May 16th 1998. The United States was coming off a convincing 3-0 victory in Vienna against Austria, a team that like the USA was preparing for France 1998 that summer. The US had come home to face UEFA minnows Macedonia in San Jose. Spirits were high as most American supporters, myself included felt that the team was poised for a big run in the World Cup, and that the team was gelling. Two hours later, the US walked off the Spartan Stadium in goal less draw which proved to be the best indicator of how poorly the US would fare in the World Cup.
This storyline has repeated itself countless times in the last ten years for US Soccer. A step forward, and then an embarrassing step backwards. The euphoria that surrounded the outstanding performance from the United States versus Ecuador has now been replaced by frustration with the US’ inability to break a Guatemala team that used the simplest of tactics to force the US into a standstill and a scoreless draw. What’s worse is that the US’ next meaningful match is against the very same Guatemala team in the opening game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Keep in mind, US Soccer’s stated goal of winning the Gold Cup now seems to be less certain after last night’s performance.
What was most shocking about the performance was the lack of energy and tactical discipline shown by the United States team. The newly capped back line duo of Frankie Simek and Jay Demerit were excellent but the rest of the team going forward lacked the urgency and the instincts they demonstrated in the previous three matches. The US was unable to consistently play the ball wide and attack down the flanks to break down Guatemala’s well executed strategy of clogging the middle of the field. Guatemala also effectively negated Landon Donovan’s ability to use his pace to the advantage of the US team by keeping him away from the ball.
Eddie Johnson’s run as starting forward with the national team should end immediately. He has lost his confidence completely and after scoring 9 times in his first 12 matches in the US uniform, he is scoreless in the last 13. Taylor Twellman and Brian Ching aren’t the answer either. Before the summer, the Kenny Cooper and perhaps Josh Wolff or Connor Casey need to be given a serious look by Coach Bradley. In the last twelve national team matches, current player pool forwards have scored a grand total of one goal, that being by Kenny Cooper late in the win against Denmark. (Brian McBride is retired from international soccer so his goals are not counted in this total.)
A step forward, a step backwards. That seems to have been the mantra for the National Team for years now. Let’s hope the poor performance against Guatemala was an aberration and that the fire and intensity the team showed against both Mexico and Ecuador will be on display in this summer’s big tournaments.