autopsic discourse

There’s a lot of this happening today:


I said last night on Twitter that the U.S. side in Trinidad last night had neither technique nor imagination not determination. And then I commented to my son, who was sharing the misery with me, that while Bob Bradley’s sides also lacked technique and imagination they at least worked their asses off, and had an international reputation for not knowing when they were beaten. The sheer listlessness of last night’s performance, as the players trotted randomly around the pitch without purpose or urgency, was shocking to behold. They could at least have tried!

But on reflection it occurs to me that the listlessness of last night was to a considerable extent the effect of deficiencies in technique and imagination. In an open game the USMNT can sometimes look excellent, as they did against Panama last week, but when a team — any team, no matter how limited in talent — sits very deep against them, they have no idea what to do. They pass the ball around the perimeter until they give it away, thereby opening themselves to counters, or else they loft speculative balls into the box for easy clearances or catches. And thus, gradually, the energy of the side dissipates. Most of the game last night the U.S. players couldn’t be bothered even to try to get the ball back when T&T had it. They were zombified.

I think the single biggest problem here is Michael Bradley, whose decline has been noticeable for some time — but now it’s precipitous. That widely-admired determination of U.S. sides a few years ago was driven largely by Bradley’s amazing motor and relentless box-to-box play, but he has become heavy-legged and slow in defense, and the inaccuracy of his passes and set-piece deliveries does real damage to the team’s offense. It’s time to move on from Bradley — and Dempsey, and Cameron, and anyone else who’s not young enough to bring dynamism to the side. Because if the USMNT doesn’t have dynamism it doesn’t have anything.

Still, even with young and energetic players, this team is not going to succeed against well-organized defenses until it produces a whole generation of players who have at least a goodly portion of the skill and shrewdness that Christian Pulisic does. And who knows when that will happen, if ever? So I think fans of American soccer need to accept that for the foreseeable future what we’ve been seeing is what we’re going to get: a side that will always be teetering on the brink of qualification for international tournaments, just squeezing in or just being squeezed out. Anything more than that is simply not in the cards.