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Arena’s Dilemma

usa soccer team 600x324 Arena’s Dilemma

Bruce Arena lacks the options he had in 2002 to shake up the team

The embarrassing performance of the USA in the World Cup opener on Monday would be enough force most coaches to seek asylum in some foreign nation instead of returning home after the competition with the team. But in Bruce Arena’s case he is lucky that the vast majority of Americans do not even know the World Cup is currently taking place in Germany, let alone have in interest in the results.

No doubt exists that Bruce Arena has brought the USA to previously unknown heights in world of international football. But it is also true that Arena was a lot more thorough and comprehensive in how he looked at his player pool in preparation for the 2002 World Cup. It seems the roster decisions made in 2002 were better because Arena had taken long looks at every American player that could potentially play for the national team and had chosen the 23 best players available. Contrary to the bluster on ABC prior to this World Cup about this easily being the most talented American team ever, I believe the 2002 squad had a substantially higher amount of depth and talent and many more playmakers and potential goal scorers than this squad. The 2002 squad was a nice mixture of veteran leadership a legacy of the Bora Milutinovic days with Cobi Jones, Joe Max-Moore and Earnie Stewart, a player in his prime as the captain, Claudio Reyna, a striker in his prime in Brian McBride and two superstar youngsters, Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley, as well as two absolute stud products of MLS, Clint Mathis and Tony Sanneh. Even though Clint Mathis was an out of shape trouble maker, the USA really hasn’t produced a player with his combination of excellent ball skills, speed and size. While Mathis was trouble off the field, he was lethal on it, scoring a spectacular goal against eventual semi-finalists South Korea and perfectly setting up a Landon Donovan strike later in the tournament. It isn’t Arena’s fault that Mathis went bad, but the 2006 edition of the US World Cup team doesn’t have a comparable player. Tony Sanneh too was special player who blossomed late in his career into one of the top American players both on the national team and on the club level. What Sanneh gave the USA was strong man marker in the defense who could push forward with ease on the ball and served up excellent crosses. Sanneh has been replaced Steve Cherundolo, an unused sub from the 2002 team who as we saw Monday isn’t ready for this level of competition yet. Throw in the loss Frankie Hedjuk, a hustler and ball winner from the 98′ and 02′ cups who tore his ACL just before this World Cup and it’s obvious we just don’t have the depth we once had. Right now, the USA only has one top player in his prime, the injury prone John O’Brien. Perhaps 2006 just isn’t our year when you look at it that way.

Thus Bruce Arena has a major dilemma. Unlike 2002 when he was able to shake up the lineup totally after a disheartening performance against Poland, this squad just doesn’t have very much depth. Arena’s own unwillingness to select players such as Taylor Twellman or Steve Ralston who could have been difference makers didn’t help the cause but the reality is that our player pool is just not as deep as it was four years ago. I have looked at our roster and cannot see us making many changes for tomorrow’s game, despite the pathetic performance on Monday. Clint Dempsey replacing DeMarcus Beasley on the right side of the midfield is the only sure change, though I would consider replacing Eddie Lewis on the back line with Carlos Bocanegra. If Eddie Pope cannot go tomorrow, Gregg Berhalter should start in his place. Should Eddie Johnson start? Maybe. He’s earned a start based on the fact that he created more scoring chances in the 45 minutes he played Monday than the rest of the team combined in 90 minutes. However, if you take Johnson off the bench you have zero potential game changers to bring on the pitch if we fall behind. This isn’t like 2002 when Bruce Arena brought Clint Mathis, Earnie Stewart and Cobi Jones into the Germany game and still had Joe Max Moore as an unused sub! Brian Ching and Josh Wolff, who played decently in 2002 but has not been as strong in MLS since, would probably get eaten alive by Italy’s defense.

Bruce Arena has precious few options to shake up the team and still be successful. Some like Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson make sense from a certain point of view. Others like potentially playing Ben Olsen, Jimmy Conrad or Brian Ching make no sense whatsoever. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that our boys give a better effort tomorrow because if they do not, the Ghana game will officially be the start of the next rebuilding era of US Soccer.

