How much do these warm up matches really tell us heading in to the World Cup? I am not sure I have a great answer to that. Much like the NFL Preseason and MLB Spring Training, the matches are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you win it’s “just a friendly” and if you lose, it doesn’t take long for the dissing to start. However, you can also argue the point that if it wasn't for the NFL’s preseason games, Russell Wilson would have never been named starting Quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks and there’s a good chance they never would have won the Super Bowl.
Although the USMNT does have its fair share of veterans, the difference makers in 2014 could very well be the World Cup "newbies" on the squad and these "friendlies" do at least give us some idea of what the young players are capable of. When Jurgen Klinsmann made the choice to leave Landon Donovan off the squad, he was clearly looking toward a new era of US Soccer and really, who could blame him? The sport itself is in a new era in this country with attendance at an all-time high and a league that has gone from sub-zero to (relatively) a success story in the last five years. Soccer as a body has changed in the US and so the faces that represent it have to as well.
I know that I may sound like I am contradicting a past article I wrote (Does Klinsmann Believe in the USA?), but I assure you that I am not. I still have my opinions about Klinsmann in general and the fact that his “The USA can’t win the FIFA World Cup” statement just resurfaced on the airwaves and social media (thanks New York Times) as I write this doesn't help ease my fears that Klinsmann doesn’t take this squad as seriously as this country finally does. However, although I don’t agree with his 23 man roster 100%, I do applaud the fact we will see brand new faces in Brazil…..well at least most of them.
Let’s start with John Anthony Brooks:
Personally I feel like defending is something that players get better and better at with age. Positioning isn't learned over night and although we have seen speed kill with youngsters like DeAndre Yedlin, we've also seen a reliance on speed work against young defenders very quickly. Defending has a lot to do with what's between the ears and to me it appears as though John Brooks already has some of those smarts at the young age of 21.
In the second tune up match against Turkey, I was repeatedly impressed with his defending. Not only with the standard defending we expect to see, but also the multiple times he made up for mistakes made by other teammates. Now I understand that he was brought in as a sub and it’s anybody's guess how he would play for a full 90 minutes or how he would deal with the attack from much more talented players from Portugal or Germany, but it still blows my mind that around the web people don’t seem to think he will see a minute of play time in Brazil. Are you kidding me? I feel like Brooks – at the very least – deserves a chance to show what he can do off the bench. We know our weakness is our back line and Matt Besler (whom Brooks subbed in for against Turkey) was confused at best for the majority of the first half. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of our defenders work as hard as Brooks did this past Sunday, I hope that doesn't get overlooked.
Now for some Fabian Johnson:
The give and go to Michael Bradley which resulted in a spectacular opening goal against Turkey for Fabian Johnson may have us all a little more excited than we should be, but the truth is, Fabian Johnson has been showing signs of excellence for the past few years now with Hoffenheim (although now signed with Borussia Monchengladbach for the 2014-15 season) in Bundesliga and although the defender/winger did make some defensive mistakes in the match against Turkey, his versatility going forward could provide very useful to the squad depending on how he is used, whether that be as a defender or a winger.
Johnson’s ball movement is what has impressed me the most lately and I kind of get the feeling Michael Bradley likes working with him, as the two of them arguably have the best touch on the team along with Clint Dempsey. American fans have watched Brazil’s “Samba Style”, Spain’s magnetic possession play and brilliant finishing for years in hopes that they might one day see just a little bit of that with the Yanks. Although that may never end up being USA’s style of soccer, guys like Fabian Johnson are certainly the answer to bringing just a dash of it to the states.
I am not sure if anyone is all that positive who our starting XI will be against Ghana, but I do hope Johnson gets to see significant time on the pitch in Brazil.
Moving on to Aron Johannsson:
I have watched plenty of videos of Aron Johannsson on YouTube and the majority of them are pretty fantastic. Although it’s been said that he has had a ball hogging tendency in the past, his natural goal scoring ability tends to make people forget about that part of his young career.
What have we really learned about him in the matches leading up to the World Cup though? I don’t think he’s had enough time on the pitch to really have an opinion either way.There was a lot of hype surrounding the Icelandic-American when he first dawned the Red, White and Blue and I think there is still a chance he could almost meet the hype. He hasn't disappointed or impressed me yet and I assume that will remain the same in Brazil if he gets any time on the pitch at all. That said, I am certainly keeping an open mind with Johannsson.
Which leads me to Julian Green…:
You know, I kind of feel for Klinsmann here. Back when the Seattle Sounders signed Clint Dempsey and I told my friends with limited soccer knowledge of his brilliance, I ended up defending myself for the remainder of the 2013 season, as well as the offseason against comments such as “this guy is really getting paid the big bucks!?” or “Wow! Your boy Dempsey is worthless, we should pay (insert any other Sounder player here) that money instead, at least they score!” So yeah, I can see what Klinsmann is going through with Julian Green. He has seen something in this kid and so has Pep Guardiola, yet none of us seem to get it.
In the matches that I have seen him in, Green flat out looks like a kid at the big boys table. Not only does he turn over the ball repeatedly, but he also lacks touch and is quick to flop in hopes of a getting a call, but rarely ever does.
It seems insane however to doubt someone like Klinsmann - no matter how much he frustrates me at times - when Green also has the support of a manager like Guardiola. Surely two football minds like them can’t be THAT wrong....right?
Still, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Julian Green took the place of any of the players who were cut for this World Cup. But as I was saying before about feeling for Klinsmann on this one, I did end up being right about Dempsey (even if I did silently start to doubt myself) and who’s to say that once Green really settles in that Klinsmann won’t end up being the one saying “I told you so”?
Every single one of us is going to question these new faces individually (I am definitely no exception), but I think that in general we can agree that a fresh start for the USMNT was long overdue and I do get the feeling that this team will leave everything on the pitch for better or for worse. I feel like we have watched a very careful style of soccer from the USA over the last few years and it’s given us a few great moments, but it’s been anything, but explosive. 2014’s squad has all the potential to be explosive; it’s just a matter of how they end up exploding. We may very well end up scoring more goals as a team than we ever have in the World Cup, but there is also the likelihood that we could get scored on even more. It’s going to be beyond stressful for us fans, but also exciting as hell to start a new chapter in American Soccer…..now if only we can get Klinsmann to stop publicly doubting us.