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That’s On Point – Arrested Development

Can he play in Europe? Can he start for the USMNT?
Can Fiji Water hydrate me properly after a grueling day signing autographs?

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By Mike Cardillo / That's On Point

Remember paper?

 

You know, that stuff we used to read stuff on. You might remember it referred to as “papyrus.” It was made out of wood pulp, or something. It's hard to really say. This “paper” was invented by the ancient Egyptians and, presumably, the manufacturing process was taught to them by the same aliens who built the pyramids. My memory of all this is a little fuzzy. Forgive me.

Anyways, ancient man used to use paper and often bound these pages into volumes called, “books.” Which were read to gain knowledge and or entertain you before television was invented.

One day I stumbled across one of these “books” in my daily adventures and took it home with me. “The Rough Guide to Cult Football” it was titled. Something told me this would find a perfect home resting comfortably atop the lid on my toilet for reading material, as the fear of dropping an iPhone and or iPad into the bowl would be worse than having your pinky finger lopped off.

This book was full of fun tidbits, profiles, charts, pictures, anecdotes  etc. about football, or what we uncouth Americans call, “soccer.” (A sport played with your feet.) Basically fun stuff from the Time Before, aka when soccer was available on television 24/7/365 to Americans — so roughly 2001.

Throughout this tome, there are numerous shots by the British writers at America's attempt to play the sport. In fact, here's one in list form, including a dig at ESPN analyst and ginger extraordinaire, Alexi Lalas. There are swipes, too, at the defunct NASL. If you lived in a cave and had no knowledge of the outside world (but somehow had this book) you'd get the picture Americans attempting to play the sport of soccer would be akin to chimpanzee's hammering away at a typewriter — albeit less hilarious. (It's unlikely someone living in isolation in the woods would draw parallels to something based off a Simpsons joke, but you never know.)

Reading all this — and knowing a little bit how the Brits think — there's a definite fearful tone in the writing. Why would British hacks take so much pleasure in perpetuating the myth Americans don't know a thing about soccer unless, deep down, they were afraid of the Colonies one day conquering the sports like we Yanks have done nearly all other team sports, well the ones we care about anyway. Let Denmark have Team Handball.

Why don't the English crack wise about China's inability to raise its soccer profile?

China has a robust economy, over a billion citizens and a communist government pushing excellence in sports — see the Beijing Olympics — yet soccer in the country languishes in the backwaters. China has played in one World Cup — 2002. It's current national team is comprised entirely of players from it's own domestic league, the Chinese Super League which in the last two days saw high-profile players Didier Drogba and Niclas Anelka jump ship barely a year into their contracts.

Remember Dong Faagzhuo? Allegedly this nascent Chinese superstar, signed to Manchester United last decade?

Yeah, me neither.

And yet, here we are as we hit the main course of 2014 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Seemingly not a day goes by where somebody hatches an idea why the United States lags behind the world soccer powers like Brazil and Spain nearly 25 years since the “modern era” since the 1990 World Cup. Monday it was ESPN's Roger Bennett writing a long story theorizing why the United States hasn't produced a star player like Lionel Messi. Read it if you haven't, if only to stir the juices in your brain.

Everybody who's ever watched an American soccer game or considers his or herself a fan has probably spent plenty of time speculating on the subject.

It's flawed youth development that only cares about trophies.

It's MLS's closed system where the clubs can't directly train their own youth academies like the rest of the world.

It's the broken college/pro idea all other American sports use.

It's because American players want to get an education.

It's because the USSF hasn't figured out how to integrate America's growing Hispanic population.

It's because not enough players are in Europe.

It's because we lost Giuseppe Rossi to Italy.

It's because MLS doesn't have promotion and relegation.

It's because there aren't enough Americans on Champions League clubs.

The USSF doesn't have enough oversight.

The USSF has too much oversight.

American kids play other sports.

The United States is too big geographically.

It's because LeBron James decided to play basketball instead of soccer.

It's because of something Bob Bradley did, so it's likely his fault.

Or it's because of the Mayans.

That about covers about all the arguments.