This entry was posted in Bruce Arena, United States, US National Team, World Cup, World Cup 2006. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

28 Responses to Arena’s Dilemma

  1. Gregg says:

    Kartik,

    I agree on your points about 2002 being a deeper team than this team.

    However, to discuss a few points you & I sat down and went player by player of who we thought would be on this team. Based on the original roster b4 injuries we had 21 of the 23 players.

    I don’t think Twellman or Ralston would make a material difference in any outcome in this World Cup. They are good MLS players but each had their chance to prove themselves during call ups and they did not.

  2. Federico says:

    I agree with you Mr. Kartik. 2002 was a great year for the USA, and this team more closely resmbles 1998 with a cup in Europe, a group of aging players mixed with young players.

    Arena did a great job between 1999 and 2002 building up the squad, but should have been moved out after the failures at the 2003 conferations cup and the 2003 gold cup. The problem is Arena has stopped giving young players a fair look, instead relying on veterans no longer in their prime like Pope, Reyna and McBride or guys who have gawdy stats in MLS, like Ching, Dempsey and to a certain extent Donovan and Johnson as well. This squad isn’t balanced and doesn’t have depth. Maybe it’s just the state of American soccer, but the team in 2002 was much better. That team was unlucky not to make the seminfinals. This team it appears will be lucky to get a point.

  3. Gregg says:

    We’ve also discussed the merits of including Freddy Adu on the 23 man roster. While he may help, we both agreed that adding him would probably cause dissention among the veterans since adding a player too young would be viewed as taking a spot away from a deserving veterman.

  4. Federico says:

    Kartik,

    I want to post something about how awful my Mexican side was today and how LaVolpe is ruining the team. A draw with Angola is more humiliating than the USA loss to the Czechs 3-0, although USA could do Mexico one better if they lose to Ghana. How can I post something?

  5. Federico says:

    Gregg……Adu should have been on USAs roster. He’s the future. Look at what England did with Wolcott and Lennon. Both will be in WC 2010, and Lennon played a big role in England’s win yesterday. Ericcson is a top int’l manager, whereas Arena and LaVolpe are not, even though Kartik seems to defend both of them.

  6. Gregg says:

    The fact is let’s stop blaming Arena and put the emphasis on the players for their lack of heart. 12 of the same players that were on the 2002 team who nearly beat Germany and tied semi-finalists South Korea.

    Is it’s Arena’s fault for not motivating the players to play the Czech Republic? I want to blame him but I CAN’T.

    This is the World Cup!! If you need a great pre-game speech to get ready for the Super Bowl of all Super Bowls then you lack what it takes to be a world class soccer player.

    That’s what it comes down too. No heart, stop blaming Arena and blame the players.

  7. Gregg says:

    Federico,

    Obviously, not a good performance by Mexico. The important thing was they got a Tie and have a +2 goal differential. This should get them through assuming Portugal beats or ties Iran.

  8. Federico says:

    Gregg, do you believe USA was prepared to face the Czechs in the first game? I do not! That is the manager’s responsibility. They had been in Germany for two weeks before the game training.

    For me this is all very sad. My two teams USA and Mexico were predicted to have their best teams ever this year. Mexico may advance but looks ill in the process. USA looks even more ill thanks to Arena’s poor preperation and player decisions. Some kid is tearing up the English league I read and hasn’t even gotten a call up from Arena! The English could give him a passport and have him play for them! He needs to step down after tomorrow’s game.

  9. USA06 says:

    Forget Ralston – he would be no help on this level.
    He’s an okay player but has no pace. The fact that he
    was in the mix except for injury was the trouble sign
    for USA. Ralston is no better now than he was 4 years
    ago neither is Olsen. This shows that the player pool
    for certain positions are severly lacking. Klein?
    Quaranta (playing out of position)?

    What Arena should have had the balls to do was bring
    Freddy. Seriously, few of the fringe players on this
    squad will be anywhere close to USA10.

