Friday night, I was there in Orlando City Stadium, enjoying the second-best atmosphere — best in the U.S. — I’ve ever experienced for a soccer match (Dortmund vs. Schalke in Dortmund is No. 1 by the way). And amidst the chaos, I couldn’t help but think: why are we so excited for doing what we’re supposed to do?
Now I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here. Friday night was amazing, and short of the craft beer stand running out of five of eight selections by halftime (seriously, what the hell?), I was a screaming fool, soaked by the many beer showers that came along with a 4-0 result. But there’s time to be a fan and then there’s time to objectively talk about what this all means.
The U.S. Men’s National Team is supposed to be the “world power” of CONCACAF. It’s supposed to qualify similarly to how Mexico did this past cycle and beat most of the teams by multiple goals. Millions of dollars are being spent on every level of the USMNT, while most other nations in CONCACAF are just trying to get by.
So, while it’s very easy to look at a big 4-0 win and get caught up, I can't help but think that’s the result we should come to expect from one of the confederation’s elite nations. And more so, the only reason we’re so excited for this is because it’s been the worst cycle I can remember. This win — and what I hope is a win tomorrow — only masks some recent problems that currently exist for the team.
I’d start with Bruce Arena. It’s not that he hasn't performed well. He’s steered back a ship that definitely lost its way under Jurgen Klinsmann. But he’s not without his issues and his consistency in picking from his “old boy’s club” is one that I cannot stand, but believe will continue to cost the USMNT if not fixed.
His roster selection continues to be bland and predictable for those of us that have watched him over the years. Notable inclusions like Chris Wondolowski, Juan Agudelo, and Gyasi Zardes scream of a guy that can't get out of his own way. He selects the same guys over and over and over again when there are options that could actually help the situation rather than paying homage to his usual suspects.
There’s no reason why guys like this need to be on the team. I was excited to see Benny Feilhaber finally be selected but I knew there was zero chance he was getting in the match. But that's OK. Just having those new players in the environment helps the team by both giving experience to these newbies and keeping the mainstays on their toes because fresh blood always stirs up the camp competitions and drives everyone to be better.
Going with the same stale roster also doesn't allow you to take advantage of players on a hot streak of form which can be the difference. I go back to the 2010 World Cup when Robbie Findley was one of hottest — if not the, hottest — strikers in MLS right before the World Cup. And while his inclusion in the side and some late sub appearances were nice, the U.S. struggled to score and could have used an in-form striker.
Who’s to say a Dom Dwyer, who’s scored three goals last month, isn't the spark you need to boost a team short of urgency? He’s a guy that’s been fighting to just become an American citizen, let alone fight on the soccer field. But instead, Arena went with the guy that did this (I will never let this go):
If there’s an area where new blood is needed, look no further than the defensive line. It’s been clear that without John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin, the back line has zero depth. Part of that is the stubbornness not to utilize new players and the other is the quality as a whole. But when you look at guys like Matt Miazga, who are playing well internationally, having the same players consistently making mistakes has shown all cycle.
The back line needs some injection of youth and I don't understand the reasoning for playing the over-the-hill rotation of Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, and Matt Besler with guys like Miazga or Cameron Carter Vickers at Sheffield United FC, the latter of whom scored a goal in his first appearance on loan from Tottenham Hotspur. We’re quick to give Christian Pulisic his opportunity and yet in the back line we’re ignoring better options for the sake of going with what we know. And what we now know is the CB pairings without Brooks desperately need a makeover.
I really hope the U.S. shows up and beats Trinidad & Tobago 7-0 and moves on from this subpar cycle display, so we can look forward to World Cup prep. But the Yanks making the World Cup in third place, in a very forgiving Hexagonal, is not cause for celebration. Certainly, it does very little to excite me that everyone is celebrating “just making the World Cup.” The USA should be dominating — something it should have been doing all along — and skating by inferior competition isn't going to keep me from seeing the issues that will continue to plague the U.S. if they’re not addressed in 2018.