International Football - Long way to go for USA
Two more friendlies, two draws, two goals and precious few answers came from the United States’ efforts over the past week.
Yet with two more years to go until the business end of Bob Bradley’s second cycle really begins, the head coach can afford to take his time in clicking things into place ahead of the next World Cup.
Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw with Colombia wasn’t pretty and didn’t come close to offering even the excitement of last weekend’s 2-2 clash with Poland; but now is not the time to start pressing any panic buttons. Bradley has time – perhaps too much of it – to find the right solutions and the right structure for how the squad should look the next time it heads into a tournament that anyone actually cares about.
Take a look at the highs and lows to come out of the two games, and the issues facing Bradley as the rebuilding process begins in earnest:
The Jermaine Jones dilemma
Team USA fans can be forgiven for getting excited about the arrival of powerful midfielder Jermaine Jones following his strong performances against Poland and Colombia. The reality, however, is that while Jones has Champions League pedigree and the ability to be a valuable contributor, he is not the national team’s saviour.
Jones grew up in Germany and played three times for the German national team, but was allowed to switch allegiance after qualifying to play for the United States thanks to his American father.
He performed solidly in both games, the highlight being an outstanding pass to set up Jozy Altidore against Poland. But Jones is not the answer to all the team’s problems, and his arrival comes with issues of its own. Too many times against Colombia, the US midfield was desperately congested, with Jones, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu all occupying similar space just in front of the back four.
The dilemma for head coach Bradley is that his son and Jones are similar types of players fulfilling the same kind of service to the team. While the concept of two holding midfielders is one that is likely to remain, either Jones or Michael Bradley may operate better when paired with Edu rather than together.
Where did all the fans go?
Tuesday’s crowd of 8,823 at PPL Park on the outskirts of Philadelphia was a serious disappointment and will serve as a reminder to US Soccer that the summer’s euphoria is now well and truly over.
Many fans contacted Yahoo! Sports to complain about high ticket prices, and a better job of marketing the game in the Philly area could have added some welcome numbers. By contrast, Saturday’s draw with Poland at Chicago’s Soldier Field drew a healthy crowd of 31,696, boosted by large numbers of noisy supporters from the Windy City’s Polish community.
Holden blossoms in the EPL
Jones’ arrival on the national-team scene has created quite a stir and centred attention firmly on the holding midfield positions. While one solid asset has been brought in, another has landed squarely in Bob Bradley’s lap, thanks to the continued emergence of Stuart Holden.
Holden, who moved to the Premier League from the Houston Dynamo this year, has shown enough to be handed a new three-year contract by Bolton boss Owen Coyle, who has lauded his abilities to provide both creativity and protection in the Wanderers midfield.
The 25-year-old played only four minutes in the World Cup, but Bob Bradley would be well served to give him greater freedom and license to roam moving forward, as his confidence and experience grow from playing in England.
No Landon, no spark
As is often the case, Landon Donovan’s value to the US squad was once more better highlighted by an absence rather than a performance.
Without the Los Angeles Galaxy forward, who was rested following a hectic year and with the MLS playoffs fast approaching, the Americans lacked spark and creativity in attack and posed fewer questions for their foes.
For the past three World Cups, Team USA’s performances have mirrored those of Donovan, and no player has been more influential in the side’s success or failure. Unless a new and special talent emerges – and quickly – that situation is likely to be the same in Brazil in four years’ time.
Could be worse; look at England
Any headaches Bob Bradley might have pale in significance to those of England head coach Fabio Capello.
Lambasted by the English press and public after his side’s dismal showing at the World Cup, Capello is again in the firing line following Tuesday night’s 0-0 home draw with Montenegro.
For all his credentials of coaching at the highest level, Capello has never managed to adapt to the England position and is still in the job simply because it would be too expensive for the Football Association to sack him.