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Monday, March 27, 2006
As I take a look at my usual sources for soccer news in the wake of Wednesday's match with Germany, I'm left with the distinct impression that the world - at least the World Cup -is coming to an end.

On this very site, the title of the match report was 'Debacle in Dortmund'.

Elsewhere, I found lead-ins including phrases like '... fiasco in Germany...' (FoxSoccer.com) and '... debacle against Germany...' (Soccernet.com). Even Coach Bruce Arena indicated after the match that maybe it was a mistake to take on Germany at this point in the schedule.

Maybe I'm too much of an optimist, but I think that everyone is missing out on the big storyline here. I actually feel better about our chances in June now than I did before watching the match on Wednesday. Think I'm crazy? I'll let you be the judge - I'm sure you'll let me know if you still think I am after you've heard me out.

A lot of what we saw yesterday, we already knew. For example, we saw again that Josh Wolff is not the answer - even as a right-sided midfielder. I sort of feel bad for the guy, not only did he get himself a mild concussion, but he managed to divert one of our only early scoring chances AWAY from the target rather than towards it.

Is this shocking to anyone? Sadly, no. I think we already knew that if Josh Wolff is starting for us against Italy or the Czech Republic that we will be coming home quickly.

Likewise, we found out that while Gregg Berhalter is a good leader, a good locker room guy, and a good utility defender to have around, he's not our guy as a starter in the center of defense against the big boys of Europe and South America.

Would we prefer he were? Sure, but if he were, he wouldn't be in the second division in Germany. That doesn't mean that he's off the team - although he might be - it just means that he's not good enough to start.

Moving on to the midfield, I actually thought Pablo Mastroeni and Kerry Zavagnin played a reasonably good match as miscast partners in the center of midfield. The problem was that both of them are holding midfielders by nature and neither possess the distribution, creativity, or attacking skills necessary to keep the German midfield honest.

What was initially advertised as a 3-5-2 with Cherundolo, Zavagnin, and Mastroeni all identified as midfielders actually turned into a 6-2-2 that caused the Germans very little worry. One or the other of Zavagnin or Mastroeni might have a place on the field at any given time, but not both. But we already knew this from watching similar line-ups featuring Ben Olsen and Chris Armas together in the Gold Cup.

Other things we already knew going into the match were that Brian Ching isn't going to play a meaningful role in the US attack, and that Chris Klein, while a nice comeback-from-injury story and possibly a reasonable choice as a reserve, isn't good enough to start in the World Cup.

Okay, I admit it, that's a lot of bad news for one day, but it isn't actually new. For my money, there are only five newsworthy items for the National Team this week and three out of the five of them are fantastic news and the other two aren't really that big of a deal at this point.

[bullet] Cory Gibbs looked GREAT. I know it's hard to say that about a defender in a 4-1 loss, but he was solid in the back and even looked good going forward. Did I mention that he did so from the left side of defense, which has been the source of much worry for the team? Whether it is as a central defender or as a left back, if Gibbs continues to work his way back from his injury troubles, the defense is looking better than it did on Wednesday morning.

[bullet] Bobby Convey looked GREAT. He's had a fantastic season at Reading, but it's not TOO difficult to devalue this achievement due to the fact that they are playing in the Coca-Cola Championship and not the Premiership. That said, Bobby showed toughness, creativity and flair against taller, stronger, and heavier opposition. I'm still not sure where he fits in the offense, but his performance made me certain that he, like Dempsey, needs to be on the field somewhere. Again, I feel better about our chances this summer than I did on Wednesday morning after seeing this performance.

[bullet] John O'Brien is healthy. We've heard this before, but if Johnny O is indeed healthy then it means a) we have more than one option for the #10 shirt; b) we have another option just about anywhere else on the field if Claudio is fit; and c) one of the guys who contributed to Wednesday's massacre will be sitting at home watching in glorious HD on the ABC family of networks just like I will. Again, good news.

[bullet] Kasey Keller had a bad day. Sure, I understand why he expected a deflection from Klose on the first goal - that's what Klose does - but it was a play that Keller usually makes. That said, I don't find this to be particularly disturbing given the man's track record. Like Beasley against Poland, you can't expect our players, even our best players, to be fantastic every single match. I've watched Zidane struggle, I've watched Henry struggle, I've even heard about Ronaldinho struggling (although I've never actually seen it). Stop me if you've heard this before.

[bullet] Claudio Reyna hurt his shoulder. I'm not sure if this is good news or bad news. Given that he is coming off of an ankle injury, I actually don't mind that he'll have an extra few weeks before the midfielders and defenders of the EPL start hacking at those ankles again. It doesn't sound like the shoulder injury is potentially debilitating, so presuming it doesn't linger and he gets three or four matches in for Manchester City before the season ends, then this could be a blessing in disguise.

So to all of you who think the sky is falling because Josh Wolff, Brian Ching, Kerry Zavagnin, Gregg Berhalter, and Jimmy Conrad couldn't hold off the Germans for 90 minutes or generate much of an attack - what did you expect?

If you're naturally a pessimistic person, you're welcome to fret about it. But until it starts looking like any of those gentlemen will be first choice, I'm going to remain excited by the progress of Gibbs, Convey, and O'Brien and go on considering Wednesday a net positive despite the unseemly scoreline.
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Conor O'Brien could finally make his Austrian debut for Wiener Neustadt on Saturday.
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