Join Now | 
HomeAboutContact UsPrivacy & SecurityAdvertise
Soccer America DailySoccer World DailySpecial EditionAround The NetSoccer Business InsiderCollege Soccer ReporterYouth Soccer ReporterSoccer on TVSoccer America ClassifiedsGame Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalkSoccer America ConfidentialYouth Soccer InsiderWorld Cup Watch
RSS FeedsArchivesManage SubscriptionsSubscribe
Order Current IssueSubscribeManage My SubscriptionRenew My SubscriptionGift Subscription
My AccountJoin Now
Tournament CalendarCamps & AcademiesSoccer GlossaryClassifieds
A wish list for the 2013 U.S. finale
by Ridge Mahoney, November 18th, 2013 5:04PM

TAGS:  men's national team


By Ridge Mahoney

Here’s what I’d like to see during the last USA match of 2013, a friendly against Austria Tuesday in Vienna:

NO INJURIES. This is as basic a request as it gets in competitive sport, and the main reason so many people -- fans, coaches, players, pundits -- would do away with friendlies altogether. They can be important tests for players and coaches but there's always a risk of injury.

While players are rarely injured in friendlies, it happens. (Germany may have lost Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira for the World Cup with a knee injury Friday against Italy.) The U.S. game against Austria could be an important one for midfielder Brek Shea, whose career was threatened last July when he suffered a knee injury playing for Stoke City in a friendly against Philadelphia.

Shortly after Shea scored a goal, Matt Kassel crunched him in a bad tackle. He left the field on crutches. The sprained MCL he suffered sidelined him for a month, and he’s been scraping for playing time with Stoke since regaining fitness. Given the long-running injury sagas of Stuart Holden and Steve Cherundolo, and the dings that kept Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan off the roster, for the last two games of 2013 the U.S. needs a smooth finale.

So, let’s have a game without bad tackles, flailing elbows, hospital balls and head-on collisions.

GUZAN IN GOAL. He’s the No. 2 behind Tim Howard, but he needs action in case suspension or injury or poor form necessitates a change in the nets. He stuck it out for a long time on the Villa bench before earning the starter’s jersey and is thus fulfilling the proclamation of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann that club playing time is imperative for national team players.

Plus, he’s a very good goalie -- solid temperament, sharp leadership skills, quick reactions, safe hands, unbounded courage --- and a fantastic representative for the American squad. He deserves at least a half.

MORE SACHA. Deployed against Scotland in an unfamiliar role -- in the hole behind lone striker Jozy Altidore -- midfielder Sacha Kljestan played a conservative game and by drifting away from goal pulled himself out of the attack. The incisive attacking play he was expected to provide seldom materialized; instead, he reverted to more of a third central midfielder alongside Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.

During his days at Chivas USA, neither of his head coaches -- Bob Bradley and Preki -- thought he brought enough range and effort to give him extended time as the attacking catalyst. He often played out wide and thus drifted inside whenever possible. When Bradley took over the national team, the song remained the same, yet it must be said Kljestan also gave a few lackluster showings in the center. He’s a much more mature player now than he was then.

He plays in the middle for Anderlecht, but as a deeper-lying link player who gets forward selectively. In Belgium he’s added tactical awareness and defensive discipline to his remarkable skills. A regular starting spot for the USA is probably beyond him, but off the bench he can handle the essential elements of midfield play: aiding the attack, maintaining possession and fending off the opponent. Maybe he plays one of the central roles with Mix Diskerud in the attacking slot, eh?

MORE OF THESE GUYS, TOO. There aren’t many choices at left mid and Shea can burst and dribble past players to threaten the goal with a cross or shot. His rangy ruggedness enables him to handle the physical demands. His struggles at Stoke notwithstanding, he brings attributes to a position that’s been a problem area for the USA.

Aron Johannsson, with all of five caps, is already a favorite of American fans and with good reason. He just turned 23 and looks the part of a shrewd forward well-steeped in the nuances of timing, positioning and anticipating. He can move fluidly and effectively on and off the ball and shoots well with either foot. He just might have the right skill set to play as a lone forward, underneath a striker, or in some kind of hybrid role.

Edin Dzeko, one of the top strikers in Europe, gave defender John Brooks a rough time in the BiH game but he does that against just about everybody. A World Cup team needs at least four good centerbacks and if Klinsmann does give Geoff Cameron a shot at right back or in midfield or an injury crops up, there’s another available slot in the middle.

EURO WIN. Friendly victories in Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia since Klinsmann took over may not amount to much in a global sense, but the stark fact is that for most American players, every game against a European national team is a vital educational tool.

Watching Johansson is an indicator of what a player learns in Europe even if he doesn’t start out in a top league; he played in Denmark before joining up with AZ in the Netherlands last summer.

(Next year, how about a “thank you” USA-Iceland friendly?)

  1. Joe Goss
    commented on: November 18, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.
    Getting Guzan a half would be a pretty big wish, considering he is not on the roster.
  1. Eric Schmitt
    commented on: November 18, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.
    Um, Ridge? Guzan isn't even with the team right now. He's nursing an injury. Oops.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now



Recent Soccer America Confidential
Year of parity marks 20th MLS season    
There are certainly some poor teams in MLS this season for which parity seems a long ...
MLS: Best of September    
More brilliance from the Atomic Ant, another top forwar.d robbed by the league's all-time shutout king, ...
Sporting KC isn't about to rest on its impressive laurels    
There is a lot to like about Sporting Kansas City. Its ownership group has built one ...
Does the Open Cup final need a home, too?    
Since closing of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame building in Oneonta, N.Y,. five years ago, ...
MLS home teams are winning at a near-record pace    
Has the rapid pace of MLS expansion and corresponding increase in soccer-specific stadiums translated into better ...
MLS stars align at just the right time    
September was a crazy month in MLS. Not once but in two consecutive weeks the top ...
Western Conference race merits attention from all MLS fans, regardless of loyalties    
By expanding its playoff field from five teams per conference to six, MLS has broadened interest ...
The case for and against a summer off    
We should know soon enough whether the Copa Centenario goes ahead as planned -- the final ...
My 23 for Mexico    
Just about every U.S. fan is anxious to see who will be picked to face Mexico ...
Fire plagued with questions in aftermath of latest shakeup    
Who in their right minds would be encouraged by yet another shakeup at the Chicago Fire?
>> Soccer America Confidential Archives