US National Team
When Jurgen Klinsmann was hired, the US were a mess. Their spacing was terrible, they couldn't get consistent performance from the fullbacks and the offense was inconsistent.
It looks like most of that has been cleared up. I'd go so far as to say that Klinsmann's done a pretty good job. But there are still some concerns.
This generation of US players is defined by their weakness in central defense
There's no disguising it against top-level talent. The US got a great result in Italy a few months back, but were protected throughout by a flag-happy linesman who blew five offside calls, and a handful of great 1-v-1 saves from Tim Howard.
Against Brazil, there was no such luck. Howard did make a couple of great saves and was bailed out by the post once, but for the most part, Brazil gave the US central defense the old orange cone treatment.
Oguchi Onyewu in particular — even without the (not remotely debatable) penalty — was awful. When defending on the ball he's on roller skates, and when defending in space he's basically lost. And he doesn't read the game well enough to make up for it against top competition.
What's even more disturbing is the US inability to hold a line. It happened at the beginning of the game, it happened in the middle, and it happened at the end with Onyewu (sorry to pick on you, Gooch), failing to step, leaving Pato to rip the fouth past a stranded Howard.
If you're slower and less skilled than the opponents — and against the great teams, that's always going to be the case for the US — then you have to be smarter and more organized.
This group is not. It's how Mexico killed the US last summer, and how Brazil killed them on Wednesday.
There were telltale midfield turnovers even against Scotland
And against Brazil, those turnovers became goals. It's something I stressed in our March to the Match podcast, but which went largely unnoticed otherwise since we were all stunned at the sheer ferocity of that 5-1 win.
I don't know how much scouting Brazil really did, but it's safe to say that the book on the US is "smother them, make them play combinations, and they will eventually beat themselves."
Even the Scots did it for a bit, specifically in minutes 15 through 35.
The Brazilians did it in minutes 1 through 90, and everyone on the US had their turn to play the goat. Including Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson.
Speaking of ...
Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson are really, really good
Bradley's probably too valuable as an attacker and too much of a risk-taker on the ball to play as a true, lone d-mid (as he was in Klinsmann's 4-1-4-1 for most of the game). The other options are unappealing against top sides, though: Maurice Edu has a poor first touch, and Jermaine Jones isn't exactly known for his ability to get out of traffic with the ball on his foot.
So for now, Klinsmann has to keep Bradley in that d-mid role and then find more dynamic players to put in front of him. I'd prefer to see Jose Torres or Benny Feilhaber in one of the "advanced midfield" roles, rather than the uninspiring Edu/Jones combo.
And as for Johnson ... there's not much to say but, "Wow." He's been the best, most consistent attacking force on the US team for the past three games. Who thought we'd ever say that about a left back?
Defensively he still has work to do, especially in 1-v-1 situations (he literally spun in a circle when trying to defend Hulk at one point), but he's got plenty of time to work on it before Klinsmann's side takes on the big boys in a game that counts.
So for now, it's clear that Klinsmann still has a little bit of a mess to clean up. But the good news is that he's already made progress with what was left behind for him in the first place.
For a change, it was the US national team coach's turn to tell someone else how to do their job.
In Tuesday afternoon's pregame press conference ahead of a massive match against Brazil, Jurgen Klinsmann on two separate occasions encouraged the Brazilian press on hand to support their national team. It was also an indirect message to the US soccer media on hand just before CONCACAF World Cup qualifying kicks off on June 8.
"[Mano Menezes, Brazilian national team manager] only has a chance to make that transition to integrate a new generation of players if he has the support by you — the Brazilian media, the Brazilian people," Klinsmann said in response to a question from a Brazilian reporter. "If you constantly doubt whatever he’s doing every game and every loss he has on the way to the World Cup in 2014, he’s going to have a really, really difficult time.
"I think you chose a very good coach and you have a very good coach and you've got to support him. So even if on the path to 2014 maybe it doesn’t work out perfectly, you have a new generation of players coming through. So I hope you give him the support and you don't doubt him every time maybe something goes wrong."
It brings up an interesting debate: Is the media's job to get behind their country's team? Or is the media's role to document, tell the story and analyze a situation when things go right and when they go wrong?
Fans of England's Three Lions may not want to read further. Klinsmann makes an example of the English national team to drive his point home later on in the press conference.
"It is very simple. In a soccer-driven country, which Brazil is, Argentina is, Germany is and England is, it all depends on how much you all go in the same direction," Klinsmann said when asked to share his experiences at the helm of Germany when that nation hosted the 2006 World Cup. "So you have two choices you can make: I support my team from a media perspective, too, or I given them trouble or give them doubts or give them nasty comments or whatever.
