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Nov 182013

On Tuesday the US Men’s National team will face off against Austria. It will be their final game before breaking for the winter and re-grouping in January. By that time World Cup qualifying will be complete and we’ll have seen the draw and be fully aware of the group that awaits in Brazil come June.

The US enjoyed a very successful qualifying campaign and finished atop “The Hex” with 22 points and a perfect 5-0-0 record at home. The team appears to be coming together under Jurgen Klinsmann and expectations for the World Cup are high, even if their outlook for the group stage draw seems daunting at this point. We’re starting to get an idea of who will be called upon to start come June’s group stage. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the starting XI will look something like this…


Evans – Gonzalez – Besler – Beasley

Jones – Bradley

Donovan – Dempsey – E. Johnson


There will always be debate, but this is probably what most Americans would consider the “best XI” based upon the last couple months of qualifying/friendlies. I take issue with several of these spots, but there’s one in particular I want to focus on: that lone striker up top.

Jozy Altidore seems to be the consensus No.1 for this role. He scored four goals in five qualifier starts in 2013 after notching 23 goals during the 2012/13 Eredivisie season in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar. However, he has struggled to find the back of the net ever since joining Sunderland over the summer. So far this season he has no goals in league play and just 13 shots total in 10 starts.

Enter Aron Johannsson.

The American-born Icelandic striker joined AZ Alkmaar in January of 2013 and he pretty much became Altidore’s replacement at the Dutch club. Since arriving in the Netherlands, Johannsson has 12 goals in 18 appearances. After earning his first cap with the US in August (after getting approval from FIFA for a one time switch from Iceland) Johannsson tallied his first goal in October’s qualifying finale against Panama. His goal came late in the game proved to be the winner that sank Panama’s hopes and sent Mexico through to a two leg playoff with New Zealand. That is the last impression we have from the US’s last “competitive” game.

Then came last week’s friendly in Scotland. Jozy Altidore started up top and Aron Johannsson eventually came on to play alongside him; a move that Jurgen Klinsmann had to make at some point just to see if the two could co-exist. They did, for the most part, but ultimately the game ended in a 0-0 draw and now here we are heading into Tuesday’s game with Austria.

Altidore still seems to be the consensus No.1, but should that be the case? If you simply look at the numbers, both Altidore and Johannsson have pretty similar payloads. Altidore tore it up at AZ Alkmaar, stayed hot with the US, but has since cooled off at Sunderland. Johannsson has stepped in and matched Altidore’s goal scoring pace at the Dutch club and is now on the board with the US. The two would appear, on paper, to be in a dead heat for that starting striker spot, despite the fact that Altidore is several years older and has more caps with the US.

So how do we separate the two?

The answer to that depends on how you want to view the “problem”. There’s no doubt Altidore is the better athlete, but Johannsson may have more technical ability. Such a “comparison” is at the very center of a debate that still rages on to this day about the best way to develop great American soccer players. Many would have us believe that we need our biggest, strongest, fastest athletes to start playing soccer; big, bruising machines like Altidore who are capable of overpowering defenders. Still some say we need to produce more well-rounded, complete soccer players. We need players who understand the flow of the game. I side with the latter philosophy.

We’ve had much more time to watch Jozy Altidore play than Aron Johannsson, but we can already start to see how the two compare. When Altidore is leading the line, everything seems to slow down and the flow of a given offensive push tends to stall when the ball winds up at his feet. That’s ultimately what people love to rave about his game: “look at how good his “hold up play” is!” And to be fair, there’s value in a player who can play with his back to the goal and distribute to other teammates. But then comes the disclaimer with Jozy: “He needs help.” He requires service from the players around him in order to be successful. And to be fair, every great striker needs such help. Unless your name is Luis Suarez, you’ll have a hard time beating two or three defenders all by yourself and scoring on a regular basis. But at the end of the day, your job as a striker is to create something when your surrounding circumstances are less than ideal. The great ones don’t make excuses; they find ways to score. I have a lot more faith in Johannsson to pull a goal out of his hat when the US is in trouble than Altidore because Johannsson’s game is less reliant upon others.

Aron Johannsson may not be as big or as strong as Altidore, but after only a couple appearances with the US it’s clear he has more technical ability than Altidore. For all the praise Altidore gets as a true “No.9″, his passing ability is average and his first touch continues to let him down at the worst possible moments. He’s so busy chasing the ball as far back as the halfway line, that he forgets to simply be patient and make smart runs in and out of the opposing team’s back line. Johannsson has no such weakness. He is a cerebral player who reads the game well and whose first touch is perhaps his greatest weapon.

