What We Have Learned From the Copa
Obviously the performance of Team USA thus far at Copa America has been disheartening in many ways. Taking a virtual “B” side into the competition (By any definition this squad could be classified as a “B” side despite having eight holdovers from the Gold Cup. The next time England plays a designated “B” match look at the squad. At least 10 of the players are typically regulars from England’s “A” side.) not much was expected of Team USA. But the play of the inexperienced yanks has been far better than expected which makes the lopsided results that have unrepresentative of the level or flow of play in either match thus far so difficult to accept.The finishing by the US has been downright comical thus far in the competition. I do not know how many more cracks at the wheel Taylor Twellman and Eddie Johnson need before it becomes proven beyond a reasonable doubt that neither can hack it at this level, especially when they are forced to play together. Both players have strong points and could be a supporting attacker, but neither represents the threat as a target player or striker that former US forwards such as Brian McBride, Eric Wynalda or Joe Max-Moore presented.
The youngish midfielders on this squad including Sacha Klejstan and Justin Mapp are just not seasoned enough to provide adequete and timely service to the attackers and additionally showed some horrific finishing themselves. Klejstan was served up a sitter by Benny Olsen early in the match and he made a mess of it. Justin Mapp brought energy to the match late but showed an immaturity in understanding the situation in front of him and made several mistakes on and off the ball.
A bright spot tonight was the instant impact much touted midfielder Lee Nguyen had upon entering the match. Nguyen who is going to be competing for playing time at PSV Eindhoven this upcoming season played three very good balls forward to create scoring opportunities that were squandered by the attackers. Nguyen is someone who is going to be counted on by the national team in 2010 and beyond. It was very important to see him excel in a game of this magnitude. In addition, despite his mishit header late in the match, Drew Moor who recieved his first cap tonight seemed to be well positioned playing right back. Considering Frankie Hedjuk turns 33 next month, and Frankie Simek is still developing the play of Moor and Marvell Wynne ion this tournament has added much needed depth on the backline going forward. Jay DeMerit has shown his grit once again, but he seems a step slow for the international game. Jimmy Conrad also has made many mistakes, most notably the inexplicable back pass today that probably cost the US a chance to advance out of the group stage at this competition.
Benny Olsen is still a titan of American Soccer. Whether it was the instant impact he made as a rookie helping to lead DC United to the InterAmerican Cup title, or the versatility he has shown throughout his national team career, Olsen despite a career full of injuries is still a must have player for any serious competition the US plays in. Olsen has been hands down the best US player in Copa America, and his early exit from both matches has signaled the end of the strong possession style game the US was playing and the beginning of a more uneven and undisciplined style attack.
Finally a word on Kasey Keller. I’ve been watching Keller since the early 1990s, and I have to say his instincts have rapidly deteriorated in the past year. Beginning with two major errors in the opening round loss to the Czech Republic at Germany 2006, Keller seems to be less and less decisive with every passing match. I believe US Soccer should honor Keller by arranging a friendly early next year as a send off match and drop him from further national team consideration at that point. By then, a healthy Marcus Hannehman at 35 will finally getv his chance to compete for the starting goalkeeper spot on the national team. Matt Reis and Joe Cannon also need to get another look to provide depth in the player pool. At this point I believe all of the aforementioned keepers would do a better job than Keller.