USMNT continues to lack identity, draw 0-0 in friendly

Serbia's Marko Gobeljic (11) fights for the ball with United States' Steve Birnbaum (15) during a friendly soccermatch Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

How seven years goes by so fast. Seven years ago, the United States men’s soccer team reached the Round of 16 before losing in bitter fashion to a talented Ghana team, who ended one missed penalty kick away from the semifinals. Three years ago, the United States lost again, falling in extra time in the Round of 16 to a star-studded Belgium side.

As a big supporter of the national squad, both performances bring back great memories. However since then, the United States has been a large disappointment, as Jürgen Klinsmann was unable to revolutionize the club and take them to a new level. The team now sits in the bottom of the World Cup qualifying hexagonal after losing 2-1 to Mexico in the opening round in Ohio and getting embarrassed on the road 4-0 against Costa Rica.

Both Mexico and Costa Rica are 2014 World Cup outfits filled with a multitude of great players. Yet their combined populations are 116 million each while the United States is about 324 million. Our national team is currently unable to produce homegrown players and find a system that makes the best use of the players they do have. With Bruce Arena taking the helm again, is the United States going to be able to put it together before it is too late?

Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup will commence again on March 24th at home against Honduras as they will have another game a week later, two in June, two in September and the final two in October. Between now and the qualifying, the United States will have one more friendly on Feb. 3 against Jamaica as time has run out for the United States to play other teams in order to prepare for 2018 qualifying.

The team seems to have no identity, as their best players are getting older and their younger players are not quite ready to take the mantle and carry the torch. Players like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard are all playing in the MLS and not against the best teams and best players in Europe. I have nothing against the MLS but it is not the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga as the speed of play and quality of play is 10 times better.

Currently I am hard pressed to say who the best three men’s national team players are. I might have to answer Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Christian Pulisic, and maybe not even in that order. The national team is currently at a crossroads, evident by Tim Howard’s recent quote when he said, “What I think (Bruce Arena) will add is this ability to truly believe in the shirt and I think we lost that a little bit over the last couple of years,” as he is referring to the point that Klinsmann liked to utilize dual nationals in his lineup. Howard, perhaps the best national team player for the last seven years, is questioning the team’s commitment as this reminds me of France in the 2010 World Cup.

Arena echoed Howard’s statements when he said, “Players on the national team should be–and this is my own feeling–they should be Americans. If they’re all born in other countries, I don’t think we can say we are making progress.” The best European soccer countries in the world, Germany, Spain, Portugal etc., utilize the use of dual nationalists as Diego Costa, Lukas Podolski and Pepe are all dual nationalists.

There is a need to implement homegrown talent but on the world stage, the best players are needed in order to win. The No. 28 ranked United States on Sunday played in a friendly in San Diego against No. 45 Serbia. The United States used a new formation but pitter pattered around in the first half against a Serbian squad who had three players with any experience equal to the United States. In the second half, the United States  dominated the majority of possession and shots but were unable to break through Serbian defense and win the game.

Yes, the United States did not have all of their players at their dispense but neither did Serbia, as this match only confirmed what I thought before the game and left me scratching my head, full of questions and disappointment.


Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at matthew.kren@uconn.edu.