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2016: A Transition Year for American Soccer

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FREDRIC J. BROWN/GETTY IMAGES

For American Soccer fans, 2015 ended disappointingly. The year began with friendly victories against the Netherlands, Germany, and Mexico (Germany were ranked first in the FIFA Rankings). But the year will ultimately be remembered for a shocking defeat at the hands of Jamaica in the Gold Cup Semi-Finals and the heartbreaking loss to Mexico at the Rose Bowl.

2015 Expectations

In January of 2015, Jurgen Klinsmann promoted a balance. Savvy veterans (Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones) helped unproven youngsters (Gyasi Zardes, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Wood and Wil Trapp) learn the mental and physical aspects of performing on the international level. This blend provided the coaching staff with a glimpse of who deserves to play in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan was to build a blended roster, that controlled the tempo and would ultimately win the Gold Cup. While the friendlies (with the exception of the Netherlands, Germany and Mexico) were uneventful, it gave the coaches a good view of what to expect during the summer.

Six months since the Gold Cup concluded, I can officially say that the tournament was a disappointment. While the scoreline shows that the USA perform better against CONCACAF (North + Central American Nations), I feel like this is not the case.

Looking back at the Gold Cup Group Stage games versus Haiti and Honduras, the United States won the two games, but struggled to do so.

They spent the majority of the game without possession. This forced Brad Guzan to make challenging saves versus the pacey opposition. During the Group Stages, this was not a big deal. The USA were able to get three victories and roll into the Knockout Rounds. Their fortune would soon run dry.

The Semi-Final versus Jamaica was not a particularly poor game overall. Though, it was defined by two mistakes by the American defense. While the back-line had often relied upon the goalies’ dominance, Brad Guzan was the reason behind Jamaica’s early goals.

A long-throw caught Guzan on the edge of the six-yard box and Darren Mattocks was able to get his head on the end of the long-throw and it went above the head of America’s misplaced goalkeeper and into the back of the net. 1-0.

Only a few minutes later, Brad Guzan was penalized for a handball on the edge of the penalty box. This gave Jamaica a free-kick on the very edge of the penalty box. Giles Barnes stepped up to the spot and delivered a perfect strike. 2-0 Jamaica.

Michael Bradley was able to get one goal back for the United States, but it was never enough. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side struggled to gain possession of the ball and spent the time with the ball kicking inaccurate long-balls to Alan Gordon.

The game finished 2-1 and the United States were left without any source of pride from the tournament that was considered a “Cake-walk until the Final against Mexico.” The United States would not face Mexico. Jamaica jumped at the opportunity but ultimately lost in the Gold Cup Final.

Klinsmann’s next challenge was set for October 10th. At the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, the United States would face Mexico in a one-game playoff for a bid to the 2017 Confederations Cup. (Confederations Cup takes place one year before the FIFA World Cup and is a key aspect for shaping a World Cup Roster). Both coaches brought their top players from all around the world. This game was considered a “Real Gold Cup Final.” due to the fact fans from both sides wanted to prove who were the better side.

For both teams, the key to victory was clear-cut chances. Despite winning the Gold Cup in July, Mexico seemed to struggle when the opposition played a flat, defensive-minded style of defense. They held possession of the ball, but failed to put goals on the board.

Mexico held possession of the ball, but were also able to create clear-cut chances. Mexico won 3-2. (On a side note, this was one of the best games I’ve ever witnessed.) Both teams played their hearts out, the 90,000 rowdy fans were motivating factors for the bitter rivals. Here were some things that crossed my mind:

  1. DeMarcus Beasley was not a solid fit at left-back. He did positive things when attacking, but his dodgy defending was the catalyst of Mexico’s last two goals.  I hope that in 2016, we’ll see fewer games with DeMarcus Beasley in the lineup. Kellyn Acosta and Brandon Vincent are solid replacements and they’ll be a contender for that position in 2016.
  2. We didn’t have the line-up for it, but the USA looked better when pressing the opposition. Sitting in a flat 4-2-2-2 prevented Mexico from creating chances through the middle of the field, but allowed them to dominate possession. The lack of width in the original tactic forced Jermaine Jones to roam from sideline to sideline. While this gave a bit more width in their formation, it was not enough when trying to stop Mexico from passing over the top.
  3. We needed more youth up at the striker position. Jozy Altidore is only 26 years old, but he looked a lot older during the Mexico game. Clint Dempsey had opportunities to find Zardes on an assist, but he wasted these chances by keeping the ball for himself. Bobby Wood and DeAndre Yedlin made immediate impacts as substitutes for Klinsmann. While Yedlin is listed as a Right-Back/Right-Mid, he plays far better in an attacking position. In comparison, Wood is a true finisher. He doesn’t have the pace or strength of some of his colleagues, but he shows composure in the most desperate of times.

While Klinsmann failed at the Gold Cup and at the Confederations Cup Playoff, I still believe he is the right man for the job. After the Mexico game, many were calling for his head. I don’t think he was completely to blame and I truly believe that he’s done good in 2015 work despite failing his original goals.

Christian PULISIC
VINA DEL MAR, Chile – Tuesday, October 20, 2015: The USMNT U-17 and Croatia end up playing to a 2-2 draw in first round group action during the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup at Stadium Sausalito.

2016 Outlook

In a few weeks, the USMNT will face Colombia in a two-game playoff. The winner advances to the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Men’s Under-23 Team, led by Andi Herzog, will be taking part in this playoff and The Olympics as well (if they qualify). If I were in charge, here’s who I would play and why (notes below):

u23startingxi.jpg

Some thoughts:

Jerome Kiesewetter came on as a substitute last Sunday for the United States. In the final fifteen minutes, he was a crucial part of their comeback victory. I envision a left-wing/right-wing pairing of Julian Green and Jerome Kiesewetter providing issues to Colombian back-line.

I want DeAndre Yedlin playing as a right mid. This will allow him to overlap on attacking moves and the Right Winger can provide cover if Yedlin is out of position. On the other side, I want Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic playing deeper on the left side. He’ll have a bit less attacking freedom, and sit deeper as a distributor for the front three.

If Fatai Alashe were healthy, I would’ve preferred him as a holding midfielder. Zelalem is a nice change of pace and provides more on the attacking side, but is no where near Alashe when it comes to control as a defensive midfielder.

If I had my say, there will be two Stanford Cardinals in the Starting XI. Jordan Morris is a familiar name to the common fan, but few have heard of Brandon Vincent. The right back was recently acquired by the Chicago Fire and has spent the past few months working with the US Senior National Team. While Vincent lacks experience on the international level, he will be featured by USA U23 Coach, Andi Herzog.

Experimenting with Younger Players

With the exception of the Olympics, the only other focuses are World Cup Qualifying and Copa America Centenario. During Copa America, fans will want to see Coach Klinsmann play a full-strength, competitive side to see how good the National Team is when facing against historic powerhouses such as Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

In my opinion, I couldn’t care less about the cup. It is a friendly tournament, has no implications on major tournaments (Olympics or World Cup), and interrupts the flow of Major League Soccer’s regular season.

For World Cup Qualifying, the United States are currently unbeaten in their Group. Qualifiers take place throughout 2016 and carry into 2017. Due to the lack of strength in their group, I’m in favor of Klinsmann giving players such as Jordan Morris, Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, and Bobby Wood starting roles. The games are fairly uncompetitive, but still provide international experience.

I’m excited to see what the future holds for American Soccer. The memories and results are not always favorable, but it is incredible to see how the sport is developing throughout the country I call home. 2016 will be a year of improvements, experimenting and preparation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

 

 

 

Michael Anders View All

Born in NYC x Raised in VA

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