Imbalance in U.S. squad is disquieting

[MY VIEW] Turkey isn't going to the World Cup, but it gave a USA a good test in the Americans' 2-1 win and a few thoughts to ponder as preparations move along for the 2010 competition.

True professionals show up on game day, and in the final game of three-match tour, Turkey showed why players like Hamit Altintop, Emre Bezozoglu and Tuncay Sanli have played in some of the world’s biggest leagues.

The Turkish players run and move with purpose and intent, they tackle like they mean it, they see and create space, and take pride in every touch. They may not all play for big clubs, but they all play in a lot of big games.

To lose the ball is to lose face, to miss a tackle is a disgrace. This happens to players all the time, of course, but while physical errors can be forgiven, mental lapses are not. How good can Turkey be in a competitive environment? It finished third in the 2002 World Cup: it lost only to Brazil twice, in the group stage and again in the semifinals.

Turkey failed to qualify for the 2006 and 2010 tournaments despite that accomplishment in 2002 and a respectable cast of players, and so once again U.S. players and fans can be thankful of Concacaf, a region where the heavies usually reign and challengers fall by the wayside.

Upon taking the U.S. head coaching job back in the fall of 2006, Bob Bradley stressed the importance of winning the Gold Cup, for it qualifies the winner for the Confederations Cup and gives the USA a rare chance to test itself in a major competition outside of its region. By beating Egypt and Spain and pushing Brazil before losing, 3-2, last summer in South Africa, the Americans gained 100 times more confidence and experience than could possibly be achieved by beating Mexico, again.

Friendlies are always tricky to evaluate and assess.

Last November, the Americans lost to Slovakia, 1-0, and were pasted by Denmark, 3-1. Both of those nations are headed to South Africa. The USA didn’t field its strongest team in those games, but the same can be said of last week’s game against the Czech Republic, a 4-2 defeat at home.

Many of the U.S. players who faltered in those games aren’t going to South Africa; that’s a weeding-out process that frustrates fans who don’t see the total picture, but it must be done. There really isn’t any other way.

The relative weakness of MLS is another factor to consider. Only four MLS players made the 23-man roster, and while many more members of the squad started out in MLS, that imbalance is disquieting.

Only Landon Donovan, the best U.S. player, is a guaranteed starter amongst the MLS contingent. Jonathan Bornstein, a hero in October when his headed stoppage-time equalizer at RFK Stadium tied Costa Rica, 2-2, and pushed the USA to the Hexagonal top spot, is struggling to make his case for playing time.

Herculez Gomez looks twice the player he was in MLS, and how many midfields would be better with Jose Francisco Torres, not to mention ex-MetroStar Michael Bradley?

Robbie Findley didn’t play a great game against the Netherlands in March, but he did perform precisely as Bradley instructed him: try to get behind the defense, get wide, use speed to cause problems and force mistakes.

He didn't play against the Czech Republic, yet in training showed enough to confirm his place. When he came into the Turkey game for the second half, the defenders had to drop deeper to respect that pace, which opened up the midfield for Donovan and Bradley and Torres and Clint Dempsey to exploit.

He still lost the ball a couple of times on the dribble, yet he also lifted a wonderful chip that triggered the equalizing goal. That’s an example of the breadth of play the international game demands, and isn’t seen nearly often enough by American players in MLS.

Opportunities for players overseas will always be limited, yet as MLS expands, more and more players can get through their growing pains as pros at home.

The conditioning, physical and mental, players undergo in foreign leagues is much more intense, and for the foreseeable future, the players who head overseas and the games played against solid European and South American club and international competition will be the only reliable barometer of where our players stand.

16 comments about "Imbalance in U.S. squad is disquieting".
  1. Mike Gaynes, May 31, 2010 at 12:17 p.m.

    It's rare for me to use this three-word phrase, but... Ridge is correct. Foreign leagues remain the only reliable crucible for forging US national team players. The low-pressure, low-quality level of MLS soccer simply doesn't get the job done. With the sole exception of Landon Donovan (who at least has served in Germany and England), the MLS players have proven themselves unworthy (Bornstein, Findley), or at least unready (Clark, Goodson) and are going to the World Cup because the US simply doesn't have anyone better. It's particularly astonishing -- and ominous -- that not a single US defender has been able to push a slow, mediocre second-division player like DeMerit out of the US lineup. And the applause for Findley is almost laughable -- his so-called "wonderful" chip, his sole good moment ever in a USA shirt, is a play that any attacking player in a top-class league makes routinely, yet coming from Findley it's considered brilliance because it's so unexpected. Findley followed his assist by dribbling blindly into coverage on his next two possessions and giving the ball away, which is his normal game. He and the other MLS players in the US squad should be considered "canaries in the coal mine" in South Africa -- if they're seen on the field, the situation is dire indeed.

