US / USMNT

Take a pill, Eric

Rather than tear our collective hair out over the shortcomings of the Union, let’s turn our focus to some bright prospects with the national team. Despite what that crackpot Eric Wynalda says, results of friendlies don’t matter and the individual efforts of players and the general chemistry and ingenuity shown by a team are FAR, FAR more important. And given those criteria, the US should be very pleased with many of the story lines from both the Argentina and Paraguay matches.

U-S-A! T-I-M!

As loyal Union supporters, we know the difference good goalkeeping can make. When you have faith in the man between the sticks, the entire team grows in confidence.

2010: Seitz. 2011: Mondragon. Point made.

If you’re a US fan, you have Tim Howard, and that should make you very, very confident. Sure, he wasn’t at his absolute best during the World Cup, but the man is an excellent goalkeeper and an absolute FREAKSHOW of an athlete.

In a match against an incredibly pacy Argentina outfit, the US marched out of the tunnel burdened with the slowest side Bob Bradley could have possibly fielded.

The new kit is good kit

We like it.

As the US took the field, Mike made sure that both Adam and I were in agreement that we liked the new red jerseys with the navy sash. We did. A lot. They’re very nice.

I had an argument at the bar during the USA v Argentina game with a guy who couldn’t understand why the US didn’t just have a super iconic jersey like Argentina or Brazil. Because its super simple, I did my best to explain: we haven’t exactly had that many iconic teams or players in our nation’s history and once we win a World Cup, we can certainly immortalize that team’s jersey.

He didn’t buy that logic.

I then explained that the kit the US was sporting was actually based on the uniforms the 1950 American team wore when they upset England 1-0, and the decision to recall the design was a shrewd marketing move given that the USA-England rivalry was renewed at the 2010 World Cup.

He thought that was dumb and we ended our discussion by mutual consent.

Moral of the story. Other than that guy, the response to the jerseys has been overwhelmingly positive.

Back on the pitch

Jonathan Spector got the start at right back for no reason that any American supporter could decipher. If selections in the national team are, as Bradley claims, based on current form, then Spector has no business being even called into camp. Spector’s play at West Ham was so bad in the early season that manager Avram Grant moved him to holding midfield (just what the US needs another one of) to see if he could get ANY use out of him, and despite a few good cup matches alongside Scott Parker, has barely seen the field all season.

In the middle was Jay DeMerit, who has played one competitive game in the last year given that once his contract with Watford expired he decided to do nothing until Vancouver picked him up. One game with the Whitecaps and he’s starting for the Nats. (Really?!?) Then there’s Oguchi Onyewu, who is still a shell of his former self following the serious tear of his patella tendon and Carlos Bocanegra who, no matter how much you love the former captain, is just too slow to play left back at the international level.

Despite the sloth-like defense and a three-man midfield built of purely defensive-minded players (sound familiar?) that insured the ball would never make its way into the Argentina half, Tim Howard would not yield. His reflexes and athleticism put him in places to make saves that reminded every fan of the red, white and blue why he is our no. 1. Even on the Argentina goal, Howard made two point-blank saves before Cambiasso eventually belted the ball home.

Ten negatives and one positive after the first 45 minutes. But on came Timmy Chandler and Juan Agudelo at halftime and everything changed. Before I get all positive on you, remember that Bradley used only two subs in an international friendly. Go ask Bob about why; he’s the only one who knows.

Reorganized into a 4-4-2 the US looked a different team. Agudelo’s runs off of Jozy Altidore allowed the Burcaspor forward to drift wide looking for work and the two had immediate chemistry. Jozy has always looked uncomfortable as a single striker and one needs only remember his brief partnership with Charlie Davies to get goosebumps about what he might be able to do with Agudelo given enough time for that partnership to develop.