Johannsson is several years younger than Altidore, but that shouldn’t stop him from taking the No.1 striker spot between now and June. If he has a good showing in Brazil, there’s no reason he can’t be “the future” at the striker position for the US. Just like Jozy, Aron won’t stay in the Netherlands for long. Someone will pay good money to see if “the Iceman” can get it done at the next level. I think his skill set lends itself to said next level better than Altidore. We’re seeing the real Altidore at Sunderland. His is a game that is too dependent on others. Johannsson can read the game and pick his spots much better than Altidore.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but perhaps we’ll look back on these few months between the World Cup draw and the start of group play as the moment when a new, unexpected goalscorer rose up and seized the title of “No.1 Striker” for the US Men’s National team. It may even be a turning point for American soccer as a whole; to see the more complete soccer player usurp the better athlete.

Time will tell.

Jul 062013

Yes every CONCACAF Gold Cup since 2005 has pitted Mexico v USA but for the likes of Martinique and Belize this is as good as it gets. So, lets look at the possibilities.

Group A has heavy weight Mexico, good Panama, a YOUNG Canada, and surprise Martinique. Mexico better roll in every game as their manager is sitting on a really hot seat at the moment. Canada is in search of direction so they are playing an extremely young squad. Panama is still in the race for the World Cup but need to find some more depth for further success. Martinique is happy to be here and willing to upset the apple cart if they can, remember Cape Verde in the African Cup of Nations? Winners: Mexico, Runner-up: Panama, 3rd and possibly in quarterfinals: Canada, Last: Martinique

Group B is the best of the three with El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago. For Honduras the focus is building more depth for a side  that could seriously make the World Cup. Haiti sees themselves as being able to take the mantle of best in the Caribbean from Jamaica, who didn’t make the Gold Cup, and will see this side as one who will be ready to make a push and develop over the next few years. El Salvador is kicking themselves for not making the hexagonal but with a very young side will look for the future to build on. Trinidad and Tobago made the hexagonal in qualification for 2010 but missed a generation so are having to rebuild and will look to this tournament for assisting in that. Winners: El Salvador, Runner-up: Honduras, 3rd and possibly in quarterfinals: Haiti, Last: Trinidad and Tobago.

Group C is like A with a heavy weight in the USA, a newcomer in Belize, with Costa Rica looking for qualifying depth, and Cuba just looking for something. Cuba is a weird one. They do well at making youth tournaments for a county that is very much baseball and boxing first. They always seem to have a player defect during the tournament but are one of the best in the Caribbean. Whenever Communism falls on this island and helps develop soccer they could become formidable indeed. This is just a looking for depth USA team that has a lot of players who have been out of the loop, play in smaller leagues, or just have had recent bad luck. Enough said. Belize is making their first major tournament as they did so and caused Guatemala to miss out. Costa Rica is looking for more players to help in qualification. With the hex as it usually is that leaves few places in Brazil outside the USA and Mexico. Winners: USA, Runner-up: Costa Rica, 3rd and possibly in quarterfinals: Cuba, Last: Belize

Best Group Stage Match: Honduras v El Salvador, as much history as the football itself. In 1969, after a World Cup qualifier playoff game that was won by El Salvador and had massive violence surrounding the previous two matches that the playoff was played in Mexico City.

Quarterfinal matchups:

Panama v Honduras: Each team will need this for the same reasons, to find more depth for their ongoing World Cup qualifying campaign. Honduras seems to have more talent but Panama the better squad cohesion. Going with Honduras in a talent comes through.

Mexico v Haiti: Should Haiti make a massive upset there would be riots all over Mexico and a certain few head will roll and be on spikes or worse. But honestly the talent is so vast in diversity that it would be farcical to say Haiti would win. Mexico through.

United States v Canada: In hockey this would be a different story but this is soccer. Since 1986 the fortunes of Canada and USA have gone in opposite directions. Canada will be happy with their quarterfinal appearance but no shot against the US unless this was played in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, or Edmonton. USA through.

Costa Rica v El Salvador: This is a fun one. Costa Rica is looking to find more depth while El Salvador is trying to usher in a new generation. The distinct advantage El Salvador will have will be they could fill M&T Bank Stadium and make the 12 man felt. Need an upset somewhere. El Salvador through


Mexico v Honduras: Mexico has the better talent but if they don’t make the final it is because Honduras finds it in them to replicate what they did against Mexico early in the year and possibly one better, a 2-2 draw in Honduras. Common wisdom says Mexico will find a way to get a winner but this will be the most nerve racking of the semifinals. Mexico through.

USA v Costa Rica: the United States will see this as just another step in asserting their dominance of the region as they pry it away from Mexico. Costa Rica will give them all they can handle but it will be more of the same from the group stage match. USA through.

