U.S. soccer in good spot moving forward

rseibel@macon.comJuly 3, 2014 

Jurgen Klinsmann urged Americans to support the U.S. men’s national soccer team at the World Cup as if they were playing the stock market.

Buy low, sell high.

He set the bar low when it came to establishing expectations for this World Cup appearance, and he encouraged others to do the same. This team wasn’t going to win the World Cup, he said, trying to keep his team from being set up for a barrage of criticism should it not make a deep run.

His move was a smart one. The U.S. didn’t record its best finish in modern history, failing to match the quarterfinal appearance the 2002 squad made. But the U.S. squad left American fans with positive feelings after advancing out of an incredibly strong pool and giving Belgium all it could handle in the Round of 16 before falling in extra time.

Considering the U.S. lost key playmaker Jozy Altidore early in its opening contest to a hamstring injury, getting out of pool play was no easy feat. And the play of some of the young players Klinsmann went with -- at the expense of older stars like Landon Donovan -- set up the U.S. well for future international competition.

Klinsmann kept it real, and he delivered. Moving forward, however, he has a bunch of work to do for the next World Cup cycle, assuming England or some other national team doesn’t lure him away.

The biggest thing Klinsmann needs to accomplish is to develop a pool of elite defenders and midfielders -- not just playmakers up front or sure-handed goalkeepers -- who can give the Americans an edge when it comes to controlling the flow of play.

Too many times at the World Cup, both in Brazil and in past competitions, the U.S. tends to play back on its heels a bit, especially against top-level competition. The Americans prefer to let the game come to them, to allow the opponent to dictate the flow and to rely on counter-attacks to create scoring opportunities. While that strategy works for the most part in regional play and against lesser opponents, when the counter-attack can produce some easy goals, it doesn’t work so well against teams that have both playmakers up front and defenses that can withstand the counters.

That’s not to say that the U.S. doesn’t have a strong game. It most certainly has some go-to players, especially in the positions expected to grab the headlines.

The U.S. has quality, goal-scoring forwards. Donovan proved that in 2010, Altidore was in line to fill the role prior to his injury, and Clint Dempsey, who doubles as an attacking midfielder, was more than adequate in stepping up his game up front in Altidore’s absence.

The U.S. also has the goalkeeper thing down. Need we say more about Tim Howard’s effort in goal, especially against Belgium? He was simply unreal. And his predecessor in goal on the national team, Kasey Keller, was solid, as well.

But it’s the positions away from the spotlight, the defenders and midfielders who need to work the ball up to the strikers, that U.S. fans should keep an eye on during the next World Cup cycle. Those are the positions the U.S. needs to focus on developing, positions that will give the U.S. more depth and a chance to control the flow of play.

Talking about defenders and defensive midfielders can be like talking about offensive linemen in football. Fans might not know their names all the time. Fans might not give them the credit that they deserve. But those players can make or break a team.

That’s not to say that the U.S. is empty at those spots. There is some talent there. But the U.S. needs more.

Build up those positions, and a strong U.S. soccer team can truly become an elite program.

Buy low, sell high. And as long as Klinsmann is in charge, I’m buying.

Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or rseibel@macon.com

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