Monday, October 21, 2013

Looking Ahead To 2018 For No Good Reason

In my last post I explained how this years World Cup team will be the most talented and deepest team that the U.S. has ever produced.  When I was going through the rosters of the previous World Cup teams I noticed how much the quality and depth of the teams increased with each cycle.  That got me looking ahead to the team that we'll see in 2018 at the World Cup and who some of the main players for that cycle might be.

Goalie - Brad Guzan will be the penciled in starter but there is a ton of talent behind him with Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Zach McMath and Cody Cropper all looking like potential National Team players.  This has been the best position for the U.S. since the 90's and things don't look to be changing with this group in the fold.

Defenders - Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, John Anthony Brooks, Timmy Chandler and Eric Lichaj will all still be around.  Geoff Cameron, Michael Orozco and Edgar Castillo will all be on the downside of their careers but still could play a part.  Austin Berry, Andrew Farrell, Amobi Okugo, DeAndre Yedlin, Will Packwood and Jalil Anibaba are all young promising players who could jump up to the senior team.  This is a very solid group although it is still the weakness of the U.S. squad.

Midfielders - Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, Danny Williams, Josh Gatt and Brek Shea will be the core of the midfield.  Younger players like Perry Kitchen, Darlington Nagbe, Luis Gil, Paul Arriola and Dillon Powers are currently making waves with their current clubs.  Bradley will make this a solid group no matter what but if players like Nagbe, Arriola, Corona and Diskerud continue to grow then this could be a special group.

Forwards - Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Terence Boyd and Juan Agudelo should blossom into a potent strike force for the U.S.  There are some talented players behind them as well such as Conor Doyle, Will Bruin, Jose Villareal and Jack McInerney.  The only problem for the second group of players is that the top tier of players are all still very young and will be in their prime come 2018 so cracking that top line will be a difficult proposition.

The team that takes the field in 2018 will be the strongest team to date meaning that the U.S. Men's National Team will have been on an upward trajectory since they qualified for that 1990 World Cup in Italy.  The U.S. has long stated that their goal was to be able to win a World Cup by 2022 and if things continue to trend upward then I think they'll have a chance in Qatar.  So I'm saying there's a chance.

Am I missing any players that you think will be in play for 2018?

Friday, October 18, 2013

This Is Without Question The Best U.S. Team Ever

I'm just going to come right out and say it.  This current iteration of the U.S. Men's National Team is the best squad in the program's history and it isn't even close.  Some of the other team's have had some success but is there really a team that you would pit up against today's bunch and expect them to win?  I don't think so.

Let's start by taking a look at some of the previous World Cup teams to see how they stack up.  I'm going to skip right over 1994 and 1998 since they really weren't even on the same playing field as today's bunch.  The U.S. World Cup teams of 2002, 2006 and 2010 all had varying levels of success but all were talented.  Let's break it down.

2002 - This team reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup and outplayed a Germany squad that would go on to reach the finals of the tournament before falling 1-0.  This team knew how to maximize their talent and played stingy defense that led to their lethal counter-attacks.  Brad Friedel held off Kasey Keller for the starting position and was fantastic.  The defense was led by Jeff Agoos, Eddie Pope, Eddie Lewis and Tony Sanneh.  The midfield was this team's strength with Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien, Landon Donovan, Pablo Mastroeni and DaMarcus Beasley.  Up top the team relied on Brian McBride, Josh Wolff and Clint Mathis.

Pope was always a solid player and Sanneh had the tournament of his life but was generally inconsistent.  Lewis was a converted midfielder who played admirably but wasn't the best defensively.  Agoos was... I don't really have anything nice to say about Agoos so I'm not going to say anything at all.  I never liked him as a player.  Reyna and O'Brien were at the peak of their powers and Donovan and Beasley both provided speed on the flanks that unsettled teams.  McBride was a solid pro, Wolff had flashes and Mathis was a potential game-changer although an inconsistent one.  Friedel was on top of his game for the entire tournament.

2006 - The 2006 team came into the tournament ranked #5 in the world and had talent but a tough draw saw them ultimately fail to make it out of the group.  The talent was there but inexperience and lack of chemistry were too much to overcome.  Keller took over the #1 spot in goal.  Eddie Lewis returned and was joined by Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Pope and Steve Cherundolo.  The midfield was once again anchored by Claudio Reyna with O'Brien, Mastroeni, Beasley, Donovan all back joined by Clint Dempsey and Bobby Convey.  The forward line was led by McBride for a third time with Eddie Johnson and Brian Ching as backups.

