USMNT rises in FIFA rankings in spite of poor performance

More stories from Bass Neel

Now that the March camp has ended for the United States Men’s’ National Team (USMNT), the focus of many US soccer fans is now on the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Gold Cup, a competition of North American national teams, will be hosted in the United States this year. As US coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stated, winning the Gold Cup is vital to the team’s international reputation. Even though they’ve moved up 5 places in the new FIFA rankings, the United States has only won one of their last eight matches. A lot can be attributed to post World Cup woes and MLS Playoffs, but it’s been 9 months since the World Cup and a new MLS season has began. There are many common themes to the USMNT’s poor performance. For example, in six of their last eight matches they’ve conceded a game winning/tying goal in the last 15 minutes of regulation or later. While some fans’ heads may be in a knot, a little analysis reveals pretty glaring problems.

While Klinsmann may have been experimenting the past few camps, the defense and midfield needs to find a consistent balance. On numerous occasions, midfielders have been put in a defensive roll and vice versa. For example, in the game against the Columbia in November, winger Julian Green was subbed in at outside defender for Tottenham Hotspur’s DeAndre Yedlin who was used at midfield instead of defender in four of the last six games. It’s something that’s happened numerous time over the last year. Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Brek Shea, Mix Diskerud, Alfredo Morales, and the oddest flip flopper Jermaine Jones represent some of the confusing experiments. While it is good to have element of surprise with a veteran squad, it’s not good for the inexperienced players that have been increasingly called upon.

Another problem contributing to US is lack of consistency in goal. Due his height and age, it’s largely assumed Nick Rimando won’t be involved in the Copa America, let alone next World Cup. However, he’s shared the majority of the starts with 30 year old, Premier League goalkeeper Brad Guzan since Tim Howard’s hiatus. In Klinsmann’s defense, a few of the US camps were on CONCACAF’s schedule, not UEFA (governing football association of Europe), but in the games he was available, Guzan needed the opportunity to grow a confidence that Aston Villa’s poor results can not provide. Also, with William Yarborough who played in the game against Switzerland, and Southampton youth prospect Cody Cropper coming in, it’s important to establish a consistent starter to mentor and keep the two focused.

On top of the main problems, the US hasn’t played much on the wings and instead make more long balls than they should. However, it would be a disservice to completely scold them. First and foremost, the current pool of players is developing everyday. With all the teen prospects scattered at big clubs in Europe, it’s hard to see the US go anywhere but up. Not to mention, the US held 9th ranked Switzerland to only 37% possession which is really good, and with rival Mexico coming April 14th, the US has even more room to improve and get their dynamic groove back that captivated even the most unlikely fans.