What's lacking from US national team attack? Confidence? Identity? It depends on whom you ask
WASHINGTON – The increasingly large media pack that tracks the US national team from game to game typically arrives at pregame press conferences and mixed zones with a wide range of questions and topics on its collective mind.
But in the nation's capital this weekend, there's one that seems to have cropped up in every single conversation.
What's wrong with the attack?
Several players have pointed out that two goals were scored against Belgium on Wednesday, which, it's true, is four times their average haul thus far in 2013. Even that only serves to underline the extent of the Yanks' scoring impotence, however, and it's quite likely become more of a priority than the final score of Sunday's “Centennial Celebration Match” glamor friendly against Germany (2:30 pm ET, ESPN2/UniMas, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“I think just some improvement,” said midfielder Graham Zusi on Friday, when asked what the USMNT need to gain from the sellout, standing-room-only clash at RFK Stadium. “Taking what we saw from the Belgium game and improving on that. The result probably isn't the most important thing.”
There are a range of opinions as to why goals have been so scarce for coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Co. of late, and a similarly broad assortment of possible fixes.
Stuart Holden looks like one of the latter. The Bolton Wanderers man made his return to national team colors faster than anyone truly expected with his second-half cameo against Belgium, and Klinsmann may seek to increase his involvement in the hopes that he can provide a dash of energy and imagination.
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“I think it's just a little more confidence, to be honest,” said Holden, who is clearly elated to make his return after some two years away from the squad. “We have the ability, we have the talent in this team.
“We looked at a video session today, we looked at just maybe just being a bit more confident, a bit more patient on the ball, because they showed us some examples where we had really good buildup, good passes, good movement, and other times we were hesitant to play that pass in the final third or take that chance that could open up the defense.”
After Saturday's public training session at RFK, Holden told reporters Klinsmann sees him primarily as a central midfield option, which broaches the possibility of an intriguing engine-room partnership with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.
The USMNT stitched together plenty of possession on Wednesday but all too many moves sputtered out upon entry in the attacking third. So it's noteworthy that the stylistic comparisons to intricate FC Barcelona of years past have been replaced by admiration for the slashing, dashing blitzes of UEFA Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund, who share several players as well as a general ethos with the German squad that will take the pitch at RFK.
“When you watch games around the world these days, the ability of some of these teams to press and go after the ball and win the ball back in a way that means you're close to goal, and within a few passes able to get a chance, that's important,” Bradley said. “Maybe the best example this year is Borussia Dortmund. When you watch them play, at times they weren't a team that was stringing together 100 passes at a time.
“In games when the team wanted them to let them have the ball, they almost struggled a little bit,” he continued. “Their best quality was their mobility and their aggressiveness, and their willingness to put the ball forward and know that they were going to move the lines and push everybody up and then be ready for a second ball or a loose ball and be aggressive from there … Every team has a different way to go about it and we're still trying to find the best way for us.”