How to start this, how to start this. Hmmm.
At the conclusion of the U.S. Men’s National Team match against Guatemala in Kansas City tonight, I did one thing I think the majority of USMNT fans did. I let out a big, huge breath. One I think I had been holding since Friday and that ugly, ugly game in Antigua. And let me tell you, if feels so nice to breath easy again.
I feel like praying to the soccer gods because tonight I saw a U.S. team I would like to see continually. Was it perfect? Lord, you know this song and dance from me by now. It wasn’t perfect at all. But it was something. And that something was solid. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what this national team needs.
Remember, we are still in the infancy of the Klinsmann era here. He’s smack in the middle of a push of World Cup qualification and it puts the pressure on immediately, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he’s implementing a change here. A change revolving around attack. It’s created some trials, a whole lot of errors, but it’s shown fans and critics there is a lot of potential under it.
We saw the worst of it in Antigua. But tonight we saw where he can start. In the first five minutes of the game, it seemed like the same old song and dance. USMNT held the majority of possession, but a simple mis-communication between Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron found Carlos Ruiz with free range to slap one past Tim Howard.
The death blow? Not quite. In the post game interview, Kasey Keller said, “With that, (Guatemala) poked the bear in the beginning and the U.S. woke up a bit.” What I believe is always the telling factor of a team is how they respond. Do they get frustrated? Do they continue to error? What happens, as a team, after they go down in a crucial match?
Tonight, the U.S. responded just as they should; they dug in and they took that control back. They responded effectively, clinically, and most importantly, calmly.
Yes, they were smooth and cool. Frankly, a USMNT I’m not use to seeing. It was a solid performance from everyone. Every. Single. Player.
Sure, Boca and Cameron had that miscue earlier in the night. But you could see, by the mid of the first half, it became a “Ruiz who?” game. If Bocanegra wasn’t shutting down the speedy Guatemalan forward, Cameron sure as hell was. Because of that, Parkhurst and Cherundolo could push up.
Did the midfielders get passes picked off? Yeah, but they tracked back to help shut down the Guatemalan offense. Hell, even Tim Howard seemed to be having an off night, which would have normally frightened the ever-lovin’ dickens out of me. But tonight … it didn’t really bother the USMNT that much.
Granted, this was just Guatemala, who have one speedy forward in Ruiz. But like I said, if the USMNT can be solid like they were tonight, consistently, then it’s a platform to build on. To get stronger and be able to be formidable opponents to say, our neighbors to the south?
So really, what does this mean? Other than the U.S. won their group and their moving on to the hexagonal? Well, it means a few things actually.
It means that if no one knew it before, they know it now – Michael Bradley is not just needed in the USMNT line up, he is essential. I remember first watching Michael and thinking he had a lot of growing to do. And now, he’s matured so much as a player, it’s fantastic. He’s one of those resources the U.S. cannot afford to lose. He was pure class tonight and when the USMNT is working as a well-oiled machine, the things Michael Bradley can do are pure magic.
It means that Eddie Johnson has come full circle. I’m not going to hate on Jozy Altidore, but Eddie Johnson has done in two games what Jozy hasn’t been able to do in a long time. And that’s score in open play and if he’s not scoring, he’s creating the chances to help score. He, Clint Dempsey and Herc Gomez played beautifully off each other. He could have been the missing link we needed all along.
It means that Geoff Cameron is clearly the heir apparent to the throne that is Carlos Bocanegra’s reign over the back line. And he’s definitely capable of that crown and the responsibility that comes with it. I admit, I was weary of Cameron at first. But he’s done well, he’s learned and he’s come into his own. And tonight after the blunder, instead of continuing to fumble, he and Bocanegra learned from the mistake. Cameron took what happened and built on it. It’s a positive thing and also shows that he’s versatile – he plays on the right for Stoke, not the center.
I could go on, (Graham Zusi, Herc Gomez, etc., etc.) but this is already a novel. So, here’s my sum up. Solid play gets solid wins. If this team continues being cool and collected, Klinsmann can finally start going more forward with his grand scheme. And that’s good news indeed. Because a cool, calm, smooth USMNT is one that can be a force to be reckoned with.
And that will help me breathe easier again.