Though the Seattle Sounders are on a bye, it is a big weekend for American soccer. Chad Marshall, Nelson Haedo Valdez and Oniel Fisher look to heal up for Seattle’s final push for playoff positioning. But Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans will not have that luxury.
Saturday the USMNT faces off against Mexico in (what the PR geniuses at Fox Sports are calling) the “CONCACAF Cup.” This game is, in world football parlance, a cup tie, or in good ol’ Americanese, a one-game playoff. Saturday’s winner will advance to represent the region at the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Mexico, as we all remember, won the Gold Cup this past summer after the Stars and Stripes bowed out to Jamaica in the semis. Mexico has yet to claim the title of CONCACAF champion because the US won the previous Gold Cup. In light of the Yanks’ performance this summer, it shouldn’t just be regional supremacy on the line but USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s job as well.
First off I am no Klinsmann fan, so keep my bias in mind. Granted, he is a fine recruiter and system builder. He has brought top-notch talent stateside in Julian Green, among others, but he’s weaksauce when it comes to game day management. Klinsmann has made an annoying habit of sloppy rosters and confounding lineups. Leading up to the World Cup in Brazil, Jurgen drilled the squad in a 4-2-3-1 lineup with Jozy Altidore as the lone striker and Michael Bradley playing out of position (more on this later) as a CAM. All well and god, but when Altidore went down early in our first game against Ghana, the USMNT had no like-for-like backup to Jozy. Aron Johansson was trotted out, but proved ineffectual. Against Portugal, Dempsey was pushed up to target forward, a position he’s never played before. It was inexcusable to build your team around one formation, but not actually have the depth to run it.
Jurgen is constantly putting players in uncomfortable positions (much like the back of a Volkswagen). His questionable calls continued this summer. Warming up for the Gold Cup, he fielded star-filled, killer lineups in friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands. When the tournament started, Jurgen went wonky with his lineup card: Brooks and Alvarado as first-choice centerbacks, Bedoya as a defensive mid, etc. etc. Then he overworked his stars in a 6-0 slaughter of Cuba and was shorthanded in the semis, leading to their ignoble loss.
Further complicating matters, Klinsmann makes odd omissions. The most famous being Landon Donovan last summer. I know I’ve weighed in already and that this is a tired argument, but honestly, who would you rather have subbed on late against Belgium with Tim Howard standing on his head, Wondo or a player with 157 caps and 57 international goals? This year, the U.S. has had a sloppy back four, (what did Klinsmann do to Omar Gonzalez’s confidence?) but neither Chad Marshall, nor Clarence Goodson ever get a sniff of a call-up.
Lastly, Klinsmann insults US fans for their perceived ignorance of the sport. After the recent friendlies against Brazil and Peru, Klinsmann took to the media and ranted that Americans didn’t know enough about the sport, saying,”They [U.S. fans] care about the game, they care about the national team. They care about saying their opinion. Do they understand really what happened in the Gold Cup? Some of them absolutely do and a lot of people don’t. I take it, it’s not a big deal. But it also explains we have a long way to go to educate people on the game of soccer still in this country.” He indicated that we did not understand his brilliance and that we need to be “better educated” to understand why we get trounced by Brazil and can barely beat a middling Peru side. He also insults MLS saying that Bradley, Altidore and Dempsey took the easy way out transferring to the domestic league.
The USMNT’s product on the field has been spotty of late. Despite a renaissance of youth and talent at the national level, the Stars and Stripes are losing games they have no business to. Klinsmann’s regime has erratic at best, hopefully this Saturday against Mexico, we win despite our coach.