Keller was his usual steady self.  The defense was ripped apart in the first game but held strong against Italy.  Overall they did not perform up to expectations.  Reyna was not himself and the control the team had in 2002 just wasn't there.  The forwards didn't score a goal. In fact, the only goal of the tournament was scored by a young Clint Dempsey against Ghana.

2010 - The 2010 World Cup team was loaded and they came out of their group in the top spot thanks to Landon Donovan's classic winner against Algeria in the final game of the group stage.  Although they fell to Ghana in the Round of 16 this team performed up to expectations even though they had a great chance to make it to the Semi's based on how things opened up for them.  Tim Howard took over for Keller in goal.  Bocanegra was back in defense along with a hobbled Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo.  Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres and Donovan handled the midfield.  Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey played up top along with Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley and Herculez Gomez.

The defense was strong and organized but didn't pose much threat going forward and wasn't the best distributing from the back.  The midfield was generally strong but had a few lapses which led to opposition goals.  That being said, Bradley and Donovan scored from the midfield and Maurice Edu had a goal wrongly brought back.  The forwards struggled all tournament to really test opposition back lines.

Verdict - From a team standpoint, 2002 was probably the best team.  They executed exactly as Bruce Arena asked them to and the led to a successful tournament.  2006 was disappointing and 2010 was solid but ultimately lacked top notch talent despite improved depth.

We obviously don't know who Jurgen Klinsmann will bring to Brazil but by using his recent squads as a reference you can tell that 2014 will be the most talented and deepest roster ever.  None of the returning players (save for Cherundolo) are reaching the end of their careers and the depth is something that has never been seen before.  In previous years the starters were almost penciled in at every position but this year the competition is so strong that there are only a handful of spots that seem to be locked down.  With Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Brad Guzan, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson the U.S. has a bevy of players that would be starters on most national teams throughout the world.  There are just so many good players who have a chance to make the World Cup squad right now.  There won't be any Robbie Findley's on this team.

With a group of high-end talent and ever improving depth this World Cup squad is on an entirely different level than ever before.  This team can also compete with any team in the world which is not something I could have said in previous years.  It's an exciting time for U.S. Soccer fans.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

3 Positives From Loss To Brazil

The 4-1 scoreline of last weeks loss to Brazil may have been a little bit lopsided but that doesn't mean there weren't any positives to take from it add we head into todays match against Canada.  Let's take a look at the 3 of the best things that came out of the match.

Bradley continues to star - Coming on the heels of a solid season in Italy, Michael Bradley has continued his inspired play in the center of the park for the U.S. this summer.  The most notable improvement has come in his decision making in the final third.  Bradley has always been a hard tackler with a good work rate but he's now a more complete box-to-box player capable of unlocking the defense with an incisive pass.  The only question now is where in the midfield should Bradley be playing?  I feel like he should be a classic center mid who's expected to defend and contribute in the attack like a Patrick Viera or a Yaya Toure.  Bradley's position in todays match should be a sign of where he's going to be stationed during the World Cup cycle.

Gomez is a lock - Jozy Altidore is the national teams best forward and for too long he's been the only viable option up to, even when he's been struggling.  Gomez has been a beast in Mexico for the last few seasons and his goal scoring for Santos Laguna this year brought him back into the fold.  After his performance on Wednesday Gomez should expect to be a part of the national team setup for the foreseeable future.  He's a hard working forward with a knack for scoring goals which just happens to be something that the U.S. has struggled with under Klinsmann.  Gomez played so well that Klinsmann now has the option of playing two out-and-out strikers with confidence for the first time in his tenure.

Fabian Johnson excels again - Just as Bradley is using his excellent season at Chievo to boost his pay for the Nats, Fabian Johnson is continuing the strong play he showed at Hoffenhiem this season during this current run.  In fact, he's played so well that many people are already starting to forget the whole Timmy Chandler incident.  Maybe Johnson's play was the real reason Chandler turned down the call?  Either way you look at it Johnson had provided the type of two-way pay that has often been an issue for the American's.  When you combine Johnson's play with Cherundolo's slight dip in form (age?) it's beginning to look like the left fullback spot that has been an issue for American teams for as long as I can remember has actually become one of the strengths.

Checkout tonights match to see if these trends continue or if any new ones pop up and check back here for my post match thoughts.

Friday, June 1, 2012

3 Reasons Why Brazil Won 4-1

The United States National Team may be licking their wounds a bit today after falling to Brazil 4-1 last night in Landover in front of over 67,000 people but there were some positives to take from the game.  I'm just not going to discuss them today.  Instead I'm going to focus on the main reasons why Brazil was able to beat the U.S. by such a gaudy scoreline.  Let's look at the three reasons why the U.S. lost the other night.

