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Add leadership to the elements that were missing against Belgium
by Ridge Mahoney, June 1st, 2013 12:31AM

TAGS:  belgium, men's national team


By Ridge Mahoney

If significant wins in friendlies can be discounted, shouldn’t the same apply to a resounding defeat?

Logic would say so, but little is logical when a national team aspiring to new heights takes it on the chin in a home game against a good but hardly fearsome team, as did the U.S. in a 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Is preparation, or lack of same, to blame? Belgium, prepping for a titanic World Cup qualifier next week against Serbia, took the friendly seriously enough to arrive six days prior and trained regularly up to the match. The Americans slated to play came in a day or two before and went through one session prior to kickoff, with the rest of the squad arriving later in the week.

That might explain how Belgium pounced on an early error to score in the sixth minute, and unfortunately, also gives insight into what transpired for the remainder of play. Along with a sputtering attack, porous midfield and rickety back line, the Americans also lacked an element essential to success regardless of the score or how the game is trending.

Leadership. Spirit. Determination. In the absence of Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, not to mention Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra, who rallies the troops when the game goes bad? Against Belgium, Tim Howard got vocal at times, but a keeper is stuck at one end of the field and thus his influence is minimal.

Nobody else took on the mantle of responsibility to correct the glaring flaws in positioning and hesitant play. With just one day of preparation against a solid European team, this was always to be a tough test played on the fly in which adjustment and adaptation would be crucial. The USA looked capable and organized offensively on set plays, one of which produced a nice Geoff Cameron goal from a corner kick, but during the run of play the Americans were haphazard in the first half and overrun in the second.

Central mids Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan play for successful top-division European teams, yet not only were they not in sync and breached repeatedly by balls played between them, neither stepped up to get loud and sort things out. Centerbacks often serve as organizers but Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson, beset by their own problems of staying connected with their teammates and each other, never took command either.

Players seldom bring the same fire and intensity to a friendly as they do to a qualifier or other competitive match. Beating Italy in Genoa and Mexico in Mexico City last year were historic results in the history of U.S. Soccer yet no great shock waves – head coaches fired, roster upheavals, hysterical fan reaction – were recorded. Mexico took much more seriously the 0-0 Hexagonal result in late March than it did the 2012 defeat.

Still, leadership should be a constant for players entrusted with wearing their national team shirt. On short preparation for a friendly, players are nevertheless accountable to themselves and their teammates. When a game starts to unravel, they can’t look just to the bench for inspiration and solutions, they must find the power within themselves and thus inflame their teammates.

The dearth of candidates to fill that role against Belgium points out once again that the U.S. squad is rather thin on big personalities who rise above the rest no matter the stakes or consequences. No doubt the flaccid performance against Belgium and strengthening of the squad will produce better results and greater intensity in the games to come, but those who played in Cleveland should not soon forget how tepidly they succumbed.

  1. Eric in DC
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 11:47 a.m.
    Friendlies don't matter unless you make them matter. We ran our guys, checked out a...weird back line...Omar sucked. Better against Germany. Not concerned about a loss that doesn't matter against a good team...
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 12:53 p.m.
    Under the circumstances I would expect little on field leadership out of the field players. JK has ensured by action and word that everyone is going to be concerned about how their play compares to the others. It is a friendly so the result is unimportant. Finally no one is going to want to voluntarily assume leadership responsibility for what is clearly going to be a loss. So naturally everyone is going to be concentrating on their own performance.
  1. Tyler Dennis
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 12:54 p.m.
    They are horrible and the approach is horrible. You need to have and develop a nucleus of players, a solid foundation. From that you can introduce new talent. Ridge is definitely on to a major point here. We do not have the nucleus, the stability to introduce new talent. If you change the team every game, you don't communicate to the team your expectations through the building of your nucleus, the result is the crap we have seen on the field. I'm sure the players are as confused as we are when watching this. Klinsmann may know soccer and play it, but he doesn't know what it means to build a team.
  1. miguel abisaab
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 12:57 p.m.
    Hello Ridge, well I left a comment the other day on this matter and to be honest with you who is the "leader" of this team? The "team" captain should be that leader but I don't see that with the current picks since Bocanegra and Reyna. Landon Donovan really never sold me as a national team captain, as compared to being his team captain with the Galaxy. What is more concerning is the USSF look on this? This is Sunil Gulati choice and the politics of the soccer world that come with it. I am pretty optimistic that the USMNT will get it together, especially with the roster for the Gold Cup. The absence of Adu got some young die hards "sad", and I hope he can get it together in Brasil. Well enjoy your summer take care!
  1. Jim Williams
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.
    I disagree with those who say a friendly is not important. It's WC qualifying time. You have to take every moment and use it to better your team especially when you've got a group that reminds me of a rag tag bunch of players thrown together. There is no consistency in US squads and we keep on going nowhere year after year. And if the team didn't expect a win their fans did. Or did they forget about them? We don't develop talent in the youth stage, we can't put a winning team on the field for the world stage and we are little farther than we were 10 years ago. Horrible.
  1. Aris Protopapadakis
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 3:28 p.m.
    The recent debate has been: is Jurgen remaking the team or is the team just dysfunctional. Exhibit A for dysfunctionality in Josy Altidore. Here is a guy that leads the Eredivision in goals and he "can't play" for the national team! In Holland he plays off other players; he doesn't dribble through 3-4 people to score. How is it that Jurgen hasn't found a way to use him? Exhibit A for "remaking" is?
  1. Jim Williams
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 10:11 p.m.
    Maybe individual players aren't the problem. The problem is great players can't carry the team. Everyone has to kick some ass out there or nothing will happen. And you can't progress and flow with your teammates if a new lineup is put on the field every game. Do players play better with their regular teams. Sure they do. Because they play together every game. That isn't happening here. Jurgen needs to find the best combination and soon or, if we qualify, it will be just another first round trip home from the WC. I used to be a believer but after all these years I'm losing faith fast.
  1. carl king
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 11:23 p.m.
    We are close, however we are still not ready for the rest of the world. Our women are though and have proven so.
  1. carl king
    commented on: June 1, 2013 at 11:25 p.m.
    We can however beat Guam or maybe Burma.
  1. fifi Olibares
    commented on: June 2, 2013 at 2:16 p.m.
    You don't need to go too far to understand the mentality of the American player, Omar Gonzales said after the game that just because he made a poor touch on the ball on one of the goals by Belgium didn't mean that he wouldn't do the exact same thing again. That should tell you of the lack of preparation that klinsman has on this team. it tells you that it doesn't matter if we play 100 games against el Salvador or 1 against brazil if this players are not being prepare in practice before games they will not get it. klinsman needs to go back to the established American players and go as far as they can take the team and put more effort into developing more young players with creative technical skills. I am willing to bet that the coaches he had when he was a young player or a world class player didn't use the methods that he is using now, and he turned out to be a great player. he needs to go back to basics to give his players a starting point to prepare for the world cup, because the usa will qualified weather is with him or a recreational soccer coach, because the competition in CONCACAF is really bad.

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