Thursday, January 26, 2012

A fitting end: Post-Panama thoughts

Why dither when footy is hither? Aight, so I'm a nerd and Greg is slicker than me with the hip hop lingo. Guess Black Thought hasn't seeped in after hundreds of hours of repeated listening. Back to my Shakespearean sonnets and fields of gillyflowers it is.

- Klinsmann wanted a game in Central America for the expressed purpose of exposing some of his more untested young guns to the rigors of international play in the wilderness. Mission accomplished. Klinsmann wants, more than anything else, to establish the US as an attractive draw, but even he recognizes gritting out wins on the road is preferable to a beauty show that gets you beat. Not that results matter from a practical standpoint right now, but it does give validation to his proclamation that there is a timeline and that this is what progression looks like. At least among this group, I can't see how you could make a compelling argument against that. I don't take for granted that there is a proving ground in our own backyard made of broken glass, airborne batteries and bare knuckles.

- Something I noticed about Jermaine Jones that I'd like to explain through an analogy. Roughly from the ages of 8-13, I'd spend time each summer at Van Der Meer Tennis Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It is world renowned as a molder of some of the best tennis talent around, but for whatever reason (probably because I criminally underachieved), I was typically in lower to mid-level classes. This meant that I was typically the best player in the class, and sometimes it wasn't close. I say this not to flaunt my own talent by as part of my point. This not only wildly inflated my ego, but it caused me to attempt to alter my own game out of my own boredom and conflated sense of worth as a tennis player. Pete Sampras being my favorite athlete, I developed this bizarre chicken wing forehand that was so technically unsound that it took me years to iron it out of my game. All essentially because I was bored. I get the sense that Jones, in his own headspace, is somewhere in this neighborhood. These friendlies offer him a chance to be, most of the time, the best player on the field. So he needlessly complicates his game by booming cross-field switches that don't work, attempting to shoehorn elegant passes into pinholes when a simple touch would do, and posing silly challenges that inevitably draw cards. We've seen this elsewhere in more exaggerated forms. As I touched on against Venezuela, his motor is an endearing quality about him. But he's fully aware when he's the best player on the field. And that's not always a positive. Even still, I thought he had more positive passages Wednesday than negative ones.

- Zach Loyd, A.J. DeLaGarza and Graham Zusi were all out of position. Loyd is a right back, DeLaGarza is a center back, and Zusi is a central midfielder. On Wednesday, Loyd started on the left, DeLaGarza slotted in on the right side again and Zusi sat in front of DeLaGarza. That was the idea, anyway. Much like against Venezuela, Zusi naturally drifted inside to leave DeLaGarza unprotected with unfortunate consequences. Some disagreed, but I thought DeLaGarza had a mostly productive outing against Venezuela, but he was rarely challenged. That changed against Panama. He's not a natural fullback and when you run at him he has a tendency to overcalulate and either freeze or do something silly. His positioning was pretty bland and as a result, Panama more or less lived in the open pocket behind him. As for Loyd, sometimes I get the sense that he'd rather be a midfielder. I've seen him play with FCD plenty, and he's always appeared more confident once he strides beyond the midfield stripe. Not that he's a terrible defender, but it seems that, as with his feed on Zusi's goal, he'd prefer be running at someone rather than it be the other way around. Whatever his preferences, he shouldn't be at left back again, and I suspect the only reason he was there at all was as a counterpoint to Heath Pearce at a position that hasn't enjoyed stability since the Roosevelt administration. Zusi had an okay game and was a mild improvement over Saturday, but for the love-a pete, Jurgi, get him off the wing. He's so terribly uncomfortable out there. He could have very easily started in place of Rico in the middle.

- Brek Shea needs a goal soon if for no other reason than for his own confidence. He's so technically gifted but he can lose himself in the flow of the game sometimes. It's been a while since he bagged one on the national level, and while that isn't necessarily a terrible thing, he's come close a few times this week and came up short. And everybody gets down on themselves to some degree when the goals aren't coming. Last week in my rec league, I scooped in a boomer from 18 yards for my first goal in like three months. I think my teammates were slightly perturbed when I ripped off my uni to reveal my WHY ALWAYS ME? t-shirt underneath. I'd only had to wear it for a dozen games before it came into use. No big deal.