In short, it's probably some of these and all of these or none of these. Maybe we're all wasting too much thinking about all this, losing focus on the other details, or beyond that even enjoying the games at hand, such as Tuesday night's all-important traditional end of January friendly, this time against Canada in Houston. (9 p.m., ESPN2)

Sometimes it feels like the amount of time we (myself included) have poured into figuring out why America hasn't conquered the world of soccer, is staggering. Never-mind these facts:

1. the U.S. is almost an automatic World Cup qualifier, reaching the knockout rounds two of the last three competitions (and… The U.S. is one of only seven nations to reach the last six World Cups — along with Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Spain)
2. Out of the 200-plus nations in FIFA, eight have won a World Cup. Eight, is simply astounding.

Could the U.S. be further along? Should we as fans expect a little more than a place in the Round of 16 in the World Cup? Definitely.

By the same token, can we all of a sudden transplant Barcelona's La Masia training ground, bottle up whatever magical water flows there and plop it into the fields of America and replicate the results? Obviously not. You could observe what a Barcelona does for months, or the German youth system, but applying it to America and simply snapping your fingers and expecting results is asinine.

If there is one thing I'll say is a definite factor in the hindrance of U.S. soccer development is the difference where most American parents wouldn't want their children, at say, 13 training with a pro club with maybe the outside shot of a pro contract by the time he's 18. In Europe or around the world this isn't balked at, yet for so many American parents the driving force is the almighty college scholarship, so nearly all decisions for their soccer-playing children are made with that in mind, not the greater development of the sport in the country. Call it a sense of entitlement. “My little Hunter plays U12 on Rockingham United. He's a shoo-in for a spot on Stanford's college team.”

Right.

Take a big country like Brazil. There's thousands upon thousands of kids playing against each other around the clock. It produces better players and weeds out the weaker ones, much like what we have with basketball in America. If you go to a playground, maybe you'll see some talent kids playing hoops, yet only the best of the best are going to a Division I school and even less to the NBA.

In the more abstract sense, let's keep looking at basketball.

European basketball clubs and academies continually produce players, fundamentally sound players. You know all the stereotypes. Guys who can pass, shoot, make free throws, etc. Solid all-around basketball players. You can take that player, stick in at an American college and chances are he'll do fairly well even if … HE'S SOFT! (because every single European to play basketball is softer than a wedge of brie.)

As fundamentally capable as that player is, line him up against a guy like LeBron James who is physically unlike nearly 99.99999999999999999999999999 percent of the human population and there's going to be a gap. There is something inherently special about LeBron on the basketball court, something that no matter if you took someone with a base level of skill, trained him for eight hours a day for years, he'll never be able to replicate.

Or even take a basketball player like J.J. Redick. Not an overwhelming physical player. There's no shortage of 6-foot-4 shooting guards. Redick, for whatever reason, has that knack for the 3-point shot and has carved out an NBA career from it. He's able to to that one thing on the court very, very well.

This might apply to soccer even more, but in a different way. It goes back to my long-held theory that of all the sports, soccer is art. It can be played so many different ways to create beauty. It's not purely physical. If it were, 6-foot-7 Peter Crouch would theoretically a better player than the 5-foot-7 Lionel Messi. If Everton left back Leighton Baines walked past you on the street, you'd never think he's a borderline world class player.

There probably isn't a magic formula for what makes a world-class soccer player, though some would argue that Messi has the ideal height. There are so many little different skill sets in the game, and with the proper coaching can be used and molded into a successful team. There's yet to be a team of 11 Franz Beckenbauers, who at his pomp could conceivably play anywhere on the field.

No matter where you stand on the U.S. soccer development paradigm, we can agree the America has produced a steady string of solid, physically fit, capable soccer players with high stamina. Where the U.S. lags far behind the world is finding creative, soccer-minds. There aren't many Americans who we think of as crafty and cagey. When we do have an example of a highly intelligent American player, it's Claudio Reyna. To wit, granted these are the top examples, but the U.S. hasn't produced guys like Xavi or Andrea Pirlo — or even their non-union Mexican equivalents. (Note, that's another Simpsons reference.) Instead the definitive players of the brief Jurgen Klinsmann era are gritty grinders like Jermaine Jones.

