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Laid Bare

June 18, 2009

Always a fan of the national team, I have been concerned and now shocked by the team’s form as of late. The top players have been mostly absent, the rising stars aren’t ready yet (if some ever will be), and the rest of the team has been shown to be a step (or three) behind.

I don’t expect the national team to beat Italy or Brazil, or thrive in the hostile environment Saprissa Stadium in Costa Rica, but I was expecting more of an effort. Teams of years past have been industrious teams with a hunger to succeed. This and some decent coaching allowed the team to turn in some solid results.

The first signs of trouble, Costa Rica. They are always tough at home, but the team sleepwalked through the game and Bob Bradley did no favors in shifting the formation in such a hostile environment and playing players so out of form that they no longer even train with the first team (Beasley at left back). Yes, they were playing on turf, but they gave up the quick goals and showed no danger of coming back. The team was able to squeak past Honduras at “home” in Chicago to get World Cup Qualification back on track.

The next big test has been the Confederations Cup. It is shaping up like the Copa America in 2007 just with less Eddie Gaven and more Landon Donovan. The Italians were able to out play the U.S., barely and the game may have been closer than the score without Clark’s (shaky) red card. One thing, however, was clear: the national team could not create anything on offense. Any real scoring chances were going to come from the penalty spot.

The slide has continued against Brazil as it is apparent that the U.S. #14 world ranking is even funnier than their #4 ranking in 2006. Bradley, again, made some head scratching moves. Beasley came back out and promptly showed why Rangers is ready to dump him. Bradley also could not find room for Adu or Torres to create a spark, rather relying on the out of form Sasha Kljestan to be the midfield general. He was not up to the task, earning the second straight honorary Mastroeni red card. This was as flat as the national team has played in years and this is the first choice team.

Where to go from here? Bob Bradley is probably with the team through the World Cup cycle. I just don’t see a change at the top. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that U.S. Soccer can’t do to try to steady the ship. The games that count start up again in August at Azteca. Until then there is one more Confederations Cup game and the Gold Cup coming up. This is a chance to really test both tactics and personnel. Long time standbys like Beasley should be dropped. Players in poor form such as Kljestan and Dempsey should also be dropped at least temporarily. The Egypt game is a chance to test younger players like Torres and Davies against good competition. Even though he is out of club form, I would like to see what Adu has, what better time than Sunday.

The Gold Cup comes up next month. Bradley has another chance to see if the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Kenny Cooper has had a decent season and has talent, he may flop, but he is worth a look. Stuart Holden is another player that deserves a look from his MLS form, he has talent to spark the offense. On the defensive end, Chad Marshall has done everything he can to earn a call up. It is time. All of these players have flaws, but they also can fill a valuable role with the national team.

It’s also time to lower expectations. The U.S. roster is filled with players that don’t play at their clubs or are stuck in lower leagues. Our young players are too young and we lack leadership (veteran or otherwise). Our current players aren’t as good as we though they were. This is an unfortunate fact. The team should still qualify for the World Cup, but it will be a struggle to get past the group phase. Every team can make a run, but it is certainly going to require more effort, talent, and skill than what I have seen in the past three months.

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