Friday, July 4, 2014

2014 US World Cup Roster Analysis

US Soccer 23 Man Roster 2014 World Cup Thoughts


Tim Howard
I still remember when Howard went from NY Metrostars to Man United 13-14 years ago and I had such high hopes for somebody finally dominating in Europe.  12 years even at Everton ain't no joke.  Its good to see him have a career-capping WC performance.  I'd argue that he's taken over the mantle of greatest US keeper ever.  Friedel only had '02 WC, though it was a monster performance.  Keller manned the posts in 98 and 06, both group disasters.  Howard is the only keeper to go 2 for 2 - advancing from the group both times.  Now that he's set the record for most saves (16) in a WC match since '66, he's GOAT in US history.

Brad Guzan
Guzan will likely get his chance to start between the posts in this next cycle and in Russia 2018.  Until then, he needs to keep the bald-US-goalkeepers-in-the-Premier-League tradition alive.

Nick Rimando
Though I would have liked to see Klinsman bring a young gun like Bill Hamid or Cody Cropper along for the experience, UCLA-alum Nick Rimando seemed to be an important locker room presence.  A great reward to cap off a solid career.


DaMarcus Beasley (LB)
Beaz is in the top 10 in US scoring all time and the only US player to appear in 4 WCs.  He held his own this summer as a reinvented LB, and managed to keep Timmy Chandler on the bench.  A feel good ending to this legend's sometimes bumpy career.

Fabian Johnson (RB)
I was relieved to hear that he had been playing at RB for Hoffenheim, knowing that he was the solution to our RB woes.  More than that, he was one of our best attacking players as well.  Should be a mainstay in this next cycle.

Timmy Chandler (LB)
Coming off injury and exile from the US team going into camp, I thought he was still one of our best options at either LB or RB and needed to make the plane.  I would've never guessed that he wouldn't see the field at all though, especially behind Beaz.

DeAndre Yedlin (RB)
Of the 30 man camp roster, I figured he might be the first to be cut since he wasn't the best defender and is still new to the US fold.   I thought that the starter for most of our hex qualifiers, Brad Evans, and the back-line versatile Michael Parkhurst, would be fighting it out for the backup RB spot.  Now we know Evans was only being looked at for a CB spot, strangely enough.  Instead, Yedlin probably had a spot from the beginning.  His world-class speed would overshadow his lack of experience and defensive skill, putting pressure on WC opponents.  He was even deployed at right mid.  And hey, he got a Tottenham contract out of it.  Literally, he went from what I thought was the least-worthy guy in camp to our brightest star within a month.


Matt Besler (CB)
Since Boca's unceremonial boot at the start of the hexagonal qualifiers, Besler has been the new rock in our central defense.  He played well, aside from the stoppage time mini-gaffe vs Belgium, and should be around to anchor our 2018 WC squad.  Unfortunately, this summer may have been his best chance at going to Europe, but opted to stay at KC.

Geoff Cameron (CB)
I thought perhaps he'd be in consideration for RB, given his club position at Stoke, but that was clearly never in Klinsmann's mind.  Cameron made mistakes, especially vs Portugal in gifting Nani his early goal and losing his man, Varela, for the shock stoppage time goal.  But in his 3 starts, including an interesting choice at def mid instead of Beckerman to face Belgium's (tall) Fellaini, he had a respectable showing in his what will likely be his only WC.

Omar Gonzalez (CB)
Omar came into camp with a leg injury, but managed to recover well enough to start vs Deutschland and Belgium.   Omar will be a big part of this next cycle and is in contention to start in Russia.

John Brooks (CB)
Before camp, Brooks was basically terrible every time he'd pulled on a US shirt.  I thought with Omar's iffy injury status, a solid veteran like Clarence Goodson would be a shoe-in.  Not according to Klinsmann.  And when Besler went out at halftime of our first game and Omar perhaps not ready yet, Brooks comes in, defends well, then ... becomes legendary.  He's the first US sub to score a goal in WC history.  This 21 year old should be in the mix for at least 2 more WC cycles should all go well with his club career.

Central Midfielders

Michael Bradley
The blame for Bradley's mediocre WC will be debated for a long time.  Jozy's injury forced Dempsey into Jozy's position and Bradley further up the field into Dempsey's.  Asking your two best players to play new positions on the fly is risky at best, especially for Bradley.  I think it's obvious that he's best suited to a deep-lying role, where he is a bulldog between the boxes.  His assist to Julian from deep gives testimony to this.  While his work-rate was still exemplary, he wasn't nearly as effective as a #10 under a single striker.  Who should have been in that role instead?  Landon.  or Dempsey.  or even Diskerud.  Going forward, Bradley should be captain come Russia 2018 and hopefuly he's playing back where he belongs.

