I decided there was no reason to write about America’s 2-0 opening Group Play Gold Cup victory over Canada because, well, it was Canada. No disrespect to our neighbors to the North, but Canada is not exactly the benchmark the U.S. should hold its soccer program up to in order to measure progress and ability.
I could say the same thing about Panama, but last night’s humiliating 2-1 defeat showed that the U.S. continues to have so many holes and cracks to fill that our time may never come. Seriously. How many times can we write about piss-poor starts in the first half?
It is a recurring story. The defense cannot close holes and shut down gaps. Lord knows Tim Ream’s inexperience and a total lack of awareness (I was going to say judgment, but that would be too harsh) cost us a penalty. With the exception of the always attacking Dempsey, the midfield is not able to contain, control possession, and readily counter. Finishing? Nope; we can’t do that either have ever suffered from not having a world class striker.
Losing 2-1 was bad enough, but it was the way we lost. In the first half we looked like we were dazed and confused. The second half was much better; we had plenty of chances, but could only manage to put the ball in the net on a single set play. How much of the U.S.’s second half effort and ability to look like they were constantly on the attack can be attributed to Panama going up 2-0 in the first half? In other words, when the U.S. finally did start to look impressive, how much of that was because Panama dictated the game?
Unfortunately the Panama game thought us that the U.S. nowhere near ‘breaking’ through and pushing forward as a soccer nation.
The obvious lesson to be learned from this game is that the U.S. needs to start matches better, but it’s a lesson that was also obvious at last year’s World Cup. Indeed, it’s something the Americans have been guilty of countless times in Bob Bradley’s tenure. It calls into question just how effective he and the senior players are in getting the team prepared to play.
Every time I watch this team I hope to see improvement on the pitch, especially on defense and closing ability; it is just not there. You have to ask, why is this the case, and when will it come? You can look for singular examples, and point to some recent remarkable (call it lucky) tournament play. Some will argue that you make your own luck, and I actually agree with that point of view.
For the U.S., tournament-to-tournament improvement is just not showing on the pitch, which can easily be expressed in the last 25 minutes last night; too little, too late.