USMNT vs Belgium: A Few Thoughts

The overall display today playing in Belgium against a very capable side was.. promising.  That seems to be the buzzword surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.  According to players, pundits and the sports press, no one should jump to judgment yet.  All these games are about “the greater mission,” and gaining experience under the new regime.  The match ended just a few minutes ago and I’m still pretty heated about the affair.  I had class from until 3:45 so I could only catch the second half.

The biggest observation I take away from this game (and every game since the World Cup) is that the porcelain veneer on Tim Howard’s untouchable status is cracking.  In the 26th minute Howard had a really great save diving down to his right.  Commentators also lauded him in the 34th for a reflex save on a volleyed shot right at him.  But none of that mattered because of a first time shot from distance Howard let in the 55th.

I heard Ian Darke say that Tim Howard saw the shot late, but he didn’t.  The camera angle from the back of the net showed that Howard just missed the ball when he dove; he over-jumped the shot and the ball sneaked under his midsection.  I’m not going to say that another goalkeeper would have saved the shot; it was a slick skipping bounce off a wet surface, but give someone else a try.  Do you think he’s going to be the man in 2014?  Do you take these friendlies as seriously as possible to up the USMNT’s FIFA ranking? (Nobody in the world takes those seriously, do they?)  Howard is decent, but give Hamid or Johnson the gloves in the big time.  Maybe Brad Guzan has a role to play in a busy qualifying schedule.  I don’t think team stability relies solely or so heavily on having a clear number one in the net, just someone you can rely on.  Lately, Tim Howard has not been instilling much confidence.

In the postgame sideline interview, Klinsmann described Howard as a “great calm goalkeeper.”  I think he’s confusing calmness with casualness.  Howard has had the job for years with no real challenge to his supremacy.  That needs to change and why not in a friendly?  Is that not the point of a friendly?

Beckerman was magnificent in breaking up Belgium’s run of play, but sometimes didn’t have the most accurate passing delivery.  The youngsters, Shea and Agudelo, struggled to make the right decision going forward.  They either didn’t see the obvious pass or didn’t think it was the best option.  Either way, on plays when they carried the ball forward, promising American attacks frustratingly fizzled out.  Maurice Edu’s role in today’s game seemed to be the anchor man, filling in gaps in central defense as the outside backs played very wide.  When Edu pushed forward he played atrocious balls which consistently went to Belgian players.

The main problem with the United States today was a lack of distribution through the midfield.  We had no play-making midfielder on the field tonight.  In the 4-3-3 Klinsmann lined up today, Torres had the pace to pressure Belgium’s defense and looked promising.  When Larentowitz came on, we had 3 holding midfielders, or 2 anchor-men and 1 holding midfield player.

I’m pretty sure the United States had a goal in the 86th minute, but we’ll never know what the call was because referees are free from any transparency.

In a play with summed up Shea’s night, the young winger does wonderfully to beat his mark easily in the 89th minute but plays an absolute hospital ball to Dempsey.  Dempsey not only has the stop his forward run, but stick his leg out behind him to get anything on the ball.  The resulting shot was weak and deflected directly to the Belgian goalkeeper.

After applying so much pressure in the second half, the last minute of the game for the United States was frustrating and pathetic.  Playing the ball across the back four with passes behind their targets showed no hunger for the goal.

In all, the USMNT showed a lot of promise, but failed to capitalize on their chances.  Agudelo’s deft touches work tremendously well in tight spaces in the midfield but he lacks the physical presence to really challenge in the box at this level.  Dempsey still has a curse of profligacy (new favorite word) for the national team hanging over from the Gold Cup.  If we continue to play with one true striker, then America is betting all its marbles on Jozy Altidore.  For that reason, I hope he continues his fantastic form for AZ in the Eredivisie.

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