Commentary

USA's Identity Crisis

Sure, it was a game that didn’t really matter, but it was also a game that nobody really wanted to see, either. Despite the appearance of the U.S. men’s national team in the Gold Cup third-place game against Panama on Saturday, Fox Sports decided to keep the match on its also-ran station, FS2, opting to show Nascar on FS1, instead. Meanwhile, the stadium, the Philadelphia Union’s 18,500-capacity PPL Park, was only about two-thirds full.

But then again, what did you expect? This is America, after all. We’re not into third-place games.

Nevertheless, it was another worrying performance from Jurgen Klinsmann’s men. In fact, it was rather like re-watching the USA’s World Cup round of 16 defeat to Belgium last summer, the night where Tim Howard, with a World Cup record 13 saves, single-handedly kept his team in a game where his outfielders had unilaterally failed to assert themselves. Indeed, once again, a goalkeeper was by far the USA’s best player on the night, as Brad Guzan made 10 saves, some of them mightily impressive, too.

Of course, this was Panama, ranked No. 62 in the world by FIFA. Belgium is currently third.

Worse, Panama was without usual starting forwards Luis Tejada and Blas Perez, yet it still managed to outshoot the USA 25-5. But then again—and here’s the really worrying thing about this tournament—so did just about everyone else. 

As MLSSoccer.com’s Armchair Analyst points out, if you take out the 6-0 drubbing of Cuba in the quarterfinal as a kind of outlier, the U.S. was outshot in the rest of its Gold Cup games by a margin of 85-47. Now, 20 of those shots came against Jamaica in the semifinal, leaving just 27 to spread across four games, including two 1-1 draws against Panama, the 2-1 opener against Honduras and the second game, 1-0 against Haiti.

When you look at the USA’s tournament from that standpoint, its kind of a miracle that Klinsmann’s men got as far as they did, really, because unless your team defends extremely well—and we know the USA does not—, you generally lose in soccer when your opponents create so many more chances than you do.

So how did we get here?

We’ve already touched somewhat on the question of personnel. To be sure, Klinsmann made some poor choices in picking his squad, especially in defense, but Off The Post believes that the bigger problem was the lack of tactical continuity, because when so many players perform this badly, it’s because either they’re not accustomed to whom they’re playing with, or they don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing. 

As the Armchair Analyst noted, this USA hadn’t fielded the same starting eleven in consecutive games since 2014. And often, the system would change, too. It started at the beginning of the year. Instead of using the USA’s formidable run of friendly opponents to prepare for the Gold Cup, Klinsmann tried using everyone under the sun.

This lack of continuity in the build-up to, and then later, during, a big tournament, can be very jarring for players -- especially young players -- and it has proved to be for the USA in this Gold Cup. Perhaps feeling backed against the wall by the poor performances of certain individuals, Klinsmann tinkered throughout the Gold Cup, too, giving opportunities to everyone in the squad, but this seems to have backfired on him. 

Endless tinkering can have the adverse effect of showing players that no one—with the exception of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Guzan -- ever really had the coach’s confidence. Players notice that. It also precludes the uncertain ones from finding the rhythm (read: the confidence) that is so important to find in a big tournament. Sometimes it takes a few games (see: USA Women, Lloyd, Carli) At this Gold Cup, only Dempsey and Guzan really achieved that.

Ironically, the only area where Klinsmann mostly persisted with the same players was the back four. But this also backfired on him. Here, he truly had a personnel problem. But then again, in picking his squad, the German went with promise instead of experience in an area of the field where most coaches feel that it’s always safest to, well, play it safe. 

With all of that in mind, this USA team looked unprepared, mentally at sea and thus, lacking an identity. In order to beat Mexico in the Confederations Cup playoff on Oct 9, Klinsmann needs to use the next few friendlies as serious preparation, and he needs to be decisive. He should start by bringing back some leadership and experience in the defense, and then in midfield and up top he needs to bet on his horses and persist with the same squad and the same system, only making minor tweaks where necessary. This team needs to finds itself, and quickly, or it’s not going to the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017.
33 comments about "USA's Identity Crisis ".
  1. Will Murphy, July 27, 2015 at 9:20 p.m.

