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Everyone take a breath: The United States national team HAS been here before. Every year, it seems

May 31, 2013, 11:00 AM EST

Bob Bradley 3

The rise and fall of national regard for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team looks like a heart rate monitor, a continuing patterned series of sharp rises and steep falls.

And on it goes …

Fans and voices in the chattering class were about fed up last year as World Cup qualifying in the semifinal round seemed be wandering off the rails. But restoration of faith came in three wins to close the round and all was sweet peaches and plums in placid Klinsmann Valley.

Well, until a listless draw with Canada to open the 2013 calendar, followed by a stinker at Honduras. And we were all fed up again.

Well, until a determined and gritty night in Denver, followed by a determined and gritty defensive stand in Mexico. In a five-day period, faith was dutifully restored. “Say, when do tickets go on sale for Brazil 2014?”

Well, until …

A rising European power worked the United States defense the way a Belgian brewmaster works the lagers and ales. And now … well, you get the idea.

(MORE: United States defense exposed in 4-1 loss to Belgium)

But here’s some important information, especially as Klinsmann’s forces prepare for another toughie on Sunday against Germany, which might help supply some context:

This is something of a May-June rite for the United States national team, which seems to find itself getting dressed down annually once or twice about this time of year.

  • Surely everyone remembers last year about this time, when U.S. fans and media were falling over backwards about the 4-1 loss to Brazil? Even Klinsmann was hacked about that one; noting rather notoriously his team’s flagging “nastiness.”
  • In 2011, Spain delivered the punishing reminder of a yawning gap between the United States and global soccer’s ruling class. The message came via a 4-0 win outside Boston. Words like “thoroughly embarrassed” and “dominated” careened with a menace through the internets. A week later, a loss to Panama seem to confirm it once and for all: The United States would never win another match. Ever.
  • In 2010, a close loss to Netherlands in Amsterdam could be forgiven. A robust Dutch side did, in fact, go on to finish second in South Africa that summer. But a 4-2 loss on home soil to the Czech Republic was certainly a basis for fist-slamming concern, especially where Oguchi Onyewu was concerned. Too bad the warning didn’t seem to take; Bob Bradley’s faith in the big center back, who was recovering from injury, proved misplaced.
  • The first team was on the field in 2009, when Bradley’s team got conked on the head in Costa Rica, 3-1. It was a double whammy because that was a World Cup qualifier, and because it was painfully close to the 2009 Confederations Cup. Speaking of which, the United States lost its first two matches there by a combined 6-1 – Time for pitchforks and lanterns? – before the big summer rally, including a huge upset over Spain, a signature victory for Bradley’s time a charge.
  • The team was shut out three consecutive matches over 12 days in 2008, by England, Spain and Argentina (all quality teams, of course.) A scoreless draw with Argentina outside New York was the punctuation mark, and that doesn’t sound too bad – until you consider that Tim Howard had to wear two super hero capes just to keep the United States from being run plum off the field that night at Giants Stadium.

So, yes, you can see that this is something of an annual moment for U.S. Soccer. That doesn’t excuse a mistake-strewn performance against Belgium, and there are certainly problems around the field (not just in the back, by the way) that require quick address.

But if we can take a step back and inhale, we can see this, at least: We’ve all been here before.

(MORE: United States misses its “brain,” Michael Bradley)

  1. orbmech - May 31, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    I guess I have a different view of friendlies than other US fans. I’m not all that concerned with the final score line but more in how the team played. And while the defense managed to shoot itself in the foot several times, I prefer those mistakes to happen in a friendly so they can be taken care of at the next practice sessions. And I was rather pleased that for the most part the US didn’t bunker in as much as it has previously. But I must admit my well of faith in Altidore is almost empty. There are many players who excel for their club but can’t make it at the international level; maybe Altidore is one of them. Another bright spot – Jones almost made the whole game without getting a card!

    • wandmdave - May 31, 2013 at 1:21 PM

      I’m right there with you. We got outclassed but at least we attempted to play them straight up so we could analyse our weaknesses and strengths. That is what friendlies should be all about.

      • wfjackson3 - May 31, 2013 at 11:27 PM

        I would go one step further and say the midfield and forwards actually did pretty well. We had lots of one touch passing, lots of dribbling through traffic and retaining possession, and we looked much more organized going forward. They were actually playing like they were on the same page for the first time in a while.

        Defense though, that was bad. Weak sauce guys.

  2. rafibomb10 - May 31, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    I don’t read too much into friendlies, but there are a few statistics I really look at each time the US plays. Posession Percentages, Opportunities Created, and Give Aways. The last few matches I haven’t been impressed specifically in those categories. Leaving out the Snow Game, for obvious reasons, we just haven’t been making the strides I had hoped for. Only a handful of chances against Belgium, practically zero against Mexico, and poor performance in the opening game of the Hex. I’m optimistic, and I like Klinsi’s mindset of attack your opponent and control the game, much better than Bradley’s pack it in then transition, but I want to see some more growth.

