February 6, 2013
By Michael Lewis
For openers, it was an utterly forgettable performance
Time to panic? No -- at least not yet.
Time to be worry? Perhaps.
Time to be concerned. Well, yes.
The U.S. did not exactly have its best performance in its 2-1 CONCACAF hexagonal loss to Honduras on Wednesday. And that's being kind.
There was a lot to criticize, from the coach's tactical decisions, to the woeful midfield play to some defensive lapses and a forward line that hardly produced many, if any, dangerous chances.
So where do we begin?
A little history lesson. Against the Reggae Boyz in Kingston, Jamaica last September, national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann decided not to start captain Carlos Bocanegra. What transpired was a 2-1 loss. The next game Boca was back in the lineup and the U.S. recorded a 1-0 win over the Jamaicans in Columbus, Ohio several days later.
Lesson learned, correct?
With veteran right back Steve Cherundolo injured, Tim Chandler was given his first international start and struggled at times. Sometimes, heck, many times, players need some international experience in friendlies before being thrown into the deep part of the pool. Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron partnered in the middle.
Klinsmann should have learned from history, especially starting two defenders with not much World Cup qualifying experience in the back. The U.S. needed a stabilizing force and Bocanegra would have filled the bill. If the captain isn't starting, why is he still with the team and the captain, for that matter?
If I didn't know any better, it sounds like a rookie coach's mistake. Of course, Klinsmann is far from a rookie, having directed Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup.
Don't know what he was thinking.
An off-game for Bradley
Probably the most consistent American player over past couple of years has been Michael Bradley. His hard-nosed play at holding/defensive midfielder has been a big key to the team's success. He is a ball-winner and can spark the attack at times. Saying that, he did not have one of his best games on Wednesday. He gave the ball away on what turned into a Honduras offside goal that was called back. It's tough when we expected perfection and we don't get it every time out.
It's the midfield, stupid
Then again, it wasn't just Bradley's fault. The engine room did not have a good game at all -- on both sides of the ball. Klinsmann replaced three of the four midfielders -- Danny Williams (by Maurice Edu), Jermaine Jones (Graham Zusi) and Eddie Johnson (Sacha Kljestan).
That says a lot.
No, that says a ton.
As the game wore on, the starting midfield was less effective. Edu helped stabilize things, but he is only one player.
A midfield can make up for a lot of sins. If the midfield doesn't play well, a team has one foot in the grave and in the hexagonal, that could be devastating.
Let's face it, the U.S. has no player in the same orbit as Landon Donovan. I've said it before and I'll say it again. He can spark the team, can pass the ball, can shoot it into the back of the net and convert penalty kicks with his eyes closed. You can't blame anyone on the team that he wasn't with the U.S. side. Since MLS Cup, Donovan has been contemplating his playing future. There are signs he will return to the LA Galaxy. Returning to the National Team? That's something else and another level
Whether Donovan wants to play and know he can play up to his international reputation is up to him.
Even if Landon Donovan can't be Landon Donovan all of the time, just bursts of him could mean so much in the hexagonal.
There is no American around who can do what Donovan does (worse, there doesn't seem to be a heir apparent).
Revenge of the MLSers
Ah, yes, before we forget there is another team on the other side of the ball, a talented and hungry one at that. In fact, four players with Major League Soccer experience played vital roles for Los Catrachos.
The list includes midfielders Roger Espinoza (late of Sporting Kansas City, now of Wigan Athletic), Mario Martinez (Seattle Sounders) and Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo) and striker Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution). And Victor Bernandez (San Jose Earthquakes) also started for Honduras.
Garcia set up the winning goal by Bengtson. Martinez played well early on and Espinoza was, well, Espinoza, playing his usual high-energy game box to box.
By the way, the Americans had two MLS players starting -- Gonzalez (Galaxy) and Johnson (Seattle Sounders).
Now, let's put everything into perspective. It is the first of 10 games and of course, the hexagonal hardly gets any easier. But there is plenty of time to accrue points, even if the U.S. has a rough schedule to start off with three out of four games on the road.
It is way too early to panic (one point after four games will be an opportunity to.
It's incredible how winning can cure a team's ailment.
Saying that, the U.S. faces a must-win situation against Costa Rica, considered by many to be the weak link of the group, in Commerce City, Colo. on March 22. The Americans have lost at home only twice in the 28 years. A draw would not do it, especially with a trip to Azteca Stadium in Mexico City four days away.
Now, a loss at home, especially to the Ticos, that would be a reason to panic.