    Let's relax a bit here. Did we not just beat the Netherlands and Germany? I understand it wasn't full squads but winning against teams like that in their home country does still make a statement. We were not at our best in the Gold cup but I wouldn't call for DEF con 4 just yet.

  2. David Mont, July 27, 2015 at 9:50 p.m.

    Great, soon we'll be awarded the title of world champions in friendlies. Who needs world cups or gold cups!

  3. Mark Konty, July 27, 2015 at 10:24 p.m.

    Take a deep breath people, all of this "continuity" nonsense is just armchair managing. These guys are pros, do you really think they're sitting there thinking "golly, the coach didn't pick me last game, but now he's starting me and I don't know what to do" then he goes out and plays a crappy game. Any athlete on any team should be ready to go when called on by the coach. I think soccer is the only sport where I hear people talk about intangible things like "continuity" or "being in the flow of a game." It's all rubbish. Plenty of team sports regularly rotate players and it works just fine. Can you imagine a hockey forward thinking "the coach doesn't have any confidence in me" as he goes over the boards? I'll buy the argument that our two best center backs are not Brooks and Alveres, but lay off this inane pop psychobabble.

  4. Joe Linzner, July 27, 2015 at 10:28 p.m.


    Lack of confidence, lack of continuity?? How about lack of talent??? Has anyone watched first touches, Basics, like stepping towards the ball instead of waiting for it, shielding the ball while dribbling, pursuit after losing the ball, positioning and movement off the ball.....All that was missing this entire tournament. Personally I would like Klinsmann to sack this entire team and revert to the under 20s,21s. This team is too fixed in playing at a pace where any team with pace will beat them...Mexico will eat us up....... Even Guzan has developed stone hands and his positioning was suspect against Jamaica. Mexico exhibited desire, played with pace an were levels above Jamaica...... We lack the basics and have languished too long at playing with athleticism and conditioning. Seems the rest of CONCACAF has caught up and now we lack the advantage we used to have. Being technically deficient we are being out performed. Both physically and technically. Is that a coach's fault?? Perhaps, but not in my opinion.

  5. Kent James, July 27, 2015 at 10:35 p.m.

    Mark, confidence is a crucial, yet elusive part of sports. Many people have tremendous physical talent, but "choke" or otherwise have a failure of nerve when they need to be steadiest. It was risky for JK to constantly change the line-up and always bring in new players, but I think Ross is right; it came back to bite him. Any competitive athlete wants to play in every game (unless they're tired or injured), so not playing, unless it is managed properly, can have a negative impact. It may not manifest itself in obvious ways, but when athletes start to second guess themselves, which losing a starting spot can certainly encourage, the results are not good. Yes, they're professional athletes, so generally they have a good mentality, but they are also human.

  6. Thomas Brannan, July 27, 2015 at 11:20 p.m.

    I guess it is time for my occasional comment. Concerning some of the above comments.
    1) Whether you like him or not he has studied the matter. Raymond Verheijen, (Feyenoord, Barcelona, S. Korea, Russia Wales, PHd., etc.) and other studies show that CONSISTENCY OF LINE UP is the main factor for winning teams. That is objective fact.
    2) If beating Germany and Netherlands were really indicative of the quality of the US MNT then said team would have won the Gold Cup and not come in 4th.
    3)The comment of these guys are pros and know what to do and basically how to do it and can fit right in. If you had a try out and some kid whiffed on a ball like Brooks did you would cut him. That is not a pro.
    4)Now my constant refrain, why are there not enough native born Americans to keep the Germans out of the team? Because we don't develop players. What about all those years of ODP with two games/activities per day, that was survival of the fittest (big kid triumphs,take out Pique and GK, recent past Barcelona height and weight is about 5'6" 150 lbs.)(David Silva was cut by Real Madrid, they said he was to little) rather than survival of talent. We are now paying the price for that. Who was in charge then? In regards to the hockey comment above: this is not hockey this is soccer. i.e. The Law of Specificity applies.
    5) Developing players doesn't start at about 20 years old as the media seems to think when they say Klinsman is all about development. Nuff said.

