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Opportunities lost: too few sharp edges for U.S. national team

Jan 30, 2013, 10:15 AM EST

Canada v United States Getty Images

HOUSTON – What last night’s draw missed for the U.S. national team was a few more sharp edges, a few less rounded corners.

During last night’s post-game news conference following the 0-0 draw in Houston, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said something interesting. During player meetings held the night before, individuals were told exactly where they stood in the bigger depth pool picture.

Here’s what I am wondering:

For a player told there are still guys ahead of them, but that they aren’t too far away after a positive January camp – Klinsmann and his staff, keeps saying that it was good and productive camp with pleasingly few disappointments – what exactly did that player think he was hearing?

Because there are very different reactions. One reaction says: “I am so close. I’ve had this great January camp! For three weeks now I worked my Red, White and Blue butt off and made a little move up the ladder! I’m not about to lose ground now on some Tuesday night in Houston, in some meaningless friendly against a bunch of young Canadians who aren’t going anywhere near Brazil. So … safety first tonight! My order of the day: Don’t lose hard-earned ground!”

That’s how I believe a few of Klinsmann men wrongly assessed and attacked the situation. Hence, a lot of safe passes, a failure to create and innovate, a disinclination toward risk and in the end … a 0-0 draw at home.

How they should have heard things, and how they should have attacked the opportunity:

“I am so close … I am going out tonight and I will make that helicopter flying German put me on next week’s roster for Honduras! Or on the Gold Cup roster this summer. This is no time for caution. I have run a good race, and now I am going to fly across the finish line! I will go out there and be the kind of player who wins games … not the kind of player looking not to lose them.”

I speak more of the attackers here. The central defenders and goalkeeper Sean Johnson? There generally just wasn’t enough to go on for a broader assessment, although Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler did little wrong.

(MORE: Initial take-aways from the 0-0 draw)

Besler, in fact, showed a little something. From minutes 30-45 he tried, at least, to go over the Canadian defensive bunching, and attempted to exploit the passing lanes. I asked Besler if that was on instruction from the bench? No, he told me … he just communicated with Kyle Beckerman, who encouraged the debuting U.S. man and promised to drop into covering position if Besler wanted to be more dynamic with his distribution.

That tells us something about Besler. He was one who went searching for solutions.

Benny Feilhaber pushed the pace of an otherwise languid attack. He has enough technical ability to turn and create, even within the constricted space.

Josh Gatt (pictured above) keeps seeing his standing move in the right direction. He was a definitely a sharp edge.

Justin Morrow did OK, exploiting a fairly fortunate matchup, one that allowed him to use his pace and physical attributes.

Besler and Gonzalez did nothing to hurt themselves.

But that’s really about it. They were the closest U.S. men to being the sharp edge that matches like this demand. And these matches, at home against opposition looking to slow the game, muck it up, make it difficult and eek out a draw, they are out there.

Said Klinsmann: “You just hope that after those three weeks of work, you get that moment to shine. and we wished for the strikers to score a goal and midfielders to do the final pass. … It was missing kind of the last little piece to it. Creating the chances, playing the killer ball into the box, finishing things off and unfortunately, we didn’t do that tonight against a very defensive Canada.”

  1. dp2310 - Jan 30, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    No vision or imagination from the guys in the midfield the first half. Absolutely dreadful pace, letting Canada settle in by playing back pass after back pass. The tempo comes from the distribution in the back. Beckerman should not be on the field when playing from the back, he will always make the safe pass and never take a chance.

    We say we’re deep in the midfield position. I completely disagree, and last night is my proof.

  2. berlintexas - Jan 30, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    I thought Brad Davis had a decent game as well. Gatt held possession too long but it’s hard to blame him considering what our offense looked like in their half.

  3. docstraw - Jan 30, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    Gatt needs a dose of maturity in his game and demeanor. Too much dribbling, too wound up, and apparently he has no left foot whatsoever. Benny has a unique skill set, really seems like the 4-3-3 suits him as well. He needs to be on the field or among first options off the bench. Hard to understand why he is such a club nomad when it seems like he really can do a lot of great things. EJ was awful. Does anyone hold the ball for one too many touches as often as Johnson?

    Zusi looked poor and is not the kind of player who can make things happen by himself on the right side. He didn’t get much help from the RB in terms of overlap, but I expected better. CBs showed some promise though they were hardly tested. And Brad Evans as string-puller is an outrageous tactical blunder. That’s on Klinsmann, whose acumen in that regard remains highly questionable.

  4. paladinvt - Jan 30, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    I didn’t see Gatt throwing the ball at any opposing players, and a little bit of attitude can’t hurt a team that couldn’t do anything to make a breakthrough last night. Gatt’s pace means he needs to see MORE time and we need a midfield that does more than just cover the center backs but actually brings the ball forward. Not sure what Klinsmann wanted to see last night, but based on his setup he saw what he should have expected to see.

    In the first half, watching the ball go into that blind alley on the right so many times, only to be passed, passed, passed right back to someone hear the halfway line drove me nuts. Talking about width is great, but if you’re not going to advance the ball into attacking positions, it really doesn’t mean much. Canada dominated by letting us hold onto the ball, knowing we couldn’t do jack shit with it. It’s really pathetic.

    • wesbadia - Jan 30, 2013 at 12:23 PM

      EJ was the one who threw the ball at the Canadian player.

