I THINK people hate Jurgen Klinsmann right now? I don’t know, I’m just sort of getting that feeling. Like when you get the little tickle in the throat and start popping Halls Lemon and Honey drops. Quick check on twitter…
it’s 11 AM the day after and Jurgen Klinsmann still hasn’t been fired W T F
— Dylan (@dylan_275) March 26, 2016
— Ryan Rosenblatt (@RyanRosenblatt) March 26, 2016
— Stars and Stripes FC (@StarsStripesFC) March 26, 2016
wtf just happened I blacked out. OK, no more twitter…
Debating whether the hatred is misplaced or not is a useless exercise here on the internet. There are US Soccer officials for that. I trust those people, not dylan_275 or a Fox Sports twitter account shooting for retweets. What is useful however, is a constructive discussion of the game last night in order to assess what went wrong and to wrap our heads around the state of US soccer and our levels of expectation. Tuesday night’s game in Ohio against Guatemala has now essentially become a must win match for the US, and not must win like a morale boosting bounce back victory for the mental state of the team. This is a win or you are not in the 2018 World Cup. I have to smile at that sentence to hold back the vom. If Shia LeBeef isn’t in that dressing room screaming that sentence at them Tuesday afternoon I will gladly bring my talents to Columbus, Ohio in his stead.
The situation the USMNT finds themselves in right now is by no means without precedent. Generally though, it presents itself in a scenario where we can summon some of that under-dog fighting spirit a la recent World Cup matches against Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, England. But this is a completely different setup against a team we should be not losing to 100 out of 100 times. Games like these require a different game management style that should manifest from the top down. But hey it turns out we are also not without precedent in this scenario, as the last time around in World Cup qualifying the USMNT found themselves coming back to Columbus in almost the exact same circumstances and pulled out a victory against Jamaica.
As for the extremely disappointing loss last night down in Guatemala City. There are several points to potentially critique, among them are: the team selection, the game preparedness, the substitutions, and individual players contributions. Jurgen is catching a ton of heat for the team selection and it is mostly misplaced. We’ve got a hindsight bias sniper up on the hill picking off twitter commentators left and right. Injuries at the back and probably a thought of a pacey Guatemalan side influenced much of that back 7. The substitution at half time to bring Nagbe on for Mix was well thought out and indicative of a direct analysis of some things lacking in the first half. Once it appeared to be working this is the type of thing you let ride and where appropriate swap out tired legs for freshies. Unfortunately the newly found flow was very much disrupted by the subsequent subs. Combine that with the Guatemalan side increasingly sitting back and parking el autobus and we somehow collapsed from a not great 2 dimensional down to 0 and possibly negative dimensions, collapsing in on ourselves like a non-violent supernova.
Assessing some of the individual player performances: I need Clint to stop trying to receive the ball with a spin turn into some of the most congested midfields you can imagine. Give me a lay off, draw some of the opposing team’s players out of el autobus and let someone else run forward, please. I will say there was plenty of fire out there and it was much appreciated. The Wood/Yedlin inferno of emotion and desire was great to see. I hadn’t really warmed up to Bobby Wood yet but almost had no choice with all that heat. I dont think it is much of an observation to say Darlington Nagbe came on and injected some much needed unpredictability into the side. And just so we made sure not to be TOO productive going forward, Alejandro Bedoya was on a mission to be the Mr. Smith to Nagbe’s Neo and give the ball away each and every time he touched it. Need to also mention Guatemalan keeper who had a Timmy Howard v. Belgium like performance.
That leaves us with the game preparedness. With respect to the mental preparation for a game of this type, within the context of the overall process for qualification for a World Cup, it appeared (because that is all we can assess; were you in the dressing room? Neither was I) to be abysmal. The team seemed wholly unprepared for what would happen in the first 20 minutes of this match. Playing an away match against Guatemala in a mostly hostile environment and where a win over the US would have the home team declared hero’s, you must know despite whatever you try they are going to come out firing at you and you will be under pressure. This is international diplomacy 101. The US looked like Billy Mumphrey out there for the first 20. Being ready for that ties directly in with the idea this entire qualification process needs to be managed just as that. Its a group stage where 12 or 13 points will get you through, home games are your meal ticket, and away games you mostly play not to not lose. The Jurgen brand of long term thinking is something of a cliche, and often internally inconsistent. First and foremost the goal is getting out of the group. Jurgen and the staff seem to have forgotten qualification is a series of ‘now’ moments that you must build upon.
Finally, I’d like to touch on some of the specific events in the game last night that led to the result. I read the way the US had drawn up defending corners in training was to have someone guard the near post and for whatever reason this was forgotten in the game (another possible example of the overwhelmed start to this game by the boys). The second goal for Guatemala I can say with certainty I have never seen anything like it. It literally left me without speech.
Right from a goal kick and in on goal without requiring a single touch other than the shot. After this I did a tremendous amount of research (went to page 3 on google search) to try to find out about this Guatemalan grass because whatever it was out there on that field seemed awful to play on. It either sped the ball up like the second bounce of a lacrosse ball or completely stopped the natural flow. Balls had the unpredictable flight patterns of a moth near a flickering bulb. When you combine these horrible, but freakish type plays with the fact we had plenty of chances we should have finished the game easily could have gone the other way. There is plenty to be upset about, plenty to work on, and plenty of points to have rational, constructive discussion on. That said I am not in stage five freak out mode like 90% of those out there. So cool your jets, gird your loins, and like pony tailed, spitting Shia says “JUST DO IT” (didn’t know Nike signed him?).