Here's the thing, in soccer you can win with a guy like Jones.

No, seriously, stop laughing.

Goal by MLS, still counts as one on the scoreboard.

It's not easy, but international soccer isn't always about cramming the most individual talent possibly in the starting XI. It's finding a system that works and limiting mistakes. As the U.S. under Bradley (and Klinsmann) proved, sometimes all it takes is one fortunate moment over the span of 90 minutes to produce a result, ie. vs. Spain, Italy, Mexico etc.

When the U.S. takes on Canada Tuesday, or plays at Honduras in a qualifier next Wednesday, do you think when the ball touches the feet of Graham Zusi do you think he's worrying about the fact he played at Maryland or was only a second-round MLS pick? Or when Mixx Diskerud collects a pass he's remembering how he came up through the Stabaek youth system in Norway and played briefly in Belgium before he could legally buy a can of Budweiser in the United States?

We as fans worry about this stuff a lot more than the players, or even Klinsmann, although his comments to the Wall Street Journal might say otherwise. On the eve of qualification, it doesn't seem the German-born coach is too worried about pedigrees or which club pays your wages, he wants guys with hunger who are driven to consistently be the best they can be — sounds decidedly American, doesn't it?

It speaks to that insecurity we as American soccer fans are ingrained to feel. That the rest of the world scoffs at us, while the mainstream media in our country laughs behind our backs about the sport.

In the words of the great Dr. Steve Brule, “Who cares?

If, next week vs. Honduras, (a game that's fairly important) are we going to care if a goal is scored by Terrance Boyd who came up in the Hertha Berlin youth set-up in Germany or if it's Chris Wondolowski, who played with something called the Chico State Wildcats as a kid? Probably not.

Look, this isn't something people are going to like to hear, but we've been talking about U.S. soccer player development for years and it has moved at a glacial pace. Everyone who cares about soccer has an opinion on it, but enacting something that's comprehensive and works seems a bridge too far — if for the immediate future. There are so  many forces at play, things unique to America compared to the rest of the world trying to copy or emulate another system will take years to take root. Instead whomever is the U.S. coach or in a position or power with the USSF is going to have to accept the situation and make it work the best for him.

There isn't a magic bullet. And to think a wealthy country of 310 million people needs one to compete is a defeatism mentality, a fall-back excuse for when the United States — at all levels, especially the youth — comes up short. The player pool is deep enough to find 23 solid international players at any given time.

Realistically, whatever success the U.S. has on the soccer field is going to be wrought the “American Way.” For better or for worse … and whatever that ultimately means.

Look it up in a book. Maybe it'll have a definition.

About Mike

Mike Cardillo writes a blog. Follow him on Twitter @thatsonpoint.

Tags: Jurgen Klinsmann, That’s On Point, USMNT, World Cup

The Tuesday Ten: Hearts on Fire Edition

By “The Other 87 Minutes” / Senior Unemployed English Major Correspondents

Tomorrow the USMNT faces Russia, where calling soccer a “commie pinko sport” is a compliment. Here are ten possible scenarios for how this game could play out.

1. The “I Can Change, You Can Change, Everybody Can Change” Scenario
Despite suffering a severe emotional blow when noted Russian giant Andrey Arshavin murders Claudio Reyna shortly before the match kicks off, the U.S. refuses to give up despite surrendering two early goals and emerges victorious on a diving Michael Bradley header with seconds left on the clock. The Russian fans are so moved by the courage of the performance, that Putin agrees to let the U.S. host the 2018 World Cup.

2. The “Never Get Involved In A Land War in Asia” Scenario
The U.S. takes an extremely proactive approach, pinning the Russians back with their possession and ball circulation. But the backline sits deep to nullify the Russians’ pace, supply lines get thinned, and moves break down as they crash against the Russian defense, leaving the overextended Grand Armée vulnerable to counters.

