I have taken a few days to digest the US Men’s National Team performance in the Gold Cup. First off, I was thrilled getting to see them play in person. Clint Dempsey scoring the game winner in the 77th minute was almost a storybook finish to the game.
But even during that game, the deficiencies of the US team became clear. They were slow, lacked any creativity up top, technically were not very good with the ball and tactically they were not very good either. Some of that falls on head coach Bob Bradley and rest falls on the US Soccer Federation.
The first question that gets asked is should Bradley keep his job? That really depends on what the focus of the US Soccer Federation and president Sunil Gulati is. If the goal is to put a competitive side on the pitch that will play hard, compete and every few years surprise someone, then Bradley is the guy. If the goal is to win the World Cup, then a change needs to be made. Not just with the coach, but with the philosophy.
Bradley and US Soccer gambled big time in this Gold Cup, and lost not once but twice. In terms of player development, 2014 is not that far away. This is the summer they should have been identifying and preparing players for 2014. If that wasn’t going to happen then they HAD to win the Gold Cup. Unfortunately they did neither.
I think one of the main problems is they were blinded by the success of the 2009 Confederations Cup. Beating Spain and pushing Brazil to the brink was a great moment for the US. It was hailed as a huge success as a tune-up for last summer’s World Cup. I would be more inclined to believe it was that vital of an experience had the World Cup be a little more successful. It took a 93rd minute goal from Landon Donovan just to get out of a soft group and they then lost in the round of 16.
But Bradley and the US put all of their eggs in the Gold Cup basket this summer in hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup preview a year earlier in Brazil. (Side note: are there going to be stadiums for 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil?) So they rolled the dice and put out a veteran laden squad in hopes of earning that coveted 2013 invitation to Brazil. By losing, Bradley and US Soccer pretty much wasted an entire summer of international soccer for the US.
Had they gone into the tournament with a goal of preparing for 2014 and started playing a few more guys who are going to feature in three years, then the loss to Mexico would not have been as bad. At least they would have been able to begin to develop the next crop of national team players. Instead, neither goal was accomplished this summer.
When looking at the way the team was put together, I have no problem with Donovan, Tim Howard or Clint Dempsey being on the squad. Those guys have been here before and know what it takes to win. They also will probably still be in the mix for 2014. Howard would be 35 at that point and doesn’t show any signs that he won’t still be a top keeper. Donovan (29) and Dempsey (28) both should be in pretty good form in 2014 (personally I am ready for Donovan to just go away).
With the exception of inserting Juan Agudelo (19), Eric Lichaj (22) and Alejandro Bedoya (24) into the lineup and Tim Ream (23) had a cup of coffee with the team, what else did Bradley do with his players to start preparing for the next World Cup?
Some of the biggest questions about decision made by Bradley and US Soccer come at the back.
Howard is one of the top goalkeepers in the world and is without question the US’s No. 1. He would be a great guy for a young keeper to learn from. However, the other two keepers on the Gold Cup roster are either his age or older.
First off, why is Marcus Hahnemann even in the player pool? He is five years older than I am, and by the time 2014 rolls around he will be 42. He got his last start in goal in March of this year. Who is that going to benefit? If Howard gets a night off, Bradley should be thinking about 2014 and maybe who the keeper will be when 2018 qualifying starts five years from now. Playing Hahnemann in a friendly does nothing for anyone, and was pretty much a waste.
Even the third-string keeper on the Gold Cup roster, Nick Rimando, is 32 years old and will be 35 when Brazil rolls around. He played in January of this year, earning his first cap in more than six years. Once again, if the goal is to win the World Cup, why is he on the roster? I can’t imagine he is in future plans past this year.
The situation in front of the keeper is beyond a disaster. Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra have been fixtures for the US backline for nine years. But they will both be 35 the next time the World Cup rolls around. Similar to Howard, I think both are guys who a young player can learn from, but unlike Howard, can’t see any way they are a significant factor in 2014. While Lichaj and Ream (who was benched) did play, no one else who played defense for the US this month will or should be in the plans for 2014.
As for the rest of the guys on the pitch, I think there is a good group to build around. What they need is some consistency. At times the midfield looks like they have never played with each other (in Jones case, he hasn’t). There just doesn’t seem to be much chemistry or connection between the mids and the guys up top.
Finally, they need a finisher not named Landon. Is it Altidore? He hasn’t show enough to think he can get the job done. Is Agudelo the guy? While he has shown some flash, he disappears for stretches of the game. Maybe there is someone else? That is the question Bob Bradley and the US Soccer Federation need to answer by next summer. They can’t expect to plug a striker in sometime in late 2013 and expect him to be a force in Brazil, assuming they qualify.