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U.S. U23 MNT fails – blame the ambition of the program

Written by Jahmal Corner

By J.R. Eskilson, ESNN

When the tears finally stopped, the reality set in for the players of the U.S. U23 Men’s National Team . . . it was another performance that simply was not good enough.

After taking a warning shot against Canada on Saturday in a disappointing 2-0 loss, the U.S. responded with an equally despondent performance against El Salvador on Monday night in a 3-3 draw.

The one point accumulated in two games put the U.S. in third place in Group A of CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying, and Canada and El Salvador advanced in spite of being the host nation of the tournament.

After devoting considerable amount of resources to this group, head coach Caleb Porter had the pressure of the nation on his shoulders in attempting to qualify for the 2012 Olympic games in London.

He failed.

“Were we perfect? Were they perfect? No. We all made mistakes. But they also played some pretty darn good football. In my opinion they deserved better.”
Caleb Porter on his U23 team

That cold reality really fell hard on the tactician from Akron as he choked back tears in his press conference after the draw.

Porter has enjoyed success and aplomb for his artistic style in college soccer, but received the harsh whiplash from critics when his style failed to translate to the international game during this tournament.

Those criticisms are partially misguided.

Porter made mistakes during qualifying – his squad rotation, his roster selection, and the inability to find an outside back – but U.S. Soccer also attempted to be excessively ambitious when Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna declared all teams would play the same style.

When U.S. Soccer bought into one style of play through all youth national teams last year, it neglected to consider how difficult the transition would be to a 4-3-3 for the older teams in the program.

Considering the tight time frame, Porter did seem like the perfect leader for that formation with his history of success during the course of a college season, which is only four months.

He has not always been successful, though.

It is nice to remember Akron of 2010 when it stormed through the playoffs and captured a national title, but the Zips did not immediately find success.

When Porter took the job in 2006, the Zips went 14-6-1, which included a 5-0 loss to UCSB in Porter’s first game as a head coach.

If implementing a 4-3-3 to perfection were easy, every team would do it. But that’s not reality. It is a meticulous, time-consuming practice, which requires more than just throwing a ball on the field.

Porter brought some former Zips with him to Olympic Qualifying, perhaps as a way to overcome the difficulty of establishing a new system, but he did not bring the most important piece: Anthony Ampaipitakwong.

The brilliant mastermind of all of Akron’s success was six months too old for this team, and Porter did not find a player who could pull the strings like Ampaipitakwong at the international level.

All of the things that made Porter’s style so effective against college teams – slick passing, clever movements, and a resolve to quickly win the ball back – went out of the window.

The long searching balls, the lackluster defense, and the lack of discipline all reared their ugly heads again. It was not the patented ‘death by 1,000 passes’ that Porter made common vernacular in Ohio.

Any excuse for the early exit lives on thin ice, as this was a very comfortable situation for the U.S. to qualify from the weaker of two groups, but this failure was about more than one coach’s shortcomings. Managing Editor Robert Ziegler thinks differently, read his thoughts.


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  • Dot

    I don’t know if this can all fall on Porters shoulders, being told  what formation to play always lends itself to failure.  Reyna, Gulatti and Klinsmann must take equal blame

  • RJ

    What goes around comes around.  Porter has acted disgracefully in the
    college arena and deserves the blame and removal as coach from the US
    23’s.  Soccer knowledge must also be tempered with character and
    integrity, both of which he is lacking.

    • Trey

      Disgraceful?, Character? Integrity? What are you talking about? No coach has more integrity and character in the game. The US lost, yes, very disappointing but don’t attact character.

  • JVK

    I’m not happy about it, and it’s sad. I can say I’ve been through enough courses to know that all of them say you play to the strengths of your team. 

    Three great strikers, three great “defensive minded” players to put in the back, it almost says 3-4-3 or some other strange alignment with 3 in back and 3 up front. 
    Being forced in one formation has it’s troubles. But then again, (I can only speak for what I’ve seen 1st hand) the Dutch have a way, especially Ajax, that the beginning to the end copy one way so they are natural at the highest level. Not learning something new. 
    Face it, we have a totally unique culture. We will never be consistent. One year with some players will be one way, and a year later it may have to change. USA is too loaded with proud and stubborn people who refuse to believe we are inferior to any one. 

    The biggest bummer for me in this whole thing is that in the Canada game our guys couldn’t think to remember what was at least working and know what was going to punish them after breakdowns. Canada’s 1st goal I felt the keeper was in an easy position to catch but made no effort. How can the head of a player get up higher than the hands of a jumping keeper? “Can’t” keeper just stood there. 
    2nd goal was another corner kick. There “may have been” a trip on US defender who then couldn’t defend and the ball went to the attacker who scored. The game wasn’t pretty any way, but those were both set plays and any team to hold off an attack and can score off set plays can win. 

    It’s so too bad the US couldn’t pull it off with El Salvador. We had more “good” chances. Still not a great game, but not bad. The big problem I saw again was goalkeeping. Toooooo darn easy to stop in the last seconds. WTF is going on there? NO PRIDE? WHAT? I’m “Sick” about those replays. Tough topic. Tough choices. At least El Salvador is a good team.

  • lafc

    JR you are absolutely correct about Porter’s roster selection and not finding an outside back.  He needed an outside back like Patrick Chin of Boston College who was an integral part of the BC defense that beat Duke 3 out of 4 games in the last 2 years and didn’t allow Duke’s Andrew Wenger (2011 MAC Hermann winner) to score or assist in those 4 games.  Patrick has played against Jeremy Hall and Omar Gonzalez (Maryland) and Marcus Tracy (2008 MAC Hermann winner, Wake Forest).  Canadian midfielder, Kyle Bekker and El Salvadorian midfielder, Richard Menjivar were Patrick’s BC teammate and Los Angeles Futbol Club teammate respectively.

  • Truthbegold

    the same disease in Mens Soccer is spreading to womens national program.
    1. Lack of discipline (17 year old national team boys kicked out then let back)
    2. WHO YOU know not best talent is how team is selected.

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