41614_isi_usmntfan_usmntdz032613150 Douglas Zimmerman/isiphotos.com
U.S. National Team

5 Things U.S. Soccer Fans Should Worry About Now

Clint Dempsey is back. Michael Bradley looks like a world beater. Jurgen Klinsmann knows how to win. But that doesn't mean everything is hunky dory for the U.S. national team. Here is John Godfrey's take.
BY John Godfrey Posted
April 16, 2014
8:02 PM
WITH 60 OR SO DAYS until the United States men's national team marches onto the pitch to face Ghana in Natal, Brazil, there's plenty to be optimistic about.

But we're not going to address any of that—not today.

All is not well with Jurgen Klinsmann's side, and he knows it better than anyone.

Klinsmann was a ruthless striker during his playing days, and he has shown a similar streak as coach of the U.S. national team. He shunted then-captain Carlos Bocanegra to the sidelines last February and he did the same to his friend and confidant Martin Vasquez a few short weeks ago.

Hey, sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do.

So I'm going to follow the coach's lead and say what needs to be said, ruffled feathers be damned. Here's what I'm worried about right now.

1. Omar Gonzalez's Form

Yes, Omar Gonzalez had a few good moments against the Portland Timbers Saturday night—a sliding clearance here, a half-dozen towering headers there. But the six-foot-five Los Angeles Galaxy defender is clearly struggling.

He was at least partially to blame for both of Mexico's goals in the April 2 friendly, but, more worryingly, it seems like he always takes two-to-three plays off per match. These intra-game coffee breaks may be acceptable in Major League Soccer—perhaps they're even mandated in the MLSPU collective bargaining agreement—but they're certainly not going to cut it in Brazil.

Where is that edge, that intensity, that focus, that Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson always seem to have? Gonzalez has not demonstrated these attributes on a consistent basis across 90 minutes, and he hasn't for quite some time now.

Two years ago Gonzalez seemed to be on the right trajectory. Signed to play in Nuremburg, he came thisclose to the Bundesliga and all of its harsh lessons. Gonzalez was going to discover what it took to scratch and claw his way into the starting lineup on a weekly basis. He was about to experience what Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were all about. He truly was on the verge of taking that next step.

But then a training ground collision with Timothy Chandler ended the European adventure before it began, and Gonzalez returned to the cozy confines of Southern California, Major League Soccer, and a guaranteed spot in the Galaxy Starting XI.

Since then he has had good games and he's had more than his fair share of clunkers. Six months ago I would have bet the ranch that Gonzalez was going to play 270 minutes in the Group Stage of the 2014 World Cup. Now? The thought of that terrifies me.

There are whispers that Gonzalez is determined to return to Europe after the World Cup, and I think that's a great idea for his longterm development. The more immediate concern, however, is this: How is Gonzalez going to step up his game between now and June 16? It needs to happen, or he needs to be benched.

2. The Fullback Situation

Here are your options, America.

  • DaMarcus Beasleyreally a winger.
  • Tony Beltranhas three caps to his name.
  • Edgar Castillonot particularly interested in the defensive side of the game.
  • Geoff Cameronprefers central defense, could be forced to play there due to Worry No. 1, above.
  • Timothy Chandlerinjured.
  • Steve Cherundoloretired.
  • Brad Evansreally a midfielder; injured.
  • Eric Lichajinjured; not really a Klinsmann guy (unfortunately).
  • Fabian JohnsonKlinsmann prefers to use him as a winger (which would be a huge mistake).
  • Michael Parkhurstplease stay healthy, Michael.
  • Tim Reamno caps since 2012.
  • DeAndre Yedlinjust 20 years old.

    Our best suggestion? Pick two and pray.

    3. Jozy Altidore Is Sitting. A lot.

    Does Jurgen Klinsmann have any pull with Gus Poyet? American soccer fans had better hope so, because the former Uruguayan international and current Sunderland coach may just hold Jozy Altidore's World Cup fate in his hands.

    Altidore has struggled all season with the English club, and the 24-year-old striker has been jettisoned to the Black Cat's reserve squad because Poyet believes he has 18 better options for his matchday squad. Some facts to consider:

  • The English Premier League season ends May 11, and it's entirely possible that Altidore will not get any first-team action during that span.

  • The United States' Send-Off Series begins May 27th in San Francisco. That's just around the corner.

