Panama Loss Provokes Difficult Reality Check

There’s nothing like a USA National Team loss to get the fingers on the keys.

Sure, there are parallels to the New England Revolution’s loss last night, with both teams frustratingly not turning it on until it was too late. However, the emotion surrounding the two, for me at least, isn’t the same. And thus, my frustration isn’t either.

(And to be fair, by the time I made it through the Revolution game on the DVR – hey, the Bruins did deserve some attention – I was too tired to repeat the common refrains we’ve heard this season, though with a slightly brighter attitude based on an energetic second half. There, that about covers it.)

For the USA’s Gold Cup loss however, there are some thoughts that jump out at me and I am awake enough to write about them.

First, the difference between the USA’s ability to beat Canada two to zero, and lose two to one against Panama is, to me, more about playing style than playing ability.

Is Panama that good of a team? They aren’t bad, but no, I don’t think they are terrific.

But they are skillful. They control the ball and play with the skill, quick passing and trickery that the USA so infrequently displays. They play like you’d expect from a good Central or South American side.

For the USA, beating Canada is like beating a slightly worse version of itself. When in doubt, effort replaces skill in order to win.

Playing Panama is an adjustment and a reminder that despite the fact that players on the field for the US represented (theoretically) better pedigree as judged by their club teams, pedigree and professionalism are no replacement for skill and “soccer brains.”

This is simply another piece of evidence that true soccer skills development is something the USA needs to figure out in our youth development program. By the time players get to MLS, or get shipped overseas, it’s too late.

That skill deficit is something we hand to our National Team coach, Bob Bradley, to deal with. And while many USA fans have reasons they believe Bob Bradley is not the right coach for this team. I find many of those reasons farcical or delusional.  However, the the other idea that’s really sticking with me: there may be a different reason to see Mr. Bradley off into a new role.

Bob Bradley understands the game, has tried to bring in fresh/better talent as possible and treats his duties with respect (even if he’s unable to dress that way.) There comes a point where the talent within the USA team will only go so far.

However, the USA has a history of coming out flat and either being outplayed or giving up an early goal in the beginning of matches.  Tonight, it was both.

While the eleven players on the field are who really make a difference  and a coach can only do so much to predict or prevent individual errors, this early-game lethargy is the one argument against Mr. Bradley that I find most compelling.

Of course, it’s true that after an opponent gets comfortable in a lead, the USA looks better because they are allowed to see more of the ball as the opponent tends to bunker and counter-attack. But there’s rarely a killer instinct in this team that can sense and attack another team’s weaknesses during nearly any part of the game.

When there’s a history, a pattern, a near predictability to the USA’s inability to start a game with a fire in its belly, what does that tell you? It makes me start to wonder about the coach’s ability to properly get his team mentally ready for the game.

And that’s a problem that Mr. Bradley needs to answer for.

Switching gears, I think there are a few rapid-fire points worth considering at a player-level:

  1. Anyone that is still insistent that Michael Bradley is only on that field because his father is the coach is watching with their eyes closed. Michael Bradley is clearly an imperfect, if improving, midfielder, but he is a driving force in the USA midfield. If Bob Bradley was fired tomorrow, the next coach would have a similar interest in having Michael in his team.
  2. There’s quite a bit of banter on Twitter (and elsewhere) about Freddy Adu and how he “cannot even make the 18 man lineup” for the US team he’s training with. I’ve commented on Freddy before, and hope that there’s still an exciting future for him. On a more timely note, however, given that first 45 minutes we all suffered through today, it is hard to think that Freddy would have been a step down for many of those players. I haven’t seen much of the Turkish Second Division, but I bet that if you come out that flat you risk bodily harm. If not by the other team, maybe by your own fans.
  3. Lastly, I don’t know what Jermaine Jones was saying or thinking when he came off the field against Panama tonight. However, he’s not done nearly enough in that USA jersey (and certainly not tonight) that he so coarsely removed and threw for him to be given a pass. With that petty display by Jones, Maurice Edu just got his starting role back in my mind.

So as we look forward to the game against Guadeloupe, we look through a fog that worries about a lack of skill, motivation and questions around our lineup.   Hopefully we can muster a solid drubbign of Guadeloupe amd we cam chalk up some of these concerns as a post-loss over-reaction.



2 thoughts on “Panama Loss Provokes Difficult Reality Check

  1. Here’s my opinion: yes, Bradley doesn’t have a great hand to work with. Our defense is weak. We don’t have an international goal scoring forward. Our midfield is industrious but doesn’t impose itself on the game. You could argue that with the talent at our disposal, it was unreasonable to be disappointed at a 2nd round exit last year. But here’s the deal…

    When Bradley was hired, all we heard from Sunil is how BB would bring discipline and organization to the team. And when I CONSISTENTLY see a LACK of discipline (crazy red cards, dumb back passes, always going down a goal early and often 2-0 before HT) and a LACK of organization, especially in the back. Those were the virtues on which he was sold to the public. I’d say he’s failing by those very standards.

  2. Thanks for commenting. You’ve got a strong argument there. It is tough to see us getting to the next level without some change.

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