Analysis of US Men’s Soccer 2-0 Win over Panama

michael-bradley-vs-panamaThe US Men’s soccer team concluded their offseason friendly schedule with a 2-0 win over Panama. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley provided the two goals, with the latter bending a beautiful corner kick straight into the net. The results were definitely great for the USMNT, as they snapped a five-match winless streak. Furthermore, Jurgen Klinsmann got just his second victory since the 2014 World Cup. So what are the implications from this win moving forward?

The Team is Finally back on the Winning Track

Klinsmann continues tinkering with his lineup, this time going with a 4-2-3-1 formation and Jozy Altidore as the lone striker. Dempsey played behind Altidore in his natural position and did really well while adding another career international goal. Bradley added some insurance to boost the Americans to their first win in a while. Sure, the victory doesn’t count for anything because it’s merely a friendly. However, the win should propel US Men’s soccer as they head towards more-serious 2018 World Cup qualification matches.

The Stars are playing Well

clint-dempsey-vs-panamaComing into this match, some were beginning to question where Bradley fits into the USMNT’s plans moving forward. Well, he’s still one of the biggest names on the US team and he definitely played like it against Panama. If nothing else, Bradley will be taking all future corner kicks for the American squad….but he’s likely to have a much larger role. And Dempsey certainly looks comfortable playing behind Altidore, which could lead to more experimentation with the 4-2-3-1 formation. Klinsmann hopes to develop more stars within the next three and a half years, but for now, Bradley and Dempsey will continue carrying the banner.

The Defense could improve

The downside of the much-discussed 4-2-3-1 is that it led to some defensive questions. DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Besler were the only true defenders on the back line, while Jermaine Jones played center back and Brek Shea started at left back. Yedlin looked pretty mediocre on the right side before leaving in the 72nd minute following a rough challenge. Shea has good attacking skills, however, his defense could be exploited by better teams. Luckily, Panama didn’t give the Americans too many challenges to worry about in this contest.

Moving Forward

CONCACAF qualifying starts on March 25th, with the US Men’s soccer team traveling to Denmark to face a competent Danish team. From there, it’s on to Switzerland on March 31st, and back to San Antonio, Texas on April 15th for a match against Mexico. All of these games will challenge the Americans and show what the team is really made of. But despite the step up in competition, you can bet that Klinsmann will continue trying different formations in an attempt to find his team’s sweet spot. With the 2018 World Cup quite a ways off, the German-born head coach still had plenty of time to get this team’s confidence and performance up.

Jurgen Klinsmann explains Team USA’s Ugly 4-1 Loss to Ireland

usa-soccer-loses-irelandComing off of their surprise Round of 16 performance in the 2014 World Cup, the USA Men’s National team isn’t exactly following it up with great results. And they hit rock-bottom yesterday after a 4-1 loss to Ireland’s reserve team (A-team benched after 5-0 loss to Scotland).

Now this wasn’t the United States’ A-team either. However, the squad they sent to Dublin shouldn’t have lost by three goals to a country with 4.6 million people either. USA did a poor job of clearing balls and maintaining possession. And their trend of terrible second-half performances continued as they were outscored 3-0 after halftime.

This now makes four straight matches where the Americans have failed to show up in the second half. Following a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic to open international play, the Americans allowed late goals against Honduras and Ecuador (both ending in 1-1 ties), led Columbia 1-0 until giving up two late goals, then allowed the three aforementioned scores to Ireland.

Obviously this isn’t the same team that beat Ghana, tied Portugal, and played both Germany and Belgium tough during the World Cup. And head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has a good idea why his team is playing so poorly right now. Klinsmann said the following after the Ireland match:

Bobby Wood“They have to learn emotionally how to digest a World Cup, and a lot of our players really had big problems digesting those extreme emotions. They dropped 20, 30 even 40 percent in performances in their club environment. Many of the Europeans lost their starting spot. Many other players in MLS or wherever went down 30, 40 percent in their performances and this is because they didn’t know how to deal with all these emotions and all that recognition and all the compliments in the world that came after the World Cup. In a certain way it’s human. I mean, it’s understandable. But the former World Cup champion player made clear this shows “we are not there yet. We have quite a way to go.”

Klinsmann also believes that his guys may still be out to vacation after the 2014 World Cup. After citing how stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi take vacations then pick up where they left off, the German-born coach said his players are still adjusting to a new season. “Our players, they went on vacation, they had a good time, they come back and they lost their spots in their clubs,” he said.

Aside from how players still have issues getting back into the feel of soccer, Team USA may have a toughness problem during their World Cup hangover. “We need to get an edge, more nastier. I’m telling you that again. We’ve got to get nastier,” Klinsmann emphasized. “It’s not a negative word. We have to become more physical. We have to hold our ground more, dominant, and send signals out all over the field.”

Sadly, some of the biggest names from the Americans’ Round of 16 run have been playing the worst. Chris Wondolowski and even Fabian Johnson are two names that come to mind right away, as they’ve failed to show the same glimpses of greatness that they occasionally had during the World Cup.

In the end, it sounds like Team USA isn’t used to dealing with the rigors of a tough World Cup run, then hitting the field hard again just weeks later. And without any rest in sight, with club seasons in full swing, the Americans may not get their swagger back until next year.

World Cup Star Julian Green eager to prove himself to Bayern Munich

julian-green-bayern-munichJulian Green didn’t get a lot of playing time for the USA men’s soccer team during the 2014 World Cup. But when the 19-year-old did see the field, he made every minute count after scoring the lone goal in a 2-1 knockout round loss to Belgium. After proving himself in the World Cup, the next step for Green will be staying on with one of the best soccer clubs in the world, Bayern Munich.

Despite his young age, the German-American hopes that he can make the Bundesliga league champions’ roster, rather than being sent out on loan. “I’m not thinking about a loan,” Green said. “Right now I’m playing for Bayern Munich, and I’m happy about that. I want to stay.”

If there’s one thing that Green can take solace in, it’s that head coach Pep Guardiola plans on keeping him in a Bayern red and white jersey. Guardiola even commented that he wants the youngster to “play as much as possible” on the team’s preseason tour in America.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Green won’t have to play well in the coming weeks. His first chance will be when Bayern takes on the Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara on July 31st in suburban New York. Then he’ll play against many of his teammates from the USA team on August 6th, when the Munich squad takes on the MLS All-Stars.

julian-green-bayern-munich julian-green-bayern-munich-1“I just want to show the coach and the team that I can help them. If I get my chance, I’ll try my best. I’m waiting for my chance.” Green added, “The relationship (with Guardiola) is very good. I feel the trust with him, and it’s very important for a young player to feel the trust from the coach. I want to repay the trust from him.”

In addition to preparing for Bayern’s upcoming season, Green will also reconnect with Team USA on September 3rd, when they take on the Czech Republic. This match will begin the Americans’ long journey towards Russia and the 2018 World Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann has said publicly that the goal of this first year’s World Cup qualification will be to break in the new players.

This means that we’ll see a healthy dose of Green, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, three players who got to shine against Belgium. Green commented on this by saying, “I think it’s very important to give the young guys a chance to play. I think we did a good job – me or DeAndre Yedlin or John Anthony Brooks. We have a lot of young, good players, and I’m looking forward to playing with them.”

But for now, the immediate goal remains sticking with Bayern Munich and finding playing time on an elite European club – one that boasts plenty of players from Germany’s World Cup champion squad.

Mistakes or No Mistakes, Jurgen Klinsmann started a USA Soccer Revolution

jurgen-klinsmann-usa-soccer-passionThe year was 1994 and the United States was hosting the World Cup. Although USA was largely unpassionate about soccer up to this point, enthusiasm caught on as defender Alexi Lalas, goalie Tony Meola, midfeilder Claudio Renya and forward Eric Wynalda carried the Americans into the Round of 16. They’d lose 1-0 in a hard-fought match against the eventual champion Brazil, but Team USA had definitely created the first signs of life for American soccer in decades. Unfortunately, interest would wane in subsequent years and soccer remained a second-tier sport in the United States.

Fast-forward to today and it seems that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has reignited the flames that burned so brightly 20 years ago. Most didn’t expect USA to make it out of their group, which included Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Nevertheless, they played well enough to advance along with Germany and make it to the Round of 16. Here they pushed Belgium to extra time, before losing 2-1 in a commendable effort.

So here we stand again with soccer passion at an all-time high in America. But the big question is, can we expect the enthusiasm to actually have some substance past the World Cup? Moreover, will USA youth start putting more practice time into the game, and will sports fans pay more attention to Major League Soccer and other leagues around the world? In our opinion, the answer is a resounding “yes” thanks to Klinsmann.

Headline Grabber

jurgen-klinsmannTwo months ago, many Americans could’ve cared less if USA went scoreless in the 2014 World Cup. In fact, some of the biggest naysayers thought this was an entirely possible scenario. Then Klinsmann went into action, grabbing mainstream headlines at a point when many are focused on the NBA Playoffs, baseball spring training and NFL offseason team activities.

First, he cut Landon Donovan from the US Men’s National Team roster. This was significant because the 32-year-old is America’s all-time leading goal scorer, and it seemed as if he had at least one more good World Cup in him. Many coaches would’ve kept Donovan simply out of respect or because they still think he has plenty of talent. Klinsmann, however, thought that USA’s soccer hero was lacking in the motivation department and promptly cut him.

The German-born coach earned more headlines when he used Kobe Bryant to explain why he doesn’t believe in honoring past player accomplishments. “This always happens in America,” he told the New York Times. “Kobe Bryant, for example – why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened?”

These comments got attention from the Black Mamba himself as Bryant responded by saying that Klinsmann’s comments were “comical.” He added that ownership groups want to look like they’re rewarding players for what they’ve done while balancing the team going forward. The idea is to make one’s team an attractive place for top free agents to consider.

One more big story that Klinsmann provided was saying that his team “cannot win” the World Cup. This brutal bit of honesty ruffled a few American feathers because it’s not part of the Red, White and Blue’s culture to ever give up or concede victory – no matter how unrealistic victory seems. It turns out Klinsmann was right, though, as his side looked overmatched in their final two games against Germany and Belgium.

Criticized but Relevant

jurgen-klinsmann-usa-soccer-passion-1Following America’s exit from the Cup, Donovan took this opportunity to deliver a thinly-veiled attack on the head man. After an LA Galaxy practice, the snubbed forward told media members the following:

I think the most disappointing is we didn’t seem like we gave it a real effort, from a tactical standpoint. I thought the guys did everything they could, they did everything that was asked of them, but I don’t think we were set up to succeed yesterday, and that was tough to watch.

If you really look at the performances, there were some good performances by guys, some not-so-good performances by guys. As a whole, I think tactically, the team was not set up to succeed. They were set up in a way that was opposite from what they’ve been the past couple years, which is opening up, passing, attacking – trying to do that. And the team’s been successful that way. Why they decided to switch that in the World Cup, none of us will know.

Michael was put in the wrong position. He was put in a position that he’s not used to playing. He does a better job, as you saw with Julian Green’s goal, being in a deeper position. And having someone in a front of him, someone to help Clint also, makes him that much better because he’s got more opportunity to pick out different passes, more attacking options ahead of him. I think that was clearly an error.

Maybe there is some truth to what Donovan said since Bradley and Dempsey did struggle a bit in their expanded roles. But then again, maybe Donovan is speaking out of bitterness and the injury to striker Jozy Altidore forced Klinsmann to make some adjustments to an already lacking-offensive team.

Even if Klinsmann did make some mistakes, though, one can’t deny the huge impact that he’s had on American soccer already. He got people to care and he’s proven to be a media-friendly presence.

Klinsmann’s contract runs on through the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He’s not obligated to remain with the team this long, but we can only hope that the German does choose to stay and keep bringing excitement to US soccer in the future.

USA’s “Group of Death” Now looking a Bit Easier

team-usa-group-of-deathThe US Men’s National Team must have been pretty bad leading up to Christmas of 2013. After all, they got about the worst gift a soccer team could receive last December after being drawn into a group with Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Quickly dubbed the “Group of Death,” Germany and Portugal are ranked in FIFA’s top four while Ghana has knocked USA out of the last two World Cups.

This being said, it’s no wonder why head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was quick to proclaim his group “the worst of the worst.” But due to recent developments, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for USMNT as they prepare for their opening match against Ghana. That’s because Group G has taken some big hits, most notably Germany and Portugal’s injury struggles. It’s for this reason why some believe that it’s a toss-up between Group B and Group D for the current 2014 World Cup Group of Death.

So what’s changed from December until now, just one day before the Cup begins? To answer this question, let’s take a look at some updated Group G previews.

