Soccer Talk

Taking a break from law, society, and IP, I watched the United States v. Trinidad & Tobago World Cup qualifier on Wednesday evening. The U.S. won, 1-0, but ouch — we didn’t look good. This was as poor a match as I’ve seen the U.S. play in a long time — and it was at home, in front of an extremely friendly crowd. The upcoming (Sept. 3) match with Mexico, in Columbus, will be unusually tough. The stadium should be rocking, but the opposition will bring a lot more firepower. T&T’s Dwight Yorke isn’t what he once was; their most dangerous player seemed to be the less-than-renowned Christopher Birchall.

Questions left over from Wednesday night:

With Eddie Johnson out with an injury, who’s a reliable striking partner for Landon? Taylor Twellman looked good in a brief appearance (and he was not offside on the goal that was called back!), but he’s not yet used to the more physical international game. Get up Taylor! I’ve never been a Brian McBride fan (he works harder than most, and he’s a tough guy, but he’s not a creator), and he and Landon Donovan were and are just out of sync with each other. Assuming that the U.S. goes to Germany next summer, I say: Brian stays home.

What do we do about the backline? Historically, the U.S. has been solid on defense and weak on offense (remember 1990 in Italy). Finally, we have a plethora of offensive talent (though not all of them play together well), and not enough talent in back. Oguchi Onyewu did well on Wednesday, but he’s better with his head than with his feet, and Berhalter gave the ball away too often (a well-known issue). If Eddie Pope stays injured . . . help!

And the real heresy: This is Landon Donovan’s team. I was a Donovan skeptic, but 2002 made me a believer. Today, does Claudio Reyna belong in the starting lineup? When Claudio plays, the rest of the team likes to play through him. I don’t know if that’s an instruction from Bruce Arena, or if the team does that naturally out of deference to Claudio’s experience and skill. Until Donovan came along, Reyna was the best the U.S. had ever produced. But Claudio slows . . . the . . . game . . . down. He’s a very thoughtful player. That’s usually not a bad thing, except that Donovan thinks (and runs, and plays) faster. And when Donovan’s in charge, he raises the pace for his teammates. (John O’Brien runs the team faster than Reyna does, but O’Brien may still be too brittle.) When the U.S. can pick up the pace, generally it gets better results. Against T&T, and up a man for most of the match, listless play by the U.S. kept T&T in the match.

That won’t do against Mexico.

My Man Landon Donovan