Are We Better Off Than 4 Years Ago?Comparing the US Men’s National Teams of 2008 and 2012
by Jeff Maurer | Friday, September 07, 2012
Now’s the time of year when we ask ourselves the question: are we better off than we were four years ago? Well, I have a better haircut now than I had then, so, yes (thanks Obama!). But what about the US National Team? Are we making progress, or are we just the same team dressed up in snazzy, new, Waldo-inspired uniforms? Here’s my assessment...
Goalkeepers: It’s still Tim Howard. And behind him is still Brad Guzan. Their hairlines are worse but their goalkeeping skills are just as good. Behind those two was and is some guy who had better be a really fun guy and Johnny-on-the-spot with the Gatorade bottles, because the third ‘keeper is there to be a mensch, not to play.
Defense: In 2008, we had Golden Age Onyewu, who was arguably the best defender the US has ever produced. Now we have Post Knee Surgery Onyewu, plus Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson. None of those players are quite as good as Onyewu was in 2008 (though both Cameron and Goodson are still on the rise). Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo were around in 2008 and still are today, but - much like me at an Arcade Fire concert - you have to wonder if they’re getting too old to be there. We have clearly improved at left back: in 2012, we have Fabian (I move that Fabian Johnson become the USA’s second single-name soccer star, after Preki). In 2008, we were desperate for options, trying out Heath Pearce, Eddie Lewis, and Damarcus Beasley before begrudgingly settling on Mitt Romney … I mean Jonathan Bornstein.
Advantage: 2008, Slightly.
Midfield: Has there ever been a quicker exile in national team history than Ricardo Clark? He was a mainstay in 2008. Then he started against Ghana, was subbed off in the first half, walked directly into a rocket and was shot into space. He was sometimes paired with Sacha Kljestan, who has since disappeared into the Belgian Triangle. Much in the midfield hasn’t changed: we had Bradley always and Edu sometimes in the center, Dempsey and Donovan usually on the wings, Jose Torres occasionally coming in and disappointing everyone, and Stuart Holden was injured. Of course, 2008 was before the German Invasion (who would have guessed we’d dub something the “German Invasion” and it would be a GOOD thing?), so we didn’t have Jones or Williams. In terms of mercurial left wingers, the role of Damarcus Beasley is currently being played by Brek Shea and, um, Damarcus Beasley. It’s worth pointing out that Dempsey has somehow taken a step forward from where he was in 2008, so that’s an upgrade.
The immediate problem for the US is that with Donovan and Bradley out hurt, the midfield suddenly looks extremely thin. Like, Damarcus Beasley thin. Seriously: who plays right wing against Jamaica? It’ll probably be a young player with a bad-ass name, either Joe Corona or Josh Gatt if hadn’t pulled out with an injury.
Advantage: 2012 when Donovan and Bradley are healthy, 2008 when they’re not.
Strikers: You know how the Red Hot Chili Peppers can’t seem to settle on a guitarist? We can’t seem to settle on a second striker. Jozy Altidore was and is the first option (and I think he’s slightly better now than in 2008). But the question of who comes after Altidore is still unsettled. In 2008 we were trying Robbie Findley, Kenny Cooper, Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez, and Freddy Adu. From that group, only Gomez is still in the picture (no matter what happens in Seattle, I refuse to reconsider Eddie Johnson). But, once again, a GerMerican provides cause for optimism: Terrence Boyd. To me, Boyd looks like he might be something. I want to see more. I just hope that Klinsmann doesn’t succumb to maddening coaching fallacy that you can’t start two large strikers at the same time. This line of logic maddens me to no end; coaches always think you have to have “little and large”. Why? Don’t City do alright with Aguero and Tevez? Didn’t Chelsea do alright with Drogba and Anelka? I think you should generally just play your best players, but no: “little and large, little and large, little and large”. Hey, it illiterates, so it must be true, right?
Advantage: 2012 by a factor of one Robbie Findley.
So, which team is better?
I think the German Invasion makes 2012 a slightly better player pool. That’s especially true if Timmy Chandler commits to the US. I’m not sure if poaching American citizens from other countries really counts as “progress”, but if it gets us to the round of eight then Klinsmann will get re-elected anyway.