Here are some educated opinions I think most would agree with:
– The United States men’s national team as constructed is neither a favorite nor a significant threat to win a major tournament with the world’s best teams.
– The United States has not had answers in defense against top-end FIFA competition for a long time.
– The international soccer calendar and community puts an undue emphasis on friendlies regardless of who comprises each team’s roster.
– FIFA rankings are largely for the birds.
So as much as I’ve rolled my eyes as the USMNT’s back line has been foraged for snacks by the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, Robbie Brady and Mark Gonzalez, none of whom will be mistaken for the ghost of Josef Bican, I have to wonder if these losses — 3-2 to Denmark, 3-2 to Chile, 4-1 to Ireland (yuck) — should represent anything other than a concern at the lack of US youth readiness for the big stage.
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This is not to excuse Jurgen Klinsmann, whose job it is to get the players ready for the big stage, but rather a brief pause from the “We look terrible! We’re slipping down the FIFA board again!” talk that’s filled comment boards and media spaces across the nation.
The fact of the matter is that as much as Jesse Marsch calls for “an identity” and others tear into Klinsmann, we are learning just how unfit or fit some players are for true and important competition headed its way this summer. If Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks or Alfredo Morales look awful in a friendly against Denmark or Switzerland, then they certainly shouldn’t be given the chance to help the States defend its Gold Cup title this summer.
Does any player who played significant minutes as a fixture in a World Cup that Klinsmann is proud of need to prove themselves by leaving their club for this break? Does Mix Diskerud or any other player whose shone for the States recently need to leave their club in speculative friendlies? Chris Wondolowski shared the lead for goals at the 2013 Gold Cup. Does he need to be taken from San Jose to prove he can probably score a goal this summer by working Denmark’s backline for 15 minutes?
Klinsmann has looked largely calm during these matches, if not happy, and while it’s easy to use his quotes in vacuum to lambaste his logic — whatever he says, his team wasn’t close to being good against Denmark — if he’s told his superiors that these matches aren’t about results rather experience, doesn’t that make a bit of sense?
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I’m not saying I have faith in Klinsmann. That’s another story altogether. Nor am I saying you need to enjoy watching young defenders look like Sunderland vs. Southampton late last year. But if the path the side is taking during this and previous breaks is to see whether their young players are ready to play significant roles, I understand that philosophy. I don’t need to see Geoff Cameron, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman or Matt Besler every international break. I do, however, need to know if Alfredo Morales (nope), Ventura Alvarado (too soon to tell) or Greg Garza (maybe) is ready to compete with them for meaningful playing time in a legit competition.
And the fact remains that this was a European-based break during the early stages of the MLS season in a window where Klinsmann has already criticized MLS offseason fitness. Come April and the U.S. hosted ame against Mexico, if Klinsmann is calling in loads of European players like Morales, Tim Ream and Ale Bedoya at a critical juncture in their seasons over Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Perry Kitchen (DC United) and Lee Nguyen (New England), then we’re going to have words.
Of course, all of this feels good on the Saturday between matches. If Morales gets walked around and destroyed by Xherdan Shaqiri come Wednesday because Klinsmann thinks he should get another chance, then maybe we have things to discuss. I kid… mostly.