So much has been said about the young Agudelo that I will let you go read about him in any other media outlet of your choosing. It’s impossible to control expectations these days with the bumbling soccer media falling all over itself to anoint the next superstar and, despite how good he looked—and he did look really good—remember how much time and experience it takes to be great in this game and give the kid a chance to get at least a full season under his belt before you tattoo his name across your chest and start naming your children after him, although Juan is a very popular name. You know what I mean.

Anyway, back to the soccer. Without SOOOOOO many men in the middle of the park, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu actually saw more of the ball and the US was able to retain possession, something it had failed to do for the entire first stanza. National team detractors have tried to reason that Argentina took their foot off the gas, being up a goal.

But this simply wasn’t the case.

As Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho fumed about why their star players were forced to play a full 90 in a meaningless friendly, new Argentina manager Sergio Batista put his new charges on trial, making only a single substitution. The US simply was that much better in the second half. Often, Bradley contrives to put his players in such uncomfortable formations and positions that the players’ struggles are inevitable. Once they re-organized into a realistic 4-4-2, the US was able to both spread the field and maintain possession.

Timmy Chandler looked world class, seriously

Another reason for the improvement was the rampaging runs of Timmy Chandler. The German-born fullback, who began his career as a midfielder, displayed all the tools of a quality international. Size and speed is something the US has in droves, but rarely have we seen a player combine those attributes with excellent touch on the ball and a Mensa level soccer IQ. But, that’s what Chandler possesses, which is why he has been starting in the Bundesliga as a 20-year old (he turned 21 on the day of the Paraguay match). Following his excellent showing in both friendlies, it is imperative that he sees Gold Cup minutes for no other reason than to commit himself to the US on a permanent basis.

In the Paraguay match, we got to see an even further expanded glimpse into the future with Tim Ream and Chandler starting from the opening whistle. There is a steeper learning curve for centerbacks because their glaring mistakes usually lead directly to goals rather than simple turnovers. Remember, Girard Pique was on loan at Manchester United in his early 20s and a couple of bad touches resulted in his return to parent club Barcelona, a move that hasn’t worked out to poorly for the Spanish champions or the nation as a whole. In Ream, the US have a confident distributor who is also a talented defender. Sure, he could use some toughening up. But in a position where players don’t reach their peaks until their late 20s, Ream’s star is clearly on the rise. Partnered with a tough, veteran defender, his development will continue.

Be excited

The future portrait of the US defense, which until recently was looking very bleak, is beginning to take shape in a manner that American fans should be excited about. Given the absolute horror-show Jonathan Bornstein had against Paraguay, it seems only a matter of time before Eric Lichaj gets a run at left back to test his fortune at the most frustrating position in US Soccer. Should he succeed, a future backline of Lichaj, Gonzalez, Ream and Chandler is a beautiful thing to consider, especially given that Tim Ream is the elder statesmen of that group at 23.  With other young talent like Ike Opara and Gale Agbossoumonde waiting for their turn as well, defense may become a strong point for the Nats down the road.

Eric Wynalda, professional crazy person

Earlier, I mentioned the craziness of Eric Wynalda. For those of you watched the Paraguay match on FSC, you were treated to Wynalda’s tirades at half and full time. So incensed was Wynalda that it seemed only a matter of time before fellow host Cobi Jones leaned over to gently whisper, “Hey buddy, you doing alright?”

Despite the generally positive performance from the team and the consensus of most commentators not named Wynalda that the positives far outweighed the negatives, Wynalda railed on and on. His face was red, he was mad. Even his sign-off smacked with fury as he reminded everyone on their bar stools and couches what a poor, poor performance it was from the US.

Take a pill, Eric. The big picture is far brighter than the one you painted.

Photo: Courtesy US Soccer

2 Comments

  1. Benjamin T. says:

    Good to read something positive this week, and a good read indeed. I didn’t even know Timmy Chandler EXISTED until the Argentina friendly, and between him, Ream, and Lichaj, I am very confident thus far in the future of the national team defense.

  2. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » Union take on DC in Open Cup, more news

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