Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Dawn of a New Era

photo by robert.melokvia PhotoRee

If you believe it's possible to pick up some positives despite a losing scoreline, the transformation of US soccer took several baby steps forward over the weekend, even as the team lost their international friendly to a young and talented Costa Rican side, 1-0.  Herewith some thoughts on the match, which demonstrated the USMNT to be very much of a work in progress: 

o If the USMNT was looking to bury its game so that the fewest possible fans could watch it, ESPN2 at 11:30 EST on a Friday night was a pretty good place to put it. Apparently it was a fairly good place to hide it from the ticket buying public, too, as the entire upper deck of the Home Depot Center was populated with empty seats.

o The difference in the Klinsmann era was readily apparent in the first half. Beginning with the second half against Mexico and continuing through the most of the first half against Costa Rica, the US played dynamic, attacking and -- most importantly -- confident soccer, as if a breathe of fresh air has been given to the side.  Playing without Clint Dempsey and Stu Holden -- two guaranteed starters in big matches going forward-- the US played flowing offensive soccer, and made it look like they were having fun.

o The Klinsmann philosophy was visible in the first half one-touch, little triangle, give-and-go offense. It's pleasing to the eye, and something we never saw under the Bradley era -- or any other American coach for that matter.

o I thought Brek Shea looked fairly good, especially in the first half, as did Robby Rogers, although maybe not as good as they did when they were on the opposite flanks against Mexico.  Perhaps Klinsmann switched them to create some mystery for the Costa Rica defense, but for my money I'd rather see them get a few matches under their belt playing the same position before switching them.

o Timmy Chandler, though, looked out of his depth at right back, displaying some attacking intent and wicked pace, but time and again failing with the final ball.  Edgar Castillo (whose name makes him sound more like a baseball player than a soccer player, in any event) looked very weak playing on the left side of defense.  That was not a confident performance.

o Jose Torres seems a renewed player under Klinsmann. He teamed well with Landon Donovan last night and repeatedly won the ball back on defense and played some very creative passes in offense.  Torres' emergence means that the Americans are quickly becoming talented and quite crowded in the mid-field and winger spots: Dempsey, Holden, Bradley, Torres, Donovan, Shea, and Rogers give Klinsi a plethora of options as he ponders both his starters and substitutions.

o Something I noticed last night that I haven't figured out, but it bears watching: the US seems to have expanded the pitch at the HD Center, making it both a couple of feet longer AND wider than it used to be. I'm not sure of the thinking behind the move yet, but I assume it's because someone has a plan -- something I think the US was previously lacking, when our gameplans seemed more reactive than proactive.

o Costa Rica came into the game in the second half, and played the US much more evenly. The US created numerous opportunities in the first half but were unable to turn them into a deserved lead.  Reversing the role, Costa Rica's second half goal and lead was well deserved, as they carved the Americans open through the heart of the US defense, and scored on one of their first real opportunities of the game.

o The US looked a different side in the second half, tiring badly, and repeatedly underweighting passes and giving the ball away cheaply in both halves of the pitch, and especially in midfield.  Although they fought back and probably deserved a draw, it's got to be somewhat dispiriting to lose the game on their home ground -- this despite the fact that the US has not defeated the Ticos since 2005.

o Overall, there were both positives and negatives to take away.  But as in anything else in life, sometimes you need to take a step backward before moving forward.  The US appeared to run out of steam in the second half, and Klinsi seems to be giving lots of players chances to prove themselves (or not).  Even though the result wasn't there, I generally liked what I saw yesterday.  Only time will tell, though, if the early Klinsmann games will be looked back on as yet another false start or the true dawn of a new era.

This is farlieonfootie for September 4.

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