3. The “Gentlemen, You Can’t Fight in Here, This Is the War Room” Scenario
With the game tied 1-1 at the half, Vladimir Putin marches into the U.S. locker room and tells the team that the stadium has been rigged with its own Doomsday Device, a series of explosives set to detonate and kill everyone inside if the U.S. wins the game. Unfortunately, Herculez Gomez was in the bathroom during this discussion, and it’s he who gets the winner minutes from time, ensuring the team’s destruction.

4. The “Kitchen Debate” Scenario
Klinsmann and Fabio Capello spend the entire game arguing on the sidelines about the merits of their particular systems, oddly enough in a model American kitchen that’s been set up on the sideline. Capello wins the argument when he catches Jurgen trying to phone Jogi Low during halftime. Capello then bangs his shoe on the podium, and no one is really sure why.

5. The “How About a Nice Game of Chess?” Scenario
Realizing the futility and pointlessness of playing a mid-November friendly, even against a historic geopolitical rival, Jurgen Klinsmann decides that the only winning move is not to play and refuses to allow his team to take the field.

6. The “Space Race” Scenario
Capello has been waiting for this moment, a meaningless friendly in the middle of November, to unveil his newest and most brilliant tactical scheme. It blows the Americans away, propelling the Russians to a 4-0 win that wasn’t even that close. America, terrified that every one of their opponents will soon begin playing the same way, pumps billions of dollars into U.S. Soccer’s budget so the USMNT can catch up with the rest of the world.

7. The “Red Dawn” Scenario
The U.S. team has just begun its first training session when a plane passes low overhead, dropping twelve men on parachutes. The Russian XI and Capello land and immediately start playing the Americans, who without proper warm-ups being dropping like flies. In the end, Nick Rimando and a ragtag team of Gatt's and Gyau's hold off the Soviet…err…Russian advances, snatching a late winner on a rifled shot from Juan Agudelo.

8. The “What a Country!” Scenario
Russian defensive midfielder Igor Denisov rakes his studs across the back of Jermaine Jones’ calf, picking up a foolish yellow card minutes into the second half. As he jogs by, he tells a struggling-to-get-up Jones that “In Soviet Russia, opponent recklessly fouls you!”

9. The “Proxy War” Scenario
Instead of taking the field themselves, the U.S. and Russia send out teams from South Korea and Vietnam, respectively, to play the game in their stead.

10. The “Shaken, Not Stirred” Scenario
While the bus to the stadium is delayed in traffic, double agent Timmy Chandler sneaks into the seat behind Tim Howard and attempts to garrote him. After a knock-down, drag out brawl, Howard and Carlos Bocanegra successfully throw Chandler through one of the bus windows and onto a passing Zaporozhet. Klinsmann, seeing no hope of getting the bus to the stadium on time, commandeers a tank and drives it through the streets, clearing a path for the bus.

About “The Other 87 Minutes”

What is this new site we're exposing you too? We'll let them explain:

“The Other 87 seeks to provide something that’s not instant analysis or eve of matchday previews. Think of us as the good bits of your favorite soccer coverage: the profiles that examine what makes a certain player tick, the historical background that sheds some light on how the sport has evolved to the present day, the silly features that are more than just tacking names on a list, but considering and explaining why each one deserves to be there.

O87 wants to be a home for soccer writing that makes you think, but that also treats the game as just that, a game. The greatest game, the one we obsess over and fixate on, to the point where we can’t read that gas costs 3.43 a gallon without thinking of Ajax’s 1995 Champions League winning team. But a game nonetheless.

“When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball three minutes on average. The best players – the Zidanes, Ronaldinhos, Gerrards – will have the ball maybe four minutes. Lesser players – defenders – probably two minutes. So, the most important thing is: what do you do those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball…. That is what determines whether you’re a good player or not.” –Johann Cruff

Tags: Jurgen Klinsmann, The Other 87 Minutes, Tuesday 10/XI

The Tuesday Ten: Jurgen’s Bright Ideas Edition

By “The Other 87 Minutes” / Senior Unemployed English Major Correspondents

We here at The Other 87 like to fancy ourselves a collection of tactical whiz kids, and so when we say that this week's Tuesday Ten is a collection of ten possible scenarios Jurgen Klinsmann is considering as he looks to turn the tide back against the Reggae Boyz tonight, you can be sure that you'll see at least of couple of these bright ideas on the pitch.

