By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 12, 2012) US Soccer Players – Group A is now a fight among three teams tied at the top, and it took a USA free kick to make that happen. As the October games loom, here are four things from an interesting night in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.
The Crew's Goal
As in, the goal itself that got hit three times by US shots in the first-half. One time can be unlucky, two unfortunate, but when the third shot hits the frame any team should start wondering what's happening. The United States carried that discontent into the locker room, but kept pressing. That's not a level of maturity or a team doing what they're supposed to do. Instead, it's an insistence that eventually the shot will fall. This wasn't soccer in theory, where we rely on the old hallmarks of 'playing your game' and 'keeping at it.' This was a World Cup Qualifier that needed to be won and a team that didn't let a situation turn into an excuse. The free kick that beat Jamaica was as unlikely as the ball hitting the frame not once, not twice, but thrice. Sometimes, that's how it works.
US National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann wasn't hesitant about switching up his lineup, and good for him. It's his reputation on the line as well, and he's the one who is supposed to be able to see the potential in making decisions. Some were easy, like resetting the back line to include Carlos Bocanegra and a healthy Steve Cherundolo. Others, like another tweak to the midfield, not so much. What's in play for the US in the middle of the semifinal qualifying stage is consistency among a group of regulars. Right now, this is still a team transitioning between various ideas. Is it the all-out attacking style we saw in the first-half in Columbus? Is it the attempt to establish a rhythm and build from that like we saw before the equalizer in Kingston? Is it the patience shown against Mexico? Most fans would prefer all three and quickly please, but that's not how most teams work at this level. We've seen major European clubs with the finances to buy whatever stars they want falter when their styles don't work over 90 or 180 minutes. National Team soccer is by nature more limited in squad, but it's the same problem. Transitions are tough and familiarity is valuable.
There's an obvious way to play Clint Dempsey that might as well have been trademarked by Fulham. Give him space behind the attackers, let him roam, and he'll do what he does. Disruption and goal scoring is the Dempsey game, and he's better at it than anyone American soccer has produced. He's a modern player with a contemporary game, capable of causing problems against the best teams in the world club and country. So why waste what makes him so much of a threat by putting him at the top of the attack? We're going to assume Spurs won't be so willing to experiment with what Dempsey might offer, choosing instead to focus on what we already know he can do. This is a player that's roamed just behind the attack in big time stadiums and games all over England and Europe and produced. He's already defined his role.
We've been talking about small stadiums in small markets as appropriate World Cup Qualifying venues since the Fall of 2001. On October 11th of that year, Costa Rica got the first taste of what it's like to play against the United States in front of a partisan crowd in a venue built for soccer and a third of the size of a typical gridiron stadium. It didn't work as well as expected, with the game ending scoreless. Since then, Columbus has had ups and downs as the host of qualifiers. A run of small gates in 2004 didn't help, complicating the stadium's reputation as the place the USA plays Mexico during the qualification cycle. Last night's display put the rest of the MLS soccer-specific stadiums on notice that the oldest among them is arguably still the best. Still, it's that old argument only now with a new twist. Seattle's massive crowds watch games play on turf. Portland's version of baseball's old bandbox stadiums where the crowd feels like it's on top of the players is also turf.
J Hutcherson has been writing about soccer since 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from J Hutcherson: