As a critic and optimist for US soccer I'm quick to think Bob Bradley failed miserably by no one's fault but his own. However, he was the first US coach in the EPL, a league that still fashions itself anti-American; he took over Swansea, a team that's average at best...was there really ever a chance for him? Proably not. Likely, he was Gene Hackman without a Jimmy Chitwood. I would've reluctantly stepped in as his Dennis Hopper, trench coat and all, interrupting games, you name it; but he never called, so, there you go.
As the first game of 2017 approaches, the question of Bruce Arena's lineup choices linger.
For ages, the USMNT has fielded teams that are light on offensvie-minded-skillful players. Where there was a Joe Max Moore, Jeff Agoos wasn't too far behind. Where there's a Nagbe, there's a Timmy Chandler. They don't complement one another very well. Spain didn't field Xavi, Iniesta, Navas and "Chandler." The latter would have been "Ramos" or "someone like him." Not a "completely opposite guy."
There has always been so much potential with US teams, but also a predominant lack of balance. The team and its coaches have gone "all in" - with a proclivity for absolute conservativeness - with only a few skillful players coupled with safe-defensive-minded players. If you're going to do that, then at least make sure the players have overwhelming speed. You would think that would have happened. Not the case. Which leads us back to Timmy Chandler. No offense to him, but he's not fast, nor is he Valderrama. If he were fast, there might be room for error, but it turns out: he's pretty slow.
Yet, there's hope. There's hope that things will turn around. That's always been the idea, anyway.
Even at their best, the USMNT hasn't really fielded teams with gereat speed. At times, they have to an extent, with Donovan, Beasley, Wolff, Lassiter, Eddie Lewis, but how often was speed used to their advantage in the sense of how speed was used more effectively with players like Shevchenko, Owens and the two Ronaldos? The former had a place, while the latter seemed to be a little bit faster than the fastest players on the field (which would include the former). How many times has anyone seen any American player go one-on-one with the keeper on an outright break away? It just doen't happen that often, if ever. The one scenario that comes to mind would be Wolff against Mexico in 2001.
Chandler and others*, by no fault of their own, have slowed the game down in a manner that hasn't been advantageious for the USMNT. Barcelona and Bayern Munich, or Spain and Germany, slow the game down, the right way. If you're going to slow the game down, you don't necessarily need outright speedsters. It always helps in certain situations, but it's not a must; case in point: Spain and Germany. Both have shared success wihtout track stars. The point is, if you're going to field a team with non-technical, defensive-minded-players, then make sure they're fast. The problem remains, whether it was coach Sampson, Arena, Bradley or Klinsmann, the USMNT has fielded largely non-technical defensive-minded-players, and by and large they haven't been fast.
Chandler is symbolic of many players that currently play and have played in the past. They've all been "good athletes" - such as Chandler - but they're not up to par as " complete soccer players" like that of Nagbe or Dempsey. Right now, the good athlete and soccer players are right there: Nagbe, Dempsey, Johannssen, Pulicic, Wood, Adu, Nguyen, Torres, Kitchen, Shea, Ream, Yedlin.
How much will Bruce Arena lean to the past and how far might he reach into the future are questions on everyones' mind, as the exciting year of 2017 approaches.
* Chandler is a good player. Though, in the larger scheme of things within the goals and expectations of the USMNT, his time has proven unaffective. Brooks, Besler, Jones, Orozco, Gonzalez and Williams also come to mind (among others). They're good players. But there are better players. There is also a track record with them on the field, which coincides with average performances. Practically everyone I've spoken with in the past two years would agree. This is not a vindetta against them. It's a reality check for the USMNT. A team that has unlimited potential.
(NS) refers to "Non-Soccer" related blog entries, stories and essays.
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