May 28, 2014 by Austin McNair
1.) I Have Never Been So Concerned about another Man’s Groin
Before the beginning of yesterday’s match, Bob Ley almost choked on his own tongue while stopping midsentence to give the breaking news that Clint Dempsey was out with a groin injury. Everybody panic!
There are three players on this roster I really care about staying healthy through this World Cup: Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey. They are the essence of US soccer on all levels of the pitch. If they’re healthy, our US team can be formidable. While Dempsey was only held out for precautionary reasons, it is still a dreadful reminder that even our best players aren’t immune to nagging injuries while training.
So I am glad Dempsey stayed out. Now that the 23 man roster is finalized, my hope is that Klinsmann can keep the team healthy. The pressure to train harder is a reality for these players who want to start, but let’s hope that this pressure to play doesn’t yield unnecessary injuries.
2.) We Still do not Know Much about Our Defense
Last night we saw yet another starting line up in the defense with Cameron and Besler in the middle and Beasley and Johnson on the outside. This selection shows Klinsmann’s determination to experiment with different combinations of players while there is still time. What I really wanted to see last night was the development of some chemistry between the back four and Howard, yet the underwhelming Azerbaijani team was unable to really pose much of a threat.
We are another week closer to June 16th and we really do not know much about our starting defense. Starting positions are still up for grabs and we haven’t seen them defend set pieces or initiate a true counter attack. A warm up game was necessary to build confidence. I get that. And Turkey and Nigeria should pose more of a threat for our boys. But how late is too late before we should really start getting nervous about solidifying a core group in the back? The sooner the better…
3.) Jermaine Jones as a Holding Midfielder Slowed the Game Down
I have always been a fan of the 4-4-2 formation with a diamond in the midfield. It is my go-to FIFA formation! The holding midfield player in the middle can add stability to the back and give freedom to the wingers and players up front. Yet, I wasn’t sure how I felt after last night with Jermaine Jones in that holding midfield role.
Rather than pushing the tempo on an out of form team like Azerbaijan, the US slowed the game down to the Azerbaijani pace, and I blame it on how we used Jermaie Jones. Whenever anyone was in trouble, they simply passed the ball to an open JJ, who held the ball and knocked it around with the defenders for a bit, before Azerbaijan was completely behind the ball. The position did add a sense of stability, but none of the other players took advantage of this amount of possession. The first half was a better show in Keep-Away than a truly dangerous team.
I recognize that this may be because of how Azerbaijan played with all players behind the ball, but I do not think that is an excuse to slow the pace down. If I were Ghana, Portugal, and Germany, I would be looking to put as much pressure on JJ as possible and force mistakes in the unacquainted defense.
4.) Brad Davis and Co. Were Brilliant
The game wasn’t all possession and slowness. As the second half developed, Klinsmann made substitutions who really changed the dynamic of the game for the better. Among them was Brad Davis, who in my opinion, was the player of the game. Davis’ two set piece kicks set up both of the US goals. He also displayed a lot of creativity on the ball and opened up the defense in a way that Bedoya and Zusi had not been doing.
5.) It’s Time to Let Go of Landon
My last takeaway comes down to overall observations from my personal life, ESPN’s coverage of the US team, and our obsession with the dismissal of Landon Donovan. It’s time that we the people and ESPN move quickly through the 5 stages of grief and loss when it comes to Landon.
When the 23-man roster was released earlier this month, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. The legendary Landon Donovan would not be returning for his final hoorah in Brazil. It seemed too impossible. How could Landon be gone? He is THE face of US soccer. We denied it and spat in the face of the truth. Our beloved Landon Donovan couldn’t be done for!
However, reality hit us hard and next came the anger. We would yell to our TV sets “Why would Klinsmann cut Donovan?!? He would be much more impactful off the bench than the likes of an inexperienced Julian Green! IT’S JULIAN GREEN’S FAULT! Damnit Landon! Why did you have to take that stupid sabbatical?!?” Many of us haven’t moved past this anger. The agony of losing one of our favorite player sucks. It doesn’t make sense, it just makes us angry.
Once the anger subsides, we will move into the bargaining stage of grief. This stage is where I believe most of our live right now. We have allowed dark fantasies to swirl in about in our minds where one our other players (Julian Green) gets hurt in training camp the day before the plane leaves. Who does Klinsmann call? Of course! Landon. Freaking. Donovan. But, oh no! The plane is about to leave for Brazil. Will Donovan make it in time? We see Donovan running through the airport, shirtless, with a smile on his face like he just scored a game winner against Algeria, leaping over the metal detectors, and barely making it on to the plane before the pilot closes the door. Yes! He made it. Donovan is going to Brazil.
But as time passes so will these imaginary visions of what won’t be. Landon Donovan is not going to Brazil. This fact will begin to depress us, but eventually that depression will turn to acceptance. We have a good team going down there. It’s time we let go of Landon and begin getting behind the team we love.