Questions Remain For USA as World Cup Qualifying Starts
Well – it’s here. World Cup Qualifying. Read Grant Wahl’s excellent primer here to get you in the mood.
We are coming off a game against Brazil which showcased some excellent attacking play from the US, which had me optimistic despite a poor result (1-4 loss); and against Canada (0-0 tie) which simultaneously put me to sleep and woke me out of my complacency in thinking this team had figured things out on the offensive side of the ball. That performance was so static and lifeless that I can only hope they were tired and testing out their “how you grind out a 0-0 result” strategy. We were lucky to leave with that result.
Now the team is in Tampa, waiting to face tiny Antigua and Barbuda in a game that will only be remembered if it goes horribly wrong. And then it’s on to Guatemala City to play a game that is much more difficult than it looks on paper. That’s the thing about qualifying. People only notice it when it goes awry. But if you ask me, this is my favorite sporting ‘event’. I’ve talked about why in prior posts, but qualifying is where you earn your stripes as a fan. It’s about paying $30 to watch a grainy feed from Guatemala in the first round. It’s about hugging a stranger at Cuatros (our local American Outlaws bar) when our boys clinch their ticket to the finals in some Central American hell hole stadium with hardly anyone back home noticing how hard it really was. The World Cup finals in Brazil (fingers crossed, no jinxies) are the fun part, and the casual fans will start paying attention then. But the two years ahead of that are where you earn the right to call this team yours.
It’s also where Coach Klinsmann will earn his stripes. All the tinkering done up to this point will be forgotten, and the scoreboard comes on for real. But throughout the first part of his tenure, some questions have arisen that have yet to be answered. The first stretch of qualifying games will go a long way towards telling us if Klinsmann’s transition to a pro-active, attacking style of soccer is going to pay dividends. Here are some things to look for.
Continued Auditions for Center Back
It’s a revolving door next to Captain Carlos Bocanegra in defense. Clarence Goodson looked the best in the friendlies, but he’s maybe not the best matchup for the tricky Central American strikers or the flat-out speed of the Caribbean attackers we’ll face in the first round.
The veteran is still reliable enough for now, but at age 33 we need to be developing other options. Parkhurst has been poor in his sub minutes and Timmy Chandler’s withdrawal and Eric Lichaj’s omission from the team leaves a big question mark as to who our options are if Cherundolo goes down.
We’ve yet to see the Dempsey / Donovan combination shine. Landon did it all against Scotland but his performance dipped against Brazil’s Marcelo, who seemed to get into LD’s head early and stayed there. Dempsey was a spark against Brazil, but spent the Canada game picking up the ball way to deep to have an impact. How do we make room for both of their skill sets from a tactical perspective?
Third Man in Midfield
We’ve seen Edu, Jones, and Bradley start each of the three friendlies in different Central Midfield configurations. Edu’s been lacking in skill and that spot is ripe for the picking. He’s played an advanced and a deep role and only shown promise as a pure destroyer. Will Jurgen try Beckerman or Torres there instead? Move to a 2-man central midfield configuration? If so, how does that impact the other spots on the field?
Decisions to Make Up Top
Boyd’s been decent in his action. Gomez was great against Brazil then disappeared against Canada. Jozy Altidore failed to make an impact as a sub against Canada. How do you pick a starter out of these three if you’re only going to put one pure striker on the field?
Does Klinsmann want two pure strikers against these underdogs, or does he stick with the single striker, with two secondary wide runners?
The first match is Friday, June 8th at 6PM Central on ESPN2. When we take the field in Brazil in 2014, don’t forget to look back on this day and remember that it all started here.