Finals: The big two will go at it again and depending on what comes from an all Liga MX side and the pressure their coach is under will mean what kind of opposition the US will face. The States gained so much confidence from winning at Azteca last August and the draw in March. Mexico has totally lost the mojo they had coming away from the Olympics. As feisty as this usually is the relatively inexperienced Mexican side will have difficulties dealing with the enormous pressure. USA as Champions

Oct 172012

usacelebrate 300x235 Deuce For Deuce Beats Guatemala

What started out as a shock turned into a domination that American fans should be proud of as the United States came away from the final third round World Cup Qualifier with a 3-1 in over Guatemala at Livestrong Sporting Park.

Carlos Ruiz, who announced his retirement from international play in the media zone after the game, played the offside line perfectly as he was able to slip past the back line of the US to put the ball past Tim Howard and give the Guatemalan fan presence hope that they could get through to the hexagonal round of qualifying.

The response of the American side was excellent. They showed a spine that will be needed when the fixtures for the fourth stage, ‘The Hex’, gets underway.

The equalizer came from USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra’s header off a corner shortly after the Ruiz goal. The zone defense by Guatemala was easy prey, but it was a lovely goal from Bocanegra with an assist from Clint Dempsey.

Dempsey proceeded to make the first half his own. He scored the go-ahead goal from short range off an Eddie Johnson cross.

Before the first half ended Michael Bradley chipped the ball over a Guatemalan defender and the goalkeeper for Dempsey to knock home to make it 3-1 and give Clint his second of the night.

Into the second half the United States was happy with the score line as it was and kept the ball to themselves. They did not allow any clear-cut chances for their opposition as they were able to coast through the second half to victory and a top spot in their group. Now they wait for CONCACAF to make the fixture decision for the fourth round matches.

While there is the question of when and where they will play all 10 remaining World Cup Qualifiers, American fans can take pride in the fact that their team dominated and that they are in an excellent position to progress even more with a friendly against Russia looming in the November FIFA date window.

Club or Country: The Red Bulls’ US National Team Adventures

 Posted by on October 12, 2011 at 10:06 pm  Uncategorized
Oct 122011
RBA Club or Country: The Red Bulls US National Team Adventures

A little under a year ago, the United States National Team, under then coach Bob Bradley, took a squad of mostly Major League Soccer stars to South Africa to play a friendly.  On that squad was a player that people were familiar with, Tim Ream, and one they knew very little, Juan Agudelo.  Ream was coming off a  sensational rookie season that was so good, many thought he was robbed, coming in second for MLS rookie of the year.  Agudelo was merely a hot commodity. He played sparingly throughout the regular season, but injuries to Thierry Henry among others, necessitated his insertion into the Red Bulls starting lineup for the end of the season and playoffs.  While the, at the time, 17 year old never scored, his nifty moves on the ball and otherworldly calm and instincts for someone his age opened many eyes.  Both young Red Bulls made their debuts in South Africa.  Ream started the match and was shaky, but got better as the game went on.  Agudelo was a substitute and broke the deadlock with a cool late finish, becoming the youngest player to ever score for the U.S. senior team.  After that match, and even for some time after, the duo’s national team futures looked very bright.  Oh how quickly things can change.

Tim Ream made a number of quality starts for the U.S. after South Africa.  Everything was going according to plan for the young centerback.  Very early on based on his performances, he was not only anointed the centerback of the future, but quite possibly the near future.  His steady progression exhibited over the first year of his career is what makes the severity of how hard he’s hit a wall all the more shocking.

It would seem that the start of Ream’s struggles can be pinpointed way back in April in a match against Philadelphia.  It was in that match that Ream tried to pass the ball across the field and seemingly put it right at the feet of Philadelphia’s Roger Torres who had an easy, clear path to the goal which he did not squander.  The Red Bulls lost, 1-0.  At the time the gaffe was called “uncharacteristic.”  It was generally thought Ream would bounce back as his trademark cool calm suggested.

The Ream that people grew to know hasn’t disappeared, not entirely.  He’s produced many fine defensive efforts over the course of the season, even made some spectacular plays such as this.  But he’s also had noticeable gaffes such as his lackadaisical pass that resulted in the second goal against Real Salt Lake on September 21st that effectively put that sent that runaway train of a match off a cliff.  One of the most common criticisms of Ream all season has been his lack of physicality in the box, especially on crosses or set pieces.  A flaw that would haunt him last night.  Ream entered the match in his home stadium with 19 minutes left to play.  It was a good opportunity for a young player to get in a short shift of mistake free soccer.  In the 78th minute, Ecuador had a quick throw in near the box that was promptly crossed.  Ream was one on one with Jamie Ayovi, who quickly side stepped Ream and headed the ball home.  In an instant, Ream seemed to severely damage his chances of being in the National team picture anytime soon.  It’d be wrong to say he’s in the gutter and hopeless, but he’s definitely in the midst of a severe sophomore slump.

