The United States Men's National Team failed to make the finals for the Gold Cup for the first time in 12 years when they lost 2-1 to Jamaica in Atlanta on Wednesday night. This tweet by Matt Doyle does a good job of summing up the shock factor:
So how did it happen? All credit should go to Jamaica for executing a good game plan and surviving a keeper with the yips, and the US can't have any complaints with the result (unlike Panama). The fans, on the other hand, have loads of reason to gripe and most of those are, rightfully, directed at Jurgen Klinsmann.
Squad Selection, part 1 (the back 4)- For all of Klinsy's talk about bringing in veterans for the Gold Cup, he seemed determined on blooding the young guys. Timmy Chandler has an uneven to sub-par tournament, and John Brooks demonstrated a mix of class and confusion.
That said, the guy with the most ready-made replacement, Ventura Alvarado, was the shakiest of all. I've seen a lot of talk about how John Brooks was accountable for Darren Mattocks's goal off of the long throw, and it is true that he could have done more to stop that header on what amounted to a pretty cheap goal. That said, Alvarado, who had virtually no marking duties on the throw-in, didn't jump so much as he let out a big fart to get off the ground six inches. There's no way he should play that so poorly, and there's no way that Omar Gonzalez, perhaps the most dominant player in the air in all of CONCACAF, doesn't clear that out and prevent the goal. Klinsmann's evaluation of a proven (and still relatively young) commodity like Gonzalez is worrisome.
Squad Selection, part 2 (Kyle Beckerman)- Kyle Beckerman has had a long and successful MLS career (emphasis on long) and has had a decent run with the National Team since he was integrated into the team during the 2013 edition of the Gold Cup. That said, this tournament he looked the part of a gallon of milk a month past his sale date.
I think with Beckerman, you fall into two camps: fine wine or rotten grapes. Consider me in the latter group. Beckerman's surprisingly untidy in possession, has a penchant for giving up the ball or a foul in a dangerous spot (last night's count was at 4), and he is really slow. This is not to say that Beckerman can't be an asset against certain less physical teams, but against CONCACAF competition, one has to ask why he was even called up in the first place for a tournament stocked with physical, less technical sides.
Going back to last years defeats against Colombia and Ireland (both Beckerman starts) the US had ample opportunity to integrate new players into the role of defensive midfield, and Klinsmann did so almost begrudgingly. The fact that he played a part in all of the friendlies after March with Perry Kitchen and Danny Williams (not to mention other potential options) is certainly concerning given the fact the US was far from impressive in any non-Cuba match in this tournament. Why was Klinsmann so hell bent on the Alvarado-Brooks pairing of the future with such a physically limited (and soon to be retired) defensive midfielder to protect them?
Honestly, I'm probably a poor person to ask. By my count, the one good chance he added last night was countered by 4 good chances he gave up to the Jamaicans. I think he's a 'confirmation bias' type guy. If you home in on the fact that he's slow, too easily dispossessed, and gives up bad fouls, you're never going to enjoy his body of work. On the other hand, if you're a fan of his fine tune skills and good positioning (not at all a product of the fact he's too slow to get out of position) then you'll probably overlook most of his shortcomings. Regardless, it falls to Klinsmann that he hasn't groomed a suitable alternative, and the blame for the performance during the Gold Cup (lackluster) should also go to the coach.
So what happens now? - There's a silver lining to all of this (for me). It looks like the playoff for CONCACAF's spot in the Confederations Cup will be held at the Rose Bowl (which means I get to go). In what will likely be a match up with Mexico due to el Tri
constantly receiving top shelf gifts from the referee gutting their way past underestimated competition, how will Klinsmann address US shortcomings? Will he pair seasoned hands Matt Besler and Gonzalez with a more youthful d-mid (such as Kitchen or Williams) or will he stay the course with Brooks and Alvarado with anthropomorphized glacier the veteran Beckerman. What would you like to see?