Thursday, November 17, 2011

US: Bocanegra's 100th, Dempsey's 24th & Klinsmann's tenure

US Captain and UCLA alumnus, Carlos Bocanegra, reached the 100 cap mark vs Slovenia on Tuesday.  He's just the 12th player in US Soccer history to reach the century mark and remarkably, only the 3rd true defender to do so behind Jeff Agoos (134) and Marcelo Balboa (128).  Whether Bocanegra can ever get within reach of those two will depend on how well he ages between now and WC 2014.  Realistically, at age 32, he is still our unquestioned CB starter and it seems that he will have a good chance to pass Claudio Reyna's 112 caps to take over sole 5th place by the end of his international career.

Carlos' first cap was back on Dec 9, 2001 vs South Korea and has been our captain since June 2, 2007 vs China.  In fact, of those 100 caps, he's been the captain 54 times.  His 100 caps were acquired in 25 different countries against 42 different teams.  Naturally, his 9 matches vs Mexico marks them as his most-faced opponent.  He's managed to score 12 goals as well (tied for 13th overall in US Soccer history) - 10 with his head, 6 were game-winners, and 2 were against Brazil (including one that I witnessed with my own eyes: at Soldier Field, he scored with his left pec).  To put that in perspective, the aforementioned Balboa only scored 13 goals in 128 caps while Agoos only had 4.  Carlos has a chance to become the most prolific scoring defender in US history!

It must be mentioned that fellow Bruin alumnus, Cobi Jones, holds the US record for most caps at an astounding 164.  Landon Donovan will likely surpass Cobi in a few years time as he currently stands at 138 caps.  Donovan and Bocanegra are the only two active players who have reached the century mark.  Other current players who have high cap counts include DeMarcus Beasley at 96 caps and Clint Dempsey at 82 caps, both of whom will probably reach 100 (Dempsey for sure, Beasley is likely).  Steve Cherundolo is next at 78 caps but is in a tough race against time (age 32), while Tim Howard, at 72 caps, is entrenched at GK until WC 2014 and should see 100 by then.  Oguchi Onyewu, 62 caps, may have been robbed of his chance by injury during a few prime years.

Two younger current players have also accumulated solid cap counts and are easily on track for 100.  Michael Bradley is just 24 years old but already has 63 caps to his name while Jozy Altidore has tallied 45 caps by age 22.

Looking at the cap list for US Soccer, there are two names that were close but were deserving of the 100 cap mark.  Alexi Lalas, stuck at 96, was unfairly benched in the '98 WC and has been an ambassador for US Soccer.  But more grievously, Brian McBride, the respected workhorse forward who epitomizes the best traits of the American player - absolute determination and tireless work rate - was 5 games short.  Fittingly, McBride honorably decided to retire and decline any invitations to chase individual glory.


In the 3-2 win over Slovenia, Clint Dempsey scored his 24th international goal, propelling him to (a tie for) 4th overall in US Soccer history.  Joe-Max Moore shares the 24 goal mark with Dempsey, but he did it in 100 games, playing in 18 more contests than Clint.  The 3 legends still above Dempsey would be Brian McBride at 30 goals, Eric Wynalda at 34 and Landon Donovan at 46.  I would be interested to see how many of their goals came from penalty kicks.  Clearly, Landon has taken the majority of PK's since Dempsey's international ascendance, so we know that Dempsey didn't accumulate his goal count from that.

Just this year, Dempsey has scored 5 goals in 14 games, winning the US Soccer player of the year award.  How many goals will he have when he's done?  At age 28, he could possibly have another, say 50 games over the next 5-6 years, assuming he ages as well as Reyna or McBride.  At his current rate, he would finish with about 39 goals.  Heck, maybe he'll even take a few PKs should Landon step aside.  Age will likely slow down Clint's goal rate but who can possibly predict what will happen in his career?

Earlier this year, Clint also became the leading scorer (not just American) in Fulham's Premier League history and recently became (tied with McBride as) the top-scoring American in Premier League history overall with 36.  According to the Wall Street Journal, 33 Americans have played in the Premier League since its inception in 1992 (including 7 GKs who've accounted for 42% of games played) and they have totaled 131 goals.  Besides McBride's 36 goals, Roy Wegerle was the only other American to reach double figures (13).  Basically, when its all said and done, Dempsey will be the best American player ever, not only in England, but in Europe.


US soccer is now 2 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw under Klinsmann.  We've scored 5 goals and given up 7 in return.  Of those 5, however, 3 were in the last game vs Slovenia.  In the first 6 games, we only scored 2 goals - a tap in by Rogers vs Mexico and Dempsey's skillful strike vs Honduras.  The other games vs Costa Rica, Belgium, Ecuador and France all ended the same: 1-0 loss.  Again, I'd argue that we probably deserved to win vs Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador had we been better at scoring opportunities in the final 3rd.

This November camp is probably the best one Klinsmann has had yet.  After Klinsmann's much advertised first game resulted in a much needed draw vs Mexico, our September set began with a disappointing home loss vs Costa Rica (especially disappointing because I was there and Landon missed an easy goal just yards in front of me) and then we were outplayed in Belgium.  We had 1 goal in 3 games.

