Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thoughts on USA-Ecuador

For the third time in five games under Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. Men's National Team was shutout and met defeat as they dropped a 1-0 friendly against Ecuador Tuesday night. The result was particularly disappointing as the United States certainly created more chances during the match, but thanks to one breakdown in the back, they come away with nothing to show for their efforts.

While there were certainly a lot of bright spots for the United States in last night's match - Brek Shea's continuing to emerge as a star in the making, Oguchi Onyewu turning in a solid performance at center back, Timmy Chandler showing himself to be a capable left back, and the dependable Clint Dempsey turning in his typical gritty performance - the one glaring issue remains: We cannot score goals. And more than that, we just don't seem to possess gifted goal scorers up top.
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The two highest scoring players in the National Team picture are Landon Donovan (46 goals) and Clint Dempsey (23 goals), but both players are far more effective on the wings than they are playing with their backs to the goal in the box. And while both players epitomize what the U.S. Team has been about in recent years - constant hustle, maximum effort, being all over the field - I feel like the goals they score come more from just wanting it more than their opponents than from superior finishing ability. Look at Donovan's goals during the World cup: against Slovenia he made a great run on the wing and got in behind the defense, against Algeria he never gave up on a play and tucked in a rebound, and then he converted a penalty against Ghana. And any questions you have about Dempsey's efforts, just look at his jersey after each game. He is always the dirtiest guy on the field at the end of the game. His goals don't typically look 'pretty', they're the product of his hard work.

Let's look beyond the two icons we have. The U.S. has a pair of promising young strikers in Jozy Altidore (age 21) and Juan Agudelo (age 18). Altidore scored 8 National Team goals before his 20th birthday, but has only scored 4 since then - he turns 22 next month. He was notably shut out during the World Cup and has struggled overseas scoring just 6 times in his first three years in Europe spending the majority of his time out on loan. But he may be turning the corner after signing with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar this season. He's already tallied 7 goals for his new side, 4 in the Europa League and 3 more in league play. He's probably the closest thing to a true striker that we have right now, but he's going to need to be more of a factor in games for the U.S. and make himself into a difference maker. Agudelo, is obviously physically gifted, but at 18 he's still pretty raw. There's no questioning his effort when he's on the field, and we've already seen that translate into goals against South Africa and Argentina, but a lot of his effort is wasted and he hasn't been able to generate as many chances as we'd like. Still, we can't lose site of the fact that he's still REALLY young. And in his first full season in MLS he's scored six goals for the Red Bulls. Plus, playing with someone like Thierry Henry can only help his development.
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But then what? Who else is even available for the U.S. to play up top? Look at the leading scorers in MLS right now. Of the guys with 10 goals or more you have: Dwayne De Rosario - Canada. Thierry Henry - France. Camilo Sanvezzo - Brazil. Dominic Oduro - Ghana. Fredy Montero - Colombia. Andres Mendoza - Peru. Sebastien Le Toux - France. Alvaro Saborio - Costa Rica. Eric Hassli - France. Fabian Espindola - Argentina. Juan Pablo Angel - Colombia. Americans? There are three. Donovan, Charlie Davies and Chris Wondolowski.

Davies, pictured below, is an intriguing option at 25 who was previously very much in the National Team picture before a horrific 2009 car accident left him with a lacerated bladder, fractured right tibia and femur, a fractured elbow, multiple facial fractures, and bleeding on the brain. He's still not all the way back, but with 11 goals in MLS this season, that's certainly encouraging. Wondo, while a great story scoring 32 goals the last two MLS seasons, has appeared hopelessly overmatched at the International Level so consider him a non-factor. Remember Roy Lassiter? Think him. There are some other possibilities out there as well with guys like Teal Bunbury still in the picture, and you can't forget ex-MLSer Edson Buddle who has a pair of two-goal games for his German Club FC Ingolstadt within the past month. But let's face it, the talent pool is thin.
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Because Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not suddenly going to walk through the door, now more than ever, one of these guys is going to have to step up. As we move closer and closer to the kickoff of World Cup Qualifying for 2014, it's imperative that we solve this issue up front. Eventually this inability to score goals and put teams away is going to come back to bite us. Who's it gonna be?

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