That's On Point: The Web Site

Don't blame us, we voted for Karl Pilkington.


Trust me?

He's saying foul, yes?

"You don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati," -- Ex-Bengals coach Sam Wyche during a 1989 incident when fans were throwing stuff on the field at Riverfront Stadium. 

Part of what many people would argue that makes soccer the best game on the planet is that "everybody" plays it, meaning different cultures influence the way the game is played in perceived in their own unique ways.

If you're reading this, please don't roll your eyes or say "no doi."

Thanks for telling me something I didn't already know eight years ago, Sherlock!

Yes, almost all soccer fans know this, especially in America where out melting pot culture has yielded a massive, rich, albeit unruly patois of nearly every brand of soccer known on the planet.

One, unfortunate aspect of soccer culture we've all absorbed through osmosis, is that British media crisis-mode mentality. That ability to turn the smallest kernel of news into a spinning newspaper alert, with bold headlines that scream out CONTROVERSY!!! For the longest time, until the last decade or so, it was hard to find English language soccer news anywhere aside from British newspapers and websites. In turn, that jaundiced eye toward the game has rubbed off on us, myself very much included. Very much. Underline that, in fact.

That's why, when Jurgen Klinsmann announced his 24-man roster (now somewhere in the range of 20) Monday afternoon for the must-win CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifiers this coming week against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala, everybody associated with the #USMNT decided to pull a chicken little routine via Jozy Altidore's shock exclusion from the group despite the New Jersey native leading the Dutch Eredivisie in scoring with AZ this year.

Jozy, Jozy, Jozy.

Rabble, rabble, rabble.

It's only natural, in a sense. The National Team only plays about 20 matches in a given year, yet for many American fans it's the team they most readily identify with if they live far from a city with an MLS side or thousands of miles from their favorite European squad. While it isn't the rapid passion of various worldwide national teams, the U.S. fans have become more and more ardent (and critical) in their support, especially with such a small sample size to analyze and put under the microscope.

There are a lot of ways to go here, since this is likely all anyone is going to talk about before the games, as well as the injuries to Landon Donovan, Brek Shea, Fabian Johnson (illness) and Edgar Castillo.

It doesn't jive right, does it, that a guy could be leading a semi-major European League yet not find himself among the 24 best American soccer players on the planet? Even if following the U.S. National Team tends to be a series of conundrums and head-scratching moves this one jumps right toward the top of the list especially in light of MLS journeyman Alan Gordon and, gasp, Eddie Johnson (who ironically enough was Jozy Altidore before Wyclef Jean even knew who the former Red Bull prodigy was) called in.

If anything, if you think about it, this move by Klinsmann should be applauded. Not simply to be contrarian or against the norm, but it sends a clear message that nobody is simply entitled to a spot in the lineup, as it should be in any healthy national team set up.

Ultimately, this boils down to how much you trust Klinsmann's ability to formulate a gameplan against opposition -- both of which the U.S. has played against this year already. The German's reasons for selecting Gordon and Johnson over Altidore, as well as Terrance Boyd and Chris Wondolowski, at least on paper make some sense:
"They will probably get a lot of numbers in their box or in front of their box to play more defensive against us, so we need to have [the forwards] force things with crosses coming over the wings and be really strong in the air. That was the reason we brought in Eddie and Alan, two guys into the squad that are really good in the air and that can lay balls off." 
It makes soccer sense, when you're playing a side with 10 behind the ball you need active forwards or guys not afraid to take chances or win balls in the air. In a do-or-die situation you can't really fault Klinsmann for leaving of a player, albeit a talented played like Altidore, who's loped and drifted through most of the 2012 U.S. National Team cycle.

That was hardly the biggest revelation Klinsmann made on his conference call to the media. His words as to why Sacha Kljestan -- omitted from the last few squads despite playing for a Champions League team in Anderlecht -- paint a picture of how he expects to play these next two games against inferior, defensive-minded opposition. It also is a clear indication as to why Jose Torres wasn't in the mix, either.
"He was very aggressive. He was very direct. He looked for the vertical balls to play, he didn’t play sideways the whole time and he was pushed forward in order to get shots off himself."
For better or worse, Klinsmann has assessed what he has available for this next two qualifiers and likely the entire 2014 World Cup cycle. Big revelation here: the U.S. is not Spain. Klinsmann, despite all his lofty promises last summer when he was hired, wasn't going to be able to transform the entire American soccer system in a first-touch, pass-and-move, high-pressure Barcelona Jr overight.

Shocker, right?

What Klinsmann and the U.S. have is athletes and hard workers. Grit and graft. Heart and hustle.

With superior conditioning and resources those combinations are usually good enough in CONCACAF. The World Cup is a different story for another day, as well as how remarkable similar this all seems to when Bob Bradley was the coach.

If anything we can at least see Klinsmann is learning on the job. Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala are going to pack the defensive area. It means the U.S. will have time to dilly dally on the ball, but what Klinsmann wants are direct forrays forward. Shots from distance. Crosses for somebody to get a head onto.

Is this a long-term recipe for success? Not really. For two games -- and that's all it is, two games, Altidore's international career isn't over -- it is what the U.S. needs to do to ensure it doesn't flame out in World Cup qualification. These next 180 minutes of soccer should be about one thing: pragmatism. No more, no less. The margin for error, with the U.S. tied on seven points with Guatemala and Jamaica with only two advancing to the final Hexagonal, is gone.

