Friday, January 20, 2012

That's On Point: USMNT Preview - Venezuela

Smiles mandatory, umlauts optional.

It's about time, right? We've got ourselves a U.S. National Team writer. Mike Cardillo, who we've been reading for YEARS on his site, "That's On Point", for US preview/reviews and English Premier League musings will be providing some coverage of the Nats as they begin their 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign.

Mike's has been writing about the National Team for as long as we've been reading about American soccer on the Internet! He's got a quick wit and pop cultural references up the ying-yang. 

So welcome Mike to the site and your opinions on the USMNT fly!


By Mike Cardillo / Senior National (Team) Correspondent

"You want it to be one way ... but it's the other way." -- Marlo Stanfield.

Back in the spring of 2010, during my epic, streets of Bodymore, Muderland-tinged World Cup preview, that quote was used to describe a lingering sentiment hanging around certain corners of the U.S. National Team fans.

In short, there's anyways going to be a segment of the USMNT fanbase that who's hopes, dreams ... and maybe ideals of what the team should be don't exactly jive with the reality of the situation. Fast forward to a couple of months from now when the national teams of the big European powers trod onto the fields of Poland and Ukraine to the strains of the White Stripes "Seven Nation Army" (or more likely the ear-cancer, "I Got 2 Feeling" song by the Black Eyed Peas) and they'll probably be some American fans wishing (somehow) the U.S. was in the mix. They want to be decking out in the the latest Nike designed kit, belting out songs, throwing up confetti and jumping up in down in a state of pure nirvana.

Only ... the reality of the situation in June the U.S. will be playing Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala in third round CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

Excitement is thy name.

Barring some sort of crazy game of "Risk" that gets applied to the real world, there's no way for the U.S. to up and leave the relative backwaters of CONCACAF  for the higher-rent, more-exciting (in theory) world of UEFA.

That left a lot of U.S. fans, myself at times included, wondering if we can't exactly transplant the intensity and all-or-nothing aspect of European soccer, what's the next best thing?

Hire a European coach, nay a former superstar with a short track record of success but positivity out the ying-yang, obviously.

So in August 2012, out went Bob Bradley -- who despite his success at the 2007 Gold Cup and 2009 Confederations Cup -- was never 100-percent loved and embraced by American fans. In came the erstwhile Tony Robbins of German soccer, Jurgen Klinsmann who came to the States talking about changing the "culture" of American soccer, basically saying everything lots of supporters wanted to hear.

Stuff like "youth development" and creating a "mentality."

You know, vague-sounding buzzwords that inspire lofty aspirations in the mind, but in actuality take years, if not decades to develop to fruition.

In the interim, Klinsmann beat the backwaters of the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga for players with links to American passports, won a pair of games, lost four and drew Mexico in his much ballyhooed U.S. debut.

And here we are in January 2012 with the annual USMNT "B" camp for MLSers, out-of-season European players and whatever other castoffs are remaining without anywhere else to play -- hello Jermaine Jones.

The crazy irony here? When you scan the group of players Klinsmann has called to the Home Depot Center for a month of training, fitness tests, YouTube videos, and games of ping pong ... it's decidedly Bradley-ian.

The Internet's favorite U.S. whipping boy this side of Jonathan Bornstein, Ricardo Clark? Back, as our old pal Dave O'Brien would say, 'into the mixer.' The scorned Chris Wondolowski, of Gold Cup forgetibility, yep he's back too.

Peel away a level of cynicism, and there's some reason for optimism. Forwards at the camp CJ Sapong, Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo are all 23 or younger, and as we know a truly world-class, goal-scoring forward remains yet another 'White Whale' in the U.S. soccer fan canon on things we Quixotically always are left searching for.

Aside from that, there's not all that much to get jazzed up about. Or at least that's what ESPN and NBC must have figured since the friendly Saturday vs. Venezuela in Phoenix and Wednesday at Panama aren't available on English language cable. (Realistically, how many U.S. fans have ever thought of the Venezuela/Panama games more than, 'Oh right, there's a game this weekend.'?)

However you want to draw it up, here we are, as U.S. fans hoping and fantasizing for something that's probably unrealistic faced with a reality that is difficult to get all that jazzed up against until the games get spicy in the later stages of World Cup qualification, if even then.

The game is the game, yo. 


* Forever the reason, the guy amongst the training camp I'm most interesting to check out long term is Geoff Cameron in the center of the defense, perhaps that's since it appears the National Team careers of both Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez might equate to a pair of ships passing in the night, as it were.

* Brek Shea is likely the U.S. offensive focal point. He looked next to dead considering all the games he played in 2011 in his last time out in a U.S. shirt. Hopefully he picked up some good Andrey Arshavin stories during his time training with Arsenal. 

* In a massive, nearly 100-player pool of possible internationals a good or bad thing? Or does it illustrate the U.S. might have a lot of solid players, but not a ton of sure-fire, five-star international caliber guys. 

* Was Benny Feilhaber U.S. Soccer's "one hit wonder" via the 2007 Gold Cup?

Lineup Guess:

(This is purely a guess.)

GK -- Hamid

DEF -- De La Garza -- Cameron -- Parkhurst -- Pearce

MID -- Feilhaber -- Beckerman -- Jones -- Shea

FOR -- Bunbury -- Wondolowski

Final Thought:

Maybe this is a far too simplistic way to look at the last month of U.S. Soccer, yet, unless there's a portal on the 7 1/2 floor in a building somewhere in New York City -- or more likely the U.S. Soccer House in Chicago -- that leads into Jurgen Klinsmann's head, it's nearly impossible to gauge what was learned from the January training camp. You'd have to figure the training sessions or even the time together away from the field with the players will be more valuable than what transpires vs. Venezuela in what is about as low-stakes a friendly as possible barring the players wearing pinnies during the match.

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"Anyone who tells me soccer is boring, I'm going to punch them in the face."
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