You've got to know when to strike
Major League Soccer might have the best goalkeepers pound-for-pound than any other league in the world. It's an obvious strength. Strikers are another story. You see, we know how to destroy. We don't know how to create. It's that simple.
It's coaching. I think the biggest issue that I see right now with our forwards is that, too many times, a very talented player will lose himself either because he doesn't stick to his strengths and he tries to be something he's not, or he has somebody telling him to be something that he's not. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. I can give you five prime examples.
First, can someone please tell me what position New England Revolution's Clint Dempsey plays? He has shown us a very gritty style, a willingness to get forward and the ability to score goals. And, of course, he's willing to do the work in the midfield because he's young and enthusiastic. Still, I hope a defined position is in the future for him before he becomes average at everything, as opposed to being great at what he's good at. He should play in the offensive third all of the time. Look at the numbers: Why put José Cancela in front of Dempsey? What position does Dempsey want to play, anyway? Maybe somebody at some time will ask that question.
Next, we have the most well documented, well known talent in the league: Landon Donovan. He's played in the midfield and he's played up front. There is no doubt in my mind that with his ability and his speed, he's a midfielder. There is nobody right now - I mean nobody - who makes a run from deep in the midfield through the back line of any defense better than Donovan. Despite the fact that he has paired so well with Brian McBride on the national team and with Brian Ching on the Earthquakes, it is only when he plays with someone like either of the Brians that he works well up top. Donovan playing up front with Dwayne De Rosario? No. Donovan playing up front with Clint Mathis? No. One of the issues that Landon will always deal with - and one of the reasons I think he makes a better midfielder - is his size.
Since we're on the subject of size, D.C. United's Freddy Adu is listed at 5-foot-8-inches, 140 pounds. He is a talented, skillful fast midfielder. End of story. Unfortunately for Freddy, people will always expect goals out of him, and learning to appreciate the raw talent of Freddy Adu is more important than a stat sheet right now.
Another guy who fits the bill is the Chicago Fire's Nate Jaqua. Jaqua's situation is a little different, and I can't help but feel for this guy because his coaches are doing exactly what my coaches did to me. What a lot of people don't realize is that in the 106 times I played for my country, over 50 of them, I played in the midfield. By the way, I never scored one goal from the midfield. So this is an issue that's close to my heart. When the Chicago Fire are healthy, Ante Razov and Damani Ralph are the forwards. But, Jaqua has trained well enough and played well enough to earn a spot in the starting XI. In this case, Jaqua's versatility is killing him. Just because players can do things - such as playing in the midfield - does not mean that they should do them. Jaqua is a forward and a pretty good one. The fact that he's been splitting time going back and forth from midfield to forward has confused him, and he's not developing into the player that he can be because of it.
Los Angeles Galaxy defender Chris Albright is probably the clearest illustration of not understanding a player's talents from the beginning. Being big, strong and fast doesn't always mean you should be a forward. His move to right back, which was a collaborated effort between Sigi Schmid and Bruce Arena, turned out to be a pretty damn good one. Without a doubt, Albright is a very good soccer player. It's unfortunate for him that it took this long to figure out a position for him.
With the league's goalkeepers, there really isn't much to elaborate on. MLS has Joe Cannon, Tony Meola, Pat Onstad, Matt Reis (you might not have noticed him), Kevin Hartman, Jonny Walker Henry Ring, Jeff Cassar, and even Troy Perkins and Jon Busch. All of these guys are good. There are guys on the bench in MLS who are good enough to start. The Burn's Scott Garlick isn't playing right now. Adin Brown of the Revolution isn't playing right now. I think it's pretty safe to say we've got the goalkeeper thing figured out. They're the one commodity we have that we should never be shy about selling. It's a numbers game. We're producing a lot of great goalkeepers and there aren't enough positions. But, like I said, strikers are a different story.
This week's match-up: San Jose at New England (Tape-delayed at 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2): Last week, I openly criticized New England for not being fit. Let me clarify that for those who had a problem with me pointing that out. New England has been unlucky with injuries all year, and it's been difficult for them to play and train themselves fit. Whether it's Taylor Twellman's hamstring, Brian Kamler's hamstring, Dempsey's jaw, Brown's concussion and now Joey Franchino's hip, untimely injuries are killing this team. You can commend these guys on the heart that they have shown up to this point.
Still, if the Revs can't beat the Earthquakes - who are missing Landon, Ching, Onstad and De Rosario - they do not deserve to be in the playoffs, end of story. This weekend is their chance to prove that they still want to make the playoffs this year.
The Revolution are at home Saturday and they will have their largest crowd of the year, thanks to the U.S. national team's World Cup qualifier against El Salvador. The Revs are in last place, and if they don't come out motivated from the first minute to the last, then I don't want to see them in the playoffs, and I'm not sure anybody else does either. Saying all that, I hope they come out and show everyone the team that they can be. San Jose is not going to roll over. They'll definitely fight. This game is a true test of character for the New England Revolution. We'll see if they have what it takes.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He can be reached at email@example.com. He will be inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame during the Oct. 9-11 weekend. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.