So much can be said about theory, and the practical approach to a game. It can get a little boring for some. You should be able to apply a game strategy, or some idea about the game, to a team from any generation. At the same time, there is a lot to be said about which players are available at any given time. People around the world have complaints about lineups that go back twenty years and more. Some Italians still can't figure out why Signori didn't play as much in the 1994 World Cup. Riquelme and Ronaldinho didn't make their teams in 2010, with much speculation. There will always be disagreements, and different approaches, but the common thread to building a good team should be the skillful back line, with the ability to attack on offense.
Right now, in this era, the United States men’s lineup should look something like this:
Eddie Jones Time Ream Michael Bradley E. Buddle
(B. Convey) (Zussi)
Freddy Adu Jose Torres Stuart Holden A. Yedlin
Clint Dempsey Breck Shea
Whereas, in the olden days, some twelve to fourteen years ago, for the American soccer fans familiar with those times, it should have looked something like this (considering they were active around the same time):
(Thomas Dooley) (Cobi Jones)
Roy Lassiter C. Reyna Eddie Pope Josh Wolff
Donovan Chad Deering Joe Max Moore Chris Henderson
Clint Mathis Preki
I only hope that a cynic will look at these lineups, scoff, laugh, and shrug it aside as lunacy. For one, America’s proven that it can stay consistently mediocre in World Cup rounds; so, why not try something completely different than what we’ve been doing? And, secondly, they’re dead wrong.
In a few years, when these guys can’t play anymore there will be new players wearing the uniform. If they’re playing outside defender they should look like Yedlin, Cafu or Philipp Lahm. Usually these guys are forwards that get transitioned to outside defender. Lahm or Cafu could be very good forwards for some team out there. It so happens they’re outside defenders, which is a good thing. The outside defenders need to be former forwards. They need to have an attacking skill set; an attacking mindset. They need to have good ball skills. They need to be quick, fast and crafty. Former U.S. players that could have been very effective outside defenders would be Josh Wolff, Cobi Jones, Roy Lassiter.
The outside defenders need to be encouraged to attack. As the play is building up with possession on the left side of the field, the outside right defender should be ready to make an overlapping run past the outside midfielder, or forward on the right side. This pass won’t happen every time, but it should be there as a conscious option for all the players. Often the outside defender is stationary, so to speak, completing the swing of possession from one side of the field to the other. They’re like the wall on one side of the field, hugging the sideline, giving their teammates the means to pass the ball from one sideline to the other, and while this is happening they should also be alert to make those overlapping runs, possibly releasing a through pass to cause danger in the opponent’s end. (Whether this turns out to be a one on one with the goalie, a chance to set up a teammate with a pass for a shot, or, cause for the player to retreat and re-establish possession is another issue.) The best players to make these attacking runs and to accept these passes are former forwards. When they’re put into attacking positions their instincts to create good scoring opportunities are naturally going to be better than over-trained, lifetime defenders. Former forwards are better suited to dribble at opposing defenders, creating more interesting chances at goal. And this is what American soccer lacks: interesting play. Over the years, when you look at the players, the talent is there, in the form of a large pool of players waiting to go in, however a lot of the positions were filled with heavy-footed defender types. Time and time again foreigners reflect on the American style of play and they say it lacks a certain “something.” They’re correct. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but they’re right. We are usually athletic enough to defensively keep the score close. I don’t think defense is our number one cause for concern. American players lack a certain confidence, a certain style, a certain swagger. When it comes to basketball we have way too much confidence, style and swagger. Even country boys from Indiana or Iowa have a flair they stole from Isiah Thomas. The U.S. can field any basketball team and it’s going to look right. Not everybody from America is going to dominate like Lebron, but whoever you throw on the court they’re going to know what they’re doing, and it will show to any observer.
So why can’t we get it right with soccer? Why do we lose any swagger we might have had when we go up against Argentina or Brazil? They psyche us out, that’s why. They look down on their opponent. They’ve already decided, based on past success, that they’re the standard. There is no higher. If they’ve decided this, you can’t take it away from them. When they look down on another team, that other team is hurting psychologically. If you show a little swagger and they look at you like you’re a punk, you’re going to feel like a punk. And then you look over to your teammates and they have the same look on their face, and in their body language; now everybody has admitted defeat. “Brazil’s better. If we show an moves we’re just stealing it from them.” Whereas, to the contrary, the attitude needs to be firm across the team: Everybody has to be skilled in the first place. That’s the prerequisite to get on the national team. Must have skill, must have dribbling moves, must want to use them.
Then the team has to be united together, in win or loss, and take on the “better team” for the duration of the game, not giving an inch. If you let them punk you out, they’ll be glad to punk you out and leave you thinking you shouldn’t have played the sport in the first place. It’s similar to the lesser known Charles Barkley and Chuckie Brown story. Chuckie Brown was one of those NBA players you never heard of. He was one of the bench players. During a game against Barkley’s team Brown got subbed in and Barkley said, “Chuckie who?” I don’t think Chuckie had a good game. I don’t think his confidence was too high. What Chuckie needed was for his teammates to back him up, dish him the ball, allowing him to get touches, creating a little confidence. The game plan might have been different; Chuckie may have been designated to only set picks – I don’t know. But as an individual, Chuckie needed to get some boards, get a little physical – something to put Barkley in his place. You can’t be a “Chuckie who?” Don’t let Germany, Brazil or Argentina “Chuckie who?” you.