When it comes to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, does the United States men’s national soccer team have a problem? We knew there would be a period of adjustment and some growing pains under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but after a loss, a draw, and some less-than-impressive wins during the first round of qualifying, as well as a disappointing effort and result against Honduras to start the final stage of qualifying, could the United States be in danger of not qualifying for the World Cup?
For the longest time, the forward position and the ability to score goals were the biggest problems in U.S. camp. However, there’s some hope starting to emerge for the U.S. Midfielder Clint Dempsey has proven himself capable of scoring goals at any level against any opponent, and forward Jozy Altidore is starting to turn his promise into production for his club team, as he works his way back into Klinsmann’s lineup.
In addition to those two players, Herculez Gomez has brought speed to the team, veteran Eddie Johnson has re-emerged as a viable candidate, and youngster Terrence Boyd has shown promise, as the United States has started to build some depth at forward, despite the noted absence of Landon Donovan.
The real issue has been at the defensive end, where Klinnsman is trying to move away from aging veterans like Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, but has yet to find reliable replacements yet. Center back Omar Gonzalez appears to be the guy to anchor the back line in the future, but he still doesn’t have a lot of international experience, which can hurt a team during the final stage of qualifying. Geoff Cameron is in line to play next to Gonzalez, but he is currently playing midfield for his club team, meaning he has to make the mental transition back to defense every time he gets called into the national team.
As for the outside back positions, fans have been impressed with Fabian Johnson and rejoiced when Timothy Chandler pledged his service to the United States, but both had poor performances against Honduras to open up the final round of qualifying, possibly indicating that they aren’t ready for such a big stage at this point in their careers.
The defensive midfield isn’t performing to the level the team needs them to either, as they have allowed too many opponents to go on the counterattack and given away too many free kicks that resulted in goals during the qualifying process. Without a solid defensive unit in front of him, there’s only so much star goalkeeper Tim Howard can do.
Are all these problems just a part of the adjustment process? Are they due to a lack of talent? Is it bad coaching? Whatever the problem may be, it isn’t nearly as important as finding a way to fix it. With one game in the books, one notch in the loss column, and an unforgiving schedule ahead, there isn’t a lot of time to find the answers they’re looking for.
It may be a little early to hit the panic button with nine games left on the qualifying schedule, but if the U.S. can’t find a way play better defense, score goals with more consistency, and get favorable results soon, they could be looking at a big problem as it pertains to getting to the World Cup next summer.