5 NOTES: on USA-Guatemala & PPV Patriotism

Firpo’s Five Notes on the USA-Guatemala World Cup Qualifier
by Mike Firpo   |   Wednesday, June 13, 2012

FIRPO's 5 NOTES - 5 soccer notes by Mike Firpo

Here are five things that come to mind on the USA’s 1-1 Tuesday night World Cup Qualifying draw in Guatemala:

1. Pay-Per-View Patriotism

Nothing irks US Men’s National Team fans more these days than being forced into buying pricey pay-per-view broadcasts of their own team during meaningful World Cup qualifiers. $29.95 no less on cable or the internet to see the Yanks play Guatemala away.

Yes, some will say it’s about the money, so deal with it commie. Others may point a finger at US Soccer for not upping the ante to get this match for its fanbase and to grow the game. And many will cite the now standard “don’t blame us” wording in the FAQ (Forget Away Qualifiers) that US Soccer published basically stating, yet again, to look to CONCACAF’s policies and ultimately not the federation.

But then again, the perennial host of the Gold Cup, regional powerhouse and world superpower can throw a little weight around. If not just for its own fans and self-interest, than to force CONCACAF into changing future TV broadcasting packaging and policies for the entire region, and to lean towards long-term logic and growth instead of short-term profiteering via pay-per-view.

No matter the explanation, the fact of the matter is that Traffic Sports USA as the winner of the USA rights from the Guatemala federation and the main backer of the NASL (and for that matter all of North America’s 2nd division soccer) should have the growth of the game short and long-term at its heart when it wins these deals.

2. 30 Bucks for 30 Issues

At some point during the match I stopped counting how many technical errors were being beamed onto my screen and into my ears.

If it wasn’t bad enough that the picture was blurrier than a polaroid (no tech nerds, not the app, the real ones) we had to cope with the decent if not awkward Joe Tolleson & Shaka Hislop broadcasting combo, the lack of any on-screen graphics/info/stats, an incessant buzz that kept giving me that unsettling “is my cellphone too close to the alarm?” feeling, or the cuts to black, then blue and finally low sound, then no sound and finally cue the Spanish feed and your angst at not pulling the trigger on that Rosetta Stone program … it was just all too much to bare. Well, maybe if it was free I could groan and tolerate the myriad of sight and sound issues. Unfortunately being sent on a one way trip to “Gouge-amala City” made me less tolerant than normal.

Amazingly it took the broadcasting duo until the 71st minute to apologize to the paying listeners for transmission issues. Too little, too late.

And ultimately, this situation is not acceptable, not anymore. Maybe in 1998, but not in 2012. CONCACAF and US Soccer need to figure this out for the future. And Traffic as a USA soccer stakeholder in clubs, players and media rights, needs to make decisions that are good for this domain, otherwise their status as harvester of American soccer, needs to be reevaluated by the USSF.

The World Cup qualification matches of the United States of America (the now #1 fan ticket buyer & media rights spender for the FIFA World Cups) should never be invisible to most of its new and growing fanbase and certainly not make hostages of the hardcore by forcing them to pay princely for their pride. And finally, if you want to charge $30, be a dear and kindly present it better on TV than a typical Friday night Texas highschool football broadcast.

3. Defensive Mid or Defensive Minded?

Not surprisingly US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann came out with a similar lineup to the last few friendlies and the first qualifier versus Antigua and Barbuda. In that I mean to say it was a bit too defensive, well at least in the midfield. I won’t go too deep into it because SN columnist Chris Enger covered the 3 DMid issue succinctly in his latest article.

I agree with Enger’s take that maybe against Brazil or superior opponents the notion of an extra Defensive Midfielder (to a maximum of two) would be good enough to stifle, contain and ultimately keep the lesser USA in those games. But versus Antigua (population: see decent suburb USA) 3 DMs was overkill.

It comes as no surprise then that Klinsmann opted for 3 DMids yet again in the away match in Guatemala. His now favored Bradley-Jones-Edu tri-dribbling-here combo did what they usually do in the midfield: clean-up, counter, battle, win balls and possess. But with 3 cooks in the kitchen doing the same tasks it can get a bit redundant, crowded and tiresome. Two is more than enough (1 for us romantics) but 3 is borderline schizophrenic. To make matters worse, for the last sub of the game Klinsmann brought off Donovan and replaced him with RSL captain and fellow DMid Kyle Beckerman. This to kill the game off, waste some late precious moments that Guatemala hoped to score within and to leave Guate with a point. When he did that, albeit briefly, the USA had 4 defensive midfielders on the field. Four.

So much for bringing in a central midfielder to attack, keep possession and force the opponents to play defense. With 3 DMids becoming the USMNT norm, the US’ matches will rarely, if ever given that Antigua affair in Tampa, entertain. Sadly that goes against the defacto mandate given to Klinsmann by US Soccer, the media and the increasingly sophisticated American soccer fanbase.

The USA will qualify from CONCACAF handily, as is now expected. But the evolution of the style and entertainment value of its highest men’s squad will likely be the cost yet again, as pragmatism is used to justify points and fancy football is deemed in the end, fanciful. Even if coach Klinsmann’s ideal is genuinely to play positive soccer, it would seem his on-field squads run counter-intuitively as they continually have 8 of 11 players on them whose main skillset and position is to defend.

4. Fabian Fantastisch

There’s been a great deal of chatter in the USMNT soccersphere recently about the capture of our newest German “uber-Yank”™ - Fabian Johnson. The young leftback not only fills the previously shallowest part of the American player pool, but does so, swimmingly.

For me, he was the most consistent and effective American player versus Guatemala. Not only did he create from nothing and assist Dempsey’s efficient goal in the 40th minute, but he did so with his now customary overlapping runs up the left flank followed by dangerous cuts inside in the final third. Though not at that level, his jaunts are reminiscent of Brazilian wingbacks like Dani Alves and Roberto Carlos. For me, his play on the left-side is even stronger than Timmy Chandler, should our wayward ringer ever decide to come back to the American fold and forego dreams of Germanic grandeur.

5. Donovan Set Piece Danger – Made in UK?

Is it just me or does it look like Landon Donovan’s set pieces have a bit of Beckham influence in them the last few USMNT matches?

His corners and free kicks all seem to land in nearly perfect locations for goal-scoring potential. The precision is there, the incoming speed is dangerous, the bending seems more … well, made in Britain.

Go back and watch the last few matches and all of Donovan’s set pieces, you’ll see many of them are on the money, bending away from keepers and moving at hi-speeds. That type of delivery may just nick the USA a goal or two in qualifying. Even in the small fishbowl of CONCACAF that just might be the difference in watching World Cup 2014 from home or playing in Brazil.

Oddly enough Herculez Gomez and Jermaine Jones took two remarkably bad free kicks during the match. Those wasteful efforts just served to reinforce the need for Landon to use his newly-improved set piece prowess in all future US matches.

Coincidentally, if anyone still belligerently doubts the USA landing on the moon or the many benefits to MLS and North American soccer that came with David Beckham’s charming grin and worldwide superstar brand arriving on these shores. Maybe they’ll reconsider if on the field Becks, by osmosis or competitive drive, has bestowed onto the greatest American soccer player of all time, an improved skillset from his fading, yet still majestic, golden tool belt.


Binghamton Univ.
Club Domestic:
NY Cosmos, RSL
Club Foreign:
Palermo, Napoli, FCB
Creator of Soccer Newsday. President of World Football Travel. Founder of NY Cosmos Campaign. Manager of North American Soccer Industry group on LinkedIn. Helped a few fans see the global game. Proposed on-field at MLS Cup 04. Longtime devotee of Soccer.