No, the soccer sky isn’t falling, even if it felt that way for some U.S. soccer supporters watching events unfold Tuesday night in Boston.
This wasn’t Belize, after all, that was running circles around Jurgen Klinsmann’s experimental crew of miscasts and positional applicants. This was Brazil, where good players practically fall out of first-floor windows, packed too tightly into whatever talent factories they’ve got working double shifts down there.
So U.S. supporters probably weren’t looking for a win Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. Obviously, a confidence-inspiring “W” was the preferred result, but a decent showing against the five-time world champs would likely suffice.
Fans and the fourth estate were just looking for things to feel good about, a couple more unmissable signs that skies are blue over Klinsmann Valley and things are generally moving in the right direction. Show us an entertaining match on a good surface, in front of another large, hootin’ and hollerin’ U.S. gathering, where the Yanks had their moments on the field, and most American supporters would probably enjoy their post-game beers well enough.
Instead, we got a night where U.S. Soccer totally crapped out. In more ways than one.
There was just so darn little to feel good about after this one.
SEE MORE: USA 1-4 Brazil: Klinsmann delivers new low.
Bad choices by U.S. Soccer apparently had a lot to do with an underwhelming attendance (29,308). Ticket prices that started at $75 needed a re-think. I mean, gas prices are down and all, perhaps leaving a bit of wiggle room in the family budget, but let’s not get carried away!
Gillette has always been a preferred U.S. venue; the club’s longtime ties to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati always seems to be in play. Gillette just hosted its 25th U.S. men’s match since 1991. Maybe that needs a re-think, too, especially given the needless expense (and all the other pitfalls) of the dreaded temporary grass surface.
The field was … well, let’s go with “better than we’ve seen from other temporary surfaces.” Brazilian manager Dunga criticized the surface prior to Tuesday’s kickoff, although his team managed the imperfect ground far better than the home side, clearly.
It was certainly better than the cow pasture that Argentina and Mexico endured outside Dallas. Still, is that the bar we’ve set? To play against the top teams (Brazil!) on a slow field with no bounce, one that rates “adequate at best?”
Then landed the match itself. Oooof!
Perspective is critical here; this was a friendly, and I am among the legions always warning not to make too much of them.
But sometimes the “meaningless” actually develops meaning. Like the pair of results earlier this year against Germany and Netherlands. Two wins away from home against world powers (never mind the Dutch face-first fall in ongoing European 2016 qualifying) deserved and received special praise.
Similarly, Tuesday’s tire fire deserves a circle drawn around it, too, albeit for wildly different reasons. This was one where Klinsmann practically pounded his fist as he declared the United States “ready!” No more experimenting! Time to get down to business.
And yet … here we are again, scratching our heads, wanting to believe in the man in charge, and yet straining in the inability to see the larger plan. Everyone understands the importance of ongoing research and development — a.k.a. the Klinsmann penchant for tinker and trial — but there has to be a destination. And as destinations go, does anybody feel good about anything as the United States approaches this Oct. 10 date with Mexico? The goalkeeping situation is, at least, one soft place to land, thanks to the trusty likes of Brad Guzan and Tim Howard. Otherwise, we’re parachuting in the darkness into trees and jagged rocks, aren’t we?
Who are the center backs? Or the fullbacks? Is Jermaine Jones, approaching his 34th birthday, still up for the job? Overall, the personnel situation in midfield is a mess. There’s really too much wrong to even go into it here, although the conflicting information on Alejandro Bedoya deserves mention.
The poor fellow was clearly a duck out of water as a holding midfielder, a position he says he’s never manned as a professional. So when Klinsmann declares that Bedoya at that position is a “good option,” as the manager did late Tuesday, what are we to make of it? Remember Jose Torres as a surprise experiment at left back? That worked wonderfully. And you know why? It was against Antigua & Barbuda! That’s a small twin-island country none of us could point to on an unlabeled map.
Again, there’s no shame in losing to Brazil. But the one thing Klinsmann’s team could not afford Tuesday was big confidence drain. The players and coaches tried to tell us that self-belief and momentum weren’t fumbled away into the Massachusetts night. But does anyone really buy that?
You know what would have rescued this thing? If Klinsmann would have taken the hit. He needed to walk into that post-game news conference, raise his hand and say, “My bad. I made a couple of bad choices and didn’t prepare team correctly. I put Alejandro Bedoya in a bad position. That’s my fault. This one is on me.”
If he does that, he may spare a couple of player psyches. Plus, even the Klinsmann critics would probably give him a pass. In that case, at least he is acknowledging the issues. Rather, he makes things more difficult on himself by declaring, more or less, that everything is fine. After last week’s peculiar comments to Steven Goff in the Washington Post, it sounds again as if he believes we American nincompoops just cannot see the bigger plan!
Again, the sky isn’t falling here. It’s a friendly. And Brazil is good. But there was a time when the United States was best with its backs to the wall, when things started looking a little dark over the horizon. That’s when they could generally summon their best selves, dig deep and scratch out a result.
Klinsmann’s job now is to forget this bigger plan for the time being. Rather, he’s got to get guys back into their best positions. At some point, it’s about getting the most players into the spots with which they are most comfortable. Period.
That’s the best chance of allowing the players rediscover that particular American “can do” spirit.
It was sorely lacking on Tuesday, when there was really only one thing going right for U.S. Soccer: the relatively poor crowd, plus plenty of TVs tuned into a huge U.S. Open tennis match down the road or awaiting Mexico-Argentina kickoff, meant that a lot of fans missed this night to forget at Gillette.
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