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USMNT pleased with progress, acknowledge room for improvement

photo by John Rieger/USA Today Sports

By FRANCO PANIZO

Jurgen Klinsmann had no qualms about criticizing the U.S. Men’s National Team following its subpar showing in a lopsided friendly victory at the start of the month.

Ten days and three games later, the performances have not improved much but Klinsmann’s tone has.

The U.S. closed out Group A play at the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Monday by settling for a 1-1 draw with Panama at a sizzling Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. The Americans erased a lackluster first half that saw them fall behind by putting forth a much-improved effort after the break that included a goal from captain Michael Bradley.

Even with positives to draw from, there was still a general feeling of disappointment from large sections of fans and pundits. This, to them, was an extension of the poor play that the U.S. maneuvered through in recent wins vs. Honduras and Haiti, but that will not cut it when the knockout rounds against tougher opposition begin this weekend.

As he did in the previous two group games, Klinsmann acknowledged the need for improvement. At the same time, he was pretty pleased with the progress that he has seen his players make from the start of the Gold Cup until now.

“You can kind of take the game a part and you see that here and there we don’t have the passing rhythm that we wish to have,” said Klinsmann. “When things get a little bit difficult we make easy mistakes, we give some turnovers away, so there’s always something that you see that you want to see differently.

“But overall the attitude is tremendous, the spirit in the group is good, they all know that we’re going to grow from game to game, and that’s what the tournament is all about. I’m pretty happy with where we are right now, but I know that the next one will be even more difficult.”

As positive as Klinsmann may have been, the U.S. players admitted the need to deliver a more complete performance. That has so far eluded the Americans in this competition, even as they have managed to record two wins and a draw.

Simply put, the U.S. right now looks far from a championship-caliber team. Defensively, there have been a number of blunders. In possession, players have looked disjointed for large stretches and their decision-making has been a level or two below the usual standard.

While Klinsmann has stressed that it will take time to get everyone on the same page given the delayed timing of this edition of the competition, the time to work out the kinks is running out. Monday night only emphasized that point.

“We know it wasn’t good enough,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “We know that we need to put together a 90-minute performance.”

Even so, there is still a sense of belief from the U.S. that things will come together in due time. The Americans are fully aware that they have not been at their best yet, but are not too concerned.

They want to be peaking when the games are do-or-die, not before.

“I think the most important thing is that you’re hitting your stride in the later stages of the tournament instead of hitting it early because later on is when you need to be playing your best to win a tournament,” said forward Clint Dempsey.

Klinsmann and his players may be somewhat satisfied with how the process is coming along, but the U.S. manager did not rule out making changes to his 23-man roster.

CONCACAF allows teams to make up to six changes to their squads after the group stage concludes but before the knockout rounds begin. Klinsmann said Monday that he had “some ideas” as to what he would, but wanted to sit down at the team hotel and marinate on them before making final decisions on Tuesday.

In any case, the U.S. needs to find another gear. The win-or-go-home games are fast approaching, and will likely require more from the Americans than what they have shown so far.

“Now it’s really getting to the serious stuff: Knockout stage. This is what a tournament is all about,” said Klinsmann. “You kind of want to go from one to the next and to the next. It’s a process that we’re in. We can improve still a lot, absolutely, and that’s what we’re working on.”

Comments

  1. No I am not tired of Zardes first touch. He has a good enough first touch to score against the Netherlands and control a difficult ball for an assist to Dempsey. He had good enough touch to be instrumental in the combination play that led to the MB goal. He had good enough touch to score the game winner in the MLS Cup final.

    In a word. No. I cannot get tired of a young world class athlete with that kind of quality wearing an American shirt. The more athletic the player, the more difficult it is to have quality on any touch. Everything has to be done at faster pace, higher elevation, longer strides, bigger frame.

    Zardes gets to balls that no other American player could reach. The fact that he gets a first touch is better than getting no touch at all, as would be the case for any other player. Zardes is an athletic beast with the kind of quality we haven’t seen in the USMNT.