  7. James e Chandler, July 27, 2015 at 11:48 p.m.

    Continuity means nothing if it's continuous mediocrity.
    Perhaps the lineup keeps changing because the search continues for 11 world class players that can be put on the field at the same time. Until then, fixing a line up is persistent futility.

  8. BJ Genovese, July 28, 2015 at 12:05 a.m.

    After 4 years... bringing back a retired Beasley to a position he never fully aquired should be enough to question this teams coach. Are you telling me after four years you dont have that positon locked in. WTH have you been doing.. flying helicopters... Dont worry everyone. His Son will soon be called up to the team and all will be well.

  9. Kevin Leahy, July 28, 2015 at 6:52 a.m.

    I still believe that player developement is more dependent on the individual then the coach. Yes, you need good instruction and a coach that is not caught up in the big strong guy. The players motivation is paramount. Tell me how many kids you see playing with a ball by themselves or with a friend. I don't blame J.K. for the talent level but, he must get the tactics & personnel correct.

  10. Thomas Hosier, July 28, 2015 at 8:38 a.m.

    Gots to agree with Joe Lizner! I watched the Mexican side one touch the Jamaican jolly green giants out of their socks. We have at least 3,000,000,000 youth players in the USA ... go out and grab a team of pulgas with speed, quickness, feet skill and vision and restart this USA team. Size, athleticism and conditioning will not take team USA to the top of the International competitive world.

  11. ROBERT BOND, July 28, 2015 at 9:28 a.m.

    Bradley old, Josey too slow, spine weak-Timmy is gonna cure that? we lose the playoff, K needs to go.......not too good putting players in the right spots.....better get that Stanford kid in there..

  12. beautiful game, July 28, 2015 at 11:13 a.m.

    Maybe we need to reevaluate the German connection and stick with what we develop...more attention should paid to individual players decision making process when to keep possession instead of launching long balls to teammates that face a 3 v 1 defensive scenario.

  13. Daniel Clifton, July 28, 2015 at 11:22 a.m.

    I think lack of talent does sum it up. I also believe lack of continuity has something to do with it. This team never showed any chemistry or cohesiveness against any team other than Cuba. I keep remembering the 2013 "B" team that played together and showed great chemistry. Has two years made such a difference in CONCACAF? Why has Besler fallen off the map? Is Jurgen going to continue with the Brooks - Alvarado pairing for the Confederation's Cup Playoff? If he does he must now he is going to be around for the 2018 World Cup, because the only reason I can see him playing those two in such an important game is that he is preparing them for the future. Bradley is playing out of position I believe. I like the idea of bringing in a bunch of the young guys like Woods and Morris. A lot of these older guys are at the top of their potential and as someone said it looks like the other CONCACAF countries have caught up and passed the US. This Gold Cup was difficult to watch (stating the obvious). After such good results in friendlies how does this team play so poorly?

  14. Dan Phillips, July 28, 2015 at 2:17 p.m.

    I hope JK never calls in Lazy/Jozy Altidore to USMNT again. He is absolutely worthless. We should be working on developing Aron Johansson into out no.1 striker. A much more talented and better choice. Stop wasting time with waiting for Jozy to come around. It will never happen!

  15. Kent James, July 28, 2015 at 4:29 p.m.

    Daniel Clifton, your observation about the 2103 B team is accurate and on point (as is most of the rest of your comment). But I'm not sure there is a lack of talent; I think most of the players are pretty skillful (even Chandler, who is woeful as a defender, strikes excellent crosses). I think the lack of cohesion is more important; with the modern, high pressure defense, attacking offense people are constantly changing positions, which demands a lot from the players, and when they are constantly playing with different people around them (and under constant pressure to perform), they don't work so well together. Now don't get me wrong, we can always use more skillful players, and we are woefully short of game-changing players (the kind that Germany, Spain and Brazil seem to have in obscene numbers), but other than Bradley and Dempsey, I think the lack of consistent playing time has prevented good players from taking that next step (or at least, giving them the opportunity to do so).

