, it was almost too late.  The secret of how to contain the US attack, and if the head coach doesn’t learn to adapt soon, it will be a very long Hex.

On that note, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying begins for the US Wednesday, February 6th at 4pm in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  Stick with Philly Sports Live for continuing coverage of the US Men’s National Team in their 100th Season.

Featured photo courtesy of ESPN