At this stage of his tenure with the U.S. Klinsmann hasn't done a lot to win trust in the fans. The record has been far to sketchy in games that matter despite the high-profile friendly wins against Mexico and Italy. One area you simply has to trust him in is player evaluation, in this specific case Altidore's.

As fans, all we see is the goal-scoring table where Altidore is on the top, alongside the immortal Lex Immers it must be said. Here's a question, though, when was the last time you sat down and watched an Eredivisie game? Sure they're available on ESPN's web service, but outside of a standout highlight like this from Altidore, how much do you see? I'm going to have to take Klinsmann's judgment and assume he's watching AZ games at a much better rate than we are doing. Klinsmann has to be seeing things(*), despite the goal totals, that we are not and deciding that, plus Altidore's patchy record in a U.S. shirt mean he won't be an asset these next two vital qualifiers.

(*) Call it another weird conundrum for the U.S. team. Most American soccer fans have easy access (or some access) to the EPL, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga. Few Americans play in those leagues, or if they do like Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson at Hoffenheim, they're on squads that barely get airtime in the States. So in that regard, it's hard to get a fair assessment of how U.S. internationals are doing on a week-in, week-out basis. A quick, "played 90 minutes in Brondby win at Aarhus" recap n a blog doesn't, outside itself, mean all that much, does it? There's a much bigger picture we simply don't see. 

Or if that doesn't justify it, think how many players in the Eredivise -- especially in defense -- will participate in World Cup qualifying the next couple days. It's not a very high number.

This is the point where I realize I'm just as guilty as everybody else, writing about something that -- in a few months times -- will be remembered as a tempest in a tea kettle.

The bigger story, let's remember, is having to trust Klinsmann knows what he's doing in preparing for a series of must-win matches.

Gulp.

Miscellany:

* The Antigua match is on beIN Sport, meaning a lot of Americans won't be able to watch the match, unless they revert to the illegal stream option. You people who do that  are worse than the guys that club baby seals. Illegal sports streaming is probably the most heinous crime out there.

* Michael Bradley is healthy -- he even scored for AS Roma over the weekend. Does it mean he displaces Jermaine Jones (the U.S. leader in minutes and games in 2012) from his midfield destroyer role? Of all the players in that American midfield maelstrom, Bradley still is the most complete getting forward and tracking back on defense. Still think come 2014 he's the key man to build the squad around should everything stay on track with health and club status.

* How weird would Bradley look with hair?

* Still find it odd that the guy who's looked best American center back going forward, Geoff Cameron, is now playing defensive midfield at Stoke City. Ditto for Maurice Edu, who's been less esteemed as a defender for the U.S.

* Bradley, Jones, Edu, Williams, Cameron, Beckerman. I'd say the U.S. is well-stocked in case of a CDM-apocalypse. Maybe that's what the Mayans predicted for 2012.

* Klinsmann might over-think himself via Bradley, Jones, Zusi, Fabian Johnson and Edu all carrying yellow cards into the game. Pick one up (cough, cough Jones) and they miss the next one.

* Losing Fabian Johnson, if only for the Antigua match is rough since he's one of few actual wide players in the fold right now. Edgar Castillo missing out? It compounds an issue, but he's never stood out positively in his few chances in the U.S. shirt.

* Consider me amazed that Kansas City is all of a sudden a hotbed for soccer in America. Who else can forget the seas of red seats when the Wizards played at Arrowhead Stadium? Now, as Sporting Kansas City, it's received praise for having "European atmosphere" at Livestrong Park. If MLS can only figure out a way to spark that revival in passion in New York and New England as well as ending the failed experiment that is Chivas USA ... (Stories for another day.)

* Seemingly cut adrift, you have to give Eddie Johnson credit for working his way into the national team picture -- even if it's just a brief cameo. A lot of guys, after three years in Europe with only seven goals at four different clubs would have mailed it in on return to MLS, yet with the Sounders he's on form and playing well again -- with confidence. U.S. never has much striking depth so it's still up to Johnson to keep working and show Klinsmann he's worth keeping around the next two years.

Johnson, in the past, has never had issues scoring against the dregs and also-rans of CONCACAF, has he?

Lineup Guess:

Based on the squad's lack of wide players a narrow 4-3-1-2. Believe it or not, this was written before Donovan withdrew from a knee injury. Figure Michael Parkhurst can give a solid 90 out of position at left back against Antigua, right?

GK -- Howard

DEF -- Cherundolo -- Cameron -- Bocanegra -- Parkhurst

MID -- Bradley -- Jones -- Williams

ATT MID -- Zusi

FOR -- Dempsey -- Gomez

Final Thought:

Six points.

That is all.

Labels: , , , , ,



3 Responses to “Trust me?”

  1. # Blogger Travis

    Nice. Good stuff as always.  

  2. # Blogger macarthur31

    Agreed. Great stuff, as usual Mike.

    I read in the SI piece on Barcelona that there's a 12 year old American training at La Masia (their academy). When does the American soccer hype machine (rivals the George Michael Sports Machine) start pushing that kid over?  

  3. # Blogger macarthur31

    Great stuff, Cardillo.

    I'll be watching it tomorrow at a bar, and enjoying the Star Trek like studio set. (It's all white, right?)

    Anyone catch the SI article on Barcelona? They buried the lede -- there's a 12 year old American training at La Masia (the famed Barcelona academy). When does the American soccer hype machine (which is only eclipsed by the George Michael Sports Machine) get revved up for this kid?  

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