Tuesday night’s match in Red Bull Arena was a lot more for the United States Mens’ National Team than a simple 1-0 loss to Ecuador. Ecuador was never going to be an easy match-up for the US, but we could have won the game with a little more clarity in front of goal. Ultimately, whether you think Klinsmann’s baby-step process is the correct path to take or you want to see the US try to win at all costs is a bit irrelevant and premature to me. I’d rather examine which players had strong performances that may have earned them the call back into the squad in November and which players floundered with their chances. Probably the biggest winner on the night was Oguchi Onyewu.
Highlights and analysis:
The Belgium league the strongest league in Europe (12th, actually) but when Onyewu played at Standard Liege he was twice named to the starting XI for the Jupiler League. He was arguably the most talented defender in Belgium when he transferred to AC Milan. That was most definitely a overreaction to Onyewu’s heroic performance in the 2009 Confederation’s Cup. Onyewu suffered the next two years rotting on the bench and recovering from a rather horrific knee injury. In June of this year Gooch managed to secure a transfer to Portuguese club Sporting CP. Sporting is third best team in Portugal, which sits sixth in the European league coefficients behind France, Italy, Germany, Spain and England. Not bad for a resurgent Yank, eh?
On Tuesday night Onyewu (29) was looking to capitalize on his substitute appearances against Honduras. The central defender, who ended up playing for the full 90 minutes, showed time and time again the tenacious defending and intimidating physicality that had once been his trademark in the back line for the United States.
Elsewhere in central defense, 32 year old Carlos Bocanegra was still solid despite his age. He showed that he still has something positive to give for the United States but the underlying question is what will he be able to contribute in Brazil 2014 when he is 35 years old. One player we didn’t see on Tuesday was Clarence Goodson (29). Goodson was a mainstay recently for Bob Bradley’s squads. He spent 3 years playing for the University of Maryland before signing for MLS, in which he played in Dallas for 4 years. Moving to Europe, Goodson has played 3 seasons in Norway and is currently in his second year at Brondy in Denmark. Goodson has never really been an exciting player, but he hasn’t had too many catastrophic errors either. For me, Goodson is not anything more than a back-up for the United States.
And now on to the first loser on the night…(drum roll)… Tim Ream! The 24 year old has struggled to adapt to the pace of the international game. He was given a shot by Bob Bradley in the Gold Cup and his performances were something he’d rather forget. This season in MLS with the New York Red Bulls, he has failed to maintain the form that allowed him to start every single league match last year. The cliche Sophomore Slump holds true for Ream. His slow reaction cost the United States a goal in the game they had the better of possession and chances. The major attraction Tim Ream brought to the squad was his ability to play the ball out of the back. More and more often that now translates into getting caught in possession and losing the ball to the opposition in dangerous areas.
A player whose stock has risen without playing certainly has to be Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez is 4 inches taller, a full year younger, has been a professional full a season longer and has almost twice as many league games. For push the statistical issue further, Gonzalez is the anchor of the stingiest defense of the Supporters’ Shield winning and MLS Cup favorites Los Angeles Galaxy. Tired of sitting on the outside waiting for a call up, Gonzalez tried to insert himself into the national discussion by reminding everyone that he has dual citizenship and could switch allegiances to Mexico. Tim Ream shouldn’t be abandoned from consideration, but clearly Gonzalez’s performances have earned him a shout in the future.
A player whose stock took a considerable hit was Michael Orozco Fiscal (25). He was given a few chances by Jurgen Klinsmann in central defense but did not do much to blend into the physical style the United States demands and expects from its back line. It is not game over for Orozco Fiscal, but he’s going to have to do a lot to unseat Oguchi Onyewu from that starting spot.
On the right side of defense, stalwart Steve Cherundolo (32) played a solid game with his signature support down the wing. He is still very much talented enough to play for the US in competitive matches (if you can call qualifiers against Caribbean teams truly competitive). The major question with Cherundolo going forward, like Bocanegra, is his age. The right wingback will also be 35 years old by the time the 2014 World Cup rolls around. The leadership capacity of the captain of Bundesliga’s Hannover will be hard to replace, but the recent performances of the other wingback have been promising.
Timmy Chandler (21) was solid in his wingback position on the left side. Shea and Chandler connected well on the left flank with Chandler’s overlap always a deadly option. In the second half when Cherundolo came off, Chandler moved over to his natural right side. He continued to torment Ecuador on the wing and played solid enough defensively without too much fuss. Two players to keep in mind at left back are German-born Fabian Johnson (23), Hoffenheim teammate of Danny Williams, and Eric Lichaj (22). If Chandler gets more looks at right back, one of these two players should see playing time on the left.
Jonathan Spector (25) plays for Birmingham City who were relegated to the English Championship. Throughout his career for club and country, Spector has played all across the back line and midfield. In baseball you’d call Spector a utility player; in basketball terms he’s a role player. The point I’m making is that Jonathan Spector deserves a place in the United States going forward because he can fill into so many positions. He may only be starting quality at one spot (or none by a realistic evaluation), but because he can perform as a solid back-up option on the right or left side of defense, or central defender, defensive or box to box midfielder, Spector is an invaluable player to have on the bench. While playing on Tuesday night he didn’t offer the offensive impetus of Timmy Chandler, but didn’t make many mistakes either.
