Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Open Letter To US Fans and Pundits: Reactions to The USMNT v Canada Match

To Whom it May Concern:

There are all sorts of ways to evaluate a team's performance in any given soccer match. Some people use diagrams and arrows indicating general player position on the pitch and patterns of play, some just write about the match in general, and some people opt for the old reliable, yet incredibly subjective, 1-10 rating of player performance. I was toying with all of these forms of analysis last night while watching the US Men's National team take on Canada at Houston's new soccer specific stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium, but I eventually scrapped all of that midway through the second half of what eventually ended as a 0-0 draw.

Said scrapping took place right about the time I hopped on Twitter to see what was being said about the match. You would have thought ESPN2 was actually broadcasting Jurgen Klinsmann and his USA C squad ritualistically defacing the Constitution and bludgeoning puppies with 2X4s. All the talk before the match centered around this being a chance for pool players well down the pecking order to get a run out with the national side and an opportunity for Klinsmann and his staff to evaluate individual capabilities.

Instead, fans and pundits alike, were busy making loud noises about how awful the quality of play was and how dire the state of US soccer that a national team couldn't beat lowly Canada in a home match. It strikes me that this is a little like going to your kid's high school play and being pissed that it isn't Broadway caliber or even watching a 4th NFL preseason game and drawing all sorts of negative conclusions about your team's chances to win the Superbowl.

Calm the @$#! down.

Of last night's starting XI, maybe two or three players who donned the US jersey are going to get significant minutes during the Hex. Of those, there's a very real possibility that none of them will feature at all if and when the US qualifies for the 2014 World Cup Finals. Realistically, many of the players in last night's team were just playing for another call up to camp and nothing more. Granted, the match was not pleasing on the eye, and that's an understatement, but there were a number of bright spots that should give US fans some hope that the squad has options and depth in certain areas. Kyle Beckerman was tireless in his role as a box-to-box midfielder; Juan Agudelo looked sharp in the attack; Matt Besler and Justin Morrow got forward well, although their final ball left a lot to be desired; and Omar Gonzalez did enough to suggest that he could be a viable option in the future as a partner to Geoff Cameron in central defense. To borrow from Robert De Niro's Untouchables speech, last night was essentially a time for individual achievement. Let's not beat the team or Klinsmann to death with a baseball bat because they couldn't get a win in an entirely meaningless match.

In some ways, the comprehensive outrage during and immediately following the match is a good sign that the USMNT is progressing to a point that they're expected to win all CONCACAF matches regardless the team that is fielded or the importance of the encounter. However, let's not pull an England and suddenly delude ourselves into thinking that we should win just because we are who we are. Canada parked the bus and we had zero success breaking them down, but it's not like even the highest quality national sides aren't prone to failing at this as well (see: every team Greece played in the 2004 European Championships, Manchester City yesterday, and Arsenal with alarming frequency).

It also strikes me as fairly ironic that some of the performances US fans and pundits coo over as all time great wins stem from playing exactly the kind of defense first, counterattacking style the Canadians tried to employ last night. There were the Italy and Mexico matches last year and the Spain match in the 2009 Confederations Cup.

In terms of tactics and personnel, I have every reason to believe that Klinsmann could have fielded a side last night that would have beaten Canada, but that's not what this match was about. CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying is a long, arduous, difficult slog and vanity wins over Canada aren't going to make that slog any easier. What does help is vetting young talent and knowing just what your capabilities are three, four, and even five players deep, even, and especially if, it turns out those players are just not quite yet up to snuff. Here's to hoping everyone has taken a deep breath.


Grass In The Sky

PS Still would have been nice to get that win though.        

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