US National Team
Chances are you don't remember Fuad Ibrahim at all. And if you do remember him, it's because he's the answer to the trivia question "Other than Freddy Adu, who's the youngest player ever drafted in MLS?"
Like Adu, Ibrahim's career hasn't exactly gone to plan. After starring for the US U-17s, he bombed out of MLS in three years and just 26 games, and has been toiling in the lower divisions of the US soccer pyramid ever since. This past season he played five times for Minnesota in the NASL.
Now 21, Ibrahim has taken advantage of his dual-nationality status to use his one-time switch and will play (permanently — once you switch you can't go back) for Ethiopia in the African Cup of Nations.
Credit to SoccerAmerica.com for being all over this one.
File this one under "Rossi," or maybe "Subotic." Or maybe nothing at all.
As first reported in Bosnia, and later confirmed by TopDrawerSoccer, RBNY Academy forward Ismar Tandir signed with Sochaux of Ligue 1 last month.
"Ok," you're thinking. "That's going to happen from time to time as academies start producing better players."
And you'd be right.
But here's the thing: It looks like Tandir may not just be leaving the Red Bulls behind, but according to the player himself, he could be done with US soccer as a whole:
CORRECTION: D.C. United has not yet clinched Carolina Challenge Cup championship. I apologize for the confusion. #MLS
— Andrew Wiebe (@AndrewWiebe_MLS) March 3, 2012
It's worth remembering that, even if he plays in an official game with the U-19s, he wouldn't be completely cap-tied. That only happens for official full senior national team games.
Of course, there's no guarantee that US soccer is missing out on anything here. They hadn't called Tandir in yet at any level, and it's not like there's a dearth of quality young attackers coming through the pipeline. Plus the elephant in the room is that he was born in Germany, and if he turns out to be really good... well, generally speaking, players play for the best team that puts them on speed dial.
As we slowly build up to Major League Soccer's 18th season – a scary thought, especially since MLS Cup still feels like such a recent event, for me at least – it's worth taking a look back at how it all started. Rest assured, the goings-on weren't always quite so polished.
Take, for example, the first signing in league history. US Soccer is counting down its top 100 moments as part of the federation's centennial celebration and included an interesting anecdote from president Sunil Gulati about what it took to bring national team star Tab Ramos to MLS. The league and US Soccer wanted Ramos – an national team player with Hispanic heritage and attacking flare – to help give the league an initial foothold with fans as well as other Americans playing abroad.
He certainly helped with both those aims, but when he committed his future to MLS, there wasn't even contract to put pen to paper on. I'll let Gulati explain.
“He was going to sign with Tigres, and what we decided at the very last moment was why not have a handshake to sign with MLS, and we would loan him to Tigres,” Gulati told USsoccer.com. “The league wasn't far enough along to have a contract or a standard player agreement or any of that, so it was just a handshake.”
Just a handshake. Imagine suggesting that to the current crop of agents stocking teams these days. You'd get laughed out of the room.
But after a year-and-a-half with Tigres UANL, Ramos kept his end of the bargain, ending up with his hometown MetroStars for the next seven seasons. It wasn't always smooth sailing – cue Red Bulls fans simultaneously nodding their heads and silently weeping – but Ramos became a pioneer in a league that he helped put on the map.
To think, all it took was a handshake and the belief that professional soccer in the US was worth the commitment.
“I was excited to come home and start a new experience,” Ramos said. “It was coming home and there was the draw of playing at Giants Stadium, where I had watched the Cosmos play and where I practiced with the Cosmos 10 years before. All those things were really important to me. Obviously, having my family here as well.
“And it was fun. It was fun drawing the big crowds the first couple of years. It was fun driving to the stadium, just to be part of the whole thing. It really truly felt like we had a professional league at home and it was going to stick.”
If it's the end of the year, it's time for some obligatory video compilations. Cue the tape.
The latest one comes from the folks at US Soccer, who have put together the best moments from a historic year for the US men's national team, including every goal from the 2012 campaign. Check it out.
Eddie Johnson lives according his own schedule, at least when it comes to announcing US national team call-ups.
After publicly confirming an October call-up for World Cup qualifiers against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala a bit early, it appears Johnson let the cat out of the bag early once again on Thursday, tweeting that he'd be one of the players Jurgen Klinsmann will run the rule over during January.
While others apparently keep the good news to themselves, Johnson just can't seem to keep his excitement contained to family and friends. Clearly, those 13,852 Twitter followers need to know that their boy is headed back to the big time. And I say good for him. The guy saw some dark days and seems to be rebuilding step by step what was one of the most promising careers to originate in MLS or the US in general. He was a terror for MLS defenses this season, and a bright spot for Klinsmann in the two wins that sealed the US' Hexagonal spot, linking up with long-time friend Clint Dempsey to great effect.
