By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 19, 2012) US Soccer Players – Letters time, and we start with Will's response to Field Conditions where I made the field in St Johns the principle antagonist in the Antigua & Barbuda – USA story: “You have a point, but I think you’re letting Klinsmann off too easy. Some of the problems in that game were a result of lineup and roster choices. Eddie Johnson gets all the credit, but that was a risk. I’m also concerned with Klinsmann’s substitutions.”
Six points from two games and qualifying in first-place in Group A is enough of an answer right now. I thought Jason Davis did a good job explaining why in his Gamesmanship article. Where you’re right and I might be wrong is the disconnect between what Klinsmann suggested when he took the job and what played out over the semifinal round. For me, that has as much to do with overexposing the coach early on. Klinsmann gave too many interviews, said too much, and the message became a challenge well above getting into the Hexagonal round.
Tommy writes: “I’m concerned that there’s no real sense of urgency when it comes to fixing the defensive issues. Players end up out of position or pressed into service, and it rarely seems like the best we can do. In the back of my mind is what happened in the Gold Cup final…. I don’t think there’s enough difference between what we have now and what we had then, and it’s been over a year. That should be top of the list, but we’re heading into the next round of qualifying and it’s still an issue.”
We can argue about what’s the single most important thing on US coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s punch list, but there’s a good enough argument for Tommy’s point. It’s that left back problem, the one we’ve been talking about for years.
I disagree with Klinsmann and anybody else who wants to treat left back like the soccer equivalent of baseball’s right field. Yet, I would also take issue with the insistence that any position can become the most important on the field. That’s the contemporary take on the gridiron game. Pick a position, and someone is putting together a thousand words on why that’s the key to the game. We can all safely assume that every position player matters, and a specialist is probably going to do a better job over multiple games than someone out of position.
Klinsmann’s predecessors have demonstrated that no, not everyone can play left back effectively. That ‘anyone will do’ mindset doesn’t work, especially since we’ve seen so many teams in CONCACAF play an attacking style that keys in on what they believe to be the weakest point in the US backline. Left back can’t become an open invitation, and it’s a questionable choice to shift around the best center back pairing to try to cover that spot.
Fabian Johnson is the ideal here, a player who can handle his defensive duties while pushing forward and turning the left side into a threat. Cleverness would dictate adding ‘rather than a liability’ to the end of that last sentence, but I don’t think that’s the case. Any of the back four having an off game turns it into a liability in CONCACAF. Even the best teams aren’t interested in imposing their game most of the time. They’re concerned with the easiest route forward. That’s where your Gold Cup example looms large and it’s the October Qualifiers issue. If first choice isn’t available what happens?
An acronym writes in response to my Canada’s exit is an MLS problem article: “You’re right, of course. I’m not sure where MLS’s head’s at here. They congratulate themselves over their contribution to Jamaica, but take no responsibility for Canada. It’s not MLS’s job to make Jamaica better. They should be asking why they can do that but not do enough for Canada. They have clubs in Canada and a promise to help with development.”
There’s no arguing that the message Major League Soccer sent during the semifinal round of qualifying is mixed. I don’t have any issues with North America’s topflight taking credit for improving the region, but there are two roles they’re supposed to play. Developing players in the USA and now Canada is part of their mandate, and they don’t get to move away from that without addressing why.
While resisting the urge to setup a straw version of MLS here that we could knock down, they could point to academies and what some clubs are doing. Again, while resisting that urge we could point to the clubs that aren’t doing much of anything in that regard or the ones with success stories that help other CONCACAF teams. It’s not part of Major League Soccer’s job to improve CONCACAF as a region, and it should be an issue when that seems to be an easier job than improving things in Canada.
Jennifer asks... do you have a pick for who makes the playoffs in the Eastern Conference?
Sure, why not. Kansas City and Chicago are already in, so we have three slots currently occupied by DC, New York, and Houston. Those teams are separated by four points. Columbus is in 6th, a point out. So the question becomes do I think Columbus is going to knock one of those three teams out. Yes, and I think it's going to be DC trying to explain what happened.
For me, the real challenge is avoiding the play-in round. I remain of the opinion that a quick playoff exit is no better than missing them entirely. MLS isn't a league of the slow build, something enough teams have demonstrated in recent seasons. For most, it's what they can do right now. If the playoffs in the era of the play-in round is still enough for coaches to keep their vision in place, that's an interesting distinction between success and failure.
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 email@example.com.
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