Tuesday, June 7, 2011

US Soccer - pre-Gold Cup anxiety

Okay, I have to admit that I'm worried about the US' chances in the Gold Cup.  Many analysts have us penned in as the favorite to win this tournament again but I can't shake this feeling of impending doom.  The fact that we're the favorite, instead of the underdog, always makes me nervous anyway but this time, the underlying issues plaguing our team only serve to make things worse.

First, our defensive problems have not been resolved, dating back to last summer's World Cup.  Our backline was already giving away cheap goals last June and the lineup is still not settled one year later.  Will Gooch ever get back to the level of physical dominance of his prime from 2-3 years ago?  He seems to be a slower and less confident player now even a year and half after his knee injury.  Does Bocanegra have to still play LB?  If so, who will be in the middle?  Youngster Ream, who's only had 2 or 3 games with the 1st team? Or the older Goodson, who doesn't have much international experience either?  Or both?

At LB, the infuriating Bornstein could still be Bradley's primary backup speed option.  His only other options would be two RB converts -  Spector, who is slow-footed to begin with, or newbie Lichaj, who has zero experience with the true first team.  I can't believe we're still having the same problem that has plagued us since WC 2006 when converted midfielder, Eddie Lewis' gaffe against Czech Republic set the tone for a disappointing tournament.  At least, we are set with Cherundolo at RB.

Secondly, even at midfield, we have an interesting dilemma between Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu.  I honestly thought that Jones would be a shoe-in, given his resume in Germany and England.  But besides one game vs Poland late last year, he really hasn't made a mark.  Against Spain, Jones and Edu were completely overrun and overwhelmed.  Though Bradley hasn't played much this season at Aston Villa, it was clear to everyone on Sat that he was the best option at CM that we have.  He was the only one able to maintain possession under pressure and do something positive with it.  Again, critics shouting "nepotism" need to shut up.

Thirdly, our situation at forward is in flux.  Jozy might be a surefire starter for us, but he hasn't been in good scoring form for club or country in about 2 years.  Agudelo is a teenager who doesn't even start for his MLS team.  Wondolowski?  Talk to me when he scores his first US goal.

Meanwhile, Mexico's young phenom Chicharito has scored 20 goals for Manchester United and just rammed home a hat trick in their first Gold Cup match.  Craaaap.  Worst case scenario is to get to the Final just to see Chicharito run circles around Gooch.

Overall, our record with our 1st team - which I'll define here as 6 or more 1st teamers starting - since the 2010 WC is 0 wins, 3 losses, 3 draws.  (Lost to Brazil, tied Poland, tied Columbia, tied Argentina, lost to Paraguay, lost to Spain.)  Granted, we treated Spain as a warmup and losing to Brazil is nothing to be ashamed of, but the fact remains that we've scored a grand total of 3 goals in 6 games.  We are not playing well at all.  And it doesn't help getting kicked in the teeth 3 days before the GC begins.  Not good.

Okay, yes I know that we're heavily favored in our group and we've never lost a group game, etc.  But what happens when we get to the tough knockout rounds against, say a Costa Rica (who just scored 5 goals in their first GC game as well) or, gulp, Mexico?  Lets put it this way, I've put aside the day to go to the Rose Bowl on June 25th for the Final, but I haven't bought my ticket yet.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, its time to play.  Gold Cup Champs baby!

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