As a kid one of the Saturday Night Live spots that always tickled my fancy was the stupendous “Deep Thoughts – by Jack Handy”. Saturday night after the game one of these skits came to mind as I drank myself into a stupor to try and wash away the pain, anguish and embarrassment that comes with a loss to Mexico. I won’t ruin it, but if you want a laugh, watch this:
That’s how I felt Saturday night; like if Disneyland had burned down. The most difficult part of being a USMNT fan is tempering expectations to fit reality and not allowing them to drift into the realm of fantasy. This means not being too upset over a loss to Brazil, or Argentina or even Spain for that matter. But it does not mean we should accept a team that surrenders four unanswered goals to squander a 2-0 lead. It does not mean that we should just accept that Mexico is a better team.
Mexico possesses and abundance of young attacking talent and the fact that they were going to get a goal at some point Saturday night may have been inevitable. The injury to Cherundolo was clearly a turning point in this game. From start to finish in the 2011 Gold Cup he was the most consistent player on the field for the United States. It could be argued that he has been the most consistent performer for the USA over the last five years. Losing his presence on the right flank removed width from our attack and confidence from our defense. It opened a hole for Mexico’s talent to walk right through.
It must be made clear though, that the team did not lose this game because Steve Cherundolo was injured. They lost this game because of poor choices made by Bob Bradley after Cherundolo was injured. And that is what I don’t get about Bob Bradley. He often fails to put a whole game together as the coach. More often than not his mistake’s are made in his lineup choices at the start. His achievements are due to making good adjustments at the half and later in the game to make up for those mistakes.
Saturday was different. He made a bold and risky choice to give the resurgent Freddy Adu a start in what had to be the biggest game of the kids career and he shined. Mexico was dangerous from the start, but the team Bob put out there weathered the storm, countered and came up with two huge early goals. But even before the second goal, it began to fall apart with the loss of Cherundolo and the insertion of Jonathan Bornstein. A groan sounded throughout the bar here in Tucson when everyone saw who was coming on for Dolo. It was as if we all knew this was going to get bad. By halftime it was clear that Bornstein was not the entire problem on the field for the United States, but definitely a big part of it.
It’s not as if Bob did not have other choices at his disposal. Tim Ream, Maurice Edu and Jonathan Spector were all sitting on the bench, ready to come in. But Bob’s choice of Bornstein shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. Every coach has his favorites. With Bob, Bornstein has always been one of them. When the change had to be made in the early part of this game, Bob wasn’t going with anyone else but JB. Despite the long list of stinkers that he has left on the field in a US shirt, Bob has never hesitated to give him another chance. He’s had more second chances in a US shirt than The Lohan has had with the California Justice System.
Moving forward, Jonathan Bornstein should never again be an option in a game that matters for the USMNT. It should be noted though, I don’t make those decisions, and this is about the sixth time I have made that statement only to see the kid make it back onto the field again.
We’ve all had a few days to mourn the embarrassment of this second ugly Gold Cup Final in a row. It’s now time to look forward. Despite the sharp pain that many US fans must still feel from this loss, there is plenty of reason not to panic and to keep an optimistic outlook for this program.
The loss of Cherundolo in this game made clear how important he has been to the success this team has achieved in the last half decade. Dolo is a ripe 32 years of age. Realistically, he will be too long in the tooth to be a reliable option in Brazil in three years. But there is reason to believe this team can find a way to make it work without him. Exhibit A in support of this belief being the 2009 Confederations Cup; the most successful international tournament in American history. We managed to come 45 minutes from taking home the winners trophy without him in the lineup or on the bench. Jonathan Spector filled in admirably. That tournament may have been the best two weeks of Spectors career, and it actually creates a parallel to the other great team in program history, the 2002 World Cup squad.
Many don’t remember, but beyond the emergence of Landon and DaMarcus on the International scene, the smooth calm confidence of Claudio Reyna on the ball and the lights out goalkeeping of Big Bad Brad, Tony Sanneh played like the best right back on earth for two and a half weeks. Until this country is developed enough to move beyond the counter attacking style that has been the hallmark of our most successful moments, the outside back positions will remain crucial to our success.
Dolo’s international career is winding down. As we work to find a permanent replacement for him on the right, he may continue to be a help to the team into the qualifying for Brazil. Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart made important contributions to the early qualifying rounds for Germany in the twilight of their careers and we may need that from Cherundolo in this cycle. Having said that, it is very important for this team to have solved the problem of replacing him and actually finding a serviceable left back by the time the next Gold Cup comes around in two years time.
The good news is that we have a multitude of options to try over the next two years to see what sticks. Eric Lichaj showed that he may be able to develop into a player for us on the left, but he has to work on his left foot and his ability to whip crosses into the box without cutting back onto his right and disrupting the flow of the attack. Timmy Chandler, had he been on the roster this month may have changed the whole tournament for this team. His speed and attacking acumen were sorely missed. Of course we have to hope that he doesn’t switch and play for Germany before we get him cap tied.
In addition to those two players, Bob, or whoever the US coach may be will have to take a serious look at his midfield and how he wants to use them. Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Ricardo Clark, Paco Torres, Alejandro Bedoya and now Freddy Adu are all options for this team in the midfield. That’s eleven guys and it doesn’t even include any up and coming youngsters that will undoubtedly make themselves relevant in the coming cycle. It may be time to look and see if any of these players can help us in the back.
Between the devolution of Oguchi Onyewu, the age of Captain Bocanegra and the struggles of younger players to establish themselves at the international level, there are many more reasons to be concerned about the United States defense than any problems they have going forward. Maurice Edu has played in the back at different points of his career and Mike Bradley may have the potential to be of use in the back as well. It may be a risk, but the USA need to take a serious look at how and where to best use those two players in order to get the best possible squad on the field from a growing but still thin talent pool.
Moving forward, it is important to remember losing one match to Mexico was not the end of the world. That came June 22, 2006. Or was it June 26, 2010. Actually, last time I heard, it’s going to come at some point in June of 2014. Until then take comfort; Disneyland may have burnt to the ground Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena but that doesn’t mean that someone can’t find a way to pick up the pieces and put it back together better than ever.