U.S. Men's National Team
Fielding Questions: the Sod, Julian Green, the Crowd
April 16, 2015
SAN ANTONIO—By almost every measure, yesterday’s friendly was a resounding success for U.S. Soccer.
The national team beat Mexico, its biggest rival, by its favorite and familiar dos a cero scoreline. Several young players emerged, or re-emerged, as potential contributors. And the crowd of almost 65,000 was raucous, passionate, and no doubt highly profitable.
But the one black eye for the federation was the condition of the field at the Alamodome which, to be polite, was disastrous.
Uneven and bumpy, with exposed seams and multiple bare spots, the field presented a terrible aesthetic, both in how the field looked and the way it negatively impacted the style of play.
“It’s really difficult," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "On that field, both teams tried hard to keep the ball going, and on the ground and not hit too many long balls. But it was really tricky for all of the players to play on that field.”
So bad was the quality of the field that the Mexican federation balked at training there Tuesday, opting for a nearby college field. The USSF tried to downplay these concerns but the problems were obvious for all to see.
“The field was awful, but it’s no excuse for the result,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said through a translator.
The Alamodome’s usual surface is artificial turf, something most national teams look to avoid playing on for myriad reasons. Rows of grass sod were brought in Saturday and placed over the turf. That can be a viable solution, if it’s done properly. It wasn’t.
American Soccer Now walked the field Tuesday afternoon and saw multiple exposed and uneven seems. Sod takes time to settle and take root so that the field is firmer and more even. Simultaneously, grass is planted to address the seams and bare spots.
That’s all on U.S. Soccer, which chose the venue and approved the schedule to plant grass. San Antonio is a great city with a passionate soccer community and it’s laudable the USSF took such a high-profile game there.
But there are too many options for venues in this country and too many ways to plant grass successfully for elite professional athletes to have to play on such poor conditions. In short, this was avoidable and preventable.
Despite the conditions, the U.S. players came away pleased with how they adjusted to it.
“Tonight, when you look at the tough conditions on a less-than-ideal field, I think the way we handled the game was very good,” captain Michael Bradley said. “And I think every guy who stepped on the field should be proud.”
Added Juan Agudelo, who scored the second U.S. goal: “The pitch was not the same as some other pitches. I don’t know if we’ve been playing at the park too much but we looked comfortable on the ball out there.”
PRAISE FOR THE CROWD
While the condition of the field drew plenty of criticism, the size and the passion of the crowd drew nothing but praise.
San Antonio is about 65 percent Hispanic, many with roots in Monterrey, Mexico, the nearest major city south of the border. As is usually the case when the U.S. plays a Latin American team in a city with a heavy Hispanic population, fans of the visiting team outnumbered U.S. supporters. But the gap was not as substantial as its been in the past.
Fans of both teams made plenty of noise and both times the U.S. scored the noise was intensely loud inside the dome.
“I want to thank the 65,000 people who came out. It was pretty amazing,” Klinsmann said. “It was so full of energy.”
Added Jordan Morris, who scored the first U.S. goal: “The fans in San Antonio were great,” Morris said. “It was an incredible crowd.”
Of course, Morris is still a college player and Stanford often plays in front of just hundreds of fans. A “big” crowd in college soccer is one in the low thousands. “Yeah, a little bit different,” Morris said. “This was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of, obviously.”
New York City FC midfielder Mix Diskerud had a strong game yesterday, doing a lot of dirty work defensively and constantly being an open option to help the U.S. keep possession. Tonight his club team hosts the Philadelphia Union and, despite his effort against Mexico, Diskerud didn’t rule out playing for NYC.
“We’ll see,” Diskerud said. “I come in at 1pm. I can’t reveal too much but I feel fresh, like I could play. I’ll text (NYC coach Jason Kreis) and we’ll talk, come up with a plan.
FAITH IN JULIAN
It was easy to forget but Julian Green was here this week. The 19-year-old forward, if you recall, was the darling of American soccer this time last spring when he chose to play for the U.S. over Germany. He actually made his national team debut against Mexico in April 2014.
But after scoring a goal for the U.S. in the World Cup last summer, Green’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. He was loaned form the glitz and glamor of Bayern Munich to relegation fodder Hamburg, where he is mired on the bench. His professionalism and attitude have come into question during this loan.
This week Green refused repeated requests to speak to the press corps covering the Mexico game and watched the game from the bench as players like Morris, Agudelo, and Gyasi Zardes—who were once far behind him on the depth chart—all played prominent roles.
As the U.S. players fielded post-game questions yesterday, Green quietly walked past the media, headphones on, head down, and made a beeline for the team bus.
But he’s still property of Bayern, one of the best teams in the world, and is months removed from being considered one of the world’s top young prospects. Klinsmann isn’t about to give up on his former prodigy, and his inclusion in this camp was as much to gauge his mood and keeps his spirts up as it was about being able to help him on the field.
“We are there to help them, to guide them,” Klinsmann said of his staff’s relationship with the younger players in his pool. “Also, in moments that are very difficult like for a player like Julian Green, it’s very difficult for the kid right now. It’s a very difficult time, but he deserves to come in, to talk, we have good meetings.
"When he flies back to Hamburg, with you know his fourth coach of the season and the coach that took him (on loan back in August) was fired after two weeks. So that’s what he’s going through right now and he’s only 19-years-old and it’s tough.”
Green may benefit from a stint with the U.S. U-23 side, which is having a camp next week in Carson, Calif., ahead of a friendly next Wednesday against Mexico. As of last night there was no word on Green’s involvement for that camp.
“I think the only way for (young players) to grow is getting opportunities, helping them. Finding out maybe what (national team level) is best for them, maybe it’s the Olympic team or the U-20 team,” Klinsmann said.