Thoughts on the national team? Eric Wynalda has a few. In a wide-ranging interview the night before the USA faced Guatemala Tuesday in the last game of its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, the former international gave his thoughts on the current squad, the work of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and the rigors of CONCACAF qualifying.
Soccer America: What do you expect from the game Tuesday? How will Guatemala play?
Eric Wynalda:What I would say about this game is just because we’re at home and it’s a good field, does not mean that the game’s going to very different. They’re going to make it as ugly as they possibly can. Four across the back, one or two dropped into the middle, and then they’ll block it off again. A 4-1-4-1 is the way they’ll play and you have to go around them, you can’t go through them. They drop so far back and they crowd it up. They make you either be Barcelona, or Stoke, and we don’t have a Peter Crouch.
Soccer America: So without Xavi and Andres Iniesta, not to mention Crouch, what’s the approach to break them down?
Eric Wynalda: The goal that Eddie [Johnson] got the other night wasn’t too dissimilar from how we were able to score a couple of goals during the qualification process [for the 1998 World Cup] against Costa Rica and Trinidad.[Thomas] Dooley snuck in there and got a header because they don’t know how to hold their line. That is their weakness and we have to exploit it. Just look back and see how many goals Brian McBride and Brian Ching used to score floating in between those two guys during the re-adjust. They cannot figure it out. Inswingers kill them. I scored a goal against Guatemala in the Gold Cup on a ball from Claudio [Reyna], same damn thing. Inswinger from the left side. It’s a problem for them and we have to be ready for them. If we have the same forwards we did we’ll get chances. It’s going to be an ugly 20 or 30 minutes. I’m pissed off that we won’t have [Jermaine] Jones, because he’s suspended, but I still think the team will have some bite.
Soccer America: Everybody has a selection suggestion. What’s yours?
Eric Wynalda: I’m not too worried about what lineup we put out there. It’s the attitude, the attitude has to be right. There has to be urgency created from the center of the park. If we get ahead of these weak teams we have to destroy them. If we beat Antigua 6-0 in the first game [a 3-1 USA win in June] there’s no discussion right now. No matter what Jamaica does and what we do, we’re in. When we smell blood, we have to be ruthless. I want us to stick the knife in and twist it.
Soccer America: Every qualification round new stories emerge about the horrors of CONCACAF qualifying. Give us one from your memory bank.
Eric Wynalda: Those games are ridiculous. I remember when we played Jamaica , we tied them, 0-0, and I had a couple of chances. I hit a shot that I tried to keep low, and honest to God, it hit an anthill a little bit to the right of the goal, and bounced up and hit the keeper in the chin and went wide. We had a corner kick, and while I was standing there, I was attacked by fire ants and we had to stop the game and I had to get them off my leg. Welcome to qualifying.
Soccer America: In Antigua, the two U.S. goals came from off restarts. That seems to be typical of these games.
Eric Wynalda: You get in those games, the playbook for these games for a forward is to get on the ball as close as you can to the 18-yard box and get fouled. You’re not going to be able to dribble anybody because the field is so bad, and crossing the ball is sometimes not an option. Look at Graham Zusi, nobody in our league can cross a ball better than that guy, and he was one for 12 [Friday]. Okay, two for 12. It’s a hard deal, it just is. Your best options are corner kicks and free kicks and that’s how you get through these things. Everybody’s going to complain and blame the coach, but you have one or two plays that decide the game and you have to show your quality. That’s it. It’s difficult to watch. It’s a hell of a lot more difficult to watch than it is to play in them, because when you play in them you understand why it’s so bad. But when I had to sit here Friday night and watch that I felt for them, but I’m like everybody else: I’m throwing stuff at the TV and saying, “C’mon guys!”
Soccer America: Assuming the USA advances to the Hexagonal, what does the coach need to do next year in addition to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup?
Eric Wynalda: You look at some of the better teams around the world, and nine of the 11, if they’re fit, you can lock them in. That’s what he needs to do. Certain guys need to be pushed a little bit and those are conversations he needs to have with each one of them, individually. If you want to experiment, that’s fine, you can integrate those guys later on in the process. Forget about 22 or 23, I need to know who my 12 or 13 guys are. It’s hard, because you’re going to have to fall in love with a few guys hoping that the guys behind them are pushing them. Let that process take care of itself, but it’s time to pick the team.
Soccer America: How much talent is in the national team pool?
Eric Wynalda: I think this is a very, very good team. It has every capability to be a team that has gone further than we ever have before. I really believe that. I think is a really good group. I think Jurgen has a pretty good idea of who his key performers are going to be. I don't know what the [Jozy] Altidore problem is. I don’t understand it, I would have brought him in, I would have played him every damn minute. When that kid’s scoring goals, that’s when you play him. If he’s trying to work through it, we don’t let the U.S. national team be his practice ground. That’s not how it works. Otherwise, I’m happy. I’m usually miserable, but I’m happy.