Let's run down the list, following the USMNT's 2-1 loss to Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinals on Wednesday:
- First time the US have been eliminated by any CONCACAF team aside from Mexico. Previous losses were all to El Tri or guest CONMEBOL teams (Brazil in '96 & '03; Colombia in '00).
- First loss to a Caribbean team - any Caribbean team - on US soil since a 1-0 loss to Haiti. In 1969.
- First loss to a Caribbean team in the Gold Cup.
- Second loss ever to Jamaica. The first came in 2012 qualifying down in Kingston.
Here's the rest of what we saw:
1. Dysfunction Junction
"Continuity" is the great equalizer in team sports. To paraphrase the great Jon Chaney: Dribbling and shooting are individual skills. Passing is a team skill, and it's the one thing that really truly connects the players.
And as you play more with the guys around you, and do so in repeated and repeatable formations, passing gets better and crisper. Teams that stay together for a long while tend to do better than those that are always chopping and changing.
To that end, the XI Jurgen Klinsmann put out on Wednesday had never started a game together before. And the USMNT hadn't started a game in the 4-2-3-1 since... well, I looked hard, and didn't quite find the answer. It was a new lineup and newish formation that the group had to figure out on the fly, rather than something they'd worked toward together for months or years.
And it led to stuff like this:
Aron Johannsson jumps away from what is literally the perfect spot to play Michael Bradley through via a wall pass. Even the build-up beforehand was herky-jerky and haphazard, though - this whole sequence was a product of Jamaican passivity, not American mastery.
I harped on Twitter about our lack of production from the run of play in official matches, which are and always have been much different from friendlies. The US go without a natural chance creator, and don't have the continuity playing together to make up for it.
Both those things are on Klinsmann's head.
2. Bermuda Triangle
I straight-up don't understand why John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado were deemed the first choice central defensive pairing for this tournament. Brooks - who is and will remain wildly talented - is and has been a liability in the air. He reliably loses the first physical confrontation of the night no matter if it's against Jamaica, Germany or any/all other comers, and while he's useful attacking set pieces he is "Hold your breath and pray!" bad at defending them.
Sometimes, that can hurt you:
Alvarado is tougher than Brooks, but still plays off his string and goes running when he needs to stay home, and doesn't quite understand the meaning of "partnership" yet. This is something that... I mean, fine, experiment with it in the group stage. Or please use a bunch of friendlies to that purpose.
But in a knockout round game...
I can't even complete that thought.
Anyway, playing Brooks and Alvarado together made no sense. Though if you're determined to do so, you'd probably want a veteran d-mid like Kyle Beckerman in front of them.
That works in theory, but not in practice. Beckerman has been very good over the last four years working himself into the national team picture, and I'll go to my grave feeling he was the best USMNT player in the group stage last summer.
But he struggles against Jamaica. They drag him everywhere at speed, and a 25-year-old Beckerman was never good "at speed." A 33-year-old Beckerman with 40,000 pro minutes on his legs was being asked to do too much too often against too many guys who were stronger and faster than him. Add in one more veteran defender back there and maybe the US get away with it... but that's not what happened.
I think @MLSAnalyst called it. You're asking a lot of Beckerman to play the pivot with you're not running a true diamond v. Jamaica.— Matthew Tomaszewicz (@shinguardian) July 22, 2015
3. The Last Resort
I love Alan Gordon. I am concerned that we may not have a young version of Alan Gordon in the USMNT pipeline. Alan Gordon is great at attacking crosses, and great at winning defensive headers, and great at doing things like this:
That is a brilliant pass - the best of the night from either team. But once Gordon went on, the US chose to skip the midfield entirely and play nothing but Route 1 soccer for the final 20 minutes:
Down a goal in a major tournament, it's time for route one to Alan Gordon #KlinsmannRevolution— Seth Vertelney (@svertelney) July 22, 2015
I love Alan Gordon, but if this is what #USMNT been reduced to?Goonie-ball ...— Paul Kennedy (@pkedit) July 22, 2015
We have Bradley, Yedlin and Zardes to shuttle defense to attack and we're literally bypassing them. It is maddening.— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) July 22, 2015
Co-signed on all of the above, especially the "maddening" part. Just because you have a great aerial presence doesn't mean you should be launching 60-yard balls at his noggin every freaking time. Messi is the greatest dribbler in the history of the game, but he doesn't take off running 1-v-1 or 1-v-3 at every opportunity.
When you have an elite specialist out there the strategy shouldn't be "go with him to the exclusion of all other options," it's "use the space his attacking gravity creates to take better advantage of your other options." If Jamaica collapse on Gordon - and they did - that leaves more room for the other guys to combine around the box. Which they didn't.
I am frustrated at that, but I don't blame the players because Gordon has not been used by Klinsmann since October of 2012! He was brought into the Gold Cup specifically in case the need for a Hail Mary arose, not to play actual soccer.
That, too, is on Klinsmann.
One more thing:
I started watching US soccer in the late 1980s. This is the third-worst loss, after Iran in the 1998 World Cup and Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final.
However, I do not yet think it's time to fire Klinsmann. While his predecessor, Bob Bradley, was fired after the 2011 flop (a decision I supported), that was as much for the fact that the US failed to get to the Confederations Cup as it was for the scoreline.
By virtue of winning the 2013 Gold Cup, the US still have a shot at qualifying for the 2017 Confeds Cup. For that right, they'll face the winner of this event (Jamaica, Panama or Mexico) in a playoff come October. If the US win, Jurgen's earned the right to take us into qualifying.
If not? I'd hope he's held to the same standards as his predecessors.
Until then, it's time for the masses to realize this: Klinsmann's results through four years have not been better than Bradley's, and they have been worse than Bruce Arena's. All while our style of play has regressed to the bad-old-days of hopeless long-balls and hopeful crosses.
And that? That's on Klinsmann as well.