Where Next? (Part Two)

This is a continuation of yesterday's article. You can read part one here. First of all I'd like to thank those of you who took the time to comment. Some very good points. I think a few of you missed the forest for the trees, but that's probably my fault for not being completely clear. I am a much better editor than I am a writer, so please bear with me.

The second thing that really hit me hard in the immediate aftermath of the Belgium game on Tuesday was Julian Green. Not Green, himself, but the data point that his performance represented. His appearance in the game and performance he gave didn't fit into the mental model of how the USMNT works that I had created.

By training I am a mathematician and scientist. My peculiar gifts are pattern recognition and an innate ability to create algorithms - or more generically - methods to solve problems.

I'm sure that's too much information, but I consider it relevant in that my brain builds models of how things work. I create theories based on available information. The scientist in me demands empirical testing. When the results do not add up, I have no choice but to admit that there is something wrong with the model. The Belgium game completely laid waste to my theories and assumptions. Not the result of the game, mind you, but the way the game was played and who it was played by.

Let's go back a month. When Jurgen named the final 23 a lot of words were written about how he was looking to 2018. I didn't buy a word of it. If you stop and look at successful World Cup teams they generally do have a mix of senior players and raw, untamed talent. I always assumed that DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks were on the team because Jurgen thought they were needed now, in 2014. Julian Green? Well, I figured that was a special case, a Quid Pro Quo.

I've seen Klinsmann getting some flack since the Belgium game about the final roster, and frankly I think he deserves some of it. There was no cover for Jozy Altidore, and it really would have been nice to have Landon Donovan on the bench. However, the problems weren't the kids, and they weren't the German-Americans (or as I like to call them, Americans.)

The United States scored five goals in four games plus a 30 minute overtime period. While it's nothing to write home about, it's not terrible, either.

I guess what Julian Green scoring that goal did is it makes me realize that we really aren't designed to score goals. Against elite competition we score them more often than not by chance or on freak plays. In CONCACAF play it's not an issue as we tend to outclass most of our opponents. At the World Cup, on the other hand, we are completely bereft of any concept that the goal of the game is to score goals. In Brazil we scored five, but three of those were either freakish (Dempsey's first) or one-off flash in the pan (John Brooks in 45 minutes of play and Julian Green in 16 minutes).

Maybe if Chris Wondolowski hadn't flubbed his 88th minute chance I wouldn't be writing this article. Then again, my understanding of the USMNT and where it is headed was flawed and a reckoning was coming sooner or later.

Not this kind of reckoning.

Not this kind of reckoning.

 The real issue is that I don't understand how the USMNT progresses from here. When we get to Russia in 2018 we need to able to steadily generate valid goal scoring chances. Playing rope-a-dope and hoping to get lucky on a counter isn't a viable system against the class of teams we play at the World Cup Finals. 

I honestly don't know if it is talent, coaching, or some combination. The U.S. is an unusual team. We have gotten to the point where we have advanced out of the group stage in three of the last four World Cups. But there's a difference between us and the other teams that can say the same. Even when our opponents cede us possession, you rarely get that feeling that a goal is imminent. How do we change that?

Not a sustainable strategy (Photo: Andy Mead/YCJ)

Not a sustainable strategy (Photo: Andy Mead/YCJ)

I apologize to those of you expecting answers, at least my answers. I still don't have any. I'm still processing and I haven't come up with a new model that fits the data I've collected over the year. If any of you can help piece it all back together, I'd love to see what you've come up with. Like I said at the top, I really want to thank those of you that took the time to comment on part one. The more information I have to analyze the better. Different views and opinions are welcome and helpful.

At some point over the holiday weekend I'll come back and wrap this up with my thoughts on where the USMNT can go from here. I promise more conclusions than questions in part three.