The USMNT is in the England trap. We enshroud ourselves in the trusty 4-4-2. We dismiss tactical developments as foreign and convoluted. We confuse comfort level with effectiveness. On the occasions we emerge from the cave, we get startled by the light and scuttle back to the reassuring darkness. We have nurturing media members itching to reward our backwardness.
Argentina overmatched a U.S. team playing a five-man midfield. The Americans switched to four, held their own in the second half and evened the score on a set piece. It was a fine effort, but it illustrated more about personnel than tactics.
Playing Bradley/Jones/Edu as a trio did not work. They are too instinctively similar. Roles were ill-defined. None had the vision or natural ball skill to move through a robust Argentina midfield. Bradley and Edu worked better with definite roles in tandem. Having one less midfielder exposed them little, since they were playing with 10 men behind the ball anyway. That’s not an indictment of all five-man midfield variations, just that particular one.
The 4-4-2 may have mystical powers – I would argue not considering the U.S. has failed to win 10 of its last 12 starting in that formation and has a 5-15-3 record under Bradley against teams outside CONCACAF and Mexico with it – but the reason the U.S. played better was they finally had a viable option up front, in Agudelo. Jozy Altidore didn’t disappear. To disappear, you must have appeared initially. Jozy didn’t in that match. It’s not clear he has, period.
Since moving to Europe, Altidore has scored twice in 41 league appearances. He does have ten goals in 32 appearances for the USMNT, though he’s scored just twice in his last 14 competitive fixtures. Goals aren’t everything, but Altidore’s comprehensive effort doesn’t flatter him. His awareness and anticipation are poor. He mistimes runs. He doesn’t position himself well. He looks lethargic. His movement is laborious and cumbersome. His work-rate is unimpressive and he doesn’t press effectively. He’s laid back. Content with a stable backseat place he’s not grasping for the car keys.
Jozy doesn’t score goals. He doesn’t create goals. He doesn’t hold his position well. He needs to do at least one of those three things.
Altidore is “only 21,” but soccer players mature and fade sooner than American sport athletes. More than half the German first-choice XI is 22 or under. Established Argentina stars Leo Messi and Angel Di Maria are 23. Jozy is playing his fourth season as a full-time professional. At some potential must yield production. He’s still “young” and will get chances, but he’s shown nothing to suggest he will capitalize on them. Especially if his purported training habits continue.
Drogba was a “late bloomer.” Drogba had a tumultuous childhood, never played in a youth academy, never signed a professional contract until he was 21 and had injury troubles. Jozy has had every advantage as a professional soccer player. European clubs have not given Jozy an opportunity to play week-in, week-out, because he hasn’t earned one. He’s been disappointing. His greatest claims to have game remain his nine goals in MLS and his transfer fee.
Altidore seems like an earnest kid. He has natural ability on the ball, but, far too often, he relies on the ball finding him. Agudelo lacks experience but he plays with a natural vitality and enthusiasm. He forces the issue. He scored against Argentina because he instinctively followed the play and bounced on the rebound. It’s easier to reign in someone’s inner fire than ignite it.
Jozy may still have a bright future for the national team, but he’s starting by default, not merit. Agudelo has shown enough to be given a chance to start. Should he continue to impress, those chances should come at Altidore’s expense.
Play at a high level: The two American players not overwhelmed by Argentina’s speed iniitially were Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey. Both were spot-on, disciplined and admirable. That’s no coincidence, since they are the two Americans with stable starting positions, playing that caliber of player every week in the world’s best league. The more Americans contributing to teams at that level, the more successful the national team will be.
Play on Grass: If we wish to be treated as a serious international player, it’s time to treat soccer professionally. U.S. National Team matches should be played on native grass fields, not haphazard patchworks of grass covering artificial turf. The desire for gate revenue is understandable, but there are enough grass stadiums in large markets to ensure the team plays on a respectable, responsible surface, especally when hosting a team such as Argentina.
Acquisitions: The Red Sox’ invasion of international soccer continues. Boston businessman Thomas DiBenedetto, a partner in NESV, has bought a controlling 2/3 share in Serie A club AS Roma for $108 million. He has pledged to buy “five or six new players” while bringing the club under UEFA’s financial fair play rules. That’s no simple feat. Roma was hundreds of millions in debt and will lost an estimated $56 million this year.
Roma could be a shrewd investment. Under the right stewardship, they could be a giant in Italian soccer. Though, without Serie A making wholesale changes, that’s going to continue to become less relevant.
Racism: Brazilian wonderkid Neymar raised his price tag this summer, scoring both goals in Brazil’s 2-0 win over Scotland in London. Though, a reported racist incident, sullied the moment for him. Neymar accused Scottish fans of jeering him racially and throwing a banana onto the field as he prepared to take a penalty. The Tartan Army acknowledged jeering Neymar, because he feigned injury.
Ochocinco: Not concerned enough for a deep musing on Ochocinco’s trial with Sporting KC in MLS. The publicity stunt seemed to work well. It got Chad back on ESPN. It alerted people that the Kansas City Wizards had rebranded. I’m hoping the trend of appropriating European soccer club names out of context continues. A.C. Denver? Borussia San Jose? Boston Wanderers?
Goal of the Week: Dennis Rommedahl (Denmark) vs. Norway