While Ream’s stock rose steadily over time, Juan Agudelo’s shot up overnight.  It was instantly apparent to many that Agudelo was something special.  He was being touted as the savior of American soccer, the player that fans would watch bring national team glory.  He scored two goals and drew a penalty kick all within his first 3 caps.  Soon fans were calling for the Agudelo/Altidore pairing up top.  When the team shifted to a lone striker, many still favored the young teenager over Altidore.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the international promised land.

The Union match was not only the start of Ream’s problems, but also Agudelo’s.  In that game, the Red Bulls controlled most of the possession but they simply lacked that aggressive instinct in the final third.  After the match, Hans Backe decided to bench the youngster in favor of Luke Rodgers who has since shown no signs of giving the job back.

Since then, Agudelo has had an admirable campaign as a part time starter and super sub scoring 6 goals over the course of the season including this beauty against DC.  But steadily, it almost seems as if the kid’s exuberance has died down a little and his national team performances have taken a hit from lack of playing time.

Against Ecuador, Agudelo just simply didn’t seem right.  He looked rusty and tremendously tentative.  He never made the dangerous run into the box (a reason Rodgers is currently favored on the club level).  Never pushed the backline or made them work.  From time to time, he showed flashes of the Agudelo everyone knows and loves with his nifty footwork, but he added very little to the overall U.S. efforts.  One particular stand out moment of futility was in the 73rd minute when he and Timmy Chandler forced a turnover and while Chandler was streaking down the sideline, Agudelo for some reason simply jogged after him rather than spread the defense and give Chandler an option in the box.  There’s something off with Agudelo.

Club performance and national team performance are intrinsically linked.  I’ve written in the past that Agudelo’s club and national team situations could come into conflict and that  certainly seems to be the case now.  I also wrote that his lack of minutes on the club level would hurt his overall progression.  Look at Jozy Altidore who was written off while he was bouncing around Europe.  Now that he’s settled in the Netherlands and getting consistent minutes, he looks like a different player, or at least the player he was always supposed to be.  I wonder if Klinsmann will be making a call to Erik Soler.  Considering his national team role, Agudelo’s club situation is awful, and it’s not going to get any better with Rodgers and Henry meshing as well as they do.  Yet there are plenty of options for him to go and start regularly in MLS.  The Red Bulls, who are looking out for their own interests,  are holding him back and the situation has got to be one that tears at the hearts of Red Bull fans who share an equal passion for their MLS side and National team.  Klinsmann’s been very clear about how important starting for one’s club team is for his players.  It would seem that Agudelo’s best option is to get out of Harrison.

Of course it’s very important to realize, both players are young and still learning.  Just look at Brek Shea’s awful appearances for the National team under Bradley in October 2010.  Many had written him off at that time, and now, who would question the fact that he is the locked in starter on the left wing.  Both Red Bull players can turn it around.  In Ream’s case he’s aware of his issues and never makes excuses which is the sign of a player who will continue to work on them.  He also seems to have the confidence of his coach and teammates.  With a rebound MLS postseason or 2012, he could erase the memories of 2011.  It’s easy to forget, but Agudelo, is still very very young.  He’ll turn 30 after the 2022 World Cup, so the book on him is most definitely not finished.  With a new club or a drastic change in the Red Bulls strategic philosophy, possibly to a 4-3-3, he could resume his meteoric rise, though the former seems more likely than the latter.  There’s time for both players who will probably never completely fade from the National team discussion.  They just need to learn and look ahead.

Things I Think I Thought:

* NY/NJ fans did an excellent job showing Red Bull Arena is a viable option for international matches, though the crowd was decidedly 2/3 Ecuadorian.

* Cherundolo/Donovan has always been a solid staple of the United States attack, but Chandler/Shea looks down right scary.

* The praise of the Beckerman/Edu tandem by Klinsmann is a bit confusing.  He hinted that their understanding of each other means that’s his preferred pairing going forward.  However, it would seem prudent to try someone a little more offensive minded than Edu, and someone just a little better than Beckerman.  I personally would like to see Bradley/Williams, the latter’s natural position being CDM.  The current duo isn’t awful, but they could be better.

* While it makes all the fiscal sense in the world for U.S. Soccer to schedule matches against Latin American countries knowing their fans will show up in droves while us lazy Americans offer a tepid showing, it would be nice if the USSF would bite the bullet and schedule an opponent that doesn’t have a significant ethnic community in this country.  It really is a bummer when your home stadium erupts around you for the other team.