What's Really Wrong With the USMNT

A string of horrid performances has players and coaches scrambling for excuses, but the truth may be more obvious than we think
by Roy Rosell   |   Friday, November 21, 2014

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

The US National Team played their final game of 2014, ending the year in a disastrous fashion. The US was dismantled by the Republic of Ireland, 4-1, in what is being called the worst performance by the Red, White, and Blue in over a decade.

This isn’t the same Ireland team that has failed to qualify to a World Cup since 2002, looks destined to fail to qualify to the 2016 Euro Cup, or the one that’s ranked about 40 places below the US in the FIFA rankings.  Neither is this the Ireland who has only won 3 games this year, victories over Georgia, Gibraltar and Oman.

This happens to be the Ireland B team, a squad containing almost none of the regular starters and a bunch of young kids plying their trade in the lower divisions of England and throughout Ireland. This is a B Team whose ten field starters averaged less than eight caps and two of their starters were playing their first game for the Boys in Green.

Before that, the US was manhandled by a vastly superior Colombia side. Out possessed, out shot, and out classed for a majority of the game, the US found themselves with backs against the wall, begging for mercy as they did whatever necessary, however unorthodox, to avoid what could have easily been a 7 to 1 train wreck.

Prior to the Colombia disappointment, the US tied 56th ranked Honduras with a Jozy Altidore penalty kick as the lone goal for the US. This was against a Honduras side that failed to get a single point in the 2014 World Cup in what was considered one of the weakest groups. In addition, they were outscored 8-1 in a miserable three games.

Not only did the US fail to beat lowly Honduras, they were outshot, out possessed, and arguably out classed once again.

With this string of terrible results, the question then becomes: what the hell is going on with our national team? And more importantly, who is to blame?

Well one of the suggested reasons is that the players are having a “World Cup hangover.”

In a recent interview, Klinsmann commented “I think the learning curve after the last two games is that they also have to learn emotionally how to digest a World Cup. And a lot of our players had big problems digesting those extreme emotions; they dropped 20, 30 or even 40 percent in performances in their club environment. This is because they didn’t know how to deal with all these emotions and all that recognition and all the compliments that came after the World Cup. And in a certain way it’s human and understandable.”

We are playing the worst soccer we have played in decades because the players haven’t been able to adequately emotionally recover from all the compliments after the World Cup, which ended for the US almost 5 months ago?   

Given this strange excuse, one can only assume that Klinsmann is doing something he’s never been good at: beating around the bush.  The Colombians have recovered just fine, as have the Hondurans after a disastrous World Cup.

Klinsmann is also quoted as saying that some "growing pains" are normal as he introduces new players to the squad, but this doesn’t make much sense either as a majority of the starting lineup and bench for the US were players who played in the World Cup. It was the Irish who used this game to try out new players, employing a roster almost entirely consisting of youngsters and new players.

Klinsmann has provided a plethora of honest and controversial commentary on everything player form, the nearly nonexistent media coverage for soccer, the subpar quality of Major League Soccer, and criticizing Landon Donovan and openly suggesting what he should have done with his career. But when it comes to his team, Klinsmann is cautious, avoiding the brutal honesty he has become known for to keep his job safe.

So what’s REALLY going on with the US National Team?

It should be apparent at this point that tactically, the team is a bit of a mess. Players are being played outside of their positions, we do not have a natural No. 10, a consistent center back pairing, or a single world class striker, let alone a class striker, on our roster.

It’s easy to point fingers at Klinsmann for this tactical ambiguity and a lack of roster consistency, which often results in terrible play.

But had Klinsmann played Chandler on the right instead of the left against Ireland, would the US have more effective defending on the wings? Or if he played Cameron in his more natural DMF role, would the US have defended better? Or let’s say he started Rubin instead of Wondo up front, would we have scored more goals?

Probably not.

The main problem with this US team is that because we’ve been led to believe that we are better than we actually are. Reality is that we’re just not as good as the World Cup and our grossly inflated FIFA Ranking makes us believe.

Let’s start by taking a look at our US Player Pool (leaving Goalkeepers aside, we’re in good hands):

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Atlas), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Tim Ream (Bolton), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC).

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Joe Corona (Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Hamburg), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Jermain Jones (New England Revolution), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Red Bull Leipzig), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).

I may be missing a name or two, but this includes most if not all of the recent call ups for the US.

One thing to note off the bat is that of the 37 players on this list, nearly half ply their trade in MLS, a league globally perceived as inferior to the world’s top ten leagues. Among these players, there is one college player, and one player playing in a lower division in the US. Whether

Secondly, many of the starters/soon to be starters on the team, including John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Julian Green, Emerson Hyndman, Danny Williams, Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Joe Gyau, Aron Johannsson, Bobby Wood, and Rubio Rubin are not regular starters for their clubs. Whether due to recovering injury or bad form, most of these players are finding it difficult to find minutes with their respective clubs.

Lastly, there is not a single player on this list playing regularly for one of the world’s top clubs. The one player with a contract with a top world team, Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund), does not play for the first team.

Looking at the player pools for other nations who are considered better than the US, there is an undeniable trend. They have world class players and they have players playing on top teams (and not on the bench!). Having players who are succeeding with the likes of Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City (or any top half team from the top four leagues) on your team allows players like Jordan Morris, Miguel Ibarra, or Bobby Wood to learn from the best. Instead, they’re learning from a player who can’t break in to the starting lineup at Sunderland (who also doesn’t have someone on the national team to emulate!).

Mexico on the other hand, has a squad consisting of some of the best players throughout the Mexican league, sprinkled in with players starting and performing well in teams like Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad, Espanyol, Rayo Vallecano, PSV, FC Twente, and Porto. They do not have players in any second division, or riding a bench on a mid/bottom table team, on their radar.

Even fellow CONCACAF mates Costa Rica are making huge strides in their player development. They now boast a roster containing players currently performing for Real Madrid, Arsenal, Everton, Mainz 05, Palermo, West Brom Albion, and Club Brugge.

This lack of high quality players causes several problems. For one, we do not have players who are accustomed to the highest level of play so when it comes time to perform against the world’s best, we look like amateurs (game against Belgium, anyone?).

Secondly, we have no one for the young kids to look to emulate or to be mentored by, thus, stunting their growth.

Lastly, when you have two teams competing against each other and one is littered with world class talent and the other has none, who do you think will look better on the field (regardless of final result)?

When half your national team is not getting minutes for their respective teams and the other half is playing in a league that has not yet reached a level to supply the consistent and effective development of players, we will continue to plummet in to mediocrity.

When Klinsmann says players need to be “nastier,” he’s right. But so do our youth academies, media, MLS coaches, and our college soccer programs. Players, from the youth levels to national teamers, need to feel the pressure to perform at the highest possible level every time they play. Because our top players are raised in environments where a bad performance probably won’t result in getting benched the next game, they can easily get complacent and when other countries are world ahead in terms of talent produced, complacency is a killer. 

Roy ROSELL

Nationality:
USA
College:
Cal Poly Pomona
Club Domestic:
LA Galaxy
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Absolute fanatic, especially passionate about MLS and it's growth. LA Galaxy columnist with no filter and a knack for the controversial. Travelled the world watching soccer matches, but there's no place like home.
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