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The Big Pitcher: Uncharted Waters Edition

It's a submarine. Get it? Depth!

Editor's Note: Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice”. Sometimes we American soccer fans get wrapped up in the day-to-day, Monday morning quarterbacking (or centerbacking), knee-jerk reactions and miss out on the big picture. This weekly column will focus on picking out the larger themes and issues of Major League Soccer and the American game.

By Eric Betts / Senior Crystal Ball Correspondent

Strap on your floaties, sports fans. We’re about to pull a Michael “Squints” Palledorous and jump right into the deep end. Just ask Phil Schoen:



Now wipe the excess sarcasm from your eyes and consider the main point here: from the qualifiers to the Gold Cup right through to Sarajevo, the theme of the summer for the U.S. Men’s National Team has been depth. New players have emerged and experienced players have reclaimed their spots on top, bumping those who were doing perfectly serviceably in the interim down a peg.

On the offensive side, the combination of players who are good enough to hold onto spots past their primes, young veterans who were given time early and are coming into their roles, and a significantly broader geographic base for young talent to come from means the pool of talent has expanded. When choosing from among them, overall quality is just one of the factors to be considered. (Though of course there will be a segment of the population arguing to just pick the best four guys, which is a good way to get in a bar argument with Jonathan Wilson).

What’s interesting is the variety the coaching staff has to choose from. We aren’t just picking between the Big Guy and the Fast Guy (Wave hello, Misters Buddle and Findley.), instead we can select any from the following cast: Eddie Johnson as the Big and Fast Guy, Altidore as the mercurial “I hate you I hate you I hate you Ohh Sweet Jozy where have you been all my life”, Donovan as the playmaker who’s a threat to score, Dempsey as the scorer who can make plays, Zusi as the white-gloved shuttler and silver platter service man, Fabian Johnson as the incutting havoc-wreaker and Aron Johannsson as the Footloose Wild Thing capable of spelling any of our Few Good Men just before the End of the Line, sending Tremors right up the spines of Iceland’s Frosty Nixons.

That’s not even counting the Not Ready for Prime Time Players Boyd, Bedoya, Corona and possibly Johannsson; the still super-young Second City Regulars Agudelo, McInerney, Gatt, and possibly Johannsson; the teetering on the edge of Dr. Doolittle-dom Herculez Gomez and Chris Wondolowski and whatever the hell Brek Shea is (Best Case Scenario: Robert Downey Jr. Worst Case: Jim Belushi). Even if we assume a number of the first two groups flame out before stardom, that’s still a pretty diverse cast to work with.

This means one thing for Jurgen Klinsmann: Decisions. And for the rest of us, the Internet’s favorite pastime: anticipating and then second-guessing those decisions. Hell, we’re still not over the Great Rico Clark Debacle of 2010. Can you imagine the collective outrage if the team starts to struggle with some of those guys on the field? Even if you assume that Jozy, Dempsey and Donovan are automatic starts, who gets the fourth slot? Who gets called off the bench late when the team needs a goal? How does that particular group of four, whoever it is, adjust if the midfield is getting overrun?

Or take another example: nothing we saw last week changed the bottom line on John Anthony Brooks, but if we believe him to be further ahead of the likes of Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson, then we’ll have to address the fact that the two best centerbacks in the pool compliment each other stylistically except for the simple fact that they both play – and have pretty much exclusively played – on the same side of a central pairing. That’s a clear example of player quality running into tactical reality, unless we also plan to play a sign on the left-sided channel asking strikers to please redirect their attacks toward the two gentlemen to their right.

Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of having two semi-competent and fully functional centerbacks seemed a pipe dream. The presence of depth means rosters can be retooled, revamped, and recycled more rapidly. We’re beginning to rebuild the airplane in midflight at faster and faster speeds, though often enough the new parts don’t wind up filling the same holes as the old.

The notion of “We’re set at outside back for the next ten years” runs right into Timmy Chandler’s waffling and the minor detail that Fabian Johnson’s actually not that great at left back. “Can anyone other than Clint score,” gets drop-kicked by Jozy. The still-waters-run-deep pool of consistency in the center of midfield becomes Michael Bradley and Pray for Rain. What will we do without Landon → Who needs Landon → Ohh thank God, Landon’s back.

These are the kinds of problems where it’s much better to have them than the alternative. Even if we're not quite drowning in talent yet, we're not scraping the bottom of the kiddie pool either. Bring on the W-M.

About Eric

Eric Betts is a freelancer writer who lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and his dog Lando (yup). While attending Emory University he won “College Jeopardy”.

Tags: Big Pitcher, Eric Betts, USMNT

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