- Michael Parkhurst is rapidly becoming one of my favorites to watch. He's innately decisive, quick with clearances and, more than anything else, is developing in a severe position of need. I'm not saying he's ready to be a clear-cut favorite to start in Brazil, but the first-team pickings are slim at CB and he's in fine form. As for his partner, it wasn't a performance to remember from Geoff Cameron. Even without the red.

- It's sick how stocked this player pool is with keeper talent. He may not have the prototypical stature of a world class net minder, but Nick Rimando is nails. That he was the second option this week in Camp Cupcake is absurd. Especially considering how well he played Wednesday and how thin this team is at other positions *cough*left back*cough*. If only...

- Rico's best is still blasé. I understand these roster spots need to be filled by somebody, but he isn't offering up any surprises. He got more of a run-out on Wednesday than he did in a poor sub spell against Venezuela and still didn't offer up anything we didn't expect. Still formulaic at best, still tentative and lost at worst. I wasn't one of those wanting Rico roasted on a spit after Ghana, but I've also never understood his appeal. I'm on board with most of what Klinsmann does, but some of his roster selections are still beyond my comprehension. And no, we will not be terming this team Rico's Roughnecks any time soon. Unfortunately.

- This was my first extended experience with ESPN3. It's a neat little service -- finally something Time Warner didn't rip from the hands of its subscribers -- and it sure beats watching on Galavision. As for the commentary, it's comical that it's taking this long for me to warm up to an American. I'm sure Taylor Twellman is a nice guy, but he always sounds drunk. Just what it is.

- As for the two-forward look… meh. Twellman made a really bizarre point about the 4-3-3 that I didn't entirely follow. He noted that you needed a "Drogba type" who can stand alone as a forward to make it work, which the US obviously doesn't have. But the 4-3-3 isn't a one-size-fits-all formation, one that does not require a world class striker to function properly (ask TFC fans how they feel about Danny Koevermans). And it certainly doesn't mean the two-forward look is the better alternative. It is simply an alternative. It was obvious that Twellman is firmly in the 4-4-2 camp in the emerging Democrat-Republican split developing among the fan base between the two formations. Even if I tend to trend toward the 4-3-3, I wouldn't say I'm necessarily for one and against the other. But the 4-3-3 is so fluid that it's hard to peg the Nats' lack of a "Drogba type" (scare quotes intentional) as the defining reason it should be scrapped. That's almost a joke. And lets be honest, Teal Bunbury wasn't very good in either formation this week, so let's not act like the success or failure of either rides on his shoulders. After watching his form for SKC peak in the playoffs, I figured Klinsmann's decision to call him up for Camp Cupcake was a wise one. I still don't blame him, but Bunbury didn't bring his full toolkit.

- This is where the grand pronouncement from the two games would typically come, but I honestly don't think there's one to be made. If I'm honest, I think they're best viewed as M&M's rather than an entire King-Sized Butterfinger, better to pick at individuals who served their cause rather than rip at what Klinstastic did as an overarching whole. There are positives to take out of the overall improvement in fluid team movement among others, but would Klinsmann really have switched between formations if he was more worried about the whole rather than getting a better peek at the sum of its parts? It's still about puzzle pieces at this point and not necessarily the polished product. I view Klinsmann's project as time spent in the darkroom rather than on a digital camera. It may be antiquated, but slow-cooked barbecue always tasted better than flash-fried anything.

- Will Parchman


andrés said...

Thanks Will. Does anyone have any ideas about what the hell happened to Feilhaber? Injured or in Klinsy's doghouse?

strago said...

I think Parkhurst really helped himself this camp, probably the most out of any player in the pool. Which is not surprising, since he has been going about his business for years.

And you're right, for all his innovation and cutting edge methodology, klinsy likes to build the old fashioned way. Can't say I disagree at this point. It was nice to see the first ~20 minutes last night where we looked liked Barcelona with how we were handling the ball.

strago said...

I forgot to address the other point that needs addressing.

Zusi. He's not the fastest, most technically gifted, or talented player. But in 2 matches he has assisted and scored a goal. There's something to be said for that and Klinsy needs to figure out where Zusi can best help this team.

LReszetar said...

If soccer was like hockey, Larentowicz would be the ultimate penalty kill player. He's not a go-forward type of guy, but he's nice to have around when you go down to 10. Plus, his jersey never comes out of his waistband. I'm wondering it its a onesie.

brian said...

twellman also gives me a headache (or concussion if you will) when listening to him broadcast games. he said on 2 different occasions that the keeper (rimando and johnson) played as if they were the sweeper. what the h@ll does that mean? one time is was when johnson grabbed the ball, sounds like a keeper, not sweeper. id rather watch on galavision than espn3. high def and entertaining broadcasters, even if i can only understand 20% of what they are saying.

