As we sat at a local bar, having a few casuals and somewhat keeping an eye on the Jamaica-Canada QF game tonight, fellow writer Andy Siviy summed it up best when recapping last night’s game vs. El Salvador.
“The fact that two defenders scored for us last night is problematic.”
Indeed it is. The fact that our midfield and forwards were unable to muster up a single goal against the 103rd best team in FIFA’s world rankings is only the beginning of a huge concern for the USMNT moving forward. Now, FIFA world rankings aren’t exactly the most accurate way to rate a team’s overall skill level (Switzerland currently ranks higher than Spain, Italy, and England, and Germany sits third despite being the current World Cup and Confederation’s Cup holders), but let’s just take a hot second to dissect El Salvador’s line-up last night. Their starting XI featured 7 players from the Salvadoran League (name a single team from this league and I’ll eat my hat), 2 players from Portugal’s second tier league, 1 player from the MLS, and a goalkeeper from the Icelandic League playing on a team named Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja, which looks like what you would see if you were to shit out alphabet soup.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s always nice to get some scoring contribution from your defense, but Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj being the only two goal scorers in this game raises a big red flag. In fact, 4 of USA’s 9 goals in this tournament have come from defenders. That means only 5 goals in 4 games from the guys that should be scoring, against mediocre competition. Not exactly anything to feel confident about.
And it’s not just the goal scoring that’s concerning. Every performance so far has been less than impressive. Every aspect of the game vs. Panama was equal. USA was the dominant team vs. Martinque but still managed to squander a two goal lead. The job got done vs. Nicaragua but it certainly wasn’t inspiring. And finally, there was last night, where in my opinion, we witnessed quite possibly one of the most atrocious defensive performances in USMNT team history, given the quality of the opposition.
You probably think I’m being extremely harsh right now considering all things aside, USA has yet to lose a game in the Gold Cup. And you’re right, I am. After all, this is USA’s B team for the most part. But my point is this: USA is lacking the depth needed to compete against the world’s soccer powerhouses. Nobody has proven to me that they can step up and make a difference with the A team. Not a single player. Panama, Martinique, Nicaragua, El Salvador. Someone, if not multiple players, should be having break out tournaments, making Bruce Arena’s decision a little easier come the 2018 World Cup. I firmly believe that if Bruce Arena puts his current best 11 players on the field, this team is capable of competing with the world’s best on any given day.
But what happens when John Brooks goes down with an injury? What happens when an aging and fatigued Michael Bradley or Clint Dempsey needs to come off in the 105th minute? What happens if Tim Howard were to suddenly decide to hang up the boots before next year? What happens when USA trails 1-0 in the 90th minute and needs a late goal from a super-sub off the bench?
One by one, let’s take a look at these questions.
Imagine it’s the 2018 World Cup, the US just needs a draw in their final group stage game to advance to the knockout rounds. In only the 17th minute, John Brooks jumps to clear a corner kick and lands awkwardly. Brooks must sub off, but who replaces him for the remainder of such an important game? I don’t have an answer for you.
Imagine it’s the 2018 World Cup, the Round of 16, and just like 2014, the US force Belgium into extra time. But Clint Dempsey, now 35, and Michael Bradley, now 30, are gassed and can no longer continue. Who steps in and takes over their roles in this crucial game? I don’t have an answer for you.
Imagine it’s the 2018 World Cup, and Tim Howard has retired from the game for good. Who is going to stand on their head against the world’s best teams and players to give the US a fighting chance? I don’t have an answer for you.
Imagine it’s the 2018 World Cup, the US trail 1-0 in a must win game in the 90th minute. Who do you bring off the bench to be the hero, to score the tying goal, and to send the game into extra time? I don’t have an answer for you.
The Gold Cup was supposed to provide all of these answers, but it simply hasn’t. It doesn’t matter how good your starting XI is, you’re going to need depth to have success. Just look at Germany. They had the ability to bring Mario Gotze off the bench in the 2014 World Cup final and sure enough, that was the difference. Not to mention, the German B team just won the Confed Cup. That’s what it takes. I’m not saying the US need Mario Gotze quality players on the bench, but they do need role players who can step up in big game situations. And so far I haven’t seen anyone who can do that, which raises a huge concern heading into next summer. Fortunately, there’s still time for that to change. So, who’s it gonna be?
Hey Jozy, btw, congrats on the sex.