Germany – Ranked second in FIFA’s rankings and favored by some to usurp Spain as the new World Cup champions, Germany suffered a huge blow when midfielder Marco Reus tore a ligament in his left ankle. The injury comes at a terrible time to Germany’s 2012 Footballer of the Year since he won’t play a single minute in Brazil. This team has loads of talent so don’t be surprised if Germany still wins Group G and advances far in the tournament. However, the loss of Reus is puts a chink in Germany’s seemingly impenetrable armor.

kwadwo-asamoah-world-cupGhana – There are no major injuries to report from Ghana’s side. And this is certainly a formidable team, as they showed in 2010 by making it to the Cup quarterfinals. But then again, this is no Germany…they’re not even the top squad in Africa. No, that honor would belong to 2013 African Nations Cup champ Nigeria, which the US beat 2-1 a few days ago. USA will have to watch out for Ghana’s strong midfield, led by their star player, Kwadwo Asamoah. But overall, this is definitely a beatable team.

Portugal – The Portuguese have one advantage in this tournament that other teams just can’t match – Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s best player. At times, Ronaldo carries this squad, as he showed by scoring three goals in a World Cup-qualifying playoff match against Sweden. The Real Madrid striker is coming into the Cup with left patellar tendinosis – a injury that features weak collagenous fibers in a tendon. Long story short, Ronaldo risks further injury to his ailing knee every second that he’s on the pitch in Brazil.

michael-bradley-world-cupUSA – Okay, so this article is overly pro-USA, so let’s look at what the Americans have to deal with. This team is considered very much a wild card in Group G since Klinsmann kept a lot of younger players on the 23-man roster. So inexperience could be a major issue with some of the American substitutes. Of course, there’s also the whole thing about Klinsmann thinking that his team has no chance to win the Cup. We don’t totally disagree with him on this assessment. However, with strong leaders like midfielder Michael Bradley and striker Clint Dempsey, USMNT does look like they at least have an opportunity to advance out of Group G.

USA’s Jozy Altidore shines in World Cup Warm-up Win over Nigeria

jozy-altidore-usa-nigeriaThe US Men’s National Team was probably on the verge of putting a missing persons alert out for Jozy Altidore. Leading up to last night’s friendly against Nigeria, Altidore hadn’t scored in 28 straight international matches. However, he ended the drought in a major way by providing both goals in USA’s 2-1 victory over Nigeria. This is no doubt a huge victory for USMNT because Nigeria is a fellow 2014 World Cup qualifier, and the victory caps America’s undefeated three-game warm-up series before heading to Brazil.

Keeping the Faith

Mired in a huge goal-less slump, Altidore was starting to draw grumblings from die-hard US fans who wondered why he’s still seeing the field so much in international play. But coach Jurgen Klinsmann never lost faith in the 6’1″ striker, partly because Altidore had been so close to scoring on numerous occasions during his drought.

The first score was the result of a low-ball pass from teammate Fabian Johnson. Altidore’s second goal started when USMNT star Michael Bradley lofted an excellent pass to the striker. From here, it was all Altidore as he made a hard cut and blasted a shot past Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

Growing up in Boca Raton, Florida, Altidore picked the perfect time to shine at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. He scored two goals in front of 52,033 people in his home state.

Lessons for Brazil

jozy-altidore-usa-nigeria-1USA opened in a 4-2-3-1 formation, rather than the 4-4-2 version that Klinsmann had his team in earlier. The result wasn’t a complete success as Nigeria was able to put pressure on the American midfield and defense, most notably thanks to the play of Nigerian winger Victor Moses. USMNT also had trouble delivering crisp passes to each other as a number of balls went astray.

However, the Americans seemed to take control of the game after Altidore’s first score. They maintained possession well and started tiring out the Nigerian defense under Jacksonville’s hot and humid conditions. USA also did an excellent job at choosing when to counter, and the end product was another goal for Altidore.

But their play dropped off when late substitutions came into the match. At this point, USA showed less concentration and committed a big penalty against Nigeria in the box. This allowed Moses to score Nigeria’s only goal of the contest. Luckily, the score happened in the 86th minute of the game and USMNT was able to hold off their opposition for another win. However, the lapse of concentration down the stretch will serve as fire for Klinsmann to continue motivating his team before Brazil.