Sunday, July 26, 2015

U!S!A! U!S!A!

This afternoon, the United States fell to Panama on penalty kicks finishing the 2015 edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in fourth place.

The Klinsmann era of U.S. Soccer is being a judged a failure, with the commentariat throwing around names as alternatives for gaffer.

It's important, apparently, to get results.  All the time.  Not in meaningless friendlies against European powerhouses that these opponents don't take seriously.  In important tournaments.  Like the Gold Cup.

Fourth place is unacceptable.  Just like not winning every game of the semifinal group stage for World Cup qualifying will be unacceptable.

These things matter.

I guess.

In his last Gold Cup in 2011, Bob Bradley reversed course from his approach in the 2009 and 2007 editions, opting to go with a smaller, more experienced, group of players.  In the three group stage matches, Bradley started only 13 different players.  Only five of the thirteen were under 28 years of age:  Michael Bradley; Tim Ream; Eric Lichaj; Jozy Altidore; and Juan Agudelo.  Compare that to 2009, when sixteen of twenty-two players that earned starts during the group stage were younger than twenty-eight:  Freddy Adu; Robbie Rogers; Sam Cronin; Charlie Davies; Stuart Holden; Brad Evans; Santino Quaranta; Kenny Cooper; Chad Marshall; Heath Pearce; Luis Robles; Colin Clark; Michael Parkhurst; Clarence Goodson; Kyle Beckerman; and Logan Pause.  In both tournaments, the U.S. lost the Final in depressing fashion to Mexico.  But second place is second place, not fourth.

In 2007, fifteen of the twenty-two players that got starts during the group stage were under 28 (Michael Bradley; Jonathan Spector; Benny Feilhaber; Jonathan Bornstein; Justin Mapp; Frank Simek; Eddie Johnson; Michael Parkhurst; Clint Dempsey; Ricardo Clark; DaMarcus Beasley; Oguchi Onyewu; Landon Donovan; Taylor Twellman; and Jay DeMerit).  Coach Bradley won that Cup.  His first and only. 

In the Klinsmann era, Jurgen has also won one Cup, in 2013.  And two years ago, only ten of the nineteen that started Group Stage matches were under 28:   Stuart Holden; Michael Orozco; Edgar Castillo; Alejandro Bedoya; Tony Beltran; Jose Torres; Sean Johnson; Brek Shea; Joe Corona; and Mikkel Diskerud.

This year, Klinsmann started twenty-one different players in the three group stage matches.  Thirteen of those were under 28:  DeAndre Yedlin; John Brooks; Ventura Alvarado; Gyasi Zardes; Greg Garza; Aron Johannsson; Mikkel Diskerud; Alfredo Morales; Timothy Chandler; Jozy Altidore; Omar Gonzalez; Fabian Johnson; and Tim Ream.

A couple of things interest me about this banal listing of names. 

First, not many of the young guns selected by Coach Bradley panned out and became fixtures of the U.S. men's national team.  That's not terribly surprising, just a fact of trying to find and develop talent, and something that will likely also be true of Klinsmann's selections.  At the same time, it is the point of the Gold Cup tournament -- an opportunity to blood players and test mettle in actual tournament conditions against competent opposition.  That Jurgen used this year's tournament to get first hand looks on young players seems like a good thing, even if they did not perform to expectations.

Second, the pool that Klinsmann is pulling from is a lot bigger and more varied than where Bradley fished.  This also would seem to be a good thing, claims that the U.S. talent pool is peculiarly thin right now notwithstanding. 

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