"If you look at England, England often beats itself. It's not the opponents necessarily. They make themselves so much problems they create before tournaments and you see how the last tournament went for then. So it’s the environment that you create. However, we were able to do that, the people started to be really positive [in Germany ahead of the 2006 World Cup]."
Does he have a point? The media has a role in the type of environment surrounding a sports team. But does the press really have any sort of moral obligation to their country?
Auteur d’un magnifique but samedi dernier contre l’Écosse, Michael Bradley s’est une fois plus fait remarquer positivement par les nombreux clubs qui le convoitent.
Toujours sous contrat au Chievo Vérone, l’international américain peut partir pour une somme que les médias italiens estiment entre 2,5 et 4,5 millions d’euros (3,2 à 5,6 millions de dollars). Le directeur sportif du club déclare d’ailleurs que « la possibilité de le voir sous le maillot de Chievo la saison prochaine est vraiment faible ».
Le milieu de terrain est cité dans plusieurs clubs italiens. La Gazzetta dello Sport mentionne le nom de Palerme, mais ceux qui reviennent le plus souvent sont l’AS Rome et Naples. Toutefois, il pourrait bien prendre la direction d’Anderlecht, qui pense à remplacer l’international argentin Lucas Biglia, annoncé en partance.
L’information annoncée en Italie par Tuttosport et en Belgique par Het Laatste Nieuws est relayée par de nombreux médias. Le site officiel du championnat de Belgique (l’équivalent de mlssoccer.com) mentionne même que son agent dément les contacts avec Rome et Naples, et confirme des discussions de longue date avec Anderlecht.
En signant chez le champion de Belgique, Bradley y deviendrait coéquipier d’un autre international américain, Sacha Kljestan.
I don't have the words to explain how cool this is. I'm sure you understand.
I owe Jurgen Klinsmann that much after panning his lineup before the match, since it was chock-full of central/defensive midfielders. I worried that they would spend 90 minutes bumping into each other and checking back to the ball instead of finding gaps and exploiting them at pace. My worries were, as it turns out, totally unfounded.
A few things:
The formation was a 4-3-2-1
It's called the "Christmas Tree," and like most tactical innovations, it was brought to us by the Italians. The strength of it lies in having a pure d-mid — in this case Maurice Edu, and later Kyle Beckerman — sweeping directly in front of the backline. This both protects the somewhat fragile US central defense (still the area of main concern) and allows the other central midfielders to push forward both with and without the ball.
Edu wasn't flashy, then, but he was effective. And with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones pushing up, Scotland hardly had time to breathe when they were trying to play out of the back.
Offensively, the width was usually provided by overlapping fullbacks, which allowed Landon Donovan and Jose Torres to help crowd the midfield, forcing turnovers and moving quickly into space. In a 4-3-3 (which is what Scotland played — and they did so without a true ball-winner, which is suicide), they would have started much wider.
Boyd's off-the-ball movement was stellar
The other thing that made the formation work was Terrence Boyd's unselfish running. He looked like a more athletic (and far less polished) version of Conor Casey out there, and the similarity is no accident: Like Casey, Boyd has spent time learning in the Borussia Dortmund system, one where the center forward is expected to do as much work creating space off the ball as he does with it.
The best example of that came in the 11-pass sequence that led to Donovan's shot off the post in the 50th minute. Instead of showing for the ball, Boyd cut diagonally through the box, dragging two defenders with him and opening the lane for another touch and that cheeky cut-back shot.
If it had gone in, Boyd wouldn't have gotten an assist—- or any note in the box score at all. But it was a huge, heady, veteran play from him.
And hardly the only example on the night. His activity opened space for Bradley's golazo, and he was instrumental in forcing the early turnover to make it 1-0.
Wide play is a concern heading into the Brazil match
The weakness of the formation, of course, is that you give up a lot of width. Yes, Donovan and Torres pulled a bit wider on defense than in attack, but the few times Scotland got by them, there were acres of space to exploit. That's when the Scots were very dangerous — and where the goal came from. Geoff Cameron gets the blame, but it was a central midfield miscommunication that left Bardsley wide open to pick his spot for the cross once he was past Torres.
This was somewhat of a recurring theme throughout the evening. It's also a real worry because neither Steve Cherundolo nor Fabian Johnson are great 1-v-1 defenders, and because Brazil love to overload the flanks.
Landon Donovan never wanted to be Batman
He wanted to be Robin. I don't doubt for a minute the sincerity of the interview he gave last week, but I think the underlying cause is what's telling.
