To put it in the most politic way possible, against Belgium on Wednesday night, the USMNT underwhelmed. While they were not played off the park, the U.S. team was second-best all night long, often forced to chase the ball as the Belgian team passed it back and forth, around, over, and through them.
All four goals were the result of defensive errors of one stripe or another, and not all committed by the much-maligned back line. The midfield, stripped of the services of Michael Bradley due to club commitments and Landon Donovan due to LD’s punishment for taking an extended sabbatical at the worst possible time, failed to generate any offensive pressure. The front line, starved of decent service for much of the night, was forced to drop deep and forage, failing to find anything more than scraps.
Against Germany—even the somewhat less-than-full strength side they will face on Sunday—the U.S. will need to be better in all phases of the game. They will face clinical finishers in Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, two forwards who score a goal for the national team nearly every other game (Podolski had two on Wednesday against Ecuador, so maybe he’s done for now?); composed and technically proficient midfielders like the Bender brothers and Kevin Großkreutz; and imposing defenders Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Höwedes. Whether those names are familiar to you or not, be assured that they represent quality. Just ask Ecuador (currently ranked 10th in the world by FIFA). Germany scored four on them in less than 25 minutes. If the U.S. plays like it did Wednesday, a repeat isn’t out of the question.
The biggest change the U.S. needs to make is to cut out the defensive mistakes. On Wednesday, those mistakes were primarily mental. Omar Gonzalez’s heavy touch led to one goal, but the rest were the result of players switching off, not playing to the whistle, or a lack of communication. Better concentration and more talking between the defensive players and the midfield would go a long way.
A more active midfield
Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan were both okay on Wednesday, but nothing more, and while Brad Davis serves a good dead ball, he was largely anonymous. The energy and drive of Michael Bradley were sorely missed, and Eddie Johnson’s play out wide when he came on in the second half improved things immediately. Starting Bradley and Johnson from the start will both speed up play and increase the creativity level going forward.
Improved front line play
Poor Jozy Altidore. He’s had arguably the best season an American in Europe has ever had, transforming into a hugely confident player who scores goals in big moments. And yet while playing for the national team, his play is at times timid, and often indecisive. He needs to remember how good he is, and take a game by the scruff of the neck. It’s a tall order against a team of Germany’s caliber, but he has to approach the game with that attitude, all the same.
Clint Dempsey isn’t off the hook, either. He, too, didn’t do enough, penalty kick aside. Deuce would likely say the same, and he loves the big stages against the big teams. It doesn’t get much bigger than Germany.
The U.S. will play better against Germany than it did against Belgium. It certainly couldn’t play much worse. The back line will play as a more coherent unit, and any goals given up will not be the result of lack of effort.
The return of Michael Bradley will likewise improve things going forward, and the offensive play will be more directed and purposeful.
But, but, but.
In the end, Germany’s just better than the U.S., and not just a little bit. While the U.S. won’t give up a goal in nine seconds like Ecuador did, they will give up goals, plural. The game will be a more competitive encounter than against Belgium, but the U.S. falls, 3–1.