  16. John Polis, July 28, 2015 at 4:53 p.m.

    Umm... you forgot to mention that the USA sat down a number of players against Panama as well and the case could be made that JK wanted to see more bodies in this game. Wringing your hands every time a young team falls short is fruitless and requires you to spend a lot of time hand-wringing. Relax, already. A few ticks one side or the other and Mexico would have been out in the quarterfinals. Some solid officiating and Mexico would have been out. Likewise, a few more ticks either way and the USA would have scored 5-6 on Jamaica. Tru, meaningful analysis of the USA in this Gold Cup has been lacking on a number of fronts.

  17. Tim Brown, July 28, 2015 at 5:45 p.m.

    Usa is average at best. JK has had the time. Consistency does matter. Coaching does matter. Usa has neither. Usa should never be out shot 25 to 5 in any game much less by Panama. USA soccer is the worst I have seen since the late 80's.

  18. J White, July 28, 2015 at 6:32 p.m.

    I haven't yet read that this is a "sitter" tournament for the US. Why? It is. In golf terms, this whole tournament called the "Gold Cup" is a golfing term "gimme." With the Canadian side always underperforming and the Costa Ricans sometimes (but rarely) surprising, there really is only one opponent to face: Mexico. As it is a tournament hosted on one's own home soil (with the US naturally getting to handpick the venues toward the semifinal and final game), it is really a given that the US a) ought to be in the final and b) ought to win its own hosted tournament. Thus it is a no-brainer to dump the management team that so miserably failed at this Gold Cup 2015 edition. The US plays in arguably the weakest confederation in the world aside from the one where New Zealand dominates. Mexico is terribly inconsistent (see horrid results at the Copa America for, yes, their B Team). Thus it is no triumph for a US team to win its own Gold Cup, it is - it ought to be - just par for the course. Forget the media hype that wants to say that other nations in CONCACAF are rising up, more parity, blah, blah nonsense. One of the easiest national team coaching jobs in the world for a top 25 team is the US job. Let's just be frank about that. How difficult is it really to secure one of the 3 CONCACAF berths for the quadrennial world cups? Your grandma could get the US qualified for the next 4 or 5 world cups. ****As for being a rather easy tournament, I am trying to remember the last time a Copa America or UEFA Euro national team lost a small posse of its players due to defections 5 and 6 days into the competition. Cuba did. (again) For the US national team leadership this message: You either win the tournaments you host on your own soil, or you find another profession. There is no easier men's national team competition in the world.

  19. J White, July 28, 2015 at 6:40 p.m.

    Will someone explain to me why there is now to be a US vs. Mexico match to determine who will represent CONCACAF at the FIFA Confederations Cup hosted in Russia in June 2017. Please do explain this to me. For the life of me, I cannot think of what reason to play a Gold Cup in CONCACAF unless their is such a prestigious award (CONFED Cup slot) for the Gold Cup final winner. Isn't this why the US team under Bob Bradley played in South Africa in June 2009? And then Mexico in Brazil for the CONFED Cup in June 2013? Why this extra last gasp chance for the US to win the slot to be in Russia for June 2017? (Money? TV ratings?) Mexico won the Gold Cup. They then ought to be the CONCACAF representative at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Or? What do I not understand? Thank you for the help and clarification. This is baffling to me. Particularly since the US team finished 4th place at this Gold Cup. The US team should thus have no chance at all to be the representative for CONCACAF in Russia. Yes, thank you for the help with understanding this.

  20. Pele madson, July 28, 2015 at 7:21 p.m.

    Someone please help J White. He seems to have plenty of knowledge about the Gold Cup but for some reason doesn't understand how the format works.

    Kent James......(even Chandler, who is woeful as a defender, strikes excellent crosses).

    Oh boy oh boy!! Chandler strikes excellent crosses. Maybe one out of every five are dangerous. The other time he's on the field he's giving away the ball and putting our team in tough spots because he has to foul every attacker that runs at him. Please cut Chandler Wando and Beckerman. Let's move on already!

  21. Pele madson, July 28, 2015 at 8:15 p.m.

    J White...What National team do you support? I'd like to see how they fair in our region for WC qualification. Most of the road games are bar fights on shyte fields. The refs are prison wardens and show no mercy. Funny how you say that our region is weak yet 3 CONCACAF teams advanced to the round of 16 while Italy England and Spain all went home early with much better players.