Matt said...

From the two games I came away really impressed by Parkhurst and Rimando, encouraged by Cameron, and feeling like I didn't see nearly enough of CJ Sapong

Joshua said...

I don't get why the majority of our players can't figure out how to do fakes, faints, or jukes to get a good pass off or move the ball up the field.
No I'm not talking about doing step overs or crazy Ronaldinho/Ronaldo highlight real one on one moves, I'm talking about simple fakes to move the ball. It seems whenever a US player has the ball and a defender comes up to them they can't make a simple fake one way and move the ball up field. A man runs up on them, they have no composure, and they just pass the ball back. Somebody has to know what I'm talking about.

Patrick said...

Great post!

Bunberry was like a brick wall. Any ball served in would bounce off him 20-30 yards. Really killed most moves forward.

It is amazing that Donovan and Dempsey have never played together for Klinsman. The 4-3-3 has looked enemic, but with Altidore, Dempsey, and Donovan as the forward 3, I have to think it would be dangerous.

Unlike Bunberry, a ball driven at Shea is handled. He is big; why hasn't a coach tried him up top as a striker? A silly question, but one I'd like to hear an answer to. Educate me about what he does that suits him for the wing rather than forward.

Justin said...

Can someone explain to me what the big difference is between:

An "empty-bucket" 4-4-2 with Deuce as one of the two forwards and Donovan on the wing


A 4-3-3 with Deuce as the CAM and Donovan on the wing?

Back in my youth, we played a diamond 4-4-2, and obviously the difference between that and your typical 4-3-3 is quite a bit. But I'm not seeing it here unless you're talking about pushing Dempsey to the wing and putting a guy like Kljestan in at CAM.

Will Parchman said...

@andres: Couldn't say for certain on Benny, but my guess is that Klinsmann wanted to give more looks to some folks about whom he was still straddling the fence. Which makes the Rico pick doubly confusing.

@Joshua: Skill moves are hard, but there's a reason we don't produce players comfortable with them. Environment, culture, importance of winning over development... take your pick.

@Justin: An interesting thought. This is just my snap opinion, but I think the only difference of significance would have to be player selection. Typically your back two midfielders in the bucket don't have much to offer in the way of creativity, while in a 4-3-3 (or at least the one I'm imagining) only one of those midfielders sits in front of the back line while the other two play a smidge wider and are freer to move forward. A lot would depend on what you have available, but I wouldn't put Deuce in a CAM role over having him on the wing in a 4-3-3.

Will Parchman said...

And Patrick, it would be silly to rob Shea of one of the most prized pieces of his repertoire -- crossing -- by sticking him up top. Plus, as Schellas has learned, Shea just isn't as comfortable up there. He's also quick enough to develop into a devastating winger in a 4-3-3 with time.

Matt said...

And, by the way, who is the joker calling the game along with Twellman? He's actually laughably bad as well. His "goooaaaal" call is a sad, sad ripoff of Andres Cantor. Those two make it basically impossible to actually watch the game...

Will Parchman said...

Matt, I couldn't help but laugh at his goal call. He couldn't have sounded more bored. I could just hear his internal monologue: "Dammit... gooo (checks watch) oooo (gives the wank off sign to Twellman) ooo (pantomimes shooting self in head) oooal. Zuuuusi."

Matt said...

I mean, I'm sure it's hard to speak into a microphone for 90 minutes straight and not sound like a moron occasionally. I get that. But in that broadcast booth they basically had two people that really couldn't suck more at calling a game.

There's a reason I've always preferred to watch USMNT games in Spanish, and these guys are doing nothing to change my mind.

Greg Seltzer said...

I watched most of the USMNT action during the last World Cup on the Dutch station, mainly because I'm weird about making sure I don't pick up any analysis or creative ideas elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Can't really get anymore "meh" than that Panama contest but it was a ugly roster so you expect ugly football. All I know is if Clark makes another roster in the lead up to the World Cup, my opinion of Klinsmann will immediately go to zero and probably never recover.

I am still amazed at the reffing. Was that the same guy from the Venezuela match? The reffing in both games was an absolute joke.