KANSAS CITY – The United States back line has been the least of its trouble, a slip from Clarence Goodson here, or a slide there from Geoff Cameron notwithstanding.
Three of five goals conceded by the United States in five matches have come on direct free kicks. One of those was in the second half against Guatemala back in June, when Marco Pappa reminded everyone that he can hit a swell free kick, and that he change the game in an instant when handed a good dead ball situation.
Two months later, the United States went up a goal against Jamaica down in Kingston. But fouls from U.S. midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu provided the home team with two big opportunities to aim direct free kicks at Tim Howard’s goal. Sure enough, they converted both, spelling the difference in a 2-1 Jamaican victory.
So, the problem isn’t defending per se. It’s fouling in dangerous areas, which leads to free kicks, which … well, you can connect the dots.
I asked Tim Howard today if there was anything in particular the United States defenders and midfielders could work on to quash this alarming tendencies for fouling in dangerous spot, or if it was just an awareness issue?
“Yeah, just not doing it,” he said.
Howard recalled a run at Everton where something similar was happening, where too many free kicks and corner kicks were proving painful and costly. The manager addressed it by harping on the need to avoid giving away those chances.
“If you can drill it into people’s heads, they don’t do it,” Howard said.
“That’s just getting lazy, not concentrating, getting a little bit fatigued. I think it’s the easy way out of defending, to give away fouls in dangerous areas. I think, 25 yards from goal, the only way you should give away fouls is if the guy is clear in one goal. Otherwise you’ve got to trust your defenders, you’ve got to trust your goalkeeper. You just can’t give away fouls.”
“It’s tricky,” U.S. center back Geoff Cameron said,” because he looks to initiate the contact. But then if there’s too much contact, he’s looking to draw the foul.”
There’s one more issue to consider here, however, that works to the U.S. advantage. Clint Dempsey reminded reporters just before Monday’s evening workout at Livestrong Sporting Park that “home cooking” and CONCACAF tend to cook up well together. He pointed out the number of juicy opportunities on free kicks the other fellows tend to get when the Americans are visiting. But in fairness, he knows the Americans get a bunch of them at home, too. (They certainly did against Jamaica last month in Columbus.)
So, maybe it won’t be such a problem tomorrow, after all.