March 29 was a mixed bag for American soccer, just as many predicted. The USMNT senior squad took care of business on a day that could have went down as the darkest moment in U.S. soccer history. Instead, a convincing 4-0 defeat of Guatemala left fans breathing easier and confident the USMNT will in fact play in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. More important than avoiding elimination though is the way this team came together when it most needed to the most. Not only did they get a result, but they did it in convincing fashion without some of their key players. It is no secret the national team has struggled over the past year, but Tuesday provided fans with some semblance of hope looking ahead to this summer’s Copa America Centenario.
Where the USMNT exceeded expectations heading into their matchup against Guatemala, the U.S. U-23 team disappointed many for its play against Columbia’s U-23s. With an Olympic berth on the line, the U.S. had helped itself by drawing Columbia in leg 1 and bringing an away goal back with them to Frisco, Texas. Still, many predicted a U.S. loss to the highly-rated Colombian side. While this prediction materialized in a 2-1 defeat, the loss was not near as disappointing as the way the game, and Olympic hopes, ended for the U.S. youngsters. Throughout the game, the U.S. defense took the form of an open window in front of their goal, allowing Columbia many second-chance opportunities from dangerous range. Poor clearances and judgments in these areas led to both of Columbia’s goals. Meanwhile, the midfield was careless in giving possession away before attacks could even manifest, leaving their defense scrambling to avoid catastrophe.
Perhaps the most disappointing, though, was the lack of composure from the U.S. at the end of the game once they went one goal down. The Yanks recorded two red cards after the 64th minute and deserved to have another when defender Tim Parker stomped on the thigh of a Colombian attacker. At the end of the game, the Colombians looked like they had been in a do-or-die situation before and knew exactly which strings to pull to keep the U.S. off their game. As a testament to the difference in quality of both teams, the U.S. allowed itself to be undone by the antics of Columbia and were also outclassed in the technical and team-chemistry aspects of the game. Now, after losing a chance at competing in an international competition that could aid the development of these players, some are already considering this group to be the second consecutive “lost generation” of young American talent.
In response to this claim, and many other hot takes that will be taken from the events of March 29, I’d like to offer my own hot takes, as well as some cold and warm takes on the results and future of American soccer.
What do I mean by cold, warm or hot takes? Let me define each before I get started.
Cold Take: Perfectly reasonable reactions to take away from an event or experience. Borderline obvious assertion that needs to be said regardless.
Warm Take: An opinion developed after taking some time to consider all evidence. Delving into personal biases without shaming the opinions of others.
Hot Take: A rush to judgement. Attempting to make the first and/or loudest opinion. Motivated by the desire to be proven right after everyone else stopped caring.
With that being settled, here are my takeaways from both results on Tuesday.
Cold Take: Geoff Cameron is the USMNT’s most valuable player.
Fabian Johnson may be the better overall talent, but Cameron’s presence is the most indispensable aspect of this team given its youth at the center back position.
Warm Take: Clint Dempsey looks more likely than ever to be on the 2018 World Cup. roster.
Comparisons have been made between Clint Dempsey in the current cycle to Landon Donovan in the last cycle. Because Klinsmann did not select an aged Donovan, 32, in 2014, many have assumed Dempsey, who will be 35 in the summer of 2018, would get the same treatment. However, Dempsey has continued a high level of performance for the national team and remains Klinsmann’s top choice. If Dempsey can keep this up for two more years without taking a year off in-between, he will most certainly be in the running for a spot on the 23-man roster.
Hot Take: Gyasi Zardes is a bust and the U.S. should start exploring other options.
There was a time, not long ago, when I thought Zardes might emerge to be 1/2 of a dangerous pair of American forwards. Instead, Zardes can’t seem to find a position that suits him and has not shown well in the past few national team games. His touches are chicken-footed and though he is quick, he doesn’t possess the speed to befuddle world class competition. Klinsmann would be smart to see what he has in Ethan Finlay, Jerome Kiesewetter, Christian Pulicic and Emerson Hyndman before giving the keys to Zardes.
Cold Take: The USMNT won.
4-0 to be exact. To the ire of many who wouldn’t have minded the U.S. lose so they could justify their hatred of Klinsmann, the U.S. won, and they did so convincingly. Though the U.S. style would not be mistaken for “pretty,” the Nats were confident and effective throughout this fixture. This convincing win will be difficult to spin as a negative for Klinsmann’s tenure.
Warm Take: The US U-23s lost —convincingly
The scoreboard might tell a different story, but the baby Nats were outclassed in every way imaginable during their final Olympic qualifying match. A fluke own goal brought the Americans back into the game, but they failed to keep their composure and went out in embarrassing fashion. This game stings, but a decent number of these guys will be critical players in Copa America Centenario, future Gold Cups and the next two or three World Cups. The only thing “lost” from this generation will be the experience of bouncing out of the Olympics after the group stages.
Hot Take: US Soccer is nowhere near the level of the world’s best
Over the course of two games, the Colombian youth gave the US a first-hand experience on how football needs to be played in order to win major competitions against major teams. Columbia absorbed pressure against the frantic US U-23s when they needed to, and then went forward with purpose and sound technical strategy to create more dangerous chances. In terms of chemistry and technical ability, the young Americans were blown away by players who looked like they could be playing with the likes of James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado. The senior team also showed that it needed to revert to direct attacking to get a result against a weaker opponent. While this strategy works against the Guatemala’s of the world, it will not get the USMNT far against more talented squads.
Cold Take: Jürgen Klinsmann’s job is safe through Copa America Centenario.
Had the US lost to Guatemala, effectively eliminating them from the World Cup, Klinsmann would certainly be looking elsewhere for a managing job. The German boss has faced many ups and downs in his four-year tenure at the helm of the USMNT, but Tuesday’s win means extraordinary circumstances would have to occur to keep the US out of Russia in 2018. Klinsmann has a huge test coming up in Copa America Centenario, where the US senior team must test themselves against Columbia, Paraguay and Costa Rica. It is unclear how much emphasis will be put on this tournament and whether the manager’s job will be on the line if the US has a poor showing on home soil, but Klinsmann will likely be given one more chance at the World Cup to see if his system has successfully taken place.
Warm Take: Jordan Morris is struggling to live up to expectations.
In case you’ve missed it, Jordan Morris has been the latest to be anointed savior of US soccer. The 21 year old forward from Seattle certainly didn’t ask for this, but Morris is the next in a long line of young prospects who were given too lofty of expectations as a single player. The Seattle Sounders forward has only played three professional games and has been largely ineffective for both club and country thus far. Morris is an exciting young talent, but the US will be mired in indefinite mediocrity if they continue their attempt to market average talents as the “next Messi” at the expense of broader improvements in the quality of football.
Hot Take: US Soccer needs to stop scheduling important games in the Southwest.
Poor attendance for one of the year’s most important US soccer matches is one thing. Letting the away contingent outnumber home fans in their own country is another. When the U-23s attempted to take the game to Colombia early on, it was evident they would have to do so without the support of a raucous crowd. Even after the US equalized in the second half, it was difficult to tell which side the majority of the stands was on. This is a problem that has plagued the US when it plays important games against Mexico and other Central and South American teams. By contrast, just look at the US’s record in games held in Columbus, OH. It is important that the US makes its way to the Southwest on its tour of friendlies or not as crucial group stage games, but for critical elimination matches, the US needs to make sure their home games feel like home games and are located in places that will bring out the most American support.
Do you have a warm take? Let me know in the comments!