Another loser to some extent was Kyle Beckerman, who looked a little out of his depth on the night. That may just be down to a touch of poor form and not a signal that he can’t play his game at the international level. Sadly for Beckerman, he rarely put in a good foot against Ecuador. Most of his balls in the air never got past the first defender, a lot of his tackles were fouls, and his pace wasn’t up to snuff. I don’t think this is lights out for Beckerman, though. To his credit, his performance wasn’t all bad, Beckerman did track back well. However, aimlessly running for hours at a time is what the United States used to be and now we have enough two-way players that can fill both attacking and defending roles. He is a tremendous deep-laying playmaker for Real Salt Lake in MLS, but if and when Stuart Holden (26) gets healthy I don’t think Beckerman will see the field.
In that central midfield area there are two or three playing roles and a plethora of players challenging for them. Jermaine Jones (29) is an aggressive anchor man. Maurice Edu (25) can go forward. Michael Bradley (24) has showed he has the ability to play as a deep playmaker and is getting some minutes at Chievo. Jose Francisco Torres (23) is a creative force that can lead an attack. Sacha Kljestan (26) can fill in anywhere but is now sitting on the outside looking in. Freddy Adu (22) can play as an inside-drifting winger or as an attacking midfielder, though he plays best slotting in right behind a lone striker. And then we have newcomer Danny Williams (22). At Hoffenheim Williams plays centrally but filled in for injured Landon Donovan. With all these players active in move competitive leagues (except Adu), I’m not sure where Beckerman, who is 29, will find his way back into the squad in November especially since his MLS season will have ended at that point unless RSL makes it to the playoff final.
Maurice Edu had an okay 45 minutes against Ecuador. He had a few chances in and around the box but unfortunately showed us that he is still unpolished in that department. As a midfield man, Edu can tackle, mark and pass. He didn’t stand out, but Edu did well enough to retain his place in the US camp. At halftime, Edu was replaced by Michael Bradley who spent much of his time cleaning up after Beckerman. Michael Bradley can play any of the three or four central midfield roles well, but without a talented partner he wound up performing all of them with a degree of mediocrity.
Brek Shea (21) again showed his potential on that left wing. He has pace, he has neat touches and creative runs. He is the spark that the United States needs going forward. There is very little chance anyone is going to unseat Shea in his position on the left side. For all of the fervor about Alejandro Bedoya (24) and his exciting performances during the Gold Cup, the hype machine seems to have forgotten him. It remains to be seen if Bedoya’s transfer to Rangers was a mistake, but the process of settling in at a new club which includes challenging for a starting place was probably the main reason he didn’t get a look at this international camp.
The only true challenge to Shea on the left wing is DaMarcus Beasley (29). Beasley took the MLS by charge with the Chicago Fire before moving onto PSV Eindhoven in 2004. After a similarly successful stint in Holland, Beasley bummed around England, Scotland and Germany before finding his home in Mexico with Puebla. Beasley’s career has undergone a seeming resurgence in Puebla and has finagled a way back into significant playing time for the US. He played a number of good balls into the box during his 45 minutes against Ecuador and his quality on Tuesday likely keeps him in the camp going forward.
German-born Danny Williams, a natural central midfielder, played on wide right for a majority of the game. With Landon Donovan out hurt and Williams eager to impress his new coach and teammates in whichever capacity he can, the Hoffenheim man slotted in on the right wing. He was dangerous going forward and covered Cherundolo well in defense. Although he often cut inside or didn’t hug the line enough, you can’t really fault a central player for that (Like Niko Krancjar or Rafa van der Vaart for Tottenham). I think with Donovan back into the camp, Williams will be an exciting player coming up through the center paired with a solid defensive player like Jones or Bradley.
And now I guess I have to talk about our forwards. I’m not going to lie, this is difficult for me. Scoring goals is clearly the hardest thing for the United States to do, as we have failed to score in 3 of 5 games under Jurgen Klinsmann.
The easiest point to take away from the match is that Edson Buddle (30) is simply not good enough. He’s not a poacher, he’s not big enough to be the target man, he can’t hold the ball well enough to be the lone striker. He doesn’t have the technical ability to be a false nine. And he doesn’t have the strong strike to take advantage of the chances his teammates fashion for him. However, he is good enough to be a scorcher in the MLS which was a fantastic fit for his skill set.
After that, the analysis gets more difficult. Dempsey is largely an enigma for me, but I’ve observed one important point. Clint Dempsey (28) is not the player we can rely on for goals. Deuce scores some crazy good goals, like he did against Honduras but also for Fulham against Juventus, but not really consistently. You can point to his 12 goals in the Premier League last season, but those goals didn’t come at 0-0 and there was usually Bobby Zamora, Diomansy Kamara and Moussa Dembele on the field to take the heat from the opposition defense. When playing against the United States, teams know that Dempsey (without Donovan playing) is now the most dangerous player in and around the box. Ecuador did really well to constantly pressure Dempsey and never give him time to breath or space to take a touch.
Jozy Altidore (21), whether you like it or not, is the United State’s striker going forward. He hasn’t really done much to deserve it in terms of scoring goals, but he’s big and strong. Juan Agudelo (18) doesn’t have the physical build to be a lone striker but I think he would play really well tucked in behind a target player like Jozy Altidore. But then if Agudelo plays that role, where do you stick Dempsey? Perhaps the US should line up with Dempsey as a false nine without any true strikers but playing two advanced wingers; that’s what Kevin McCauley suggests in this post from early September.
What is important now; getting wins or building a strong team for the future? I included the ages of all the field players involved in Tuesday night’s match against Ecuador so you could think about how they will figure in to World Cup Qualifying which begins for the US next June, the 2012 Olympics, the 2013 Gold Cup and also for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.