You know, this piece is just in good fun at this point. And quite honestly, it’s a thank you to Dan of the Free Beer Movement (the audacious and amazingly creative movement that it is) for his good work who emailed and said, “Can you just write an opposing piece to that Grantland piece. I would find it therapeutic.”
You got it Dan.
Grantland, the mostly-outstanding Bill Simmon’s gambit at making an intelligent and sardonic outlet that mashes up sports and American culture, took a foray into covering soccer this week.
That plane didn’t get off the ground.
One article, an interesting if cavalier one, contrasted the rise to fame of Chicharito versus the plight of Freddy Adu. TSG friend and World Cup vet Herculez Gomez will have some feedback here on TSG shortly on that one.
However, the piece that came under more scrutiny and flame-throwing was ”Hard Lessons” by writer Bill Barnwell.
Barnwell takes US Soccer to the woodshed over it’s approach to the US Mens program and manager Bob Bradley’s player selection at this year’s Gold Cup.
The Boston native makes some good points about needing to focus on youth and Bradley attempting to find a central midfield combination at last year’s World Cup.
Fair points, none original though.
That said, Barnwell issues the edict that “Everything that US Soccer does should be with the goal of winning the World Cup.”
To that end, his conclusion somehow arrives at the US deploying an uncertain developmental squad at the 2011 Gold Cup and suggesting that the US might have been thrashed by Mexico in the Final–as they ultimately were–but it would have moved the program forward and team closer to a World Cup win.
Give me that literary wrench for a second and let me recalibrate that statement.
By authoring a youth-invigorated squad that takes their lumps against Mexico in the Final–let’s presume they just automatically make that Final by the way–the US team is better off because of a series of six matches three years before the World Cup will slingshot their development as one, and put them in a better position three years from now on.
Footnote: Pay no mind to securing the important Confederations Cup berth where a probably more cemented team will play against the best on location–the World Cup location–a year before the tournament.
Sell Mortimer Sell!
Let’s address that statement in reverse order.
The Confederations Cup.
Sparing the 2009 heroics of the United States whose victory over Spain at the time still ranks as one of the best international team victories of the past half decade…..
The Confederation’s Cup throws together players who may or may not have spent much time together into an isolated environment over the course of a few weeks. It gives the players and coaches more games against competition they might face the next year to measure their recruits.
2009 saw Charlie Davies hustle his way to earning a starting forward spot on the front line and witnessed an elder Jay DeMerit–by Barnwell’s criteria–to cement his spot a year before the vuvuzelas took over full time.
If the goal is to win a World Cup, no tournament–not the Gold Cup, not the Euros, not the Copa–prepares a side better than the Confederations Cup.
The Roster & Its Deployment
A deeper look than Barnwell’s curious eye at the United States Gold Cup roster shows a decidedly more youthful and ambitious team than turned off the lights in South Africa a year earlier.
Eric Lichaj–the only player that probably should have got a look in the 2010 run-up that didn’t–was firmly inserted in the backline.
Timmy Chandler would have been there, if not for the fact that he owes perhaps the next 10 years of his career to his discovery by Dieter Hecking at FC Nurnberg. Nurnberg has already kicked off their 2011-12 preparation.
In the midfield and up top, Bob Bradley attempted to bring in–and extended an invitation to–young American right winger Josh Gatt, all of 19 years of age and 24-year-old Eddie Gaven, a steady if unspectacular forward for the Columbus Crew.
Freddy Adu, 22-years-old, got a look and started in that Final. New York Red Bull player and recent high school mortarboard thrower Juan Agudelo started three games.
By this count, that’s at least six “players for the future” that either were extended invites or actually got meaningful playing time.
Barnwell conveniently forgets and instead attempts to redirect the jury of Grantlanders to look at the folly in “blooding” two new players who will be past their prime by his count in World Cup 2014, Jermaine Jones and Clarence Goodson.
There is some merit to Barnwell exposing of Jones who was decidedly uneven in his game play throughout the tournament at the expense of Maurice Edu.
However, take a step back.
If you’re arguing about whether Maurice Edu–who has played nearly his entire career against competition collectively below his teams–should start or a Champion’s League vet Jones should start, that is like arguing that Nigel De Jong was the reason that the Netherlands got to the Finals. Bradley’s team’s always have players who fills roles, not roles fit for players.
The disparity of talent between your defensive minded holding midfielder–except in cases formally named Essien–is not going to make or break your team if you sport the US kit. That’s especially the case when looking at a triumvirate of Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Ricardo Clark–where Jones still decidedly has the biggest leg up.
Whether it’s Jones who possesses better overall passing, Edu who possesses a better ability to see-react-tackle or Clark who possesses better trackback speed, you’re subjectively-blind to Jones’s successes at best, splitting hairs at worst.)
(Digression: The bigger problem as could not be more clearer after the Gold Cup is the continued desire by Bradley to employ his son Michael in the creative midfielder role in traffic and task him with coverage defending at the same time. Shocking you might say.)
29-year-old Goodson’s callout is even more perplexing who Barnwell handles with a dismissive, “if he was really a player of international quality, he would have shown it before now.”
Much like Jay DeMerit didn’t merit selection for the United States in 2010. DeMerit, of course, got his first cap when he was 27, but only became a full fledged starter when he was–you guessed it–29.