1. While seeking to combat the problem of poor ball movement among his midfield diamond, JK realizes that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and so removes Herculez Gomez in favor of Jose Torres, who will play in the center of the midfield diamond, allowing the ball to move through rather than just along the sides.

2. After realizing that Barcelona are pretty good and it seems to work for them, JK inserts yet another center midfielder onto the pitch by removing Clarence Goodson and replacing him with Danny Williams in order to move Mo Edu into the backline next to the CM-certified Geoff Cameron.

Williams, left, with Dempsey

3. To help Clint Dempsey get the ball in dangerous positions, JK removes Gomez and plays Danny Williams and his youthful legs as the designated Deuce transport, responsible for carrying Dempsey and his bass-fishing fitness levels around the field and putting him down just in time for the ball to arrive.

4. Amputates Kyle Beckerman's foot at the ankle to prevent future unfortunate deflections, correctly surmising that it can't really hurt his mobility too much.

5. Realizing it’s only a matter of time before this strategy comes to fruition, JK works with Jozy to adjust the levels of the camouflage he was wearing Friday to better match the field in Columbus.

6. JK determines that the critical missing ingredient Friday was the natural goal-scoring instincts of Michael Orozco Fiscal.

7. JK again decides that the tendency of Fabian Johnson to both attack and defend in the same game is a luxury the team can’t afford, and shackles him once more to Tim Howard’s left goalpost.

Klinsmann's next motivational speaker?

8. JK takes his motivational tactics/mind games to a new level by suggesting that if Landon Donovan really loved his team and his country, he would have had his hamstring amputated, Ronnie Lott-style, in order to be ready to play against Jamaica.

9. Frustrated at his midfield’s inability to solve the Kobayashi Maru of retaining possession when every possible easy outlet is just as likely to give the ball away as you are, JK pulls them all and starts Graham Zusi by himself as the only central midfield.

10. JK says screw it and lets the team start trying on set pieces again.

About “The Other 87 Minutes”

What is this new site we're exposing you too? We'll let them explain:

“The Other 87 seeks to provide something that’s not instant analysis or eve of matchday previews. Think of us as the good bits of your favorite soccer coverage: the profiles that examine what makes a certain player tick, the historical background that sheds some light on how the sport has evolved to the present day, the silly features that are more than just tacking names on a list, but considering and explaining why each one deserves to be there.

O87 wants to be a home for soccer writing that makes you think, but that also treats the game as just that, a game. The greatest game, the one we obsess over and fixate on, to the point where we can’t read that gas costs 3.43 a gallon without thinking of Ajax’s 1995 Champions League winning team. But a game nonetheless.

“When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball three minutes on average. The best players – the Zidanes, Ronaldinhos, Gerrards – will have the ball maybe four minutes. Lesser players – defenders – probably two minutes. So, the most important thing is: what do you do those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball…. That is what determines whether you’re a good player or not.” –Johann Cruff

Tags: Jurgen Klinsmann, satire, The Other 87 Minutes, Tuesday 10/XI, USMNT

That’s On Point – USMNT vs. Antigua and Barbuda

By Mike Cardillo, That's On Point / Senior National Team Correspondent

In the words of everybody's favorite turn-of-the-century, nü-metal band, Staind … “It's been awhile.”

Without melodramatics, it's been a long time since your humble narrator sat behind a computer screen and put some thought into the comings-and-goings of the U.S. National Team. Three matches in the past week and an upcoming pair of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifiers will do that.

In a sense, the three friendlies pitting the U.S. against Scotland, Brazil and Canada in the span of nine days framed coach Jurgen Klinsmann as a would-be Goldilocks. The first game was too cold, the second game was too hat and the final match was just right. Add up all three matches and it's a fair indication of where the U.S. stands at the moment — win vs. a hapless Scotland team; tough loss to a supremely skilled Brazil team and finally a flat performance on the road vs. Canada, which could've been a loss if not for a bad call by the linesman.

