Tonight on FSC– the US Men’s National Team plays their lone friendly before diving into hexagonal qualifying. The Yanks spent the end of 2008 giving oft-overlooked people like Kenny Cooper a look in a not quiet but not yet desperate effort to find additional offense for an attack that at times was anemic in the semifinals. Despite the lack of offensive fireworks, Bob Bradley’s side seems to revel in defensive effort and keeping the other team out– and in a region where offensive prowess is about as difficult to find as a quality Brendan Fraser flick– this was good enough to get the Americans through with very little doubt. Their opponent in three weeks in Ohio, El Tri, can’t say the same thing– having slipped into the finals on goal differential alone after a particularly humbling home loss to Honduras to close qualifying. More on Mexico and the final group from Jon Levy later this weekend– and perhaps this evening, depending on boxing and a Bad Religion Party that we both plan to administrate/attend/enjoy/imbibe things/hope that we have more than three people there to watch our favorite son, Daniel “Don’t call me Cardiff City” Califf (Yeah that was terrible) play for his country against…. the Ghosts of Freddie Ljungberg.
That match should give Bradley a chance to look at some young players and place pressure on some of the younger members of the Yanks Senior team that will have to play large roles for South Africa to be a success. Look for more from my friend Raf Crowley’s man-love Sacha Klejstan tonight– who Raf assures will “dominate the game”– and those of us who weathered the 5 am beginnings and sad endings in China this summer will be excited to get a look at Stuart Holden in the American midfield, along with the defensively stable Ricardo Clark, who will have a solo look to try to wrestle playing time away from the intelligent, savvy, and more gifted Maurice Edu.
Enjoy, and with that– here are some thoughts on other fascinating developments with the Americans as they get set for the final push to 2010.
Landon Donovan– Isn’t it nice to hear Landon say “This is a dream, and I’d like to be here a long time”, and not be referring to life in Los Angeles. Crediting David Beckham, Coach Juergen Klinsmann, his Bayern teammates, Bob Bradley– anyone but himself– Donovan has burst onto the scene with one of the world’s finest clubs, scoring four goals in five games (would be five if not for a questioned offside flag) and appears poised to make Germans quickly forget about the departing Podolski, and give an American face to a side featuring such greats as Miroslav Klose, Luca Toni, Frank Ribery and Bastian Scweinsteiger.
Donovan, who, along with Tim Howard, is the premier American player in the world, seems finally ready to prove a point that I think is necessary– elite Americans can play with elite non-Americans, and can shine. Donovan’s breakthrough comes at a time when this reminder is necessary, as other young stars struggle for their moment in the European Sun.
Freddy Adu, to whom Donovan had seemingly passed the torch (anchor) of expectation as being America’s international breakthrough player, has struggled to see the field in France.
Admittedly, Adu didn’t play much at Benfica either, but at least in Portugal, people seemed to believe in Adu’s promise, as anyone who watched him shine in China this summer does. It was Freddy’s first year away from MLS, most importantly, when you perused Benfica’s starting 11 — featuring the likes of Rui Costa and Angel Di Maria — it was at least understandable why Adu couldn’t crack the lineup.
This is what makes his non-role on a lousy French team more eye-opening. Unless Freddy is as adverse to practice as Allen Iverson, there is no possible explanation why Adu can’t play for currently 14th in the French Ligue 1 table. Monaco is weak sauce. They are a shameful outfit in dire need of a creative player. And– worse– when they do put him on the field–as in two weeks ago in a friendly against Juventus, he is their best players on the field. If you think I’m an American homer– the title “Monaco’s best player on the field” came straight from the mouth of Juventus boss Claudio Ranieri. How do you like them apples ? It seems the only managers Adu can’t impress are his own.
Rationalizations aside — like how this experience will toughen him or that just practicing in Europe makes him better — the bottom line for anyone hoping for a banner six year run of American glory is this: Adu needs to play. His failure to start, or even be a regular substitute option, results in inactivity and the inactivity negatively impacts his game. If things don’t change in the second half, he will be forced to seek another move in the summer– and this time it won’t be to a fine club like Benfica– but perhaps a confidence deflating move to a Championship side in England. All this a shame– when you think that other young American players, such as my golden boy, Clint Dempsey, who finally get on the field, tend to produce results. I’m not saying Adu is ready to put up a brace against Chelsea, like Dempsey did last month– but certainly he has to be better than what an awful Monaco side has to offer.