Donovan has worn a heavy mantle during the last 10 years, almost always regarded as the US' best player. The fact that the team and the league have progressed so dramatically with him as the focal point says something about his talent.
But as soon as the pressure's off, as soon as it's someone else's team, he starts playing without the weight of expectations. We've seen it at Everton, we've seen it in flashes over the last three years since Clint Dempsey has started to really challenge for the mantle of "Best US Player," and we definitely saw it Saturday night.
Expect more of the same for as long as people are saying this is Dempsey's team. Landon seems totally at ease with the notion, and when he's feeling like that, the scoreboard tends to light up.
Here's a look at the first two goals from the US national team's 5-1 romp over Scotland on Saturday night in Jacksonville, Fla. More to come thoughout the night, but also make sure to check out the recap and final stats here.
WATCH: Donovan puts US up early
WATCH: Bradley's half-volley from distance
WATCH: Donovan gets his second
WATCH: Donovan finishes his hat trick
WATCH: Jones completes the rout
The rumors have been swirling around about a possible -- no, probable move away from Fulham for USMNT star Clint Dempsey this summer. The player himself has been very vocal about his desire to play in the Champions League.
"I've always said I'm grateful for everything Fulham has done for me," he said recently. "Some of the best memories I have in soccer have been there. But the fact remains that I want to play in Champions League. I want to play at the highest level possible."
That could become a reality this summer, if a big club comes along to pluck the EPL's 4th top scorer this season. All it will take, according to The Guardian, is £15 million ($24.5m). The English paper rates Dempsey #42 out of the top 50 transfer targets this summer, just behind Chelsea defender David Luiz and just ahead of Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel.
Is that about where Dempsey sits in the pecking order? Probably, though, I think I speak for most US national team fans when I say, someone is going to get a deal if they pick him up for just £15 million this summer.
Where there's smoke there's usually fire.
News surfaced earlier this year of a proposal for a unified tournament between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF to take place in 2016 in either Mexico or the United States. Now it seems like it's a reality.
The Jorge Ramos y su Banda show on ESPN Deportes yesterday confirmed that the first edition of the Pan American Cup will take place in the USA in 2016 and feature a combination of nations from both Confederations.
It's one of the news elements that has reportedly emerged from the CONCACAF Congress held in Budapest, where Jeffrey Webb was elected as CONCACAF's new president.
— Jorge Ramos & Banda (@ESPN_JorgeRamos) May 23, 2012
"At first, most people were like, 'We don't want no damn American,'" Abdel says. "They thought Bob was all about fitness. His teams won because they were in the best shape. But now they've gotten to see the man and know the man. And they love him. Now, he's a rock star. He's bigger than Obama."
When Bob Bradley accepted the job at the helm of the Egyptian national team last September, he ended up signing on for much more than the position of head coach.
In the eight months since his signing – a period during which Egypt have lost only once in 10 matches – the former United States boss has come to realize that in a country so heavily impacted by political turmoil and soccer tragedy, his role transcends the sport.
In an ESPN "Outside the Lines" special, senior writer Wayne Drehs takes a first-hand look at coaching an Egyptian side desperate for success in the world of soccer, and what it will take for Bradley to lead the national team to the 2014 World Cup – for just the third time in 80 years.
Turns out, Klinsmann and US Soccer may have to move sooner rather than later if that's the case.
Beitashour, who led the Quakes last year with seven assists and already has four to his name in 2012, holds dual US-Iranian citizenship. According to Centerline Soccer's Robert Jonas, the San Jose native has been contacted by the Iranian national team, but not yet by the United States:
Steven Beitashour after #SJEarthquakes training: "It's been a goal of mine, since I was a little kid, to play in the World Cup."
— Robert Jonas (@robertjonas) May 11, 2012
Beitashour said he hasn't been contacted by #USSoccer, but with USA/Iran dual citizenship, says he has another option, play for Iran.
— Robert Jonas (@robertjonas) May 11, 2012
#SJEarthquakes defender Steven Beitashour on playing for Iran "They've contacted me a couple of times about getting into some of the camps."
— Robert Jonas (@robertjonas) May 11, 2012
Beitashour, born in the US, still favors playing for the #USMNT "Hopefully the US will come calling. If I get a chance, I'll impress them."
— Robert Jonas (@robertjonas) May 11, 2012
So it appears for the time being, Beitashour will hold out for a call from Klinsmann. But if the coach dawdles in calling up the third-year defender, Beitashour could easily be added to US Soccer's list of ones that got away.
Power 5: Steven Beitashour on Klinsmann's radar?