Qualifying Perspective: USA vs. Antigua and Barbuda

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m having trouble finding the right mood after the USA’s 3-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda. And, I sense I’m not alone.

A two goal victory gives the USA three points in our first qualifying game, I should be ecstatic, no? Then why aren’t I?

For me (and maybe for everyone), however, my discontent did not start with that result. US fans have ridden a roller-coaster of emotions recently following a tremendous victory (5-1 vs. Scotland), a frustrating loss (1-4 vs. Brazil) and a baffling scoreless draw (vs. Canada.)

And, as if those results weren’t enough to stir the restless fan, some out there had extra angst invoked by coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s post-game commentary after the Brazil loss. I am very much in the angst camp on this one.

I won’t delve too deeply into those comments here, since Paul Gardner has it exactly right and well covered in Soccer America, here. However, the idea that a US coach could utter nonsense about hurting the other team publicly, after a “FRIENDLY” and about the not-surprisingly-superior five-time World Champion Brazil without any significant backlash saddens me.

Yes, the USA might need to become (more) difficult to beat and play physically, but if you cannot get the attention of your team in the locker room, don’t leverage ridiculous comments in the press to try to get it done. From our most experienced coach, a most amateurish move.

With that off my chest, I’ll try to reestablish some perspective. In prior World Cup qualifying cycles, I’ve used a glass half full/empty analogy, and this seems like a fitting time to revisit it.

Glass Half Empty View

  • The USA looked listless in stretches of a game against a team of USL Pro players with a couple English league additions from a nation of ~90,000 people. Frankly, any MLS team (well, maybe not Toronto F.C.) would be expected to play better than the US Men’s National team did for large stretches against Antigua and Barbuda.
  • Klinsmann might have an interesting history and great accent, but is certainly not infallible. It’s fair to suggest that no team would carry three left-backs into camp, so he was dealt a tough hand of cards with the injuries to Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo, but the team’s motivation, organization and lineups are all worthy of scrutiny. Torres to left back was a gamble, but an understandable one. Others may have moved Bocanegra out left and trusted the other center backs on the roster against what were manageable forwards by International standards. Klinsmann didn’t. More baffling though is the mid-game insertion of Oguchi Onyewu, a player all US fans would love to have back at his best, but acknowledge that he is now where near that level. Why not use other center backs that haven’t shown such glaring errors recently? (Note to Geoff Cameron and Michael Parkhurst: if there’s anyway to hide MLS in your resume it might be a good idea for this coach.)
  • We have a coach with international pedigree, players that are playing at extremely high levels around the world and all the training and preparation a nation could ask for, yet we cannot solve a simple issue: so frequently playing to the level of our opponents. Maybe it’s time for some voodoo?
  • The injury to Jose Torres might rob of us a good possession-enhancing option for the critical game in Guatemala.  Time will tell what severity he’s dealing with.

Glass Half Full Perspective

  • The USA won its first World Cup qualifier despite horrendously rainy conditions and an opponent who was resolute in defense.  The objective was to win and get the three points, and that is what was done.
  • Jermaine Jones didn’t maim anyone.
  • Herculez Gomez saw his continued hard work and club-success pay off with the US Men’s National team and has clearly added much needed pressure to Jozy Altidore and other forward options to say at their sharpest. The battle for that second (if we play with two) forward position next to Clint Dempsey is clearly on.
  • Mexico, which it pains me to admit is the class of CONCACAF right now, showed they too are imperfect by “only” beating Guyana 3-1 in Mexico.

The challenge today is that the US fan base expects more than results.  There is an understanding that CONCACAF opponents and situations are challenging, but that is no longer enough to excuse lackluster performances.  What the US fans have delivered over the last 180 minutes was certainly lackluster.

Tuesday night in Guatemala will be a difficult game in a difficult venue, so US fans might cut the team some slack.  But with the fan base continuing to hear that the team is a work in progress, learning a new system, with a new first-eleven and new coach, it needs to see just that.  Progress.

After that progress is achieved, please show us something that won’t necessitate most post-game headlines include the idea of “winning ugly.”

We’ve had quite enough of that.

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