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Cuatro a Cero Sounds Good Too

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(MAPFRE Stadium Twitter)

First: Columbus, Ohio is THE undisputed soccer capital of the United States of America.

Second: WWJCD?

(What would Johan Cruyff do?)

As tributes from the Netherlands to Spain and all around the world continue for the recently deceased footballing legend Johan Cruyff, his name should be on the minds of the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) and its fans.

Why?

When you consider the confusing insistence of Jürgen Klinsmann to use the same players who struggle to win big games against top teams (and lesser opponents), who lead squads that lack any apparent tactical purpose, how is anything going to change without making a big change at the top. Mr. Klinsmann selects his players and decides who plays and who he develops.

Too many players who should be on the pitch gaining valuable experience aren’t getting genuine opportunities to play and improve, which is ironic given Jürgen’s prowess for recruiting young, dual-citizenship talent.

The 2-nil loss at Guatemala this past Friday was shocking, but, sadly, not entirely surprising. Guatemala is not a powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination and if the 95th FIFA ranked CONCACAF foe becomes the standard for success, the USMNT is really in trouble. And this is why Cruyff should be on the minds of American coaches, players and fans tonight and in the near future.

Johan Cruyff’s style was/is world-class that looks like a high-stakes, speed-infused master level chess game. However, don’t be fooled, it takes tremendous vision, hard work and talent to execute his philosophy. Most teams can get results just playing for the win. But teams with an objective focused on carrying out a grand strategy with complex, purposeful movement and possession that can attack at will, while simultaneously simplifying the game with clarity and mesmerizing with creativity are commonly referred to as champions.

Is this how you would currently describe the USMNT?

Win or lose tonight (I predicted a win), Jürgen Klinsmann’s future should still be discussed with pressing questions going forward. My vote has been for a new coach for quite some time now. The issue isn’t just advancing in World Cup qualifying, but whether or not the USMNT product on the pitch can play against, and not just chase, the best teams in the world.

Granted, Klinsmann and Co. delivered a massive win in a massive stadium when they needed a victory. 4-nil warrants congratulations. The goals were great and the atmosphere was incredible. At Crew Stadium, the USMNT team has won 8 games, including 7 World Cup qualifiers with absolutely zero losses.

Once again, well done Columbus!

However, is keeping Klinsmann as manager worth risking another underwhelming 4-year World Cup cycle?

That’s the massive question leaving Columbus, Ohio.

P.S. Local fan favorite Ethan Finlay was clearly onside when he scored.

OH-It’s Good to be Home

Crew Stadium will once again play the patriotic host to a pivotal World Cup qualifying match. This evening, under a Midwestern blanket of stars, the United States of America will battle “That Team Down South.”

The stands will be painted with jerseys and shirts that will proudly showcase the brightest and boldest color combinations of red, white and blue. The chanting and support will be relentless because, honestly, it’s the USMNT’s homecoming.

The fans, players and coaches all know what’s waiting for them. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. on ESPN, but the excitement has been building since the last match four years ago.

The stage is set for another defining 90 minutes of American soccer.

For the United States, tonight’s game can (should) provide this squad with a unique window into the future. Can the Americans regroup after suffering an embarrassing loss in Costa Rica 3-1 in a matter of just a few days with a depleted starting lineup (injury and yellow card accumulations)? Like today, and potentially during the summer of 2014 in Brazil, can the red-white and blue prove to have a short memory. When maximum points and victories are necessary and when the team is forced to travel between games, will Jürgen Klinsmann’s team rise to the occasion?

When an individual is under pressure, there are only two reactions: get crushed or push back.

The United States vs. Mexico is an incredible soccer rivalry. Luckily for the American players and fans, they will feel right at home in Columbus, Ohio. In the three World Cup Qualifying games played between these two nations at Crew Stadium (2001, 2005 and 2009), the United States has won all three games with a final tally of 2-nil.

Or, in better words: Dos a Cero.

There have been great goals, hard tackles, beautiful passes, yellow cards and McBride’s “eye wide shut.”