  10. Federico says:

    Santino Quaranta? Good one. Chris Klein I thought for sure could have helped USA. Also, Aleco Eskandarian or Jeff Cunningham should have gotten a longer look, but the two most glaring misses by Arena are Adu and Twellman. Connor Casey also. He could run circles around Ching.

  11. Kartik says:

    Everyone above, good call on Freddy! I 100% agree. Not only could the experience of being on the roster and going through the training helped his development, he probably could have been very useful since we lack attacking options!

  12. Hand of God says:

    Look at Argentina – they brought 6 strikers, played 4 and most of them scored. Maybe they could give USA a goal or two since they don’t seem to need them all :)

  13. USA Fan says:

    It’s amazing how our fans will bring out the short knives after one bad game.

    We will bounce back vs Italy and this time manana you guys are going to be singing Arena’s praises!

  14. Is that you Diego?????? says:

    Maybe you can suit up for the red white and blue!

  15. Hand of God says:

    Sadly, I have only my blue and white striped kit for this tournament. If you look closely you will notice I am wearing two watches, though.

  16. Xavier says:

    But it is also true that Arena was a lot more thorough and comprehensive in how he looked at his player pool in preparation for the 2002 World Cup.

    Arena looked at plenty of players for the 2006 WC. He just made decisions earlier in the process this time on who to cut.

    Even though Clint Mathis was an out of shape trouble maker, the USA really hasn’t produced a player with his combination of excellent ball skills, speed and size

    I 100% agree. What a waste of great talent he turned out be.

    I don’t think Twellman or Ralston would make a material difference in any outcome in this World Cup.

    Twellman is about 100 times better than Ching. Ching requires perfect service which he gets in MLS but will not get against the likes of Italy or Ghana.

    Is it’s Arena’s fault for not motivating the players to play the Czech Republic? I want to blame him but I CAN’T.

    Gregg, you can and should blame him!

    Some kid is tearing up the English league I read and hasn’t even gotten a call up from Arena!

    Yeah, yeah Jay DeMerit you are obviously talking about. This is a big mistake by Arena, but the truth be told he just emerged in the last year and a half or so as a top player. Before he wasn’t even MLS quality. Some guys bloom late, and in his case he went from a reserve to a superstar in a very short period of time. Playing overseas when this happened didn’t help, because unless you clear int’l games with the club well in advance you can’t touch him, so that’s why he hasn’t come to camp yet. It’s not like the entire Sams Army and other USA supporters aren’t screaming for his inclusion. Trust me, he’ll get a look very soon after the World Cup by the new coach.

    What Arena should have had the balls to do was bring
    Freddy. Seriously, few of the fringe players on this
    squad will be anywhere close to USA10.

    Sadly this is the case, which is why the USSF should have TOLD Arena to take Freddy for the future of US Soccer. Considering he won’t becoaching the USA in the qualifiers for WC 10 or the Cup itself what incentive does he have to bring a young kid in?

  17. hand of god says:

    I’m speaking with Don Garber of your MLS. I wish to become the first player-coach-owner of Boca Las Vegas:)

  18. Xavier says:

    Oh and don’t forget Jonathan Spector. He’s another one that could have been included for the future. He’ll get a nice look from the next coach though.

  19. USA06 says:

    I’m not so sure Arena will be fired no matter what the outcome is tomorrow. It will more than likely be his choice to continue on or not.

  20. Colin says:

    You guys are sunk. Silvio Berlusconi the biggest thief on the planet will pardon all Italian players implicated in the betting fixing scandal if they win the whole thing. They are not lacking in motivation or quality and will destroy your weak side.

  21. Rafael says:

    Arena is leaving after this World Cup. He may guide the team through the transition of the next few months but even if he wins the next two and advances to the knock out stages, he’ll be handing the reigns to someone new. I have heard he wants to coach in Europe for a club side. Today’s game may determine if that option is availible to him after the finals conclude.

  22. Kartik says:

    The Jay DeMerit thing is frustrating because we need help on our backline. But truthfully even more frustrating are the injuries to Frankie Hedjuk and Cory Gibbs. I like Gibbs alot and feel he could have given us another option inside. It’s possibile if Pope’s injury is worse than being reported and he gets scratched that Pablo could move to centerback and O’Brien could start at d-mid.

