Anyone else feel like they need a few minutes in the S.P.I.N.X. memory-eraser capsule?
Good thing my personal lord and savior(*) -- Ian Darke -- avoided the trans-Atlantic flight and stayed in England to prep for the Manchester United/West Brom game this Saturday, since there wasn't a whole lot to see or talk about during the U.S.'s 0-0 draw at Philadelphia Chester, Pa.'s, PPL Park vs. Colombia.
(*) Only half kidding.
This, friends, was the worst side of international soccer, specifically friendlies.
Perhaps Clint Dempsey or some other player could have snatched a goal with an individual moment of magic since this match was crying out for somebody to channel their inner Herman Edwards and, "put their name on it." Alas, it was a lot of standing around and aimless passing.
That's what happens when you play a game with minimal stakes, with nothing tangible on the line. Another positive game for new addition Jermaine Jones, sure. The international debuts of Brek Shea and Eric Lichaj, yep. Beyond that? Umm ... get back to me on that.
One thing I hate in sports writing is when an unqualified scribes tries to play armchair psychologist and get inside the minds of athletes. Hey, we're all guilty of it.
Tonight I couldn't help but wonder, how 100-percent committed the U.S. players were in this match. This isn't to challenge their heart, hustle or determination. I'm sure the old cliches about putting on your national team jersey came into play. You're never mailing it in with the stars and stripes above your heart.
Think about it, though, if you're a seasoned professional with plenty of international experience like most of the U.S. starting XI, how much do you put into a mid-week, sparsely attended friendly without any immediate important matches on the horizon? It's just human nature. All the U.S. players put in an effort and worked hard, but with the mind-boggling amount of games and mileage these guys put on their bodies that they'll play a friendly with the same intensity as another match, especially since most of these players had already logged 90 minutes Saturday in the 2-2 draw with Poland.
Yeah, there are physical and mental freaks that don't have an off switch and go 100 mph in every single match. You have to respect the pros who know, like a jockey riding a thoroughbred, when to press their bodies and minds to the max and when to let up on the whip.
FIFA gussies up the name and calls them friendlies, but all these matches are exhibitions and what we saw at PPL Park was indeed that. Nobody needs to apologize and I give all the players credit for grinding through a mostly unnecessary match. We're the viewers, we know the deal with soccer, not every game is going to be a high-incident thrill-a-minute. You put up with the sour to enjoy the sweet.
About that 4-3-3 -- Cuing the voice from Futurama's "Tales of Interest" ... You asked for it ...
Most of us Inter-nets soccer nerds had been clamoring for Bob Bradley to abandon his rigid, slave-like devotion to the 4-4-2 for most of the summer, an argument which is about as thrilling as a pair of Star Trek nerds arguing over Kirk vs. P'kard.(*)
(*) Guessing we need an update for a blanket Sci-Fi nerd joke/argument, since this one feels about as fresh as an Gin Blossoms concert.
Bradley, by process of necessity with the roster he assembled, rolled out a 4-3-3 with Jones-Maurice Edu-Michael Bradley settling behind a trident of Shea-Jozy Altidore-Stuart Holden.
Any time you try a new look, it takes some time as the players looked tentative and passive in their new roles. It didn't work too well and created zero chances, but I'll give Bradley the Elder credit for trying something new.
The bigger question is, will he stick with it? With this particular lineup, no, since Shea seems a long with off international duty.
Could a lineup with Jones-Edu-Bradley coupled with Landon Donovan-Altidore-Clint Dempsey work? Or Dempsey swapped with Altidore and Holden out wide right, work? That would be interesting and might be worth toying around with in the near future.
That said, the 4-2-3-1 appears a better approach. If Bradley the Elder must sacrifice Edu or Jones or his son, so be it. Not sure which teams, especially in CONCACAF you're going to want to play 4-3-3 against, anyways? If Bradley is beholden to tinker around with three holding type players, the Carlo Ancelotti/AC Milan 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree might work the best.
The key to the whole operation might be Michael Bradley, since I don't think we've found his best position inside the USMNT. He's a disruptor on defense, but not exactly a great distributor, but a very good offensive player on the edge of the box. (Jones + Bradley might be even more of a red card waiting to happen than Bradley + Ricardo Clark.)
Not sure who this guy is that kidnapped Bradley the Elder. First he tinkers with the lineup, next he's shaking hands with fans and signing trumpets! Whoa. Even Al Gore took some time from transitioning from boring Presidential candidate to guffaw-inducing "30 Rock" guest star.
