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Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from a terrible trip to the Caribbean

12 October 8:57 pm

Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from a terrible trip to the Caribbean

By Matthew Doyle

This is one of those nights that sports fans endure. Whether it's baseball, football, basketball ... whatever. At some point, your team plays so badly that you become physically ill. Or near enough, anyway.

That's what Jurgen Klinsmann's team just did down in Antigua with their ugly 2-1 win on Friday night. And the painful part is that it's not really a surprise.

Klinsmann is, quite possibly, a great "big picture" coach. He might be the right guy to shake up the USSF and institute a more progressive, enjoyable style. He might be the guy who destroys what remains of the "old boy network." He may be the guy who can write a curriculum that turns the US into the Brazil of the northern hemisphere.

He is not the guy to coach a team through qualifying. Period.

Carlos Bocanegra is still a liability at left back

Hey, Boca's been a fantastic servant for US soccer. He's relentless, responsible and has a knack for timely goals.

He's also a giveaway machine when he plays wide. Bruce Arena learned that to his detriment in the 2006 World Cup — anybody remember that "clearance" vs. Ghana? — and Bob Bradley had his own trip down that path from 2007 through 2009.

Somehow, it's 2012 and we're still learning that lesson. Yes, Klinsmann was handicapped by the injuries to Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo, but a good coach compensates by finding the right solution, not any solution.

Klinsmann, on the other hand, compensates by putting Bocanegra in a position to fail. And that's exactly what he did on the turnover that led to the Antigua goal.

Possession doesn't necessarily mean chances

Throughout the game, we were treated to analysis highlighting the US dominance in possession. Problem was, that possession wasn't leading to chances. It wasn't even leading to half-chances.

The US put one shot on goal from the run of play over 90 minutes against Antigua & Barbuda. Anyone who's making reservations for Brazil two summers from now needs to internalize that, understand it and choose a second favorite team right now.

It's not because the US lacks creators, certainly — just look at how the game opened up once Sacha Kljestan came on. Quite simply, it's because the creative attacking players we have are, for some undisclosed reason, in Klinsmann's doghouse.

For years many of us have railed against the perception of the US as a "defense only" team, pointing to games like the 2002 World Cup vs. Germany, the 2009 Confederations Cup vs. Egypt (and Brazil) and the entire run of the 2010 World Cup.

But under Klinsmann, the US are defense only. The possession they hold in midfield isn't used to create chances, and as a result, the only time they're consistently dangerous is on set pieces.

Eddie Johnson has a place in the roster ... and so does Alan Gordon

I questioned EJ's inclusion despite his great production for the Sounders. And truth be told, he was more of a liability in possession than any of the other midfielders.

However, he gets open on set pieces, and he finished two of his three looks (of the five total looks the US had on the night, which kind of makes me want to die). There's a place for that, especially against minnows. I still don't think he's the answer long term because he takes too long on the ball in the run of play, but hell, beggars can't be choosers.

As for Gordon, he's the best-passing big man in or around his prime in the US national team pool. I've been pointing this out for quite a long while, and he vindicated me on Friday.

Center forwards, like d-mids and goalkeepers, tend to develop later in their careers (Gordon is the age Brian McBride was when he transferred to Fulham). It's very, very nice to see a guy like Gordon stick with it as long as he has and, eventually, find his moment in the sun.

And it's a reminder: Over the past three cycles, MLS players have done the bulk of the heavy lifting for the US national team. Klinsmann would be wise, on Tuesday and — hopefully — in 2013, to remember that much.