What’s wrong with American soccer and the USMNT?

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Kevin-Prince Boateng celebrates after scoring on the United States in the 2010 World Cup. (Photo: AP Photo)
Kevin-Prince Boateng celebrates after scoring on the United States in the 2010 World Cup. (Photo: AP Photo)

There is a disconnect between what the people making the roster, formation, and line-up decisions for the United States Men’s National Team say they want and what they actually do.

Even if they don’t have 11 players to start together who have the technical ability of Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Argentina, Uruguay, etc, Klinsmann and his staff can still select the most technically-skilled players at their disposal.

Klinsmann and company cannot just keep claiming that it’s a process; the process would be taking the very best technically-skilled players and improving how each of them play and how they play together.

This writer has written about these topics extensively, but Paul Gardner of Soccer America called Klinsmann out in a major publication and Andrés Cantor called Klinsmann out in an episode of The Best Soccer Show from over a year ago.

http://www.socceramerica.com/article/50972/klinsmann-the-salesman-prolongs-problem.html

http://nasn.tv/2012/andres-cantor-on-the-best-soccer-show/

Many American pundits, ex-USMNT players, and soccer writers continue to question even the attempt to play one-to-two touch soccer or use more skilled players, as opposed to criticizing Klinsmann for not even trying to do what he said he wanted to do.

They actually have a problem with even using newer and more talented players in friendlies to improve the quality of the United States Men’s National Team play because they write off the newer and better players as inexperienced and raw.

Even using Benny Feilhaber as a playmaker in a World Cup qualifier wouldn’t be the risky use of an unproven player because he’s proven at essentially the highest levels of international soccer.

Joe Corona, Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo, Benji Joya, and Gale Agbossoumonde all receive these “raw and inexperienced” tags from the media and many fans, never mind the fact that all of these players, except Agbossoumonde, have proven that they can perform on the international level.

Let some American pundits tell you about how set pieces are so important and how the United States Men’s National Team needs to play like Americans, but there is only one correct way to play soccer; everyone around the world knows it.

Even non-soccer fans in the United States see the Brazils, Spains, and Italys of the world working the ball around the field by stringing passes together, as they try to get into scoring positions.

Getting to the root of the problem, the primary problem with American soccer and the United States Men’s National Team is that Americans, the United States Soccer Federation, and Jürgen Klinsmann don’t place a high enough premium on technical ability, even though they claim that they do.

Any style of soccer not based on refined technical ability, movement off the ball, and the mastery of fundamentals like using both feet or playing recovery defense isn’t real soccer that will lead to wins against elite national teams.

Klinsmann can claim that he wants to implement a philosophy of a style of one-to-two touch soccer that’s proactive, but this claim cannot be taken seriously as long as a player like Kyle Beckerman is selected to be on a critical World Cup qualifying roster over Perry Kitchen.

Kitchen is faster and more technically skilled. If Klinsmann wants to play proactively then someone like Beckerman cannot be selected over Kitchen who has the skill on the ball plus the physical gifts to compete against better and faster opponents, which Beckerman cannot do.

Even Clint Dempsey is frequently unfairly made one of the scapegoats of the media and the fans for the United States Men’s National Team’s lack of offensive production and quality passing. No one comments that Dempsey has only one striker to combine with and no other attacking midfielders to help him keep possession and attack.

A great example of the continued complaints about Clint Dempsey was the wave of complaints about Dempsey being made captain of the United States.

Recently, Clint Dempsey was made captain of the United States Men’s National Team, and the American soccer media, rather than praising Dempsey, was quick to complain that Dempsey was made captain instead of Michael Bradley.

The American soccer media complained like a Greek chorus that Dempsey didn’t care about the United States Men’s National Team as much as himself and that he wasn’t a vocal leader, despite the fact that Dempsey gives 100% in every game, tries to take the game the to the U.S.’ opponents, and has no problem mixing it up and getting in the faces of opponents who other American players are intimidated by.

Despite the unfounded character attacks on Clint Dempsey, the American media actually complained that the player with the most skill and the greatest proven ability to perform against high level competition was chosen as the leader.

On the other hand, a more serious publication, The Wall Street Journal, ran an article about Clint Dempsey after the 2009 Confederations Cup Final praising Dempsey’s play and effort and proclaiming Dempsey the new leader of the USMNT.

If the American soccer media and fan base is going to call Clint Dempsey lazy and selfish while also questioning his ability to lead the team, then what will they say about other American players, and how much does the American soccer media really know?

If Americans say this stuff about Dempsey, how will they ever be convinced to pressure Jürgen Klinsmann into playing more than one player like Dempsey at the same time in order to create possession and attacking soccer?

Clint Dempsey should be applauded because he plays soccer the right way, and he learned how to play outside of U.S. Soccer’s official development system.

This was the key to Dempsey’s success: not learning to play soccer like an American but rather learning by studying Diego Maradona and playing with Latinos in Texas.

His game is based on technical ability, creativity, two-footed skill, movement off the ball, bravado, toughness, physical endurance, and mental strength.

There is only one correct way to play soccer, if you want to compete with the best in the world, and that way is skill soccer, as opposed to long ball and all crosses: the English way.

There are a lot of great American soccer minds in the United States, and there are lots of people from other countries with so much valuable expertise and wisdom to offer Americans; none of them advocates a style of play not based on one-to-two touch soccer.

One-to-two touch soccer leads to victories. Brazil, five World Cup trophies. Italy, four World Cup trophies. Germany, three World Cup trophies.

Other countries take the most talented players they can find, determine if they have the requisite athleticism to play soccer, and they hone the skills of these players.

Elite teams use the whole field, but they don’t restrict their attack to just running up and down the sidelines with the intention of always looking to play a cross.

Americans need to permanently get rid of this notion that more width and more crosses is the key to more scoring opportunities.

Brazil would never play that way. That style of soccer would never fly in Brazil, Spain, or anywhere else with a good soccer system.

Better soccer nations work the ball around and look for openings in the defense and probe for weaknesses, and if one gateway into the penalty box is closed then they work the ball around until there is an opening somewhere else or in the original place they looked.

From better national teams, you will see crosses played in the air to players who have made runs or who are making runs, but you won’t really see balls just crossed into the box blindly.

You might see balls played across the goal mouth in the attempt to sneak a pass through to a teammate in front of the goal, but you really will not see crosses crushed into the penalty box without a specific target.

Again, the root of the problem of American soccer and the United States Men’s National Team is the low premium placed on technical ability.

Before players are weeded out at a higher level because of a lack of athleticism or a lack of confidence in their abilities, players are supposed to be weeded out if they lack the technical ability to perform in say Major League Soccer or for the United States Men’s National Team.

The United States has plenty of talented and athletic players at every position with the ability to play a brand of soccer more along the lines of the world’s best national teams, but the first steps were already taken by Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley.

Bob Bradley reluctantly played Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey at the same time, which allowed the United States to have the requisite ability to perform against Spain and Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup and advance out of the group stage in the 2010 World Cup.

Jürgen Klinsmann must take the next step of fielding starting line-ups where all eleven players are technically-advanced and athletic and where the line-ups balance defensive strength with effective and inventive attacking players.

There will always be complaints about which players are used by a coach, but Klinsmann needs to at least use a reasonable balance of defensive and attacking players who all have advanced technical ability and sufficient athleticism.

It takes courage to lose because you tried to win.

 

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