Bad day at the office or bad omen?

By Ridge Mahoney

Any team can have a bad day at the office, especially when those self-proclaimed masters of the game tear through the foyer and boardroom and lunchroom at will, flicking balls here and there as several Brazilians did in that famous Nike airport ad of several years ago.

Tuesday night at Gillette Stadium, the Americans all too closely resembled those flailing, floundering security guards grabbing futilely at Ronaldo, Cafu, Romario, et al, as they whooshed through checkpoints and corridors and even cavorted on the tarmac for a few seconds. On three days’ rest after gritting their way past Peru, 2-1, the Americans never matched Brazil for pace or cohesion or anything else as this latest generation, that of Neymar and Hulk and Willian -- on this night, especially Willian -- and Marcelo and David Luiz inflicted a severe lashing, 4-1, and left keeper Brad Guzan marooned and mystified.

Surely the USA won’t be as badly outclassed against Mexico on Oct. 10 at the Rose Bowl. Or will it? Mexico labored mightily in July to reach the Gold Cup final but once it got there rather easily dispatched Jamaica, which had beaten the U.S., 2-1, in the semifinals and looked the better team while doing it.

That is the more disturbing benchmark of where this USA team is right now, regardless of how sharply stings this latest defeat to Brazil. How can the same nation that beat Germany and the Netherlands in June stumble against Jamaica in July? Yes, competitive matches are not friendlies but the Americans had previously lost just once in 22 games to Jamaica. And Jamaica's historic success may be fleeting: it needed a last-minute goal Tuesday to sneak past Nicaragua on aggregate, 4-3, in a Concacaf World Cup qualifying series.

However, Mexico looked sharp and confident against Argentina on Tuesday, grabbing a 2-0 lead before the No. 1 ranked nation in the world rallied for two late goals that salvaged a 2-2 tie. Mexico needed some sharp saves from keeper Moises Munoz to hold off Argentina until the 85th minute, and though forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez didn’t do a lot more than convert a penalty kick and flub several primo opportunities, fellow attackers Hector Herrera and Raul Jimenez cut open the Argentine backline on a few occasions.

Jimenez ran down one of many raking long balls Mexico used during the match and drew a foul from Nicolas Otamendi, who plays for Manchester City and is of a higher class than anybody used recently during Klinsmann’s chopping and changing of the back line. Herrera scored the second goal a minute after Munoz stoned Angel Correa with a superb one-handed save in the 69th minute. Miguel Layun, a menace many times from the left mid spot he plays in Mexico’s 3-5-2 formation, centered a ball that a wide-open Herrera had ample time to collect and blast into the net.

In its previous game -- played on the same day the U.S. beat Peru -- Mexico tied Trinidad & Tobago, 3-3, so it obviously has questions about his own ability to defend, just as does the U.S. What this latest Brazilian embarrassment means for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his employment status in the long run is being hotly debated despite U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati’s post-Gold Cup statement that there won’t be a coaching change regardless of the Rose Bowl outcome. Any such dynamic is subject to change, but all that matters in the immediate future is the Mexico match.

TERRIBLE TIME TO TINKER. Why Klinsmann believed his incessant experimentation was the right option against Brazil is impossible to comprehend. Even with its best players in top form and playing in their preferred spots, the U.S. is a few rungs lower on the ladder than Brazil. So he plays a serviceable wide midfielder (Alejandro Bedoya) in the middle, rolls out a brand-new centerback pairing (Ventura Alvarado and Michael Orozco) that had never played together centrally for the national team, and watches a debacle. Michael Bradley played one of his worst games in a U.S. jersey, and the absence of Clint Dempsey left the U.S. toothless in the final third.

Brazil on a good day can make just about any team look ponderous, but the Americans were painfully slow of foot and thought. The attacking acumen of Bradley, the pace and daring of Gyasi Zardes, the power (and luck) of Jozy Altidore, the bite and touch of Geoff Cameron and the menace of DeAndre Yedlin that carried the Americans against Peru vanished at kickoff on Tuesday. Say what you will about talents and strengths and weaknesses, but seldom does an entire team seem laden by listlessness. They just didn’t look ready for anything, much less Brazil, and without Dempsey, who even on his worst days can bring some swagger and predatory instincts to the party, the U.S. ran aground in the middle third.

RALLIES REVEAL FLAWS. Throughout his tenure, Klinsmann has won praise for salvaging a bad first half and generating positive results. It’s an important skill to have, that of making changes and moves at halftime to galvanize a revival. Rallying to defeat world-class powers such as the Netherlands and Germany, who were beaten by the Americans five days apart as recently as June, confirmed a knack to come back that Klinsmann also uncorked last year at the World Cup.

But extensive halftime changes also confirm poor decisions initially for a) the starting XI, or b) tactics, or c) both. Making it better at halftime only partially compensates for getting it wrong at the start. After years of watching sluggish starts and heroic rebounds, more and more critics are suspecting that Klinsmann’s reputation as a master motivator and prosaic planner is quite accurate. There’s a shelf life for coming back against good teams in tough conditions, as the Gold Cup semifinal showed.

