USA-Ukraine Soccer Friendly Exposes American Vulnerabilities
The World Cup tune up match between the US and Ukraine was originally scheduled to be played in Kharkiv. But with protestors currently occupying the provincial building and the general unrest in the region, the game was hastily moved 600 miles away to the island of Cyprus.
Only 1500 fans showed up to watch a lackluster performance by the US side, who lost the match 2-0.
In truth, most of the best US players stayed home or weren't released by their European club teams. Coach Jurgen Klinsman decided to give some European based US national players a chance to excel, thus improving their chances of making the 23 man roster that he will take to Brazil in June.
It was not to be.
The match was billed as a golden opportunity for the Yanks’ many European-based bubble players to make one final push for a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man tournament roster. Instead, the under-strength Americans were thoroughly outclassed during a 2-0 defeat, with few players raising their stock.
It’s hard to see defenders John Brooks, Edgar Castillo or Oguchi Onyewu making the plane to Brazil after struggling so profoundly on Wednesday. Those three were long shots to begin with, of course, even if Onyewu made January’s list as a backup. Then, the hope was that a healthy Onyewu -- a two-time World Cup vet who was finally playing regularly after battling injuries for much of the last four years -- would lend valuable experience to a mostly untested back line. Now, it looks as if Geoff Cameron, who on Wednesday lined up at right back once again, will be called on to provide cover in the event still-green central defenders Matt Besler or Omar Gonzalez aren’t quite up to the task in Brazil.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan also failed to take advantage of what was probably his last chance, while youngsters Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd and Danny Williams barely got enough time off the bench to make a compelling case.
Still, several players helped -- or at least didn’t hurt -- their chances.
Brek Shea remains in contention for a reserve role on the left wing after another active performance off the bench. Alejandro Bedoya, with a spirited display, kept the pressure on MLS-based right wing Graham Zusi. And surefire starters Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones showed why Klinsmann will rely so heavily on them this summer.
The lack of experience and depth on the back line spells big trouble for the US in Brazil. At this level of competition one mistake -- one misplay of the ball or bad pass -- and your tournament is over. That's the cruel reality and for the US it's doubly true since they are going to have a hard time scoring goals as it is. Their mid field does not lack talent, but even against inferior competition, they have trouble maintaining a flow to their offense. Individual talents like Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey are excellent in space, but World Cup matches aren't like MSL games with room to operate and set up plays. A premium is placed on short, crisp passes that move the ball forward deliberately, relentlessly. Frankly, American players in general just don't possess the ball skills to play that kind of game.
This will make the US vulnerable to the counter attack, which is why your back line has to be rock solid. At this point, this crucial aspect of the game appears to be the greatest weakness of the US squad.
It doesn't help that the Yanks are playing in a genuine "Group of Death" with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. To advance, the US will need to beat Ghana and get a result of some kind -- win or tie -- against Germany or Portugal. A tall order that. Germany will be one of the favorites to win it all while Portugal has a bevy of quality offensive players that will give the US fits.
Perhaps the low expectations will work in America's favor. They're going to need all the help they can get.