Can he continue that kind of form for the USMNT? That remains to be seen, but I've got no problem with a player having a problem keeping this sort of thing to himself. Excitement is contagious, after all.
What do you think? Did Johnson make a mistake by announcing his call-up early?
Life in Europe hasn't always been hunky-dory for Oguchi Onyewu – see ill-fated spells at Newcastle and AC Milan – but things certainly seem to be looking up for the big man these days.
Surplus to requirements at Sporting Lisbon? No problem. Gooch has happily accepted a slot in the Champions League with La Liga side Málaga, who have already sealed a spot in the final 16 and where he also plays in what he considers the best league in the world.
However, that doesn't mean Onyewu has forgotten his Portuguese slight. Far from it. The US national team veteran discusses the career that's taken him to seven countries in this BBC feature, dropping profound nuggets like the following:
"A lot of times in my career, I have been frustrated, annoyed and upset about how it was going, but at the end, it always worked out for me," Onyewu told the BBC. "That's how I am right now. As angry as I was to have to leave Portugal, I have found myself in an even better situation here in Spain. Life is a journey and, if you are brave enough to ride it, it is going to take you where you need to be."
If you want to check out Onyewu in Champions League action, Málaga take on Sasha Kljestan and Anderlecht on Wednesday in both team's Group C finales (2:35 pm ET on Fox Soccer 2Go).
When it comes to friendlies, Tim Howard may be the greatest 'keeper in the world. He's the hero of Wednesday's 2-2 draw.
And when it comes to soccer, the US are still better playing direct, simple stuff than trying to be Spain. No, you're not going to get many results if you rely primarily on running volleys from outside the 18. But at least that's a club the US have in the bag. Tika-taka isn't.
Anyway, here's what we learned in order of importance:
Jurgen Klinsmann's message got through to Jozy Altidore loud and clear
He wasn't Pelé out there, but he didn't need to be. What the US forwards have done well since the days of Wynalda (and probably before) is work damn hard on both sides of the ball. Even Jozy's done that well at times in his career — notably the summers of 2009 and 2010, and as recently as as last year against Slovenia when his pressure led to Edson Buddle's goal.
That Jozy was back against the Russians. There was little combination play to speak of in the final third — something we'll get to in point No. 2 — but Altidore can't be blamed for that. What he should get credit for is pressuring the Russian backs and checking to midfield constantly, offering a largely outskilled and creatively bereft midfield an outlet when they got in trouble.
And again, he wasn't perfect in that. But he was really good, won a ton of possession-positive headers, found space a few times to let rip, and made a bunch of unselfish runs off the ball. If there was any justice, he'd have gotten a better touch on that Fabian Johnson pass in the 70th minute.
You can have two of Danny Williams, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones on the field at the same time
Any more than two and you get a midfield that plays like ... well, like what we saw today. I don't know how many times we have to see that during Klinsmann's tenure, but let's add a "+1" after Wednesday's draw.
The slightly mitigating factor is that the Williams/Bradley/Jones trio looked a bit more useful when Klinsmann switched away from the 4-3-3 to a lopsided 4-4-2 with 25 minutes to go (with Williams eventually coming off for the effective Mo Edu, which is a like-for-like switch).
The improvement makes sense since the US, as a whole, were much better in 1-v-1 situations than they were in combination play — a bizarre thing to say/think about a team with such strong Bundesliga influences. And, of course, because it opened up space for Bradley to move forward. Without that switch he's nowhere near Juan Agudelo's knock-back header to find the equalizer.
The 4-3-3 can still work with this team, but it needs a midfield trio that can hold the ball and build chances. Williams/Bradley/Jones ain't it.
Josh Gatt is still more athlete than soccer player
I've been harping on this a lot, as I often do with Youtube heroes. And I'm not going to stop.
The player Gatt reminds me of most is Dane Richards. He's got a ton of speed — both at the start and the top end — and can make things happen in the open field pretty damn well. He also attacks the back post ferociously, a prerequisite for any winger in a 4-3-3 (which is what Gatt is for his club team in Molde, and was on Wednesday as well).
However, at this point, he's unable to make decisions in possession, and defensively he's an absolute nightmare. Any simple one-two left him undone (witness his last action of the game, in the 62nd minute), and the Russians went at him incessantly during the game's first 20-odd minutes.
He got better as the half went on, but right now he's a significantly inferior soccer player — and national team prospect — to guys like Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon and, quite obviously, Graham Zusi.
But figuring out stuff like that is what friendlies are for.
Bonus thought: Once again, the US played better when Sacha Kljestan came on
Other than Landon Donovan, no one in the US pool sees the game quicker. And he's become much, much stronger on the ball in the past two years. If it were my call, his name would be on the starting XI in pen.
US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has never been shy to let his opinion be known on soccer matters.
While on a scouting trip in England ahead of the USA's Wednesday friendly in Russia, he stopped to visit with the BBC's Gary Lineker, who asked Klinsmann for his views on diving and technology in soccer (WATCH THE INTERVIEW HERE).