Poor Defending - Onyewu had an absolute stinker, Bocanegra looked slow and uncomfortable on the ball, Cherundolo was run ragged by byNeymar, the midfield didn't do enough to disrupt the flow of the game and Howard didn't come up with any of his signature ridiculous saves (although one was pretty good).  Only Fabian Johnson acquitted himself well in a match that officially cemented him as the left back for the foreseeable future.  Against the top teams in the world this group is going to have to play at a high level for the U.S. to win and that just didn't happen on Wednesday night. 

Finishing - Brazil dominated this match but they really only had 6 clear-cut scoring opportunities and they buried 4 of them in the back of the net.  The U.S. had, by my count, 8 such opportunities and only managed 1 goal.  Some of those misses were great saves by the Brazilian keeper while others such as Dempsey's failed sitter about a yard off the goal should have been buried.  Brazil was clinical in front of the goal and that was why the final score was not completely indicative of the game itself.  Once again, when going up against a ram like Brazil you have to take advantage of the scoring opportunities you get if you want yo win.  The U.S. did not.

Still Tinkering - Brazil may have had a different squad on the pitch than you'll see during next summers Confederations Cup but the system and roles are clearly defined.  Klinsmann has yet to settle on a formation and is still giving players a chance to solidify their spot on the roster. That means that there is a constant shuffling of players, positions and roles at this point and time.  That should slow down a little as Klinsmann gets more comfortable with the team and with World Cup qualifying right around the corner but the lack of cohesion, especially in defense, was apparent.  Think about who on the team is a clear starter at a single position.  Howard in goal, Johnson, Bocanegra and Cherundolo in the back (although two of them looked out-classed against Brazil), Bradley at center mid and Altidore up top.  Donovan and Dempsey are starters but their positions aren't completely settled and players like Jones, Edu and Onyewu seem likely to start but they aren't locked in yet.  This shuffling is the reason why help defense was an issue and why the offense took such a long time to click.

Despite all these issues there were panty of positives to take from the match as well.  I'll be back this weekend with those thoughts and more.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The U.S. Can Beat Brazil Tonight

On Saturday, the United States National Team put together their most complete performance of the Jurgen Klinsmann era with a 5-1 thrashing of an over-matched Scotland squad.  Today they face an entirely different animal in Brazil while looking to continue the develop the attacking, high-pressure style that overwhelmed the Scots.  Although, whether the U.S. uses the same aggressive approach against Brazil or will Klinsmann adjust the game plan will be the biggest question heading into the match.

Odds are we will see the U.S. fall into a slightly more defensive posture to counter Brazil's ability to control the ball and pick apart teams that spread themselves out too much.  That being said, Klinsmann has spent his entire tenure at the helm trying to implement an offensive style built on possession and pressuring the ball so I don't see him pulling the team into a defensive shell either.  I expect to see a team looking to defend as a team without opening dangerous passing lanes and attempt to control the possession battle as much as possible in an effort to keep Brazil's talented attackers at bay.  Based on the latest results under Klinsmann the U.S. team will be a confident bunch and this young Brazil team could be the prefect opponent to make another statement against.

This match could actually be the most important of the Klinsmann era up to this point.  It's only a friendly but after beating Italy on Italian soil and dominating a European team with a strong EPL presence this could be the type of game that could provide a clear indicator of where the new look Yanks stand.  A victory will boost the profile of this squad and surely erase any doubts about Klinsmann's ability as a manager.  A tie could have a similar effect as a win depending on how the U.S. plays but would be generally positive regardless.  The problems could arise if the U.S. comes out flat and gets overwhelmed which us always the fear when you are playing a world power such as Brazil.

I just don't see that happening though.  Even with Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore either limited or scratched all together do to fitness concerns, this might be the strongest and most confident American team I've seen since they nearly knocked off Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup final.  This team won't be run over.  Not with Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu clogging the middle and all playing great box-to-box soccer and not with Landon Donovan and Jose Torres looking do strong with the ball at their feet.  Brazil will have a hard time getting through that midfield and when they turn the ball over those players are more than capable of putting the Brazilian defense on their heels quickly. 

Remember, this isn't the counter-attacking team that they were under Bob Bradley.  This is an extremely confident side looking to take a big step forward on the world stage while building momentum for their World Cup qualifying campaign.  This is the first time I wouldn't be totally surprised to see the United States topple mighty Brazil.  Tune in to ESPN2 at 7:50 tonight to see what happens.