Saturday was a dark day for the U.S. Men's National Team. What started with a devastating blow to the U.S.'s Olympic hopes when the U-23s were upset by Honduras 2-0, ended with a gut-wrenching 3-2 loss to Mexico that will keep the U.S. out of the 2017 Confederations Cup. I'll leave the U-23s and the Olympics out of this synopsis, but here are my thoughts in the aftermath of USA-Mexico.
1) Where was Clint Dempsey? The former U.S. captain, and squad's current leading scorer, was a complete non-factor against El Tri. And while part of that is because the U.S. never had the ball, the part that concerns me is that he just always seemed to be walking, and seemed out of it the whole game. He had some good moments, for sure, but considering how big this game was, and who he is, I would've expected a lot more. It got to the point where I was expecting Klinsmann to pull Dempsey from the game for Wondo. Now admittedly I'm a bigtime Wondo homer, but I know I wasn't the only one who saw Dempsey's lack of impact on the match. Fun fact, Dempsey has NEVER, in his 12 years with the USMNT, scored against Mexico. It's apples and oranges, but Landon Donovan scored against Mexico 5 times including 2014 World Cup Qualifying, the 2011 Gold Cup, and the 2002 World Cup.
2) The U.S. team is not a young one. Ok, maybe they're not OLD either, but consider the age of some of the guys we trotted out there on Saturday: DaMarcus Beasley (33), Kyle Beckerman (33), Clint Dempsey (32), Jermaine Jones (33), Geoff Cameron (30), and Brad Evans (30) are all on the wrong side of 30. Safe to say, a good chunk of this group won't be around in 2018. We're now a year post-2014, and a month away from the start of the 2018 World Cup Qualifying cycle, and you just have to wonder, what direction are we going? We have younger players in the wings, when are we going to give them a chance?
3) This team seems to lack fitness and toughness. I thought it was pretty evident that by the end of the match, the U.S. team looked pretty gassed. Now I know it was a 120 minute match, and it was hot, and Michael Bradley doesn't count, but the U.S. team (Jones, Dempsey, Altidore, Beasley, etc) just looked run down. Now again, part of that is because we spent 90 of the 120 minutes chasing the ball, but for a team whose identity always stemmed around athleticism and toughness, I felt like we lacked that for the most part against Mexico. And maybe even all summer. As for toughness, I'm not necessarily just talking about most guys lacking Jermaine Jones' physicality, but the mental toughness as well. I already spoke on Dempsey, but now you have reports that Fabian Johnson checked himself out of the match in extra time despite no apparent injury, and he's subsequently been sent home by Jurgen Klinsmann to reassess his approach to USMNT soccer or something like that. So there's that. This was a HUGE match, and if that's the way we had guys approaching it... I dunno... Yes, we battled back from deficits twice, which is great, but we also benefitted from a number of missed chances by the Mexican attack, a handball on Matt Besler that went uncalled, and solid play by Brad Guzan. I don't want to say we deserved to lose, because that's not really fair, but we didn't play like a team that expected to win.
4) How much of the blame should lie with Klinsmann? Certainly some, but at the end of the day, he doesn't play the game. And if you're going to place blame on him for how his players perform, then you also have to give him credit for pushing some of the right buttons. It was, after all, his first two substitutes, Yedlin and Wood, who combined to score the second goal for the U.S. That said, I don't feel like he prepared this group well for this match. How many matches had this group played together since the World Cup? Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler were left off the Gold Cup roster, and they were the starting center backs. We brought DaMarcus Beasley out of retirement, essentially to play in this match. Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson were both playing out of position. The fact that we keep trotting out different combinations and formations without ever really settling on something and honing in on a lineup is concerning, and I think that hurt us.
5) Where do we go from here? Hopefully, we go younger. The Costa Rica match is an opportunity to start building towards next month's match against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It's a match we should win by half a dozen goals, but we need to approach it with a sense of urgency instead of a desire for experimentation. With any luck, the group we start today will align with who starts a month from now. Here's how I would line up: GK - Brad Guzan, LD - Brek Shea, CD - Geoff Cameron, CD- Ventura Alvarado, RD - DeAndre Yedlin, LM - Alejando Bedoya, CM - Mix Diskerud, CM - Danny Williams, RM - Gyasi Zardes, FWD - Jozy Altidore, FWD - Bobby Wood.