Monday, March 27, 2006
A lot of things have been written about the United States since their loss to Germany in Dortmund last week; I've finally decided to weigh in on the matter since everything that "we learned" isn't necessarily what I believe the United States should be taking out of their, at times, dire and ,at times, inspired performance.

Most notable has been Gregg Berhalter's designation as USMNT enemy number one for his role during the dreadful six-minute period that saw Germany score three goals. The defender did appear shaky at times, but doesn't deserve the amount of criticism being heaped upon him.

Josh Wolff is another one of the denigrated victims and my fellow writer here at Yanks Abroad, Neil Thurman, has gone so far as to officially dismiss a concussed Josh Wolff from national team consideration. Meanwhile, Kasey Keller and Steve Cherundolo - major contributors to the first goal that according to Bruce Arena, "gave the game away" - have virtually escaped all criticism.

I might not be so quick to disagree had I not gone back and watched the game for a second time knowing that I probably missed a few things the first few times around.

With the type of pressure that the Germans had been under following their own calamitous outing in Firenze three weeks earlier, it was clear that they were going to come out fast and furious, and that the US needed to weather the opening minutes and not become too rattled.

The United States spent the first two-and-a-half minutes on their heels dong exactly that. Then, Wolff showed why he can be such a valuable part of Arena's team with a touch that sprang Eddie Johnson down the right sideline (Eddie, next time, please cut back).

That was the type of play that experience in the big time has taught Josh Wolff and it showed what he is capable of bringing to the team. Furthermore, he did so right when they needed to put some pressure of their own on the Germans.

The long time MLS forward paid the price for his creativity with a hard shot to the head for which Cherundolo's Hannover teammate Per Mertesacker should have at least received a yellow card.

Wolff suffered a concussion that forced him from the game fourteen minutes later, so it's hard to place any value on the time he remained on the field knowing now that he was so seriously injured.

While I counted one errant pass, he also earned the US a free kick just outside the surface area and had a great idea in trying to deflect Cory Gibbs rocket just before checking out of the game (the problem was he probably didn't know which blurry ball to deflect).

"Losing Josh Wolff after the first 10 or 15 minutes left us really undermanned," Arena remarked after the game.

"What hurt us early was the injury to Josh," was his answer to the next question.

On to our scapegoat of the week: central defender Berhalter.

The veteran among the back four did a fine job organizing a back line that had not played together before yet continually frustrated the German attack and forced skipper Jürgen Klinnsmann to change his formation and bring on another midfielder.

When goals come up the middle, people tend to point the finger at the closest person – usually a center back – neglecting to take into account what happened beforehand that left said defender so badly exposed.

The second goal started when Germany right back Arne Friedrich misplayed his first touch in his own side, and with Taylor Twellman rushing to the ball, Friedrich's only choice was to blindly send a long ball up the middle.

While Jimmy Conrad hesitated and let Miroslav Klose beat him to the ball and Cory Gibbs nonchalantly walked back, Berhalter had been left in no man's land to guard Oliver Neuville, a great forward by any definition, one-on-one. A breakdown all around; Berhalter just happened to be the last man standing.

Neuville wasted no time showing why he has been a mainstay on the German National Team for so long and his shot should remind people that sometimes goals just happen no matter what a defender does. His bending outside of the foot shot was pure class.

Two minutes later, with Miroslav Klose on his left and Neuville running at him from his right, Eddie Johnson sent Berhalter a slow roller that the defender should have done much better with, but also should have never received in the first place.

None of this is to say that Berhalter deserves a start versus the Czechs in June, only that he is certainly not the only reason the United States found themselves down by four goals with 10 minutes to play.

I would be surprised if after watching film of that particular play, blame is not being shared all around as opposed to being placed squarely on the Energie Cottbus captain.

Knowing what I know about Berhalter, I'm sure that he understands there were some things he could have done better, but he still didn't choose to jump into blame game fray afterwards.

"It was a team effort and that's how you have to look at it," Berhalter said. "When we play together more, things will get better. As a defender, I hate to give up goals."

The United States had put themselves in a bad position long before goals number two and three, however.

"The opening kickoff of the second half is when we gave the game away," Arena would say afterwards.

What came to my attention more than anything following the game weren't the small mental mistakes the team made - those can be taken care of - but Kasey Keller's post game comments where the finger was pointed everywhere but at himself.

Keller had a below average second half, along with everyone else on the field and while he's not solely responsible for any of the four goals that made it past him, he's not blameless either – though it's hard to decipher that from his post game comments.

"This has proved to Bruce who can play at this level and who can't," the Mönchengladbach keeper offered afterwards. "I don't know what some of our players thought...that they could just run around, do what they wanted to and these players were just gonna roll over? Maybe some guys were looking at that ranking a little too seriously."

Anyone who's been around Kasey Keller after a game knows that he is going to talk, but when you look at these types of comments, it makes you wonder exactly what purpose they served.

There are a lot of positives that can be taken from this game, and the fact is, Bruce Arena brought a B- team to play a largely first choice Germany squad in a must-win situation, in front of 68,000 home fans in Germany's biggest stadium. Arena's crew - aside from the foolish goal to open the second half - more than held their own for the first 70 minutes.

Even the home faithful were incited to jeers and whistles as they watched their beloved national side head for the locker room void of ideas having been unable to breakdown the American defense.

Bobby Convey showed how much he has gained in confidence from spending two years with Reading with his cool play on the ball and willingness to go right at the German defense. He just might be on the way to becoming the player he was projected to be when he burst onto the scene as a 16-year old.

Cory Gibbs made a strong case for himself at left back, not only holding his own against Gerald Asamoah, but having done so in a game time decision. Arena had planned on playing with three defenders with Cherundolo playing a fifth midfielder, but Germany's decision to go with three forwards meant Gibbs was forced into a left back role – and he thrived.

Every game until the June 12th opener versus the Czech Republic will be a learning experience and that is all that the United States should hope or expect to take from their friendly matches.

This last lesson may have been a tough one to swallow, but they will be a better team for it in the long run.