    Steve, I’m thinking we are similar in our observations, but when will we be a team that begins scoring goals through the flow of play? Set Pieces are our strong suit, great. But other than Clint, when are we going to get a goal that legitimizes Jurgen’s vision for the team? I feel like a dog waiting for a treat, patiently waiting, soon I’m going to snap just like the dog on someone’s hand…

    • Steve Davis - May 31, 2013 at 11:54 AM

      “dog waiting patiently for a treat …” Nice. Made me giggle. … You know, I just look at the personnel and wonder where this “treat” will come from? Beyond Dempsey (as you note), is there anything “special” in the lineup? Even Dempsey is limited in many ways. I may not exactly disagree with your assessment re Klinsmann’s vision, but I DO wonder how much is just a symptom of a player pool that looks pretty average to me?

      • rafibomb10 - May 31, 2013 at 12:21 PM

        Fair enough. The pool is pretty average. Waiting for that next crop of players like Gil, Joya, Villareal, and Trapp could probably be your next post. At least there is a little bit of hope.

        I enjoy your articles by the way. Always a fun read!

  3. talgrath - May 31, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    I can’t understand the panic on this particular friendly. Just the day of or before there were articles all over on how Belgium is a very, very good team that was bringing its A squad for the most part, that this is supposed to be the tougher of two friendlies (with dominant Germany being one of these friendlies!) and then people are shocked that we lose and badly? I doubt Klinsmann went in to these friendlies expecting a win, he went in to these friendlies to try to get a sense of where his team is at globally and to put them under heavy pressure now so the Hex seems easier by comparison. Everyone be little Fonzies, everyone be cool. You, be cool!

  4. boscoesworld - May 31, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    This team is evolving in many ways. Offense is not one of those ways. There is zero creativity in the attack. No clever runs. Heck, very few productive runs period. When Belgium had a turnover as do most teams there is urgency in getting up the field. This team does not. The runs aren’t productive and usually cut short when the ball carrier cuts back. It is very frustrating to have seen Jurgen Klinsman play and how it in no way translates into this “attack”.

    • wfjackson3 - Jun 1, 2013 at 11:15 AM

      That was simply untrue in the Belgium game. You could see the urgency even in how little time it took the our keepers to get the ball out into space for someone to push forward. Watch the game again.

  5. dfstell - May 31, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    I just think the team isn’t very good because (a) we don’t have many players with elite international-level skills who can make things happen with an individual moment of brilliance and (b) we don’t play very well together.

    The problem of elite talent isn’t going to get fixed. Out talent is good enough against our regional rivals, but against a really world-class team like Belgium, we just can’t make it happen. Clint has moments, but they’re not going to happen very often when he is dropping into midfield to pick up the ball.

    As for not playing all that well together, I kinda blame the coach for that. We haven’t run out a consistent line-up ever and we seem to be experimenting to find out what DOESN’T work rather than finding things that DO work. Against Belgium, we learned that Cameron isn’t an international level right back……but that shouldn’t be surprising. He isn’t even an consistent starting right back for Stoke. We also learned that Goodson isn’t an international caliber CB, but we should know that because he wasn’t even consistently starting in Danish soccer this year. We already know that Jozy isn’t any good as an isolated target forward, but we keep trying it.

    Why not just go to a boring old, 4-4-2, put Clint up top with Jozy and tell Clint that he will be spanked by the coaching staff if he crosses midfield to get the ball?

    Oh….and perhaps play two proper outside backs would help too…..

  6. joeyt360 - May 31, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    I’ve decided it’s because National Teams don’t play a lot of games that NT fandom gets so melodramatic. A club has a bad game, it was just that, a bad game. An NT has a bad game, and people read so much into each game that it becomes an existential crisis.

  7. schmutzdeck - Jun 1, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    joeyt360.

    JK has been in charge for around 25 games or so over two years now? That amounts to about 65 % of an EPL season In fact it’s even less than that since they have played only 9 competitive games, the WC qualifiers.

    The hysteria generated by a preseason game loss is almost comical.

    Most US fans seem to see the USMNT as a club team and never seem to take into account the many limitations on national team managers. The team in the Belgian game had not played for two months.

    Neither had the Belgians but their players have a long history of playing together unlike the US guys and they were, man for man superior in terms of talent and experience.

    Plus they played this game like they were looking for respect, not your typical exhibition attitude.

    All in all a completely predictable result for a glorified scrimmage..

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