Klinsmann has apparently given this more than some thought. Here's his plan:
"Use specific elements right away," Klinsmann said. "You have a fourth referee already out there. So if he has a a television screen, he can tell you like in American basketball or in football. Within 10 seconds he tells you if it was behind the line or it wasn't. It was a penalty or it wasn't. Give [the fourth official] the final shot real quick. They're connected with the ear phones already on the field. Give it a go.
"Give him the signal right away, the main ref, and he can make his call. I would use it."
The former Tottenham Hotspur star also provided Lineker some insight into what he believes to be his mission at the helm of the US national team.
"[Americans] are obviously looking for a national team that they can identify with and that maybe one day goes a little bit further in the World Cup," Klinsmann said. "That's the locomotive of the whole game in the country because their pride is huge when the national team plays. And that's kind of a little bit down to me to hopefully guide them to Brazil 2014 and do well there."
A month ago against Jamaica, with the US holding on to a 1-0 lead for dear life, it was the defense that looked just fine while the midfield and attack — for the last 25 minutes, anyway — looked like total strangers.
This time through, even with the result decided, it was the defense that caused the US fans all sorts of indigestion. Carlos Bocanegra, goal aside, played one of his worst games in the US shirt. And with that in mind, we'll take a look at the three things we learned in the 3-1 US win that secured passage into the Hexagonal...
The US need a new answer in central defense
Giving up such a rudimentary goal to as predictable and banal a side as Los Chapines is cause for concern. Michael Bradley's midfield turnover was needless and the dislocation between the central defenders — Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron — was reason to worry with more dynamic, better teams waiting in the Hexagonal.
It's beyond time to get Matt Besler or Omar Gonzalez some serious run alongside Cameron. They've been the two best US defenders in the league this year, and both among the four best, along with Víctor Bernárdez and Carlos Valdés — who are starters for Honduras and Colombia, respectively. Hanging onto the old guard was the original sin of Bruce Arena, and Jurgen Klinsmann would be wise to learn that lesson before it dooms him in a game that matters.
And they're going to start to matter — a lot — come February.
Where's the killer instinct in the attack?
"Job done" is what Ian Darke said just over a minute into stoppage time, and mathematically there's no real argument with him since the the US qualified, after all.
But compare the US job to what Honduras did to Canada earlier in the day. Klinsmann's side had every chance to lay a 5-1 or 6-1 hurting on a Guatemala team that was missing their top three central defenders, and lacked either the ability or the desire to do so.
To put it into perspective: one of Guatemala's starting central defenders was 20. The other plays in the Guatemalan second division. This was not a Hexagonal-level backline.
And this US wasn't ruthless or relentless; it was haphazard and ad hoc. That'd be the reason Klinsmann's side has scored more than one goal in just five of 20 games.
Is it disappointing on an "I hate Guatemala" level? Absolutely. But it's even more disappointing on an "I'd much rather face Jamaica than Guatemala in the next round" level. The US could have knocked Los Chapines out, and didn't do it. Jamaica did it.
Needs more nasty in the box, not in the tackle.
"We need him"
That's what Clint Dempsey said about Landon Donovan, and Deuce is absolutely right.
But even more important is finding whoever Donovan's heir is, and finding him soon. As the last 18 months have shown, Landon's not 25 anymore. He'll be an injury-prone 31-year-old by the time the Hex starts, capable of breathtaking moments only in short bursts. Someone else needs to be the creative hub come February.
It's the existential crisis US fans have been dreading since 2001, and Klinsmann needs to take a longer view with it than he has with the defense. And it needs to start with the next camp.
One final thought...
That may be the last time I ever watch Carlos Ruiz play soccer. Can't say I'll miss him in the slightest.
Guatemala-based website selecciondeguatemala.net reported on Tuesday morning that influential winger Marco Pappa will be dropped from Guatemala’s starting lineup against the US national team at Livestrong Sporting Park this evening (7 pm ET, ESPN2/TeleFutura, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
The site claims that Los Chapines’ veteran Uruguayan manager Ever Almeida will “sacrifice” Pappa, who has been struggling to find his best form for both club and country since his summer transfer from the Chicago Fire to Dutch side Heerenveen, in order to pack the midfield against the heavily favored Yanks. That would likely leave former MLS striker Carlos Ruiz alone up top in either a 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 formation.
While unconfirmed and uncorroborated, the report does jibe with the “park-the-bus” tactical approach expected from the canny Almeida, whose team needs only a draw in Kansas City, Kan., to book their place in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Pappa started on the bench in these teams’ previous meeting in this round, a 1-1 draw in Guatemala City on June 12. But he changed the game when he entered as a second-half substitute, sparking Guatemala’s attack and blasting a free kick past US goalkeeper Tim Howard in the dying moments to snatch a point for his team.