This one was all about talent. You could probably quibble with Arena's selection – I'd have taken Bocanegra over Lewis on the left to provide more true defensive support and I'd have found SOME way to get Dempsey into the match – but that wouldn’t have changed the outcome here.
This isn't meant to be an alarmist overreaction to one bad loss against an excellent team playing fairly close to home and in a country where many of their players make their living. But in the wake of a match where there are bound to be criticisms about intensity and coaching, I'm here to tell you that there was little that more intensity or better coaching would have helped with.
Again, the issue here was talent. When the Czechs were playing one-touch, we were playing two. When the Czechs trapped the ball, it was at their feet and under their control. When we "trapped" the ball, it was five feet away. When McBride and others (but mostly McBride) headed the ball, it seemed to be pushed into random space only occasionally finding a teammate. When the Czechs won a ball in the air, it almost inevitably went to a teammate who had some time and space to do something with it – again, because they trapped it cleanly.
So, this is the challenge between now and 2010 – at all levels of soccer in the States. We need to refine our ability to play the technical game if we're going to compete with the best teams in the world.
Since we're in Germany, seemingly the home of an endless supply of defenders and midfielders with the ability to unleash wicked shots from long range, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that we also have yet to develop any player other than Clint Mathis that is truly a threat from long range. Is there anyone on the US squad that you could imagine coming up with the goal that Rosicky scored for the Czech's second? Or Frings' effort for Germany's fourth in the opener against Costa Rica? Or Gerrard's screamer in the FA Cup Final?
My point is that, by having one or more players capable of magic from long distance, you create a few advantages. First, and most obviously, you give yourself the opportunity to score where there doesn't appear to be much of an opportunity. If the roles had been reversed and the US had had the ball in the same position Rosicky scored his goal from, it wouldn't have represented a threat to Petr Cech's goal.
Second, having people who can shoot like that has obvious advantages on set pieces where the US is routinely attempting to get a flick from distances, where other nations legitimately have a chance to score directly from the kick.
Finally, having a few players who can just rip it forces defenders to come out further. If you watch how good teams play defense against us, they tend to play off of our guys from about 35 yards to about 25 yards from goal. This serves to congest the middle and while we generally have the ability to get some crosses off, they aren't very effective because there are so many defenders and midfielders packed in to the space.
Finding our equivalent of Gerrard, Ballack, or Rosicky and hopefully supplementing that with at least one defender who can trouble a keeper from deep is critical to the evolution of the game in the States. Until we do that and tighten up our ability on the ball we'll see more domination over teams that are just athletically inferior but we just won't be able to compete with the top squads in the world.
Random Notes from US/Czech Republic
In my mind, Eddie Johnson was the only US player who shouldn't burn the tape of this one. Johnson wasn't spectacular, but in limited duty, he had a couple chances and genuinely looked dangerous. I think we may see Mr. Johnson from the opening whistle against Italy on Saturday.
John O'Brien did a nice job trying to distribute, but it didn't seem like there were very many opportunities for him put the ball in dangerous spaces – his teammates just weren't in the right places. Maybe he won't burn the tape either, but it certainly wasn't his finest 45 minutes.
None of the three guys I expected our offense to come from – Donovan, Beasley, and Convey – had much of an impact. It struck me as I watched that while all three have a lot of speed, they're all fairly frail. The thing that separated the Czech Republic's fast guys from ours is that theirs were also powerful where our guys HAVE to go around people to use their speed. The Czech's speedy midfielders also had the option to muscle through defenders if pure speed wasn't the answer.
So, after all that, I still can't excuse the seeming lackadaisical play that greeted me after I found a way to get from Washington, DC to northwestern Germany for the occasion. I don't know if it had more to do with the players starting to believe their own press clippings or with some failing on the part of Arena and his staff in motivating their charges.
I'm pretty sure the answer is that there's enough blame to go around. We would probably have lost even with our best effort, but we're not three goals worse than the Czechs on our best day even with all of the failings that I described above.
Maybe the Italy match will be better, maybe not. At least the weather is beautiful.