With three games left in World Cup qualifying and a point differential of 1 between the United States and first-place Costa Rica, 5 between the U.S. and Mexico and 6 between Costa Rica and Mexico, tonight’s match is critical for both teams.

The stakes are undeniably high. The rivalry is real. This is the game and Crew Stadium is the venue!

To build the suspense even more, there will be several intriguing story lines playing out tonight in the heat inside (but really outside) the house Lamar built.

  • Without the maestro in the middle, can the U.S. be guided without the quiet, steady leadership of Michael Bradley?
  • How will Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey play together in such a vitally important game? Will they be the catalysts or finishers on goals?
  • Will Mexico, having fired its head coach last Saturday morning, be dejected or inspired by pride?
  • How many yellow and red cards will the ref show or not show?
  • Will Chicharito (Javier Hernández Balcázar) play like a Manchester United star?
  • Besides Tim Howard, which American player will take the strategic and emotional leadership role tonight? FYI-This responsibility is not limited to the man wearing the captain’s armband…
  • Does the American side have a reliable and dependent back line?
  • Will the United States of America pull off another paramount victory in front of its best crowd?

Now, the most critical question: will it be miraculously cold tonight like back in 2001? The forecast says mid-80s, so probably not. But remember: this is Columbus, where the hopes and dreams of American soccer fans, players and coaches come true…

Plus, it all depends on how you define “cold.”

Another 2-nil win for the U.S. could seriously start to freeze the hopes of a berth to the 2014 World Cup in sunny Brazil for “That Team Down South.”

I’m getting chills just thinking about it!

Fool’s Gold

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) defeated Costa Rica last night 1-nil on a counter-attack goal courtesy of Brek Shea in the 83rd minute that started with a beautiful over-the-top service from Landon Donovan and concluded with a decent enough finish to rattle the net. With the result, the United States won their group in the Gold Cup. They will face El Salvador next in one of the quarterfinal match-ups this Sunday.

A good result with a good goal sequence. One certainty for the USMNT is that Landon Donovan knows how to counter-attack, when he doesn’t disappear for fifteen or so minutes every once in a while during the most important games…

But was the result really good enough?

The question during the Gold Cup and the World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF group is not whether or not the USMNT wins games, but it’s how they win and play. Do they have a reliably dynamic style that meets world-class standards? Let’s be candid: CONCACAF is not overly difficult and wins should consistently be achieved on the road and should definitely be achieved at home. During the home matches, there should be an abundance of spectacular goals and stellar performances from the goalkeeper up to the forwards. At this point, these games should not require a counter-attack goal after the 80th minute to secure a narrow victory at home. At this point, the USMNT should be running circles around the Gold Cup and CONCACAF competition with consistent 3-0-like victories.

Have the recent results really been good enough?

The teams from the Gold Cup and CONCACAF represent the weakest competition they will potentially face in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Does the team that struggles to defeat Costa Rica at home and other similar competition have the roster, style, toughness, talent, strategy, resilience and intelligence to defeat or compete with Spain? Brazil? Germany (their first team)? The Dutch? Portugal? England? Argentina? Belgium? Uruguay? Ghana?

Frustratingly, each time the USMNT roster is announced, there is a steadily uneasy feeling that half of the selected players should not even be there…especially one year out from the World Cup.

However, don’t paint me as a pessimist. I am an eternal believer in the “glass is half-full” mentality. I have long said Jürgen Klinsmann has the intelligence and insight to coach a USMNT that wins a World Cup. But, sadly, that team has not come very close to being organized on the field during his tenure thus far. Amazing things can happen in games that are predicted otherwise. Unlikely players show up and can change a game in an instant. Upsets happen and the USMNT has pulled off a few magical ones. They undoubtedly have the potential.

Yet, I am also a realist and am cognizant of the talent level of the aforementioned teams. There is a distinct difference between qualifying and playing in a World Cup and qualifying and competing for a World Cup.

It’s less than a year from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and it needs to said that 90 minutes is a long time, especially when you’re having to chase a ball while simultaneously climbing a mountain of goals against.

P.S. The U.S. v. Mexico game at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on September 10th will once again be epic! Importantly, it will reveal the talent and overall readiness of the USMNT going forward…