October's contests began promisingly with the victory over Honduras but we followed that up with a horrible defeat against Ecuador.  We had actually outshot Ecuador 22-9 on the night, couldn't convert and gave up a 79th minute goal.  2 goals in 5 games.

No one expected for us to actually beat France, so we didn't.  However, our defense played a pretty strong game and it was the French fans who were booing their team at the half.  Goodson's slip allowed France's lone goal, but overall it was a decent performance by the US, albeit a conservative defensive-minded side.  Klinsmann capped his 2nd player ever, another German-born son of an American serviceman, Fabian Johnson.  His 1st ever capped player, Danny Williams, started against France but was ineffective from the wing.  He is likely just more suited to a central midfield role - players of which we have many.

Against Slovenia, Klinsmann surprised everyone by deploying two forwards in the starting lineup for the first time and he was rewarded when both Buddle and Altidore got on the scoresheet in the 1st half.  Buddle's rather long distance strike (impressively chested down and volleyed perfectly just inside left post) was the sort of goal that you'd only expect from Clint and maybe Jozy.  Overall, it was clearly the best attacking performance we've seen under Klinsmann.  Under the two forwards, Dempsey was the attacking midfielder at the top of a diamond midfield.  In my mind, it is the perfect spot to make use of his skills.

Surprisingly, Klinsmann tried out two different midfield wings this time - Bradley on the right instead of the ineffective Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson on the left instead of Brek Shea.  Bradley strangely didn't see any time vs France (while Edu, Jermaine Jones and Beckerman all did) but was universally praised for his solid play vs Slovenia.  He tirelessly assisted Beckerman in defense and passed the ball extremely well in attack, although he obviously prefers to tuck in centrally.  Beckerman, in my opinion, looks to be slightly out of his element speed-wise when left as the lone defensive midfielder, as the 2nd Slovenian goal illustrates.  Fabian Johnson, who drew a clear penalty resulting in the game-winning score, was much more threatening in attack than Danny Williams ever has been and should be considered a viable alternative going forward on the flanks.

Defensively, Klinsmann hasn't done much to improve our squad much at all since he's taken over.  Cherundolo, Bocanegra and Goodson were our starters in Bob Bradley's final game back in June, just as they were in these two games.  Don't forget that Bradley wanted to bring in Chandler but was rebuffed when he (or his club) wanted him to rest, a decision that ultimately cost us the Gold Cup Final.  Obviously the renewed Gooch was slightly injured recently and couldn't play, but it is of the utmost importance that we bring in new faces at CB to train them up for 2014 and beyond.  Again, Bocanegra and Cherundolo will both be 35 by the next World Cup.  There needs to be a real sense of urgency about this now.

Klinsmann didn't bring back Tim Ream this month, but did call in Orozco again for reasons that are beyond all of us.  If we look back, we can attribute defensive mistakes which directly resulted in goals to Orozco (vs Costa Rica), Ream (vs Ecuador) and Goodson (vs France).  Had it been me, I would've have brought in at least 3-4 other young CBs from July to now because it was clearly the team's biggest weakness.  Omar Gonzalez, George John, Geoff Cameron, etc, deserve to at least get a close-up look in camp.

So, to sum it up:

Positives of Klinsmann's tenure:

- A more possession-focused side who attempts to pass out from the back to generate the attack.

- Generally, 5 attacking players involved in the offense instead of the Bradley 4 (2 forwards plus Dempsey and Donovan).

- Timothy Chandler - maybe not the greatest showing vs Slovenia, but ought to be entrenched at LB, at least until Cherundolo retires, although Lichaj was promising there pre-injury as well.

- Brek Shea - Again, not a Klinsmann discovery, but has clearly flourished as the wide-left threat that we haven't had since DeMarcus Beasley. 

- Jose Francisco Torres - a usable offensive central midfield piece, currently injured.

- Fabian Johnson - since wing players were not our midfield strength, he provides some depth.  We've only really seen him in one game.


- Only 1 shutout in 7 games and we've allowed 7 goals.  Defensively, we're nowhere close to where we should be.

- In the greatest position of need, not a single new CB has been discovered in 7 games, with only 2 young recruits even brought in for live tryouts: Orozco/Ream = fail.  Onyewu's unexpected comeback mitigates the need in the short run, but not for WC 2014.

- Kyle Beckerman is the current Klinsmann favorite starter at defensive mid but seems to be an inferior choice to Michael Bradley.  Especially at the bottom of the diamond, Beckerman cannot cover nearly as much ground as Bradley can.  Why would Klinsmann believe that a career MLSer is a better option than a younger and already experienced World Cup veteran currently starting for a Serie A side who unquestionably has one of the world's best motors?

- Klinsmann's 5 midfielder formations scored just 2 goals in 6 games, while his 2 forward/4 midfielder diamond scored 3 in 1 game and showed the most attacking prowess.  Small sample size to be sure, but Klinsmann will have to decide which formation works best for the US going forward.

If we were to play a game in December, this would be my lineup:

Shea -----------------------------Donovan

2nd Team:
Beasley----------Torres----------Fabian J
--------------Edu-------J Jones--------
Danny W-George John--Goodson--A Morales

Don't know anything about Alfredo Morales but hey, he plays in Germany.  Danny Williams can slot in as my LB just so I can get all the German born boys (minus Chandler) on the field together.

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