Jermaine Jones
I still believe that had we had JJ during his prime for WC 2010, we don't lose to Ghana (remember Ricardo Clark?  sorry to bring him up).  Though not statistically prone to red cards, Jones had the label coming into this summer of being a yellow-card waiting to happen.  Instead, with Bradley playing ahead of him, Jermaine was an absolute beast for us.  He had the energy of 21 year old paired with presence on the ball.  Who can forget his strike vs Portugal?  It was clearly not something produced out of the US soccer system.  Jermaine made the most of his only WC experience.

Kyle Beckerman
A Klinsmann favorite from the moment he took the reins, Beckerman proved Juergen right in this WC.  I personally never thought he deserved even a look, but he acquitted himself well in the role right in front of the central defenders that he is best at.  And who can dislike someone whose dream of playing for the US in a WC came true?

Mix Diskerud
Given the fact that Klinsmann had played (at least) 2 defensive midfielders for most of this cycle, I thought Maurice Edu was likely to make the team instead of an offensive-minded Mix to give JJ and Beckerman a backup.  Diskerud's absence would be negated with Dempsey and Donovan both suited to play the #10 role ahead of him.  Well, without Landon, Mix was in.  As it turns out, Mix was one of two field players not to see the field, even though our team's play clearly lacked a playmaker, someone who could hold the ball and create.  I'd argue that he's still better at the #10 role than Bradley and should have a place there in 4 years' time.

Wide Midfielders

Graham Zusi
Zusi took over the right mid spot when Landon went on his sabbatical early '13 and never gave it up.  Though Zusi never had the superstar upside, he was a useful contributor to us and had a WC spot even before camp.  Who can forget his stoppage time goal vs Panama to keep Mexico's WC hopes alive (why? why?  we gained nothing from that goal!).  In the WC, Zusi directed the corner kick to Brooks' head vs Ghana and a pass to Dempsey's gut vs Portugal, both for goals.  Unfortunately even with a high work rate, as with the rest of the team, he offered little in keeping possession.

Alejandro Bedoya
Going into camp, I thought Bedoya was locked in a battle with Brad Davis, Joe Corona and Julian Green for 2 spots.  Given his European club experience and youth, I figured he would emerge as Zusi's backup at right mid.  Who knew he would start 3 and play in all 4 games.  I'll remember him most for this quote during camp: "Your legs go first, then your lungs constrict, and you spit up in vain after every lap but you keep your eyes on your competitors and that keeps you going," he said. "I kept telling myself, this is for the team, this is for my family, this is for Brazil, this is for Ghana."  Yes, admirably, he ran his tail off.  However, just like Zusi, he offered little in possession or attack.  He'll be 31 in 2018, and I'd guess he probably won't make the plane to Russia.

Julian Green
Most people jumped on Julian for taking Landon's spot.  I didn't understand that reasoning by any measure.  Klinsmann had said that Landon was only being evaluated as a forward.  LD simply doesn't have the youth in his legs for an outside wing spot.  Even if LD was going to play wide mid, you still take Green.  He is a future star that Bayern Munich values.  There is nobody else in our pool that Bayern even remotely cares about.  Nobody.  And even if Klinsmann had exchanged a roster spot promise for his US allegiance, why is that a problem?  There's always 2 or 3 players who don't play a minute in the WC, why wouldn't it be the brightest young star you have in preparation for the next WC?  Of course, he goes out and scores in OT with his first touch.  Hopefully, he'll be a star for us for WCs to come.

Brad Davis
Ok.  This is the spot that I'm really upset about.  Is Brad Davis faster than Landon Donovan?  Does he have more experience?  Does he possess more skill?  Is he younger?  No, no, no and no. What in the world does Brad Davis offer that Landon Donovan doesn't?  To make things worse, he started and played a forgettable game vs Germany where he contributed nothing.  Its not Davis' fault.  He is who he is, he's had a great MLS career and I'd probably get along better with him than Landon.  But unless we can sub him in to just take lefty corner kicks, there's no reason he should've been on the plane over Joe Corona, much less Landon Donovan.


Jozy Altidore
He had a breakout game vs Nigeria heading into the WC and seemed poised to make his mark.  Instead, his hamstring injury in the 1st half of the 1st game was the single biggest reason why we were so offensively inept this tournament.  Jozy's injury revealed Klinsmann's lack of a backup plan for him.  Honestly, it was the only position that we didn't have a backup for.  My answer would have been Terrence Boyd, who's game is more like Jozy's.  Klinsmann's plan?  Move Dempsey up to be the sole forward and move Bradley away from the deep-lying midfield role, that he excels in, to an attacking mid role that he's never played.  As for Jozy, at least he's only 24 will have at least 1 if not 2 WCs left to turn his WC career around.  For now, we're just hoping he finds a way to score 15 goals a year in the EPL.

