USA – Mexico Proves USA Soccer is Not a Great Team
For long I've been a defender of U.S. Soccer. While I've never tried to make them out to be world beaters, I've always painted them in a positive light. Well Saturday night's 4-2 thrashing of the U.S. by Mexico - and make no mistake, it was a thrashing - has changed my perspective. Time to call it like it is. The U.S. is not a really good soccer team.
Now, as the ardent patriot that I am, that statement hurts me. But as the objective sports fan that I am, you can't call it any other way. Last night was some of the worst defense displays I've ever seen played by professional soccer players...and I was in the stands when Spain blew the doors off Foxboro and the U.S. to the tune of 4-0 just a few weeks ago. You may think that I'm overselling the point but I really don't think so, I was disgusted by the U.S. play last night.
Even before the game things were interesting for the American side. Coach Bob Bradley made the puzzling decision to put Landon Donovan alone at the top of the formation. It's an interesting decision because, yes, historically Donovan is the number one goal scorer in U.S. history, but anyone who's watched team U.S.A. recently will know that Donovan is much more the distributor at this stage of his career. Fulham star Clint Dempsy should be playing the role of the goal scorer. To have Dempsy serving balls into Donovan seems a role reversal that was unnecessary and not entirely thought through.
But sadly, I am not the U.S. coach, and the game goes on. Early in the game Mexico controls possession entirely. The field is tilted toward Tim Howard and things look disastrous for the U.S. A flurry of early chances has Mexico looking fresher and the U.S. looking terribly overmatched. But the men in white survive and U.S. right back Cherundolo hooks up with the washed up at 20, rejuvinated at 22 Freddy Adu. Their brilliant play together earns the U.S. a corner which is curved in by Adu and directed home by the brilliant run of Michael Bradley. Finally the bald headed look of Michael Bradley pays off, as the dome wax he must use surely gets an assist on the glancing header.
We're eight minutes in and the U.S. lead. But disaster strikes for the U.S - in the form of a sprained ankle. After a hard challenge Cherundolo comes up lame and must be subbed out just after the goal. It's a big hit for the Americans; Cherundolo has been probably their best player throughout the tournament. He's been a rock solid defender and an offensive table setter from the wing, a poor man's Ashley Cole, if you will (minus the unibrow).
Mexico is still largely in control of possession, though a switch at the U.S. attack moves Dempsy to the front and Donovan to a distributing role. The switch pays off immediately as the two combine, with help from Adu, to deliver a Donovan goal in the 21st. Things are looking up! But just a few minutes later a quick throw-in taken by Mexico catches the U.S. off guard and before the camera can focus on the action it's 2-1. After this goal Dempsy and Donovan switched back, and the American offense wasn't heard from again.
After their first goal Mexico controls again. They're dominating action with well timed runs in behind the defenders which are inexplicably left unchecked by the U.S. defense. If not for some arrant Mexican shots and a bad offside call Mexico would be ahead. The defense looks awful. Cherundolo's departure from the game brought Jonathan Bornstein on. Bradley then moved Bornstein to left back and Eric Lichaj to right back. Neither was comfortable in their position and Lichaj was consistently three or four steps behind the rest of the defense, playing the Mexican attackers, still unchecked by the American defense, onside. This kind of lackluster play leads to another Mexican goal in the 35th, and despite more scoring chances the U.S. escapes the half at 2-2.
At this point no objective observer could say that the Americans had the edge. A point made even more clear when lazy and inattentive defense allowed Mexico too much space and delivered a third goal in the 48th. At this point the U.S. looks largely defeated. They're still getting scoring chances but are seriously lacking the final scoring touch. Freddy Adu is the only U.S. player who consistently looks good. Since Cherundolo's exit in the 12th minute, Adu is the only offensive creator on the American side. The scoring chances they are getting, including a Dempsy strike off the cross bar, are largely the result of Adu's work. The work was all in vain however, as bad clears and lazy help defense, along with frantic and misguided off the line work by Tim Howard led to the nail in the coffin. 4-2 Mexico in the 77th.
Other than some chippiness on both sides, the final minutes clicked off in largely uneventful fashion and Mexico were Gold Cup champions. It was an awful result for the U.S. An inspired start was squandered by truly horrific defense. The Americans showed zero discipline and basic defensive know-how. They lost track of attackers, allowed them to run in behind them unmarked, left too much space and at times were just plain lazy. Sadly this is too common for the American side. Yes, I know they came into the Gold Cup final with three consecutive shut-outs, but against who? Panama. Jamaica. Guadeloupe. Not exactly soccer power-houses. Heck, they're not exactly soccer middle class houses. Every time the U.S. faces a decent attacking side their defense shrivels. Like Spain before, and Mexico now, the American defense is consistently dissected by off ball runs they don't pay attention to.
This trend just helps to drive home the larger, more depressing point. The U.S. just isn't a great soccer team. They're not a world class team. It's a harsh reality, but it's true. When you watch teams like Brazil, Spain and Germany, then watch the U.S. the difference is shocking. The U.S. doesn't possess the same speed, or skill that these teams do. Their touches aren't exquisite and their play isn't graceful. Defensively the team looks lost at times and without any sense of shape. The midfield is without dynamic playmakers. Michael Bradley is very good, so is Donovan, but they're the only two possessive threats that the U.S. has. Their fondness for playing "boom ball" gets them in trouble and they are woefully susceptible to counter attack - as we found out Saturday night against Mexico.
Now, it's not all doom and gloom for this American squad. Offensively, they show great promise. When they use quick passes to matriculate the ball up the field they find it easy to get scoring chances. The combination of Donovan and Dempsy, with Bradley in support, can be a lethal one. The addition of Adu only makes this a more dynamic threat. Adu is a real highlight for the team from this tournament. Last night, with the game out of reach Adu made a great run down the right side, he was ultimately stripped of the ball but turned and ran down the Mexican player and recaptured possession. It was terrific energy and effort in a time when all hope had wained.
And if you're an American fan that's another reason for hope. This team has always been one that has persevered. Often their work ethic has gotten them farther than their talent. If this mentality could carry over to a team that improves talent-wise, they could be a force.
Overall a sad day on Saturday for U.S. Soccer. And look, I know I've been very down on American soccer for the length of this article but it's not all bad. It's not like suddenly we're Canada. We're a decent team, one of the best on this side of the Prime Meridian. We should still qualify for the 2014 World Cup and SHOULD make it out of group play. But if American soccer wants to compete with the world, and make a splash on an international level they need to make dramatic changes to their squad. Sad, but true.