    Michael Bradley just keeps making a special point about how important it is for Zardes to be part of the team going forward. He sees what many of us see. Zardes takes the prototype of the American soccer player to a different level. Only Marvel Wynn is a comparable athlete and he has nothing close to the quality Zardes has.

    Reply
    • As I have pointed out before, he is athletic, hard working, dedicated, humble, anxious to learn and improving every season. What more do you want in a player? The only question is how high his plateau is.

      Reply
    • I’d argue that Yedlin is a better athlete, faster, and has more quality than Zardes does. But at the very least he is comparable.

      Reply
      • Yet, Bedoya is the kind of player you would consistently like as a teammate in midfield, he works hard, does not make a lot of mistakes, has decent speed, better tactical sense than either Yedlin or Zardes and I think better skill. But he is not quite as athletic or as likely pull off a flashy play as the other two,; his assist to Bradley was a perfect pass.

        Nice to have 3 guys to chose from in wide positions (though Zardes may be used as a forward).

  2. “Simply put, the U.S. right now looks far from a championship-caliber team.”

    Alright, who has looked like championship-caliber? Trinidad? Maybe our expectations have grown, which is a good thing, I suppose. Right now, in group play, we look like the best out of a bunch of average teams. Maybe our fan expectations have grown to where USMNT will disappoint anytime they look just average.

    Reply
    • Your reasonable comments have no merit for some:)

      I bet those same people are saying, “Sure the USWNT won the World Cup, but they looked terrible in the group stages, therefore Jill Ellis is a terrible coach with her favorites and pettiness against those players I like more than she does. Furthermore the World Cup win does not count because they did not dominate every second of said World Cup.”

      Reply
      • Some of that criticism was over the top, but I have to admit, I was starting to have coaching doubts. However, that team performance against Germany in the semis was impressive – coaching, execution, across the board.

      • I had doubts too, but eventually Ellis found the formula, so well done to her.

        For the men, the Gold Cup group stages have generally be a testing area to blood players and rotate the squad as the games come fast. I would expect our performances to get better as we go along, and we continue to win. If not, then I think criticisms of JK become more valid.

    • I would say, going in, there were five teams people pointed to as the possible winners of the tourney: the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Honduras. One is already going home and the other four have looked inconsistent at best. However, I expect the big boys to refocus in the knockout round, though you never truly know in this CONCACAF-y world in which we currently live.

      Reply
      • It happens in other confederations, too, though arguably not to the same extent as here. Sides that are confident of advancing are constantly facing sides that aren’t, and despite whatever intentions the stronger teams have of playing well, they still know they are likely to advance whether individual players put themselves in that next position for contact or not. So the better sides tend to play down to the level of the weaker sides. Once out of group, like you said, the big boys tend to refocus.

      • A good recent example was in the Copa America where Argentina beat Jamaica in group play 1-0. Jamaica is ranked something like 65th in the world and yet they had Argentina on the ropes the last 10 to 15 minutes of the game and came close to equalizing a couple of times. In case you haven’t noticed, Argentina is a lot better than any CONCACAF team and has the best player in the world.

  3. Klinsmann is a spin doctor if anything. How about we really stunk for 2/3 of the game. He has a bad group of players that gives him few options. So wheres the improvement? 1 Goal against Panama? How about group that scored 6 goals against Germany and Holland? Why aren’t they here.

    He needs to make massive changes. Lets see what he does and save this progress crap for those that don’t know better. Your selections stink and we’re paying the price

    Reply
    • I was going to give a detailed, point by point rebuttal, but then I thought, why waste all that time in the face of such ignorance? Watch about 100 more international games, not friendlies, where the results count, and then get back to us.

      Reply
  4. Is anyone else tired of Gyasi Zardes’ horrendous first touch?

    Also, even though he’s retired, Landon Donovan is still ahead of Wondo in my book.