Let’s get into the age thing, because Barnwell pulls off a sneaky little misdirection with his next completely erroneous claim.
Bradley’s decision to include Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo as regular starters was also questionable. Both Bocanegra and Cherundolo will be 35 by the time the next World Cup rolls around. Only one defender older than 35 started all of his team’s games at the World Cup in South Africa, and that was 2006 FIFA Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro. Neither Bocanegra nor Cherundolo are anywhere near as talented as Cannavaro, and as we saw with Cherundolo on Saturday night, older players are at a higher risk of getting injured after a full season of club football in Europe.
Crafty, Barnwell, crafty. Yes Fabio Cannavaro was eldest defender at World Cup who started all his games.
Perhaps Barnwell doesn’t value the contributions of Dutchman Gio Van Bronckhorst…who played and started every game far his team….at fullback….including 105 minutes in the final. Van Bronchhorst, 35 at World Cup 2010. (GVB is a few months younger than Cannavaro)
In fact quite a bit of elder statesmen manned critical defensive positions for their teams in the tournament. Joan Capdevilla, 32 and a starter for Spain. 31-year-old Joris Mathijsen started the Final as well for the Dutch.
The previous knockout round saw 32-year-old Arne Friedrich start for the Germans.
That’s not really the point though. No one wants to bring a 36-year-old anything to the World Cup unless they are much better than their age label.
Cherundolo is 32-years-old now, not 36. Will ‘Dolo be a starter at World Cup 2014?
No, absolutely not. In fact, a heavy rumor heading into Gold Cup play was the Cherundolo wanted to retire prior to the tournament.
The better question perhaps–and let’s leave Bradley making a meal of the defense tactically in Pasadena alone–is if you know that Cherundolo is going to retire and that Chandler is the heir apparent, why not bring Cherundolo in even as a stop gap? Spector wasn’t the answer, what’s your other option? Barnwell?
The Gold Cup is a hellacious three week-or-so tournament where teams have to come in and fly from one city to the next and then plan another game three or four days later.
It’s not the best time to begin building repetitions with players who might be there for a World Cup tournament three years later. Yet Bradley nearly had that cake and ate it too.
He started Tim Ream– in two matches and a third if you include the Boston Spanish massacre. He started Juan Agudelo in three of them and he started a new flanker, 24-year-old Ale Bedoya, in place of Landon Donovan even after Donovan’s wedding respite game against Jamaica.
Sounds like quite an initiative to develop youth by Bradley who also of course slotted in 22-year-old Freddy Adu in the final ahead of Chris Wondolowski.
It’s not even remotely crystal that any of the young players Barnwell mentions will be outright starters three years from now.
Tim Ream has the best shot and may nail his nameplate on at centerback, but he’ll face mounting competition from U-20 standout John Anthony Brooks at left centerback and–go ahead rip me on this–MLSers George John and Matt Besler. But mostly it’s Brooks.
They don’t just give out four year contracts at door at Hertha, who will play in the top German division, Bundesliga 1 this season.
Ream still needs a ways to go on his aerial game and positioning before he’s worthy of being one of the first names on the team sheet.
The aforementioned Edu–depending on how you value Stu Holden–will face competition from Bolton’s Holden, maybe Will Packwood, the ever-present Sacha Kljestan and perhaps Jarred Jeffries and many others in that central midfield role.
Barnwell extends the red carpet to Omar Gonzalez as the heir apparent in the central defense pairing for 2014. All I have to say to that is Chicharito is salivating.
If you accept that the international game is getting faster with the likes of younger forwards being trotted out and midfielders moving back to the defensive line to provide protection through offense, than that Gonzalez tab seems a tad hasty in light of his biggest deficiency right now, speed.
More so when you consider that Gonzalez plays on an MLS team that consistently possesses the ball against its opposition and is not challenged for large stretches of game.
Names like Clarence Goodson (rightfully) and Ike Opara–to name just two–will likely be going up against Gonzalez at the right central back role for the next years. He may win it, but to assume it’s his?
Heck even Oguchi Onyewu will be only 32 at the next World Cup–probably don’t want to rule out a two-time World Cup vet at a key quarterback position just yet.
Perhaps more egregious than Barnwell’s misplaced skewering of the 2011 Gold Cup roster is that he offers no solutions.
By his logic, Eddie Johnson and even Justin Mapp would have been undoing the competition at World Cup 2010 and Gold Cup 2011. Both the striker and forward of course were rostered players for Gold Cup 2007 and both were considered quite promising, yet I didn’t hear the Grantland columnist calling for their insertion in Bradley’s roster this time around.
Barnwell, you don’t change the jet engine when the airplane is in the air, especially if you’re not sure if you have the right parts. That leads to engine failure and a deafening crashing sound.
No, you check the parts out–like Bradley did during the group stage–and see if they are an exact match.
I’ll agree with you US Soccer–and a follow-up is coming here at TSG–needs an adjustment. The Gold Cup with the financially and experientially lucrative Confederations Cup on the line is not the place for that big mechanic’s job.
The Grantland piece gets credit on one thing, you’ll always get a positive reaction and laugh–much like the hilarious outtakes at the end of a movie that wasn’t so funny–by invoking Ricardo Clark and Ghana.
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