* No pie in Germany, only strudel -- One thing I never really thought about was why, when you boil it down, was Jones so hell-bent on playing for the U.S.?
Granted, he was basically told by Joachim Loew he wasn't getting a look for Germany, but why, at 27/28 years old was he so determined to play international soccer beyond those few German "B" games?
Playing for the USMNT means a ton of extra plane trips across the Atlantic. It means playing with guys you don't really know, while speaking a language that's not your native tongue for a country you've only spent a fraction of your life in ... many times in half-empty stadiums rooting for the opponent.
Is there even that much of a tangible financial gain for Jones to gain for playing for the U.S., that is unless Nutella steps up, hires SCDP, and launches a new North American ad campaign and signs the German-born midfielder to endorse the gooey, delicious hazelnutty spread?
Playing for the U.S. isn't going to help him further his club career either, if anything at his age, it'll hurt it ... nevermind the fact European powerhouses aren't exactly clamoring to sign American internationals.
So going through all that, you have to hand it to Jones for sticking through an entire lost season on the sidelines with his broken shin and still wanting to play internationally. Playing in all these empty stadiums or the Gold cup might not be an incentive, but that glimmer of hope of playing in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup must mean a lot.
See ... who am I to question the commitment level of professional soccer players?
* The first U.S. shot on target came in the 53rd minute on a long shot from Holden. The shot came roughly 30 seconds have Adrian Healey ever-so-delicately danced around Charlie Davies recent car troubles on the French highways, calling it his "recent misadventures on French Roadways." ... On the plus side, at least Davies hasn't sent pictures of his junk to a Sochaux sideline host.
* My guess is Felix Magath woke up Wednesday in northwestern Germany, read the report that Jermaine Jones went 90 minutes in a meaningless match and fired the nearest Schalke 04 underling in a fit of anger. In Bradley's defense, Jones picked up a red card in his last Bundesliga match so he wasn't playing this weekend anyhow.
* Still think, if you took out Jones, Bradley the Elder would've gotten a chance to see how Bradley the Younger and Holden could play paired together in the central midfield. Jones was a little less effective Tuesday both offensively and defensively, but that might be due in part to the fact Colombia played the game at a slow pace, unlike Poland which forced the issue allowed Jones ample chances to get on the ball.
C'mon, as per John Harkes, Holden leads the EPL in tackles!
* Jonathan Spector played, right? Just checking.
* For some reason Michael Parkhurst is a player I enjoy watching. He doesn't fit the prototype of your standard, big lug American centerback. The ex-New England Rev seems to have a good read on the game. Then again, since he's not a threat with his head on set pieces he probably will have trouble cracking the lineup, since scoring off these plays with defenders is often the U.S.'s top attacking option.
* Wonder how many times working as a sideline reporter Julie Foudy has been serenaded by a, "Get Her Number!" chant. Perhaps she can call Ines Sainez for advice.
* On a broadcast standpoint, Healey was fine. Harkes? I just tend to drown him out with white-noise in my brain after a while. At least Jay DeMerit wasn't listed in the midfield again.
* Apparently nobody in the Philly area promoted this match, so the crowd of about 8,500 seems about right.
* Oguchi Onyewu looked decent enough playing for 45 minutes, albeit under minimal pressure aside from the usual, trademark American opening 10-minute sloppiness. More symbolic was that Bradley the Elder gave him the captain's armband, in a sense saying he's not giving up on the 6-foot-4 defender, even if it appears AC Milan has.
* The way Altidore and, in the second half, Eddie Johnson played I'd be more than happy to see guys like Justin Braun and Chris Wondolowski getting U.S. call-ups. Bradley is happy to audition defenders, he might need to get that way quick with forwards/strikers. (Guessing the grumbling about Altidore's lack of production will only increase. The fact he has no one to push him out of the lineup on the immediate horizon is an issue.)
* Still don't understand that bemused, semi-smirk on the face of the Elder during every interview. Is it because he thinks he's smarter than the questions? Purposely toying with us?
I'll leave that to my old pal, "The Rev", a part-time soccer writer at the The 700 Level. He attended the match and left with these thoughts, via the Tweeter.
"Just left the #USMNT game at PPL. There were more shots fired in Chester this week than there were in that game."
See you in South Africa ... again.
Vuvuzela's have a habit of spicing even the most boring match up, don't they?