I spent much of this weekend in a bit of a bad mood. No, I'm not bothered about Henry moving to Barca. Shady takeover deals at beleaguered Man City? Nah, doesn't get me down. But when I saw the Copa America call up list that US Coach Bob Bradley put together, I couldn't believe my eyes.
With few exceptions, Bradley left most of the veteran US players at home, and called up a very young team, with little big game experience. I wondered, bitterly, if the players needed to make sure their permission slips for the field trip got signed, while the veterans on vacation sip Mai Tais by the pool.
At several news conferences, before and during the Gold Cup, Coach Bradley was frequently asked about potential rosters for Copa America. Although Bradley admitted that in the past the Gold Cup has been more important for US soccer, he was set on "Trying to compete at the highest levels in both events."
Evidently Bradley must have some amazing faith in his Copa America contingent, though, as 16 of the players have 10 caps or less. Out of the 22 player call up, only seven play regularly in Europe. The more familiar figures of Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu and Michael Bradley have all been left off.
By leaving off most the veterans, Bradley has shown a different perspective of himself as a coach. As a successful coach with Chivas and Chicago Fire, Bradley seemed a good choice to take over as USMNT interim coach after the departure of Bruce Arena. Indeed, Bradley was off to a good start with wins over Mexico and Ecuador in friendlies at the beginning of the year. He always seems to have a good attitude and serious demeanor.
With a son playing abroad in Holland, and a team roster that features several American's playing abroad in Europe, it seemed that cultivating successful international experience was high on Bradley's agenda. But by putting forth the inexperienced Copa list, Bradley has, in essence, told the world that he doesn't expect to get past the group stage of Copa America, is not interested in showing South America our best team, and has, in away, snubbed the INVITATION that we received to go to Copa America.
It's like showing up to a white tie dinner party with a packet of Kool-Aid.
Bradley has defended his roster by saying that he wants to give young players a chance at the international level. This is a good thing, and certainly commendable. But couldn't Bradley have called up a mix of both young and experienced players?
How do we know how these players are going to perform together? Some have pointed out that Brazilian veterans Kaka and Ronaldinho have been left out of the Brazil squad, but consider that Argentina has included Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, and Hernan Crespo in their squad.
Just to advance, I'm thinking the US is going to need a miracle. Something along the lines of the US vs. USSR 1980 Olympic hockey miracle. Is a miracle like that even possible? After watching the Gold Cup final, it seemed that the performances of the veterans were not all that great, and that maybe it's good thing that so many youngsters were called up.
The Gold Cup highlighted several poor areas for the US that if even the veterans can't fix, how can the youngsters when they meet the likes of Messi?
Take the US's attacking system. In a press conference the other day, Landon Donovan had said that he didn't feel too tired. That's a shame, because I was hoping that's what we could blame his and Beasley's poor finishing on.
The shot that Donovan whiffed on in the 51st minute against Canada was mind-boggling, and Beasley's "shot" that hit the crossbar in the final, was, well...maybe it's a good thing they are not going to Venezuela...(although with Donovan's fluency in Spanish, he could have been a good rep for the US.)
And Dempsey? Honestly, I felt a bit sorry for Clint Dempsey. He has had some excellent performances, but at the Gold Cup final he did not have a good game at all, and looked quite tired and jaded.
Unfortunately for the US, their attacking system has much deeper problems than just missing easy goals.
Problems, that when facing loaded South American teams, are just going lead to us being handed our heads on a platter. Most US players simply do not have the skills to elude their defenders. When they have the time to set up a goal, pass a bit, and make space...they don't. They seem to hog the ball until a defender knocks it away.
When they don't have time to pass and need to just take the shot, well, then the ball is passed and lovely one-touch soccer becomes 20-touch scrambling. And shots on goal? Four shots on goal in the first half of the game against Canada might look acceptable next to Canada's three, but something tells me when the US meets Argentina, they might
have to step it up a bit.
If they can.
Set pieces for the US, on the other hand, are what helped them slide through the Gold Cup. How many penalties did Donovan take throughout the Gold Cup? And can we honestly say that they were all given by an impartial referee? Something tells me the referees at Copa America might not be the same as in the Gold Cup.
While set pieces might work for US scoring in the Gold Cup in the US, they can't rely on them alone, and the attack has got to improve.
As far as the defense...Yikes stripes!
Maybe Gooch does need a vacation after considering the mistake in the final that led to Mexico's goal, the nullified "assist" against Canada and the red card against Guatemala all followed a mediocre spell at Newcastle United.
Carlos Bocanegra may have made a somewhat valuable contribution to the US defense throughout the tournament, but he was out of position numerous times against Mexico and Canada (Ian Hume??) - the two toughest opponents we faced. He's also lucky that his 28th minute collision on Julian De Guzman in the semifinal didn't break the Canadian's neck and get himself sent off in the process.
Hopefully Jimmy Conrad will be able to strengthen the US defense and Jay DeMerit's experience, having worked his way up to the English Premiership (now back to the Championship) from the UK's lower divisions, shows good hard-working ethic.
But if there was one shinning star in the Gold Cup final, that could possibly save our tails in Copa America, it's Benny Feilhaber.
His 54th minute volley was an absolute cracker - the kind of goal that despite being simply beautiful is respected by all fans in the packed stadium. It truly seemed to legitimize the US's victory over Mexico. Feilhaber is keen and diligent in his game, and hopefully the HSV midfielder can be another source of structure for the rest of the nascent US team.
Can Conrad, Kasey Keller, Ben, Olsen and the other US veterans guide a successful US team in Copa America or will youth and energy replace experience? We will see within the next couple of weeks, but whatever the result, let's hope that Copa America is a positive experience for all the team members, and can help to cultivate a stronger US team for the future.