It Seems To Me. . .
U.S. loss to Ukraine shows its fans they have much to be concerned about.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, March 11, 2014) -- The United States men's 2-0 loss to Ukraine needs to be put into perspective. On one level, with the U.S. using a patched-together lineup, the setback itself does not have long-term meaning. Yet. on another level, the fact that the Americans again had to cobble a squad together is something to be very worried about.
The Ukraine side the U.S. faced in Cyprus is probably the best team in the world not to have made it to this summer's World Cup in Brazil. It faced France in a playoff to qualify and had the French on the ropes until they gave up late goals in the second leg in Paris, allowing Les Bleus to avoid the disaster of not qualifying. Ukraine was also a team playing with national fervor because of events of the past month at home.
Certainly, what happened probably to the Americans was best described by U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann himself. "It would be totally wrong now to criticize what went wrong," he said. "It was clear to us that playing a completely new back-line, playing players that come out of the club system, who are in a difficult situation not having the same confidence they usually have, there's a lot of work to be done and a lot to build on. . . It would be a miracle if we had played well."
Much of the post-match commentary has centered on a U.S. defense that frankly was a mess. At times, it was an absolute shambles as it gave up two awful goals.
Veteran center-back Oguchi Onyewu has been the target for the lion's share of the criticism. Given he has played sparingly with a series of teams over the past several seasons and now he is coming off a serious calf injury that has limited his playing time at his new club Sheffield Wednesday in England, I don't know how much of this criticism is actually warranted.
His playing partner against Ukraine was John Brooks, who was simply awful. He was constantly out of position creating space for attackers and forcing Gooch into making positioning decisions that put him at a disadvantage.
As for the American defense, one must remember Klinsmann was missing all of his Major League Soccer-based players as well as 1. FC Nürnberg of Germany's defender Timothy Chandler, out after knee surgery.
Given the makeshift defense, giving up two goals, both on rebounds, is not the end of the world. More troubling is the continuing lack of attack, something that has bedeviled this team for some time.
Go back through 2012 (and eliminate the CONCACAF Gold Cup which was a B-team tournament), the U.S. has rarely scored more than a single goal except for the friendly against Scotland, where it netted five.
More to the point, however, the only two goals scored by a forward in all of 2012 was the pair that Eddie Johnson put in against minnow Antigua & Barbuda. All the other goals came out from the midfield. By way of example, the five against Scotland featured a hat trick by Landon Donovan and goals by Michael Dempsey and Jermaine Jones.
Against Ukraine, the Americans managed very few chances. Jozy Altidore, who has played his way off the starting 11 at Sunderland of England, had one chance, but put a header high over the goal. Altidore simply disappeared for long stretches, but that was partially the result of a midfield that did not give him any service, in part because it was overwhelmed by quality Ukrainians, such as Anatoliy Tymoschuk.
Only Jermaine Jones held his own and was probably -- except for goalkeeper Tim Howard -- the best American on the night.
Clint Dempsey is starting to become some kind of mystery. On loan to his old team, England's Fulham, he too played himself off the starting lineup. He did almost nothing against the Ukrainians. Second-half substitute Aron Jóhannsson, who had a couple of chances, was the only U.S. player who looked dangerous going forward
Certainly, the Americans would have been better with Donovan and Bradley in the midfield, and actually Danny Williams, now with Reading of England, looked competent over the final minutes after replacing Jones. He looked like he should have started next to Jones.
What really has to worry U.S. fans is that there are less than 100 days from the American opener against Ghana. With the exception of a few players here and there out with injuries, most World Cup entrants have their starting 11 together for Brazil.
Under any interpretation, the U.S. simply does not look like a team ready for an imminent World Cup. One might expect to see this amount of disarray a year our, not just weeks away. That really has to worry the American faithful,given the level of the competition the U.S. will face in its group -- Germany, Portugal and Ghana.