We May Have Gotten Ahead of Ourselves

Wednesday, September 07, 2011 | View Comments
-Ben McCormick

Admittedly, it’s been awhile since my last post, so I’ll take a brief moment to toot my own horn. Fabian Johnson was stealthily called into the US squad after my piece on him. Is Juergen Klinsmann reading my writing? Probably not, but still, instant gratification feels pretty good.

On to more pressing matters. For the first time since 1980-something, the USMNT is three matches into a new regime without a win.  Oh heavens no, what ever are we going to do? What use is an attacking style that doesn’t score goals?

Slow down. Let’s put this in perspective.

Juergen was hired with precious few days to prepare for a friendly against Mexico.  He spoke of the growing pains that would occur, almost promising fans there would be speed bumps on the road to qualifying, and Mexico looked to be as tough of a match as any US fan could ask for. In the words of a friend of mine, “no good can come of this,” and yet, somehow, it did.

After a shaky start, the US played some of the best soccer it’s ever played against almighty Mexico, which had been up on a pedestal after the 4-2 victory in the Gold Cup final. Players like Andres Guardado, Gio Dos Santos and Pablo Barrera made their attack among the most potent Mexico ever had, and yet the US managed to equalize and seemingly level the playing field with its fellow CONCACAF giant. After playing so well, US fans forgot about the growing pains, assuming they already suffered them in the first 60 minutes against Mexico. Fans wondered, “man, once we get Dempsey and an in-form Altidore back in the fold, just how good are we going to be?”

Then came Costa Rica and Belgium less than a month later. The first half against Costa Rica showed considerable promise, but the growing pains came roaring back. A decimated defense gave up a goal, the offense looked comfortable in possession but was severely lacking in the final third. The Americans, who take pride in superior conditioning, looked tired. Fans pointed to Edgar Castillo as Juergen’s Jonny Bornstein, Robbie Rogers as another one of his “favorites”. Concerns rose immediately around Juergen forcing a system on the players after Landon Donovan struggled to make an impact.

Against Belgium, Juergen not only chose to take Castillo out of the lineup, but chose not to dress him altogether. He showed some creativity in trying Timmy Chandler on the left side. The circumstances surrounding the match didn’t help his cause, the extensively long flight and hardcore jet lag combined with Belgium being a side with young quality players made for unfavorable conditions. The loss itself overshadowed the changes Juergen made. In many ways, the draw with Mexico created a sense of false hope, like we had emerged as a complete side far sooner than we should have.

Look, the attacking style of play Juergen is implementing is unlike any other system the US has ever played. It’s going to take time because the players aren’t accustomed to it. When transitioning from Bruce Arena to Bob Bradley, was there really a beat for the US to miss? Juergen needs time, and as fans we need to give him that. Remember, he is still yet to have both Donovan and Dempsey available, surely the best field players on the team, available for the same match. Could you evaluate any sports manager after three matches where he/she didn’t have all of his/her best players for any of them.

Juergen is still trying to find that “American” style of play. It’s a process, and it’s going to take more than three matches to figure out whether Donovan and Dempsey function best in the middle or on the wings with a single striker formation. With players like Kyle Beckerman, Jose Torres, Brek Shea and Mo Edu showing encouraging play while players like Michael Bradley and Stu Holden on their way back to the national team with prospects like Mikkel Diskerud, Fabian Johnson and Josh Gatt knocking on the door, one, two or three matches isn’t enough to find a starting XI for qualifying.

We’re seeing positive signs already. Moments and periods where we dominate matches or play a beautiful style like we never have before. With over eight months until qualifying, that should be more than enough for us.  There needs to be multiple trials and errors before we can succeed.

Be patient and give it time, the results will come.
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