  23. Zizou 06 says:

    I agree with what Gregg said above about blaming Arena. I don’t know if you could blame him for his team not having a heart. I wrote a blog post a few days ago about the US team playing with no heart.

    Something that Kartik and I have talked about is the lack leadership on the field. Reyna, yes, he had his scoring chance, but that is it. He didn’t show any leadership on the field. When we were playing like crap, he didn’t do anything to motivate them. It is time to make someone else captain. The question is who would we select. Nobody seems to have leadership qualities.

    Of course, I am going to mention my French side :) Look at Zidane. Yes, France didn’t play well, but Zidane was in a number of player’s faces. He was directing play. He was doing everything a captain needs to do for his team.

    I just don’t see a leader on the American squad.

  24. Torres says:

    Arena though needs to have the team better prepared to play. the lack of on the field leadership is the responsibility of your veteran players, Keller and Reyna. Last World Cup Friedel who was not the captain was in guys faces ala Zidane as was Tony Sanneh who wasn’t the captain either. Both those guys helped right the ship when things weren’t going so well. This Cup the USA team had no leadership. Maybe Arena can be blamed for not drilling it into their heads before the match, but the effort and on field leadership were lacking and that is on the players.

  25. Sams Army says:

    Federico,

    At least you have your stinking mexicans to cheer for. I wouldn’t be too down after yesterday. Playing without Borgetti is tough, and getting a draw is decent considering the circumstance. I still like Mexico’s chances of advancing far.

    You are 100% right about the kid you mention, whose name is Jay DeMerit. I wacth English Football closely and even though I had never heard of DeMerit two years ago, he has had two solid seasons for Watford. Secondly he scored the winning goal in the playoff against Leeds off a set piece when none other than our starting left back, who plays midfield for Leeds lost him in the flow of the play,
    yes I am speaking of Eddie Lewis whom Arena has continued to start and force on the field despite the obvious realization that he no longer posses the wheels he once did not the crossing ability.

    Federico, I also agree with you about the players you mention like Klein. Arena has given all these guys shots, but I’m not sure why he’d pick Jimmy Conrad over Klein or Ralston based on the national team call ups……Ralston at least is vocal and could be a leader in the locker room for this squad severaly lacking in leaders. Klein’s work rate is un matched and he could be a healthy option for the always injured John O’Brien.

    Torres you are correct. Tony Sanneh WAS the leader last time along with Cobi Jones. Those guys steadied the ship and calmed the guys down, and also led by example. We don’t have a leader on this team. I am so frustrated with Claudio Reyna which is part of my issue with Arena. Arena has a psycopatic devotion to Reyna both as captain and as a central midfielder that has not allowed our team to develop an attractive style of play nor young leaders. If Arena throws Reyna under the bus aftre this looming cup disaster maybe he can stay on as coach. If not, they both need to go.

  26. Hat Trick Peter Crouch says:

    Are you kidding mates????????

    Jay DeMerit has never played for your national side??????

    Whom do I call????? Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could use that kid! If America doesn’t appreaciate him, some of the UKs teams will!

    With such little talent how can you ignore a player of his class?

    Freddy Adu……I just assumed he had made your World Cup selections. I don’t watch your stinking minor league but did watch a game Sky retelecast last year between his american side and chelsea. Adu was by far the best american player on the pitch that evening. Adu was better than some of the chelsea guys as well.

    Not only do you guys stink but your coach can’t select the players to give him the best shot either. What a pity. The Yanks go down without a fight. Kind of like when we burned your abandoned capital in 1814. We’d never cut and run from a fight, but you and your coward president and vice president who skipped the vietnam war would. Can’t you realize your football side is just a reflection of your indifferent and nativist populace?????? Italy will beat 3 to nill today.

  27. Anonymous says:

    It’s now or never. USA USA!!!!!!

  28. USA06 says:

    You continue to display how little you really know the game, Peter Crotch. Your comments reak of…….fear.

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