AND SO TO MEXICO. If they are to rebound in the Rose Bowl next month a few things have to fall into place:

Back line -- Klinsmann needs to pick the right pairing and make it work. Whether that’s the return of the Omar Gonzalez-Matt Besler duo or a mix-and-match of Alvarado and Orozco and John Brooks, the coach has to get this right. What the Americans will do in the middle against Mexico is one big muddle.

The outside slots are also unsettled. Cameron and Tim Ream floundered in Gillette after strong showings Friday, and before the Peru game Klinsmann stressed the value of DaMarcus Beasley, who suffered an injury on the first day of preparation and didn’t play in either game. Orozco started against Peru at right back and slid into the middle upon the entry of Cameron at halftime. A healthy Fabian Johnson would certainly help no matter where he plays.

Central midfield -- Jermaine Jones struggled against Brazil, but he’s still rounding back into shape after months on the sidelines recovering from groin problems. With another month of MLS games, he should be ready to face Mexico, and maybe Klinsmann goes back to teaming him up with Kyle Beckerman as was done in the World Cup. Yet both players are 33 and will be sorely tested by Mexico’s skill and speed. Danny Williams has more range but less experience.

Dempsey -- Bradley, Zardes and Yedlin helped supersede the absence of Dempsey against Peru. Mexico’s three-man back line, anchored by ex-MLS bust Rafael Marquez, can be breached. Yet despite his importance to the USA -- 114 caps, 43 goals  -- Dempsey has never scored against Mexico in nine appearances, and if Altidore is lurching through another dry spell for TFC in October, dependence on Dempsey increases.

Guzan in goal -- Contrary to his mantra that every player is competing for a position all the time, Klinsmann welcomed back Tim Howard from a hiatus with a caveat – he’s the backup at least for now. If that means Howard needs to win back the starting job, okay, but instead Klinsmann guaranteed Howard a place on the bench against Mexico.

The issue isn’t whether Guzan played himself out of the starting lineup in either game -- he didn’t -- but whether this inconsistency confuses other players, those under pressure to perform or fall down the depth chart. Perhaps Dempsey and Bradley can consider themselves locks to start just about every game, yet Klinsmann’s stance is that nobody else enjoys that luxury. Did the anointing of Guzan chip away a bit more of Klinsmann’s quirky persona just when there needs to be stability and confidence?

22 comments about "Bad day at the office or bad omen?".
  1. BJ Genovese, September 9, 2015 at 10:42 p.m.

    In for Brazil... Neeeeeymar, and look, the USA is bringing in College Player Jordan Morris... Brazil national team does not develop players. It comes to play always. It get its players from tried and true clubs. Players that have been tested. The USA experiments??? Tries to develop players becuase we can find any that are playing consistently? WTH is going on. Am I the only one that notices that our players move like robots. They have no speed and look like cavement with huge bicepts. Even Hulk.. looks like a graceful ballet dancer on the ball and off the ball. Why cant our USMNT staff like Rick Ramos, who is in charge of scouting. Get off there ass and do what they are paid to do... Scout! Maybe they have no idea what to look for. Hears and IDEA.... T.I.P.S

  2. R2 Dad replied, September 9, 2015 at 11:35 p.m.

    I wouldn't characterize the entire USMNT as "slow", but there is definitely a lack of intelligent movement on and off the ball. And that kills us in the defending 3rd.

  3. Xavi Hernandez replied, September 10, 2015 at 12:31 a.m.

    BJ, for what it's worth my son went to Brazil for a summer and was offered a two week trial with Gremio the next summer, they had never seen an American kid like him. US (mainly English of course) coaches though wrote him off as too small, weak and slow. He considered soccer pointless and gave it up - broke my heart what the coaches said to him. Anyway a happy ending, took up track at 17 and now at 20 runs a 49 second open 400 and a 1:53 open 800m. Would like to hear what the English coaches would say now.

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, September 10, 2015 at 2:45 a.m.

    You Right on..

  5. Joe Linzner replied, September 11, 2015 at 8:15 p.m.

    >Xavi, I agree with the idiotic of too small mantra so prevalent here in the USA. It is pure BS and many a fine athlete loses heart to these idiots. There are thousand of athletes that excel and are smaller than 6'-4" and quite possibly are MUCH better players. Large players tend to lose quickness and the explosive change of pace ala Messi et al. In the end it is desire that fires a player, not the assumed superiority that size seems to flood into bigger players. There weren't that many BIG players on the Brasil squad and they ran rings around our vaunted big guys.!

  6. Zoe Willet, September 10, 2015 at 12:04 a.m.

    Why are we depending on these players in their 30's? Maybe if we started using more younger players now, and let them develop some cohesiveness, it might serve us well in 2018.

  7. Rich Blast, September 10, 2015 at 12:42 a.m.

    In the old days, I felt like we had great athletes and speed, but lacked skills on ball as well as most other skills shown by good soccer teams. I now feel like we still lack skills, but are also less athletic and slow.