  2. David Mont, May 31, 2010 at 1:19 p.m.

    Well, Clark and Goodson are not MLS players.

  3. Hector Jordan, May 31, 2010 at 1:26 p.m.

    In spite of all the negative criticism MLS gets, the league is showing its growth. For a league of 15 yrs,is showing a level growing by the season,and it's starting to compare to some of the foreign leagues..true MLS has a ways to go ,but from seeing some recent games between MLS teams and international teams on tour here,with most of their top players, where the local teams have won or lost closely:DC UNITED beating ACMILAN 3-2,Red Bulls beating JUve 3-1 ,FIRE 0-1 to AC Milan,etc..,MLS is not in its infancy but in its adolescence.At this pace, in 5-10 yrs. it could be one the best leagues in the critics be positive,cause your future football star will want to play here.

  4. Charles Davenport, May 31, 2010 at 3:08 p.m.

    The MLS won't be "one of the best leagues in the world" until it gets the money to buy the best players in the world, which, considering the level of enthusiasm for futbol in the US, will not happen.

  5. Mike Gaynes, May 31, 2010 at 3:44 p.m.

    Clark has made exactly three appearances for Eintracht. Goodson is playing in a third-tier league in Norway against inferior competition. They are both essentially still MLS players, and their tactical naivete shows it. It also parallels the naivete of MLS fans who think the level of play is improving because of friendly results against out-of-season European competition. MLS has made little qualitative progress and will never, in my opinion, be one of the "best leagues in the world"... and American players will continue to be required to seek competition in the top European or Latin American leagues to achieve their potential.

  6. Lewis Curts, May 31, 2010 at 4:27 p.m.

    I agree with Mike's point of view regards quality if few players in US squad now, but can't agree when he says "simply doesn't have anyone better". It is hard to believe that in a country with 200 million people we can not find 23 futbol players that can compete in equal level to smaller nations as the Germans, Britishes or Itallians. The MLS has successefully grown, principally in the last 5 years. New teams in the League will make it even better. Here is what we need to do better to level to the World: Bring good coauches. Open minded coaches. Novak is the only one who can think outside the box in the US soccer business. Bob Bradly has no idea what to do in a game. The shame of the loss in the confederation cup is proof of it. He should be fired before leave the field that night. was Brazil, but come on!!! You are winning the game up 2 goals and instead of managing the game he kept pushing the fast pace game giving the ball back to the magician Brasillian players, who could then manage it; instead of US keeping possession and force the "stars" to chase the ball. It was an unforgiveble misteake and just a narrowed mind leadership in this country can believe that he can do any good for US Soccer. He still believes in Beasley...he must be blind. Why not Twellman? Other point just proven last Saturday. Bradley places (not first time) the best midfielder that US has playing up front. It is a waste. As soon as he moved Dempsey back to the midfield, the game changed.
    USA has players that can be up to a not mediocre but median high level, and they can be stars if they are given guidance.USA needs a coach. Bring a really good coach and this team will fly, and soccer will finaly take off in America: Felipe, Mourinho. Why not NOVAK!? South America is full of talented formar players who has the soul in the game. They can read the game better than any one of the american coaches.
    I hope we can be prepared for the next world cup...because even 4th place in South Africa, is a dream.

  7. Lewis Curts, May 31, 2010 at 4:50 p.m.

    And another thing: where is Charlie Davies, who gave new dinamic to US MNT during the confederation last year? and Brain Ching?

  8. Ted Westervelt, May 31, 2010 at 4:59 p.m.

    In 1998, MLS sent 22 players onto world cup rosters. Today, there are fewer than 7. Open league encourage the growth, and proliferation, of clubs. The growth and proliferation of clubs means more clubs scouring the land for hidden talent to fill more rosters. Meanwhile, in the United States, our closed leagues have been busy trying to kill each other off for a century. Once we set the bar higher than first div survival, we will do better.