  22. Bob Ashpole, July 28, 2015 at 11:58 p.m.

    An international competitive game that doesn't matter? Continuity doesn't matter? Coaches motivating players doesn't matter? No one would be coaching or playing international soccer if they believed that. The truth is that losses don't matter in the long term; but how well you play matters greatly in the long term. So the problem is that the USA finished 4th. The problem is how badly that they played. Soccer is a team sport with 11 a side, which is why continuity matters. This is not the NFL where there are fixed positions and a playbook. In soccer every one is both a quarterback and an elibible receiver. If the level of play does not improve, we won't be playing in the hexagonal. The coaching decision that stuns me the most is that if Altidore was injured, why did he start? Why was he even picked for this team? He certainly played like he was injured, which is as expected and why you don't bring injured players to a tournament.

  23. Bob Ashpole, July 28, 2015 at 11:59 p.m.

    "the problem isn't that the USA finished 4th." Pretend I edited the above comment!

  24. Thomas Hosier, July 29, 2015 at 12:05 a.m.

    Yes, let's move on .... bring on the talented, creative, skilled pulgas. It is time for skill, creativity and vision on the pitch ... could use some finishers as well. I am tired of hearing about developing a system .... quit coaching the creativity out of players to get the perfect system. Bring on the creative runts!

  25. R2 Dad, July 29, 2015 at 12:27 a.m.

    Look how much progress Jamaica has made. Yes their finishing is poor but they possessed the ball, played out of the back and, if it wasn't for two defensive errors in their 18, played a very credible match against Mexico. The bad news for the US is that Jamaica's favorite sport is--track and field. They have pace to burn and once they figure out how to finish look destined for the top 40.

  26. Santiago 1314, July 29, 2015 at 2:07 a.m.

    Jamaica Progressed.?? They have been making the same Crappy Defensive Mistakes since the 80's,...They were a Fluke to get by Haiti,,, Barnes(Englishman until April) puts ball through Crappy Haiti goalies legs, from Zero Angle...Barnes Beats USA on FK gifted to him by Stupid Goalie Mistake... It's CONCAcaCrApF...We Looked Bad because JK Refused to Bring a Sub for Jozy...AGAIN.!!!... FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU...FOOL ME TWICE SHAME ON ME.!!!... Come On Sunil, Quit Throwing GOOD Money after Bad...Your the Finance Wiz from Columbia... Lost 5 Million by Wondo missing a Sitter vs Belgium, Missed 1 Million for Not Winning the Gold Cup...and You are Paying this German, 2.6 million a year for this CRAP.!!!...MOVE ON... Kinnear or Vermes... Vermes or Kinnear... Instant Fix...

  27. Kent James, July 29, 2015 at 9:19 a.m.

    J White, the reason (as I understand it) that we are playing Mexico for the right to represent CONCACAF at the Confederations Cup is that that tournament is held every 4 yrs, and the Gold Cup is held every two. We won the last one, Mexico won this one, so we play each other to see who goes (if we had won this one, we would have won both, so there'd be no playoff).

  28. Soccer Madness, July 30, 2015 at 2:51 a.m.

    Santaigo, I also believe Jamaica has improved as has Haiti, Panama and Cost a Rica. USA has not evenbeith germa n call ups

  29. Santiago 1314, July 30, 2015 at 8:14 a.m.

    @Soccer Madness.. think Parity is setting into World Soccer...and it isn't because Every one is getting better...The Best are getting Worse and The Worst are getting better...
    Check out The Faroe Islands...That is why the Pyscology of the Players matters so much... And JK, just keeps Messing with our Biggest Advantage... "American Exceptionalism"...He's German, of course he can't Really "Get It"...