  • Sunderland is in 20th place in the English Premier League and is likely to be relegated.

  • If the Black Cats are mathematically eliminated before then—and with Chelsea and Manchester United coming up, it's entirely possible—Poyet could throw Altidore/Klinsmann/America a bone and give the beleaguered striker some minutes. But he is under no obligation to do so.

    Altidore has fought through adversity before—he was in Klinsmann's doghouse in 2012, after all, and won U.S. Soccer player of the year in 2013—but rust is rust and confidence isn't easily manufactured.

    If Altidore is off his game, will Klinsmann sit him down in Brazil? Or will he stay loyal to one of the five members of his team's "spine"? It's a huge question, and getting the answer wrong could doom the U.S. this summer.

    4. Gonna Beat Ghana

    The conventional wisdom—or perhaps it's wishful thinking—is that the U.S. has a puncher's chance against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal on June 22, and Germany might already be through to the next round by the time the two teams play on June 26 so, hey, maybe Bastian and Mesut and Per won't bother to show up.

    But Ghana? Oh, we can beat them. They're not that good.

    Oh really?

    Now, when your other opponents are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the world, I suppose it's understandable that American fans look to Ghana, ranked 38th internationally, and think, Oh, we've got this one.

    But just take a look at this potential/likely Starting XI:

    Goalkeeper: Abdul Fatau Dauda
    Right back: Jerry Akaminko
    Center back: Samuel Inkoom
    Center back: Daniel Opare
    Left back: Rashid Samaila
    Defensive midfield: Michael Essien
    Defensive midfield: Sulley Muntari
    Center midfield: Kevin-Prince Boateng
    Right wing: Andre Ayew
    Striker: Asamoah Gyan
    Left wing: Kwadwo Asamoah

    There are quite a few Serie A starters in the lineup above—veterans with Champions League resumes who have played alongside one another in Ghana's 4-3-3 setup for quite some time.

    And, oh yeah: Ghana has eliminated the United States from the last two World Cups.

    Make no mistake: The United States can win this game, and many folks are convinced that the U.S. needs to win to have any chance of advancing. But it will take a tremendous effort against a confident team that, like the U.S., knows it has to face Germany and Portugal right after it plays a very beatable—in their eyes, anyway—American team.

    Yes, I know Ghana lost to Montenegro a few weeks back. I saw the highlights too.

    Montenegro vs Ghana 1 -0 Highlights Friendly 05... by edi-qrz

    But for some reason I don't look at this result and feel better about June 16. I look at this result and worry that the United States is going to get overconfident, or complacent. That would be tragic.

    (While we're on the topic of Ghana, be sure to take a look at Blake Thomsen's latest Group G Watch—it features weekly updates on the stars for Germany, Ghana, and Portugal. It's must-read material these days, but it may not make you feel better about what faces Klinsmann and co. on June 16.)

    5. The Single-Striker Setup

    Never mind that Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley rarely seem comfortable working the two-man pulley in Klinsmann's 4-2-3-1 alignment. And forget about how dangerous the 4-4-2 looked in the first half against Mexico. There's a bigger reason to fear the 4-2-3-1 formation: The United States simply does not have a striker who thrives alone up top.

    Brian McBride—who controlled the air space whenever and wherever he played, chased down every ball booted his way, and could maintain possession long enough to bring his teammates into the play—could do it.

    So could Brian Ching, mostly through grit and determination.

    But nobody would ever accuse Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannsson, Eddie Johnson, or Chris Wondolowski of being target men.

    I can see it now: Left on their own against quality defenders, these forwards will provide Ghana, Germany, and Portugal with little to worry about. And then all three opponents will become increasingly confident, push forward, create scoring chances, and probably take the lead.

    Then, at the 70-minute mark, with the Americans trailing by a goal or two, Klinsmann will shift to a 4-4-2 and try to get back in the match. Maybe the U.S. will pull one back. Maybe that will be enough to get a draw, maybe it won't.

    Sound familiar? Sound likely?

    It's time to do away with the 4-2-3-1. It doesn't suit U.S. personnel or the American temperament. The Yanks need to go out and try to take the lead, dictate the game, and play to win.

    Let's lose the 4-2-3-1, and quickly.

    That's what I'm worried about. What are you worried about?

    John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.
  • Post a comment