  9. Barry Ulrich, May 31, 2010 at 6:05 p.m.


    Where have you been? Charlie Davies was in a car crash and nearly died! His French team did not deem him sufficiently recovered to release him to the US.

  10. Lewis Curts, May 31, 2010 at 7:33 p.m.

    Barry: now I remember..forgive me.
    Still... Isn't there anybody better than Beasley? This guy has already proven that he chicken when play under pressure. I am not saying playing against mediocre Mexico, but in the world's strongest nations. I can't forgive Bruce Arena for keeping him and Mike Mc Bride in the 2006 World Cup, while they were not playing well.

  11. Dennis Mueller, May 31, 2010 at 9:11 p.m.

    Lewis, Get real. Novak is the most negative coach in MLS. His team appears to be built around the concept of hard defending first. His MLS team was awarded a red cards in each of the first three games and he has shown little sign of stopping to encourage hard tackles and negative tactics. His team has averaged only 4 shots on goal per game. South American stars as a coach, really? Maradona, unquestionably one of the bright players in the last 20 years nearly failed to get Argentina through qualifying, Argentina! Be realistic, Davies can't play due to injury, Twellman played only 16 games last year due to injury, and only a few this year and is presently out with a concussion. Beasley has definitely had off years, and suffered his share of injuries, but seems to have put that behind him and looked good vs the Czechs and in the training camp. Bradley did take the leading MLS scorers in the last season and this year and one who tied for the lead in the Mexican league. When was the last time Ching managed that? (or Twellman?)
    Get a clue!

  12. Cary Nelson, June 1, 2010 at 1:04 p.m.

    Yo Dennis!!! You are right on the Money.. about Beasley!! I can't understand "Why" DMB... gets so much crap,from Far-weather USA fans like Lewis!!! The Guy "DMB" has almost a 100 Caps for the Nat'l Team! DMB,Landy and Oguchi.... all have been on a Nat'l team roster "Since" 1999 via U-17! DMB... is a Player!!!

  13. Robert Kiernan, June 1, 2010 at 7:21 p.m.

    Well first off... Coach Bradley and his staff have STILL YET to come up with a viable answer on our left flank, the LB has been a consistent problem now for well over a year and the fact that the answer given was just to keep Bornstein and bring back Pearce, now cut... shows just how poor our situation really is!
    That players like Edgar Castillo and Frank Simec were given little or no chance to try out for the wing fullback spot and instead we've seen fit to play Bocanegra, who obviously looks more like a CB moved wide...or Bornstein, who is simply a menace out there... tells me we are in very real trouble here. Hey if they were going to bring back a player from the past to play out on the left, why didn't we try say Bobby Convey? But to stick with Pearce and Bornstein tells far too much about how thin our team is defensively right now... seven defenders is cutting it VERY thin.
    Simply fact... we have several players coming off injury and not to put too fine a point on the matter, but what do we do if Onyewu, Bocanegra, DeMerit are all injured at the same time???

  14. karl ortmertl, June 1, 2010 at 8:56 p.m.

    Good news. The MLS won't miss a beat this month with only four players in the world cup. Bad news - no one is going to be watching while the world cup is on. Anyway, the MLS is going about things the right way. It will always be a feeder league because there is minimal interest in soccer in the U.S. ==> there will never be any money for it to be anything more. So enjoy it for what it is.

  15. Juan R, June 1, 2010 at 11:45 p.m.

    The only way MLS becomes a world class league is if CONCACAF and CONMEBOL merge their Champions League equivalents. Otherwise it will always be a feeder league. Who wants to win just MLS Cup and CONCACAFs Champions League??? You want to just be a part of the UEFA Chamions League. Anyway, MLS needs promotion/relegation to just get to a tier 2 league. I would say its still in the third tier. Yes, MLS is going about things the right way and they have plenty of opportunity to grow. Plenty! GO Yanks!

  16. Bret Newman, June 2, 2010 at 4:48 a.m.

    This is a mute point! The only reason why there are so few MLS players going to the world cup, is because several of these world cup players use to be in the MLS. As soon as any player does well in the MLS, they are taken by other leagues in Europe. And most of these players would have made the world cup team regardless if they were still in the MLS or Europe. For example, Dempsey would still be on the team, even if he still played for the Revs.

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