If you want to be cynical, since Klinsmann billed these five matches as a mini-tournament. Well … four points from three group stage matches doesn't exactly cut it, does it?

Peel away a layer from the onion, however, and it's hard to get all that worked up about a couple of friendly results in May and June two years away from the World Cup. That's maybe the best and worst thing about the U.S. team these days: nothing it does, bar a failure to qualify, isn't going to amount to much until those three group games in Brazil.

Call is soccer's version of pass/fail.

Ultimately isn't that what all U.S. fans are going to judge the team by, the World Cup? We've seen the team dominate CONCACAF, until Mexico's recent resurgence, anyway. That's pretty much all the rank-and-file of the fanbase cares about, getting out of the Group Stage at a World Cup and winning a game or two in the knockouts, which isn't an unreasonable goal.

Beating Italy in Italy in a friendly — nice result — but in the end should the U.S. be beyond hanging its hat on hollow results like that?

Let's be frank, too, the U.S. can stomp Antigua and Barbuda 17-0 in Tampa Friday night and it's going to mean nothing short of three points towards gaining the final round of qualifying.

The road to Brazil, from CONCACAF, isn't a lot of fun, especially now the U.S. is all but expected to win every match, save for those against Mexico, and on the road in some of the trickier Central American locales. It's a grind. It's a process. … It is what it is. 

Get locked in. Try to get excited.

And above all, don't panic.

Unless the U.S. drops a point to Antigua and Barbuda. Then the Mayans might've been right about 2012.

Takeaways from the Friendlies:

* Michael Bradley is a midfield boss: This might have been written off the 2010 World Cup, but a two-way midfielder with a non-stop engine, rocket shot from outside the box and a maturing brain … ? There are worse anchors to build a team around. If Klinsmann knows anything, he'll form the rest of the team around Bradley in the center of the field be it a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation. At 24, Bradley is one of the few proven players who've featured over a long spell in the U.S. shirt who are hitting their prime heading into the next World Cup.

As much as we talk about Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey — and they'll still be quite useful in 2012, if not still the best American players — the team should be built around the bald head of Bradley from here on out.

* The mystery back: It's not Fabian Johnson's fault, but as fans of the U.S. team we tend to love to jump on the hype backwagon over American players who flash even a brief glimpse of talent. In his games against Scotland and Brazil, Johnson looked like a real deal. You know the names I'm talking about. (cough, cough, Eddie Johnson.)

Let's not go overboard on Johnson, who likely won't play on Friday. (Nor will Edgar Castillo.)

For one, all the U.S. probably needs to get out of its left back position is a player who won't be an out-and-out defensive disaster or prone to mistakes, like our old pal Jonathan Bornstein. Is that setting the bar too low? Maybe, but as much as we fetish-ize the left back position as a black hole for the U.S., it's not the most important position in the world.

That said, a player like Johnson with pace who can offer overlapping runs and deliver a nice cross from time-to-time is only a bonus, especially if Klinsmann sticks to the 4-3-3.

* A lost chance: Off the friendlies there was a lot of rumblings about getting some younger players into the mix by Klinsmann. Names like Josh Gatt, Joe Gyau, etc. Problem is, those guys are still relatively green. It would've been a different story had the U.S. not failed to qualified for the 2012 London Olympics and the U-23 players could've had a taste of the international stage. I'm not in the camp these guys need to be rushed in, if anything a couple younger legs can be integrated on the fly depending on positional need and form as we get closer to the World Cup. With the first stage of qualifying for the U.S. particularly unforgiving, can't risk putting in guys on the fly who can't hack it when there isn't a safety net.

* An answer up top (maybe): Never thought I'd ever write this, but I actually kind of like Herculez Gomez up top as a striking option for the U.S. Long term option, no. Viable choice for the next two? Yes.

