Monday, June 27, 2011

Gloom and Doom for the U.S.?

Entering the Gold Cup, the United States wasn't the team to beat. That moniker fell on Mexico, whether they embraced it or not. Following Mexico's 4-2 victory over the U.S. in Saturday's final, not only is Mexico clearly the team to beat in CONCACAF, but the United States should be very concerned about the near future

That the U.S. lost to Mexico shouldn't be surprising - Mexico is loaded after all. But Mexico and the rest of the tournament exposed some things about the U.S. that should send if not fear certainly some concern over the next couple of years.

* Defensive Problems: The U.S. has a shoddy defense. That's nothing new; they allowed early goals in three of their four World Cup games last summer. But the problems are glaring in defense. Oguchi Onyewu never became the stud center back many thought he would. The team's best defenders are Steve Cherundolo, whose loss was catastrophic against Mexico, and Carlos Bocanegra. 'Dolo is still going strong but does have some injury concerns while Bocanegra is sometimes on the left, sometimes in the middle.

In other words, there's little consistency. Bradley has relied on Clarence Goodson, Eric Lichaj, Jonathan Bornstein and Tim Ream in the Gold Cup as well as in other recent matches. He's also brought in Timothy Chandler and of course Jay DeMerit. Is this group strong enough to carry the team forward?

* Punchless: The U.S. had three forwards on their roster for the Gold Cup - Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowski and Juan Agudelo. Altidore is perhaps the most frustrating player on the squad as he is supposed to be a reliable scorer by now but is not. Wondo and Agudelo just don't have the experience to help the team in high-pressure situations like the Gold Cup final. Each though has a future, Agudelo of course with the brighter one.

Are there really only three forwards worthy of playing for the U.S. at a major tournament? Hopefully not. Charlie Davies is the x factor; if he can return to health - and maybe cut down on the dives - then he can be useful, maybe becomes a regular. Bradley has brought in Herculez Gomez and Teal Bunbury as well. (I'm trying not to get into players I think would really help the U.S. team, saving that for another post).

Can Bradley find the answer among that group? I have my doubts about that, really do. If Davies is healthy and on form, then that's a huge boost for the team but this patchwork method that got the team through the Gold Cup won't cut it in qualifying.

* Home Struggles: Let's forget the loss to Mexico for now (way easier said than done). The U.S. lost to Panama, were hardly dominant against Panama and were lackadaisical against Guadeloupe. That's not the mark of an automatic World Cup team. These were all home games, of course.

Let's say this was the Hexagonal: Canada, Panama, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Mexico and the U.S. For their five home games, the U.S. would have gotten nine points. And if you want to count the victory over Panama instead of the loss that's 12. Would this U.S. team win in...

Canada? A draw, maybe a win.
Panama? No.
Guadeloupe? This one would be very tricky.
Jamaica? A loss at the Office.
Mexico? Come on.

So how many points is that on the road? I'll give you a win in Canada and draws at Guadeloupe and Panama. Five points. That's a total of 17 if you count the win over Panama at home, or 14 if you count the loss. Honduras and Costa Rica tied for third place with 16 in the 2009 Hexagonal, with Honduras going through on tiebreaker.

Guess what? Honduras and Costa Rica will likely be there in 2013. So take out, say Canada and Guadeloupe (since they can't compete in the Hex anyway) and replace them with Honduras and Costa Rica.

World Cup qualifying doesn't seem so automatic now, does it?

* Pluses: I don't want to paint a total gloomy picture. The U.S. does have some strong players after all. Freddy Adu resurfaced and thrust himself into the picture, and the midfield is still quite strong. Also, Tim Howard is still the best 'keeper in CONCACAF and will still be the best 'keeper in CONCACAF in 2013. And you could probably write a long post highlighting these things that might help restore someone's faith in the team.

But there are some serious questions with this U.S. team, issues that can't be overlooked.

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