wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Adjusting expectations for the Germany friendly

By the title of this post, I don’t mean “lowering our standards”, “preparing for defeat” or “getting the excuses ready.” Rather, I want to write about what the US can and should take away from tomorrow’s exhibition against Germany.

Start with the backdrop. The buildup to the game has raised the already-high stakes considerably--for our opponents, that is. The Germans got worked by Italy in their last friendly on March 1, setting off major rumblings among fans and DFB highers-up. Juergen Klinsmann has already received criticism—despite never having coached a competitive game—based in part on questions about his distance (literally and figuratively) from the team. The Italy game also drove down expectations about the Nationalmannschaft’s likelihood of success in the Cup, and in order to counter those expectations the Germans are looking for a cathartic goalfest of a victory against the US tomorrow in Dortmund. The Teutons are bringing their full complement of WC players to get the job done, and all expectations are that they’re going to rout the US.

For their part, the US go into this game with a depleted version of what was already a B-list roster. Our players from the English, Dutch, and Belgian leagues aren’t being called in (save for two players from Reading in the English second division), so it’s largely an MLS + Bundesliga side. From there, we’ve lost three players who likely would have started the Germany game (Dempsey, Hejduk, and most critically Donovan), so what we have left is hardly the most formidable version of the MNT.

For what it’s worth, German mag Kicker has predicted what seems to me the likeliest way the US XI will come out tomorrow: in a 4-4-2, with Keller between the pipes; a flat back four of Dolo, Pope, Gibbs, and Pearce; a box midfield with Olsen and Mastroeni behind Klein on the right and Convey on the left; and Twellman and Johnson up top. I suspect Conrad will see time as well, though likely in relief, perhaps for Pope if he tires in the second half (Eddie didn't practice yesterday because of back trouble). This midfield is an interesting deviation from the standard diamond setup, though it worries me because I think neither Olsen nor Klein are truly of international caliber.

The key to US success in this game will be avoiding being overwhelmed by the Germans when momentum swings in their favor. This is a team that can and does pile on goals when things are going well. I remember all too well how they Blitzkrieged us in the 2002 friendly, turning a relatively even 1-1 match into a 4-1 embarrassment in only about ten minutes. There’s also the famous 8-0 crushing of Saudi Arabia they broke out in the first game of the 2002 World Cup—another “message” game where Germany was seeking to counter whispers that they were a subpar unit. This means that I’ll be at my antsiest during the first 10-15 minutes of the game, when the Germans will be looking to put us away early; and then in the first several minutes after Germany scores (well, assuming they do score), because they have a tendency to get goals in bunches.

But to return to the title of this post, what can the US expect from this game? Most of the predictions I’ve seen have said that a draw would be a great result, and a one-goal loss would be fine. Considering that the Germans are at full strength, playing at home, and badly need a victory; and that the US is in the midst of a solid run-up to the Cup and using a depleted version of what would have been a shadow of their WC roster, that seems about right to me. And in a way, this is great, since it means we have nothing to lose. If the Germans need a win so badly, then they can have this one—we’re inevitably going to lose some games, and if this exhibition match is one of them, then it’s simply not that big a deal. Of course, one does wonder just how much the massive expectations might cause Germany to freeze under pressure. However, I don’t want to write off the possibility of a positive result; I just want to stress that we shouldn’t think about this game solely in terms of the final scoreline. As long as we avoid a confidence-deflating result (and this US team is probably too good to get embarrassed), we’ll be fine.

So what should we look for out of this game? Given how many key players are missing, I think it’s all about focusing on individual performances. What can Cory Gibbs show us after a long, injury-related layoff? Will Heath Pearce impress, or is the mediocre form he showed in the friendlies earlier this year an indication that he’s not of international caliber? Will we finally see Eddie Johnson score against a truly world-class opponent, or can he shine only against mid-level Concacaf foes? Could Benny Feilhaber provide a late spark, suggesting that he could be a dark horse in the mix for a midfield spot on the WC roster? These are the questions that will be worth asking tomorrow, keeping an eye on the big picture rather than the result itself.

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Blogger mirarchi said...

You wrote: "This means that I’ll be at my antsiest . . . in the first several minutes after Germany scores (well, assuming they do score), because they have a tendency to get goals in bunches."

Germany's goals in the 73rd, 75th, and 79th minutes make this a particularly astute call!

As you pointed out, given what they did to us in the 2002 friendly and what they did to the Saudis in the 2002 WC, the Germans seem to really know how to go for the jugular and open it up quickly on an over-matched opponent.

11:39 AM, March 23, 2006

Blogger DF said...

I kind of wish I'd been wrong about that "goals in bunches" bit...

12:47 PM, March 23, 2006


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