Although Gomez almost quit playing soccer about a decade ago and was nothing more than a journeyman in his time in MLS, there's something to be said for the grinder who's had to earn everything he's gotten. We as American fans might ignore it, but the Mexican League is a pretty good standard of soccer and Gomez has been excellent South of the Border.

Gomez isn't, and I hate the term immensely, a “sexy” choice and if it was Bob Bradley relying on him, we'd probably all mock it. Yet as a lone predatory option in a 4-3-3 he's not the worst option. He's got a nice eye for goal and excellent position inside the penalty area.

Better than Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore? No. Again he's an option. Better yet an option that isn't like some other American striking flavors of the month. He's not there simply for speed or strength, rather his ability as a pure soccer player.

* D'oh Defense: The biggest issue when we thought Bob Bradley was going to coach the U.S. through another World Cup cycle was finding a way to “quit” the central defensive partnership of Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra and set them adrift onto an iceberg.

This is a thorny issue since neither looked very competent against Brazil, but Brazil is, you know, kinda a good team.

Making it even more difficult to discern is that against most CONCACAF teams the U.S. isn't exactly going to get a fair physical test. The U.S. defenders have a head taller than their typical opponent, yet usually give up a step or two.

Realistically, nobody in the pool is pushing either of these two — or Clarence Goodson as the third member of this version of soccer's non-fabulous Freebirds. That's why it was a shame Tim Ream's gradual insertion into the mix was a debacle, doubled by his relegation with Bolton in the Premier League.

Roll the dice. Take a shot and hold your breath whenever the U.S. has to take on a high-caliber opponent with the defense as it stands.

* Shoehorning: There are a lot of prominent American soccer journalists who want to make Jose Torres into this key player in the U.S. puzzle. For me? Just don't see it.

If Klinsmann is trying play a 4-3-3 with wing play, Torres doesn't have the pace for an attacking wide role. In the central midfield, he's not quite the defensive presence you'd like, although he brings something different than the high-flying, studs-up play of Jermaine Jones.

Torres certainly isn't a bad player, with a nice touch and ability to string together sideways passes, but trying to shoehorn into a spot in the starting XI seems like something Klinsmann shouldn't fixate upon. Nothing personal with Torres.

Lineup vs. Antigua and Barbuda Guess:

Thinking a attack-minded 4-3-3. The U.S. doesn't have complimentary, classic wingers, but they can make do on homesoil against a true world minnow.

GK: Howard

DEF: Cherundolo — Goodson — Onyewu — Bocanegra

 

MID —  Jones — Bradley — Edu

FOR — Dempsey — Gomez — Donovan

 

Final Thought:

Me, personally, I'm going to give Klinsmann a lot of rope.

There's going to be a lot of tinkering and lineup tweaking. It might not yield too many results for 2014, but if it plants the seeds for long-term future success for the U.S. I'll swallow my criticisms and give it a fair shake.

The question to ask: what do we want from the U.S., big picture, to dominant friendlies, stroll through qualifying … and end up as an also-ran at the World Cup?

Or do we want a viable team who, beyond its blood-and-guts, never-say-die attitude, has the soccer brain and tactical acumen to make some noise at the World Cup?

I chose the latter.

So does, Klinsmann.

I think.

Follow — @thatsonpoint

Tags: Jurgen Klinsmann, That’s On Point, USMNT

That’s On Point – USMNT vs. Italy Recap





“The catcher hits for .318 and catches every day// The pitcher puts religion first and rests on holidays.” — Piazza New York Catcher, Belle and Sebastian. 

Maybe it was business as usual inside the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, Italy for the U.S./Italy Leap Day friendly.

On couches across America, things were slightly … weird.

Call it the repeated airings of “Leap Dave Williams” on USA all day.

Was that Italy wearing … white … at home? The Azzurri?

Why was the U.S. looking, as my Internet amigo Erik pointed out, looking like they were doing their best scrappy college point guard impression with white undershirts under their navy kits? (Or as others pointed out, the Nazi kits in the 'Escape to Victory' movie, aside from the socks.)

And what the heck was Mike Piazza doing in the stands, sans mustache!

