What happened to kicking the tires?
With the announcement of another conservative, heavily German-born roster for the upcoming friendlies against France (Friday, Nov. 11, 3pm on ESPN2) and Slovenia (Tuesday, Nov. 15, 12pm on ESPN2), apprehension has begun to creep to the front of many US fans’ minds. Kicking the tires, after all, is a quick process, a brief once-over of the basic parts and pieces to determine what qualities and characteristics the machine contains.
Yet for some, the net searching for potential pieces has not been cast wide enough and the evaluation of certain other pieces does not inspire confidence. Basically, it amounts too many looks at too few players during Klinsmann’s brief tenure as the US manager. For crying out loud, Robbie Rogers is still getting “looked at.”
Hot tip guys: He’s not good enough. Now MOVE ON.
Who’s missing on defense?
Remember when the defensive pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream was being billed as the future of US Soccer?
What a difference a year makes. Ream’s confidence crushing season has seen his form plummet. Meanwhile, Gonzalez can’t even get a look in. Having just won MLS defender of the year honors, he should have been a lock for Klinsmann’s European road trip, yet, no dice. And before someone makes the point that Gonzalez is being “allowed” to stay home in preparation for the MLS Cup final, remember that the US coach did not extend that courtesy to the LA Galaxy with regards to Landon Donovan, who was forced to pull himself out of the trip, a position into which he should never have been placed.
There are other defenders who deserve a look, as well. Zak Whitbread had pulled himself back into the lineup for the Canaries of Norwich City, though he was again shelved this weekend with a fresh injury concern. Clarence Goodson remains a consistent callup for Klinsmann, yet Michael Parkhurst doesn’t even seem to be on the radar. Both play in the Danish league, yet Parkhurst’s Nordsjaelland side sits eight places above Goodson’s Brondby in the table and Parkhurst’s possession and passing game are widely considered to be more in line with what Klinsmann prefers at center back.
Or how about Houston’s Geoff Cameron, or Columbus’ Chad Marshall, or RSL’s Nat Borchers? All are coming off of excellent 2011 campaigns and would relish the chance to impress in the red, white and blue.
And the midfield?
He may have failed to impress in prior years, but if current form counts for anything—and it certainly should—Sacha Kljestan starts for Anderlecht in the Jupiler League (where they sit top of the table) AND the Europa League. Alejandro Bedoya is settling in with the Scottish Premier League-leading Rangers and has begun to earn minutes. Mixx Diskerud remains an intriguing prospect with legitimate, top of the diamond, playmaking skills. Any of these players represents a more realistic national team prospect than Robbie Rogers. Also, each player projects as more useful to a team in search of consistent offense than one content with carrying five holding midfielders. Considering the fact that roughly one quarter of the roster won’t even see the field in either friendly, why not increase the depth at positions of real need, all the while evaluating each player’s progression in camp?
And the Offense?
Without Donovan in the attack, it will again be the usual suspects—Dempsey, Altidore and Buddle—who will be forced to struggle to find goals. Having regressed in every aspect of his game this year given his lack of playing time for the Red Bulls, Juan Agudelo has been correctly placed with the U-23 camp, and the time working on the fundamentals with other rising youth stars should do well to steady his game and hopefully prepare him to fight for a starting spot next season. Aside from the main three then, the only attacking player on the roster is Damarcus Beasley and, while DMB is a hard working, first rate guy, pinning the goal scoring needs of a nation to his narrow shoulders is absurd.
But who would go in their stead? Glad you asked.
Herculez Gomez has made a fine start in the Mexican season, registering seven goals in 12 appearances for Estudiantes Tecos. He is a proven poacher and, while he may not merit minutes as a starter, his nose for goal is a valuable and missing asset for the US.
Or, how about Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong? Sapong, fresh off claiming Rookie of the Year honors in MLS, is too old to participate with the U-23’s. He’s quick, powerful, tidy on the ball and seems like the perfect candidate to get a run with the full national team, perhaps pumping energy and excitement into the squad the way Agudelo did when he was originally introduced. And what about Bunbury? Despite being only 21-years-old, Bunbury is far more the finished product than either his teammate Sapong or Juan Agudelo. Early in 2011, Bunbury struggled with the constant road trip that was Kansas City’s first half of the season, but once Livestrong Park was completed, he battled his way back into form, scoring 11 goals and helping KC win the East in only his second professional season.
Undervalued, but very important…
Tim Howard’s true understudy—who is he?
Howard has played every single minute under Klinsmann. Why? The great Tim Howard, and he is great, will be 35-years-old when Brazil 2014 rolls around. While that is not ancient for a top flight goalkeeper, his replacement still needs to be identified and groomed, and given time between the sticks to develop in real, live game situations. There simply is no way that Howard will be available for EVERY qualifier, it’s just not practical. And qualifiers, unlike friendlies, mean something.
Friendlies are about experimentation and whether the US No. 2 keeper is Bill Hamid, or Sean Johnson, or Dominic Cervi, or Brad Guzan, or Tally Hall, or another veteran in the short term, still remains to be seen. Against a top tier team like France, it seems unlikely that Klinsmann would give Hamid the chance, but if not now, when? The goalkeeping position is one that must be developed and evaluated in the same manner as the other ten spots on the field and, with the lack of a proven backup, it is becoming a bigger issue than is being discussed.
Oh yeah, the preview part…
Expect more of the same. The lineup is too loaded with holding/defensive midfielders and an offensive playmaker is nowhere to be found.
Expect Jozy Altidore to work hard and show improved touch, strength and vision, only to be brutalized by the pundits when he does not score, despite receiving zero quality service throughout the match.
Expect Brek Shea to grind another impressive performance out of his exhausted legs as he seeks to further showcase himself to Europe’s elite.
Expect both Fabian Johnson and Alfredo Morales to feature, despite both being hybrid fullback/holding midfielders. Hooray, throw ‘em on the pile.
Expect Jermaine Jones to continue to frustrate as he alternates between wise, brave veteran and impulsive, childish mischief maker.
Expect Michael Bradley to again, as he always does, prove to be the pick of the bunch in the middle of the park, only for the same pundits to recycle the tired jokes about his father.
Expect to miss Stuart Holden. And Jose Torres too.
And expect the US to continue to falter.
The offensive pieces are not yet in place and neither is the system that will make the most out of the players that are available. If France can put one behind Tim Howard, it’s hard to see from where the US reply will come.