  30. Santiago 1314, July 30, 2015 at 8:15 a.m.

    Here is how I put it Last Year... Santiago 1314 commented on: July 2, 2014 at 7:01 p.m...to JOHN 7/2 9:52am ** "Klinsmann deserves heaps of praise for his evaluations of players and for selecting those who were hungry to succeed"..Fact is; we are no better off than we were under Lothar, Bob G., Steve, Bora, Bruce, Bob B., JK… Some years a little better, some years a little worse…..30 years and No Improvement to Show… A VERY Marginal rise across the board, but still NO Game Breaking Player… Good thing is; NFL Parity has set into World Soccer and the Rest of the World has COME DOWN to our Level, Except for a few Exceptional Game Breakers… Messi, Robben, Alexis, Ronaldo, James, Neymar, Lukaku, Muller,… The other 9 players on the Field could change Jerseys and YOU WOULDN’T NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE …!!!! All the US lacks is a Game Breaker…. As for JK, Let him Stay FOR NOW… After all, he finally got some “REAL GAME” coaching experience… Remember he had NONE, before taking over Germany in 94.. All his Games in Preparation for WC96(in Germany) were Friendlies(Confed Cup95??)… at WC96(as Home team) he beat those “BIG” Powers; Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador, Sweden,… only Toughie was win vs ARG on PKs…Lost in Semi’s to Italy… as for Coaching Bayern Munich??? ++ 22-9-8 in UEFA/Bundesliga before being FIRED with 5 games to go in Season…. Sunil, better keep his feet to the Fire or FIRE Him.. We need a Coach who BELIEVES WE CAN WIN...

  31. Scott Johnson, July 30, 2015 at 1:46 p.m.

    Don't wory about the Confed Cup playoff. 2-0, estados unidos. As always.

  32. J White, July 30, 2015 at 5:35 p.m.

    Thank you, Kent James. Yes, I understand that now the "rule" for being the CONCACAF participant at the FIFA Confederations Cup has been altered. This is a first time for this. There is no (to my knowledge) recent precedent, and, in fact, the FIFA Conferderations Cup is not that old. The problem is that the current winner should be the representative. As I shared above, the current African nations winner is Ivory Coast. However, that means zilch as the next CAF Africans Nations Cup to be held in January 2017 will determine who represents CAF/Africa at the Confererations Cup. I'll be more direct, and, yes, I think the astute readers and soccer fans here already get it: CONCACAF has dreamed up this "playoff" as a big money win. It will be in the US because that always brings more money than even a game in the Azteca can. A venue like the Rose Bowl has been chosen to offer the images of 100,000 fans at a match. The TV rights (in English and Spanish) are worth a lot and will bring in big money. Advertisers will be happy as will Adidas and Nike. So where's the downside? The downside to me is that the purpose of a Gold Cup is to have a winner. And that winner then deserves the right to be the representative. A present winner does not then face a former winner. (Will we see Spain face the winner of UEFA Euro 2016 in a playoff? No.) This silly playoff creation out of whole cloth is just more money/greed/corruption that has CONCACAF's last two presidents and a host of other top soccer functionaries running for their lives for fear of exposure for the crooks they are. This playoff is a cash cow opportunity. Nothing more. It's rather transparent.

  33. J White, July 30, 2015 at 5:47 p.m.

    For Pele madson: My comments above focused primarily on the games associated with the Gold Cup. To date, I have not yet seen a Gold Cup match for the US played outside the US"s borders. Even if, as you say (and, yes it can be true) there are some rough spots to have to master when playing WC away qualification matches within the CONCACAF zone, it always is only - at most - 50% of half one's games. As those who know soccer can always attest, a team that wins at home and mostly squeaks out ties on the road typically goes far in leagues (see Juventus' practical entire history of Serie A wins since and definitely prior to the insertion of the 3-point for 'win'). Not all away situations in CONCACAF are horror stories. Most of those nations have since learned to do a pretty good job of hosting, if, for no other reason, the US large contigent with the team and the associated fans bring a very nice economic injection when they come for the 72 hours surrounding a match. There are some dicey moments in a place like Guatemala or El Salvador, Hondouras. But, now, with the qualifying broken down like it is, well, this is very manageable. Just look at the probable road map for qualifying for Russia 2018. It is rather easy to achieve. Top three slots are in. Most national team coaches in the world would salivate at this kind of easy qualifying. (Compare it to what a nation in Africa faces - even a bigger soccer 'power' in Africa like Ghana, Cameron, Egypt or Nigeria.)

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