A strange day — without Mario Balotelli in the mix, no less — turned into a historic day for the U.S. notching its first victory over Italy in a history spanning back to 1934 thanks to, who else? Clint Dempsey.

Hard, as usual with friendlies, to get a true gauge on just exactly what this result means. Italy seemed to play the game at a snail's pace, context to let Andrea Pirlo try to thread in a pass here-or-there. It wasn't until the Azzurri went down 1-0 that they seemed to ratchet up the attack, which to that point could be summed up with Alessandro Matri being flagged offside.

The U.S. did, however, look organized and composed. More importantly, up a goal they didn't lose their cool and ground out a 1-0 result. Again, grinding out results against Antigua and Barbuda isn't exactly the goal at this point, but it's what the U.S. has facing it in the immediate future of marathon CONCACAF qualification.

The pragmatic (buzzword) 4-4-2-ish the the U.S. played against Italy might be boring and soccer's missionary position, but it seems to suit the team in the long term. You could even make the argument with fewer teams in Europe (or elsewhere) it might behoove the U.S. to stick with this, over the more in vogue 4-2-3-1 formations since teams aren't used to facing it any more.

Still, whichever way you want to look at it, Italy is still Italy and a team that didn't give up a goal at home in Euro 2012 qualification. Even for a friendly it's not worth diminishing the result. It's probably not worth trumpeting either from on high either.

That said, chances are we probably saw the high-water mark for the U.S. in 2012 and for the brief Jurgen Klinsmann era as a whole.

Random Thoughts: 

* Biggest talking point is going to be Michael Bradley and his commanding, box-to-box, performance. Not sure how much of this is because he's playing for Chievo Verona or since Jermaine Jones — who gobbles up the ball a lot when he plays for the U.S. — was out injured, but the No. 6 shirt was excellent throughout. Maurice Edu didn't do a ton, but he was a nice complement to Bradley otherwise.

* Jozy Altidore was the bad Jozy Altidore in the first half, meaning tumbling over at a sneeze from the Italian defenders. The second half he held his ground, won Fabian Johnson's cross and laid it off to Dempsey for the game-winner. He's still the best option the U.S. has at forward, but it wasn't a coincidence he looked more active when Dempsey pulled up closer to goal.

* We're all running out of words for Dempsey. Please stay healthy, Deuce.

* Nobody reading this cares too much about Italy, but the U.S. certainly did the Azzurri and Cesare Prandelli a favor today because there's no way he heads to the Euro without Balotelli or with the pint-sized Sebastian Giovinco has his No. 1 option. The way Italy played Wednesday went right into the U.S.'s hands. It almost felt a lot like the U.S. game in the Confederations Cup against Spain where they scored a goal and hung on, blocking a bunch of shots in the process, namely Jonathan Spector. Nothing exactly revolutionary via Klinsmann.

* Hard to muster up too much vitriole, despite the past, with Italy considering the Azzurri played with almost zero emotion until it was almost over.

* If there's going to be an issue for Klinsmann down the road in two years, but going to have to wait and see if old hands Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra as still capable of starting at the international level.

* Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler (perhaps Eric Lichaj, too) could be a fun little battle at the black hole that is traditionally left back for the U.S.

* On a great night otherwise, Sacha Kljestan probably didn't win any brownie points in the eyes of Klinsmann in a brief 20 minute cameo.

* Is it wrong to think, with the bulk with a starting XI comprised solely of players playing professionally in Europe, that the intimidation factor for American players isn't what it once was.

And by same token, in a weird way it's probably tougher on these pros to go to a place like Guatemala in the sweltering heat of summer than a nice, quaint European ground against a disinterested Italian crowd?

* Took a swipe at Taylor Twellman yesterday, but credit is due for his solid performance on the mic for ESPN, as he didn't talk over the game. 

* How about that Clint Dempsey, huh? Should we mention him again?

Final thought:

Nice, no, great result. Overall a fairly forgettable match, as far as the actual game went, but it was a solid, professional and performance … one that was revenge for Brian McBride's forehead.

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Tags: Jurgen Klinsmann, That’s On Point, USMNT