    Reply
    • This is only his third season as a professional. Both Arena and Klinsmann see not just what he is, but what he will become. His first year with the Galaxy he had 4 goals and about 40 shots that went into Row K or higher. The next season he had 16 goals and most of his shots were on target. He was first called for a tryout with the US when he went to the January camp this year. Now he has become a regular.

      Reply
  5. Overall, I see a mixed bag of quality in the U.S. The most accurate that resonates with me is that they’re disjointed. You see the weaker players getting exposed and their respective weaknesses are even more glaring and cannot be overlooked going forward in the tournament. The first half of this game was the worst performance by the U.S. So far. Without singling out any players, I believe the midfield is starting to take shape as well as the forward combo. The defense, well, just needs a whole sale change. My starting 11 or best 11 would be:
    4-4-2
    Guzan
    Yedlin–Gonzalez—Ream–Johnson
    Bedoya–Beckerman–Bradley–Zardes
    Dempsey–Johansson

    Reply
  6. From what I’ve seen over the last 3 games, I’m not holding out hope for winning the cup. I’m resigned to the fact that we’ll probably be playing Mexico in the play-off for Confed Cup. I just don’t see ANY semblance of team play, there have been way too many missed opportunities from one end of the pitch to the other.

    Starting to look like England: good or great individual players, but NO team cohesiveness.

    Reply
    • Yeah, Mexico looked like world beaters in that Guatemala game! Both sets of fans need to realize that CONCACAF teams play their minds out and are experienced masters in making the US and Mexico’s lives hell. The Gold Cup is always a slog.

      Reply
      • They don’t have to be world-beaters. They just have to be CONCACAF beaters. While I don’t dispute that the smaller teams usually play out of their depth in this tournament, let’s not forget that only one team other than the US or Mexico has ever won it.

      • Sean’s point was the Mexico didn’t even look like Central American beaters, let alone CONCACAF beaters, when they played Guatemala to a 0-0 draw.

    • A lot of people were saying the same thing about the women’s national team at this point in their tournament. If Mexico wins Wednesday night, they will be the only team in the tournament to equal the US’s point total and they are in the easiest group while the US is in the most difficult. Try a little perspective.

      Reply
      • The difference is that the USWNT actually started to gel at the end of the group stage. I saw nothing but regression on the part of the USMNT against Panama. Too many easy give-aways, too many misplaced passes, no one was on the same page. And if Klinsi keeps changing the line-ups, how is there supposed to be any type of cohesion happening?

        I’m a HUGE USMNT and US Soccer fan, have been since I was a kid. I just don’t see the TEAM coming together in this tournament, and don’t expect to be holding the Cup at the end. I’m hoping that they’ll prove me wrong.

      • Every hear the story about the two guys in a tent and they see a bear coming their way? One guy starts putting on his running shoes and his companion says, “You can’t outrun a bear.” And the other replies, “I only have to outrun you.” This is not the World Cup; the US doesn’t have to be the best in the world, just better than the other teams in the knockout rounds in its bracket. And they most likely will be. Honduras is out, CR may not qualify, and Mexico was tied by El Salvador.

  7. The team needs to find a way to play faster in all aspects or they will probably not meet their goals for this tourney. Compared to the opponent, the guys have been a step slow in decision making and often just downright slow in their pace of play; they have been unable to match the intensity of the other squad, particularly in the first half of each match. Definitely need to step it up a notch.

    Reply
    • I’d be stunned if it was attitude. Every article I’ve read the last couple of days suggests Klinsmann was pleased with Jozy’s effort and Jozy was saying all of the right things in interviews. I guess we’ll see though.

      Considering the lack of other options (unless they go with defense due to all of the yellows they’ve picked up?), I’m surprised it’s even worth sending him home.

      Reply
      • I would bring in Agudelo, because of his versatility in attack, which means JK will probably bring in Gordon, who basically does one thing kind of well at this level.

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