We’ve seen plenty of CONCACAF matches just like that USMNT loss in Jamaica on Friday night: physical, scrappy, disjointed rough-and-tumble affairs.
And those are the games where you need the magical play. Those are the scrums where you need the player who can stand out and make something out of nothing.
Right now the US doesn’t have that go-to guy. Especially when Landon Donovan is not on the field (he’s missing out on the Jamaica home-and-home due to a hamstring injury). Donnie Moore's phonebook-tearing techniques can only take you so far.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT was exposed in Kingston for what it really is: a collection of solid role players who ply their trade in Europe and Mexico. Good overall pros who are not even the undisputed stars of their own club teams. Each does some things better than others, but there’s not one field player who excels at a single facet of the game. No one without gloves who can decide a match with a dominant skill.
Who’s the expert dribbler on the team? Who’s the explosive speedster who can at least draw a foul when he can’t run by someone? Who’s the master free-kick taker? Who’s the head-ball specialist feared by opposing defenders? A passing maestro anyone? How about a pinpoint crosser of the ball?
The USMNT needed someone to pull a rabbit out of a hat against Jamaica becase the team game just wasn’t there. The passing and the movement were not synced up. It wasn’t happening. And they had no one to turn to. The man in which the USA usually confides in moments of despair was watching from home.
Maybe we have taken him for granted. Maybe we thought the golden boy would always be a boy. But injuries are slowly eating away at Landon Donovan’s career. The passing of the years have eroded his exuberant presence on the field. Even Donovan has hinted at it: A future without LD is closer than you think.
Despite their glaring deficiency, the USMNT and Klinsmann will keep on truckin'. Their heart and optimism, courage and fight, is praised around the world. They’ll show that never-say-die spirit even when the scoreline is unforgiving (see Brazil). They’ll punch above their weight sometimes and gut out a win (see Italy). They’ll hammer the inferior teams (see Scotland).
But all the other stuff in the middle – those evenly matched mucks – will continue to produce results like Kingston, Jamaica every so often. It’s just the reality when you don’t have the one player who can tip the balance of a match.
However, that sold-out Columbus Crew Stadium crowd on Tuesday – that might just be enough to take the stars-and-stripes over the top in the scrappy rematch that ensues. More importantly, home field could be enough to sway a key referee call or even win a penalty kick that decides the match.
All is not lost. Even without a superstar.