Some of my friends can attest to what I’m about to admit. I some times think I’m a jinx for the USMNT. I have two scarves, one I refuse to wear at any time because it’s tainted. And the other I only wear on game days when I am not attending in person.
I never dress in red, white and blue on game days when I’m not in the stands. I don’t even wear my AO bandana on my purse anymore because I was sure it was jinxing them.
It’s superstitious, yes and maybe a little bit childish. But I was certain I was the biggest jinx there was.
Today, I grew up. Quite a bit.
The U.S. Men’s National Team took on No. 9 ranked Russia today in the motherland. I didn’t feel too much fear about this match heading in. It was just a friendly and Russia would be a great test for the guys. Also, fans would be get a chance to see some new blood in the team, which I’m always excited about seeing, to be honest.
What I wanted to take away from today’s game was how certain individuals on the team performed. Most notably, my eyes were on Timothy Chandler and Jozy Altidore.
Most will remember the shunning the USMNT got from Chandler earlier this year. Apparently he’s “1000-percent” committed to the U.S., but I won’t believe a word of that until he gets cap-tied, which could be in February if he keeps his word.
I was also interested in seeing what Altidore would do now that Jurgen Klinsmann has apparently brought him out of the “dog house,” so to speak. Sure, Jozy has been amazing with his club, but those goals and work haven’t translated to the national team. Now was Jozy’s chance to show he was also committed to the national squad.
So what did we get out of this match up? A whole lot of “What the …” that’s for sure. Yeah, my superstitions broke today because I realized the US lose is because they are just a hot mess out on the pitch.
Whatever blog or recap or opinion you are going to read today about this game is going to focus on the biggest glaring flaw of the USMNT. The defense. Within in the opening minutes of the game, captain Carlos Bocanegra was pulled from the match with a hamstring injury. The US were already down a goal to Russia after a miss-pass from Danny Williams. Things would not look up for the team from this point defense wise.
I could lament about this until the sun sets. I have done that several times on this site. That’s old news. Any U.S. fan knows what the problem is and it’s that freakin’ back line. It’s a wound Jurgen Klinsmann inherited from Bob Bradley and with the first three hexagonal games coming up in the next couple of months being away matches, it’s one Klinsmann will need to address quickly. However, the biggest thing that is picking my brain right now is on the other end of the pitch; the US offense.
There are two things that saved the USMNT today and they are things no one will be surprised by: Timmy Howard and Michael Bradley. They are these two mighty freedom pillars on which US games stand on as of late.
Timmy Howard saved his team’s collective can in the the second half, no bones about it. He had six phenomenal saves through out the match. And it’s clear why Russia are ranked what they are; they are a force to be reckoned. The USMNT defense struggled helplessly sometimes against them. It’s because of Tim Howard this match didn’t end 4-2. Ian Drake had a fantastic comment, which he made after the US’ second goal. Cameras showed Russia Head Coach Fabio Capello shaking his head and laughing slightly in disbelieve. “We’ve bossed this game and it’s 2-2,” Drake said, giving his own narration to Capello’s reaction.
And it’s the truth. And U.S. fans can thank Tim Howard for that.
As for Michael Bradley – when I was thinking about this match this morning, I hoped I could focus on how amazing Michael is. I’m thankful I get to do that now. This guy is just brilliant. He’s technical, he pushes, he’s in the right place at the right time. He fights for possession and he creates play. Michael Bradley is the USMNT’s key in the midfield and offense. His performances are fantastic to watch and the team always seems to struggle when he’s not on the pitch. Michael has honed this ability to filter the ball from the defense, through the midfield and provide needed service. What’s more is he also has this habit of making sure he continues to push forward for rebounds or, as he did today, be available for a forward to nod a ball back to him.
Taylor Twellman had an excellent point to make about the U.S.’s midfielders and forwards. The two goals for the U.S. came from two very, very similar plays. Namely, center forwards being big, using their size to muscle and control the ball with defenders on them, then provide service back to someone rushing up the mid. Juan Agudelo did it for Michael Bradley’s goal, making a beautiful header back to MB. Terrance Boyd did it for Mix Diskerud, controlling the ball around the Russian defenders and laying it back to Mix. Which brings me back to the offense point. The U.S. forwards and wingers need to work on providing service. Sure, they can get the ball up through the midfield, but then what do they do with it? Most of the time, nothing magical happens and a build up is wasted. How many games have fans watched the U.S. create some heart-stopping build ups, only to have the opportunity wasted?
And this isn’t just about the service, it’s about taking the opportunity too. Taking the service given to you and capitalizing on it. Putting it in the back of the net. Hell, at least putting the shot on goal! The U.S. have a scary problem of not only missing opportunities and service, but not even getting shots on goal. No surprise that Altidore couldn’t do it again today. Even Herc Gomez was a ghost on the pitch, which is disappointing as he is always such a strong forward for the U.S.
But Bradley and Diskerud did it. The prime opportunities opened up to them from service from center forwards and they targeted goal and let loose.
So yes, the defense is scary as all Hell and something the USMNT need to get under control before the first Hexagonal match in February. But let us hope Klinsmann doesn’t neglect the offense either. I don’t operate under the belief that if the defense is okay, the offense will fix itself. If we don’t have solid performances up top, a good defense would be all for not.