Clint Dempsey
So again, with Jozy's injury, Captain Clint gets stuck as the only forward, with his only central support from Bradley, who's just learning how to play the #10 role for the first time on the international stage.  You know who would have been perfect to slot in as the #10 under Clint if Jozy goes down with injury?  LANDON DONOVAN.  Or even Mix Diskerud, who seemed to be the only true #10 on the roster.  Dempsey managed to score a beautiful opening goal vs Ghana in 30 seconds (5th fastest in WC history) and then that "gutsy" goal vs Portugal.  He nearly scored that beautiful set piece extra time goal vs Belgium that would have got him elected US President.  He's now the only American to score in 3 different WCs.  And he played most of the 4 games with a broken nose.  Dempsey will go down as one of the greatest players in US history, but at age 31, he has likely played his last WC match.

Aron Johannsson
Aron probably came into the WC with a leg injury which limited his effectiveness against Ghana and kept him on the bench after that.  Who knows how this affected Klinsmann's selections after Jozy's injuries.  Still, I don't have an issue with bringing Aron, given that he is a talent that should be in the mix for the next couple WCs.

Chris Wondolowski
His name is not allowed to be spoken in my house, except for when my boys egg each other on about not shanking goals.  "Don't be Wondolowski!", they would say.  So it all came down to that one moment - he had trained as a goal-poacher his entire life and became so good at it that one day, US coach Juergen Klinsmann declared that the greatest goal-scorer in US history (and the greatest goal-assister) and US WC history, would be cut from the team to make room for him.  Here came stoppage time of a 0-0 WC knockout stage game and Jermaine Jones' header drifts toward our wide-open poacher, mere yards from goal.  The keeper is out of position, the net is wide open.  Let me ask you, who is more equipped for this moment?  Chris or Landon?  Is Wondolowski a better goal-scorer than Landon Donovan?  (9 international goals to Landon's 57.  92 MLS goals to Landon's 144).  Does he have more experience on the biggest stage to perform under pressure?  Is he faster?  Is he better conditioned?  Does he have better ball skills?  Is he a better passer?  Is he a young gun whom we'd like to mold for the future?  Does he have more upside?  What exactly is Chris Wondolowski better than Landon Donovan at?  And in that moment, WHO WOULD YOU RATHER TAKE THAT SHOT?  The one who created, then scored the most clutch goal in recent US soccer history?  Or would you like to take Chris Wondolowski?  UGH.  We can't unequivocally say that Landon would have made it.  But he gives you the best chance.

And that's what US fans should be upset with Klinsmann about.  His decision to move Bradley, who is possibly our best player in his prime, out of position, his lack of a backup plan for Jozy, and his vendetta against Landon robbed US Soccer of a great chance to make the quarterfinals.

Ballack made this point in the aftermath: What we were missing are the players that convert from defense to offense.  The guys that can hold the ball, play-make, create opportunities.  Basically the guys who control between the halfway line and the opponents box.  We're missing true #10s.  I think that's probably the hardest position to develop for a growing soccer nation like ours.

Thinking back though, we've had guys like Tab Ramos '94, Claudio Reyna '02 version, John O'Brien.  And even today, we've got guys like Feilhaber, Jose Torres and Mix.  (All six of those guys in the last sentence had international or parental-immigrant roots, not coincidentally).  Instead Klins deployed Bradley at the #10.

Also, I wouldn't say that we've shown great development quite yet.  We've always had great goalkeeping, a disciplined/tough defense, and we've always been able to run forever and had the never say die attitude.  We didn't become something this WC that we haven't always been.  By next WC, we want to see more possession, more ideas in attack.  Yes, it is hard to develop in a few years, so we'll just have to keep importing them until we do.

In this cycle, we've already said goodbye to Bocanegra and Cherundolo.  By the time WC qualifying starts in 2016 or perhaps by the start of the Hex in 2017, Dempsey, Howard, Donovan, Beaz will all likely be axed too, if not sooner.  We have the Gold Cup in 2015, then the Copa America 2016, which will be played here in the US for the first time.  So will Klins let our veterans compete in one or both those Cups?

Going forward, of our player pool for WC 2018, only Bradley (90 caps) and Jozy (71 caps) even have more than 32 caps.  They are the only holdovers from our golden generation.

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