  8. Santiago 1314 replied, September 10, 2015 at 2:53 a.m.

    I don't think we have ever had a Line-up as FAST and Athletic as Howard // Beasley-Brooks-Gonzo(Cameron)-Johnson // Jones // Zaredes-Bradley-Yedlin // Dempsey // Altidore ...Just needto get them ALL Healthy and on the Field IN THE CORRECT POSITIONS at the same time

  9. Santiago 1314, September 10, 2015 at 2:54 a.m.

    Excellent Article, by the way Ridge..

  10. Daniel Clifton, September 10, 2015 at 8:38 a.m.

    Unfortunately Xavi Hernandez's experience as a father sums up what happens in youth soccer throughout the US. This is what Klinsmann is supposed to be changing ("The Pyramid is upside down"). I guess we will find out in about ten to fifteen years if he was successful or not.

  11. Santiago 1314 replied, September 10, 2015 at 10:22 p.m.

    Don't Fall into the MYTH that JK had Something to do with The REBIRTH of German Soccer...Read the Article on "Das REBOOT"... Berti Vogts and Dietrich Weisse started the Re-Birth in 1996... JK was still Playing for tottenham thru 1998.. **Der Kaiser has NO Clothes**...

  12. Gary Levitt, September 10, 2015 at 11:01 a.m.

    Article is well done. For now all of us need to leave the youth development and player pool experiments for the future. Mexico on OCT 10 is our focus as the Confederations Cup proves useful for education/experience heading to the WC. Herrera and Jimenez are not Hulk and Neymar but they showed the pace and experience against a backline that included Ruiz, Otamendi, and Marcelo. This instantly generates concern with our inability to deal with pace and tactical awareness. We need to stop the overall concerns of our player pool for now and focus on OCT 10. Klinsmann and his staff will figure out how to deal with Mexico (i.e.: exposing and isolating Marquez) and negating Mexico's impact players. The Guzan/Howard decision does not matter. No keeper can offset the lack of pressure and man-marking we saw Tuesday night. Go USA.

  13. Santiago 1314 replied, September 10, 2015 at 10:29 p.m.

    KASEY KELLER versus Brazil 1998...NUFF SAID..!!!

  14. Miguel Dedo, September 10, 2015 at 11:02 a.m.

    I have heard all of this before, including my saying I have heard all of this before.

  15. Gary Levitt, September 10, 2015 at 11:02 a.m.

    Not Marcelo in the back - my bad.

  16. James Madison, September 10, 2015 at 3:10 p.m.

    Please, please, please, whether it's Mexico with the Confederations Cup on the line or any other international match, no more Altidore and no more Gonzalez. Beyond that, we can debate who it should be and where.

  17. Santiago 1314 replied, September 10, 2015 at 10:34 p.m.

    Pres. Madison... I would have to go with both of them...We have NO ONE Else that has a Proven Record against Mexico...Because JK has Made sure to Protect them by playing Alternatives in Bizarre Line-Ups and Pairings, where NO ONE else can Show the Long Run, I see Carter-Vickers for Gonzo and Zardes or Morris for Jozy...

  18. Santiago 1314, September 10, 2015 at 10:39 p.m.

    Trust me on this one...When I want to "Show Up" a complaining Parent, I will play their Kid in the Position the Parent wants; with the CRAPIEST Players in Support...When JK wants to Show Up a Complaining US Fan Base, He plays a WIERD Line-Up to make the Alternatives to his "Master Plan" LOOK BAD.. WOOD at Left Mid... Johansson at Hi-Forward...Bedoya at Holding Mid...Bradley at Lo-Forward...Need I go On.???

  19. Robert Heinrich, September 11, 2015 at 3:05 p.m.

    Let's all just relax. Klinsmann will be gone by 2017. He set out some very lofty goals, e.g. being a top 10 program. A lot of experienced, knowledgeable people here understand that's unrealistic given the state of the game in this country. But he has taken U.S. soccer recruiting away from the college game, away from the residency programs. We have more young professionals now that at any other time in our history. MLS is growing. We will never, as far as any of us can see, have the soccer culture that Brazil has. Get over it. My son also played a summer in Brazil at an academy. From that I learned it takes a massive number of good to very good players to produce world class talents like Willian, Neymar, and Marcelo. Nevertheless, we'll still beat Mexico in October.

  20. Ric Fonseca, September 11, 2015 at 5:59 p.m.

    Hola Sr. Santiago 1314, your statement about playing a "complaining Parent...(sic)" kid in the "position the Parent kid wants; with the CRAPIEST Players in support...(sic)" sure sounds like you really know how to coach, and yet you seem to take pride in this statement that I find very narrow minded and insulting. Que pena de entrenador seras, o eres!!!

  21. Santiago 1314 replied, September 12, 2015 at 11:15 a.m.

    Yup, I do know how to Coach, and I've got numerous State, Regional and 2 National Championships to prove it...Can't always be the "Nice Guy" if you want to succeed...

  22. Santiago 1314, September 11, 2015 at 6:37 p.m.

    Oh, and I'll bet You never did that With a Complaining player from your College Team!?!?...Come on, Get Real Ric

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