By Garrett McInnis
As I was throwing clothes into a suitcase, I was left thinking about the next few days and what they will be like. I’m heading to Nashville today before the US Under-23’s opening match of Olympic Qualifying. This will be my first foray into covering the United States as a live, in-person, “reporter” of sorts (basically meaning I have a credential and get to sit next to the people who have strict deadlines and depend on this sort of thing for food). As the next few days unfold, feel free to follow me on twitter (@captainmcinnis). Connor Walsh will also be around, so give him a look as well (@USAGunnerWalsh). I’ll keep this initial post short, but here are a few things I’ll be looking for both on and off the field during my trip.
1-Caleb Porter: It sounds slightly trivial since the players are the ones actually on the pitch, but I know very little about the U-23 coach. Everything I’ve read has been glowingly positive….and what I do know—he wins games and obviously his success at Akron speaks for itself—most everyone knows. Klinsmann wants “pick up games to matter” for future development and wants the USMNT to find leaders who play the game with a “cultural footprint.” His words, not mine. I imagine Porter was chosen because of his ability to fit into the latter niche—but this is an immensely important proving ground. As such, I am anxious to see what style of play we see and also what tactical choices are made. Earlier this week, he made his first decision that caused a bit of a stir when he (and the rest of the coaching staff) chose Freddy Adu as captain of the team. Which leads me to…
2-Freddy Adu. It’s simplistic…a bit amateurish, but he always manages to be the center of attention. Will Freddy have a good tournament? He isn’t Gio Dos Santos putting on a green shirt and changing into the Man of Steel instead of his club’s Clark Kent—but honestly: When given the chance of late—when HAS Freddy disappointed in the red, white and blue? That had to be the logic behind the decision—but from a tactical perspective—it seems risky. Some have (rightly) questioned whether he should be starting in the first place, much less be captaining the team (those have suggested Mix Diskerud is a better choice for Freddy’s role). Will his leadership role be simply symbolic or will it translate? And after all these years—is Freddy ready to be the stable figure who leads instead of the energy guy who can change a game in a flash? We’ll see.
3–Young Defense: I’m much less worried about the front of the formation, as it’s loaded with some of the team’s more experienced and battle tested players (Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, Adu, Teal Bunbury, etc). The back, however talented as it may be, is not at all a known quantity. Zach Valentin, Perry Kitchen, Kofi Sarkodie, Ike Opara, Jorge Villafana, and Sheanon Williams make up the defense. It is not at all overstretch to state this is a group of names a casual US soccer fan would not recognize. Heck, Williams was only added as a substitute to the camp after Josh Gatt was forced to return to his injury-riddled club team. It will be fascinating (and critical to securing qualification!!) to see how well these youngsters coalesce. If they can hold up their end of the bargain, you have to think this will be a successful trip.
4-Holes going into Olympics: Assuming that we survive the weekend (never an assumption one should actually make), it will be important to address the areas of weakness on the pitch. There are still a few slots that could be filled by European based players unavailable for this week (Jozy Altidore, Timothy Chandler, Danny Williams), but there are also 3 overage slots to be filled for the summer. It makes sense that one of those would be filled by Tim Howard. For the other two slots? Michael Bradley or Carlos Bocanegra could offer a great deal of backbone to a young defense. Of course Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan would create even greater punch to an offense with a good bit of potential. Donovan is a longshot and might not fit into what this side is trying to do—but that’s a different article. We’ll have one of those for you this week at the site.
5-Tootsies: Just one amongst the many other live music scenes downtown, I’ll be stopping by and grabbing a cold one at some point this weekend. If you’re in town…you should too. Enjoy the games and I’ll do my best to give you an up close report on behalf of TYAC.
Enjoy the opener, tonight, folks. It’s going to be a great ride.
Garrett McInnis writes about MLS and the USMNT for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com and you should follow him on Twitter—username linked above.