  5. wesbadia - Jan 30, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    I consistently fail to see why so many people make such criticisms about tactics and strategies during friendly matches, especially those after a January camp. The nature of camps, especially those in January, has traditionally been one of exploration and experimentation. JK has merely pushed that envelope with the current camp, especially for defensive and attacking positions. My impression is that he’s seen a clear lack of presence in the striker corp and defensive lines and wants to search out more depth for those spots.

    Thus, how can we make any real judgments about the status of the Nats during a friendly when much of the roster, tactics, strategy, and even the ideas behind all of that stuff is largely based on experimentation and trials? Simple answer: you can’t.

    The only thing you’re left with is individual performances by the players on the field. I’m a firm believer that JK is currently only looking to test players out. And the reason he makes the comments he does (ie, talking to each player individually before the game, testing out their “nastiness” during camps and friendlies, wanting to see competition between players during practices, constantly commenting on how individuals do rather than getting W’s, etc) is because he’s still in the midst of assessing the talent the US currently has to offer. A lot of these players have never been called up, or at the very minimum have been called up in minimal fashion. Both Bradley and Arena were notorious for relying on the same core players for just about any match. JK… not so much.

    If you look at last night’s game through this lens (which, again, I believe is what JK is doing), then you can only arrive at a conclusion that there are certain individuals that will fit into JK’s presently-unknown identity that he’s working out… and others who will not. JK talks much about having this identity (ie, it’s not about a formation, but about the mix of players on the field and how that style is manifested during play). As he figures this out, he’s obviously narrowing down his choices. He wants a dynamic, biting attack. One that’s creative and effective enough to stand on their own, but in the larger unit of the team is able to mesh with others. He seems to desire his wing backs to be in the attack 95% of the time (hence why players like Chandler and Beltran and Morrow are being looked at). He wants a midfield based on defensive solidarity and possession, but is still able to create and lend their services to the attack.

    Overall, he’s looking for versatility from all players on the field. Proof of this is playing people out of position (Evans as CAM and RB; Gatt on the left; EJ out wide; etc). He’s looking for immensely more out of his players than any previous coach has in this country, and we need to realize this. None of these friendlies should be looked at as an individual game, but rather as a proving ground for JK’s methods and the performances of individuals. Which, hopefully, will result in that desired identity naturally occurring and being realized and embraced by everyone involved.

    So how did individuals do in last night’s game given all of the changes and adversity set against them? Did they show versatility and desire? Did they show flashes of what JK is seemingly looking for? Did they reveal ANYTHING about their play that was different than before? Or are they the same players they’ve always been, unchanging, unadapting, lacking passion and motivation?

    • Steve Davis - Jan 30, 2013 at 12:26 PM

      100 percent agree. Only reason tactics matter in friendlies is in setting up as many as possible for success. So, forming an arrangement that gets as many as possible into positions where they CAN succeed. (Impossible to do for everyone, so you just aim for most possible.)

      • wesbadia - Jan 30, 2013 at 12:33 PM

        Steve — I’m curious: have you personally noticed any strands of identity during USMNT matches, camps, practices, etc yet? If so, what do you think it is? What do you think you see that will define us?

        I have trouble at times seeing it, but I think that’s largely because of certain players on the field that cloud the view of that identity. I do think something is emerging, though, but it’s far from being realized or embraced.

        What do you think?

    • charliej11 - Jan 30, 2013 at 2:56 PM

      I agree 100% too

      BUT, you had to be disappointed in what JK found out no ?

      • wesbadia - Jan 30, 2013 at 3:20 PM

        With a few players, yes. Probably not the ones that others I’ve seen on the internet have been disappointed by. But that wasn’t the point of my post to criticize specific players.

  6. schmutzdeck - Jan 31, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    Steve,

    Sorry, but I don’t buy the idea of any player with half a brain trying to defend his “hard-earned ground” with a safety first approach. If JK and his coaches are any good at all they will spot that instantly. If we are to believe the voluminous amount of copy from JK that the media has deluged us with recently, he would clearly frown on that approach.

    I can’t think of a manager of any team in recent memory who has been as specific and open about what he expects of his players as JK. If his personnel moves have a surprising element to them it’s probably because he is privy to a lot more information about the players than we are.

    If JK has said nothing at all this past couple of weeks he has definitely said he wants guys who are looking to rip a starting spot right out of the hot little hands of the guy ahead of them. You don’t do that with a safety first approach.

    In retrospect last night’s bore draw was entirely predictable and we should have expected it.

    In terms of team cohesion, two weeks of camp (one week was all about fitness) can’t ever really make up for not ever having played together as a team. Canada at least had the benefit of having just played and being humiliated Denmark. Then the next game is with their greatest rival.

    Can anyone really be surprised that the “lesser” talented team put ten men behind the ball and defended for dear life? Anyone who says Canada’s tactics were a shock must have been watching their first soccer game last night. Just read the comments of Canada’s manager after the game if you doubt the Canadians were amped up. And of course they have De Ro who was the single most dangerous player on the field all night. Too bad he wasn’t born in Houston.

    Under the circumstances it seemed to me veryone did about what was to be expected.

    The only surprise was that Tally Hall did not get at least a half. I would have liked to have seen Parke but taking Besler and Gonzo for a test drive as Butch & Sundance seemed important enough, and leaving out Mix seemed about right. The pleasant surprises were Benny, Bedoya and Gatt. Zusi’s feckless turn was the only really disappointing development.

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