In our new 91st Minute series, 5v5, five soccer writers tackle five hot topics during a candid roundtable debate. Today’s subject: the U.S. Men’s National Team. Let the debate begin.
1. True or false: Clint Dempsey has become the most important player in the US Soccer program?
Chris Ravita, The Sports Network: True. His scoring record with Fulham this season does not lie, and he has matured into a player who can be relied upon. He’s creative, deadly in front of goal, a strong aerial threat, versatile and a fierce competitor. Dempsey is the most well-rounded player in the national team set-up.
Daniel Robertson, BigDSoccer: Absolutely true. Outside of Landon Donovan, there’s no player on the US capable of the spectacular like Clint is. So many games at the international level are decided by whichever team has that one player that can produce the match-winning moment and Clint is certainly a match-winning type player. I think the only real problem is almost the same problem that Messi has, and something that Klinsmann has to figure out: what is the key to getting him more involved in the USA attack?
Kevin Baxter, LA Times: Right now, true. Not only is he probably the most talented and successful US player, but by playing as well as he has in the EPL he’s proving to Americans – and the world – that US players can be a major force at the highest levels of the sport. And when he hits the transfer market and non-soccer fans in the US see how much teams are willing to pay for an American player, I think it will bring the sport and US program more respect and attention. So yeah, for reasons well beyond his play on the field.
Jason Davis, Best Soccer Show; KCKRS: True. Both because of his obvious status as the best player the US has right now as well as his profile while playing in the Premier League. Clint fits that status from several angles.
Adam Serrano, Soccer By Ives, MLSSoccer.com: False. While Dempsey certainly is the top player in the pool at this time due to his run of form with Fulham, the U.S. National Team’s success begins and ends with the play of goalkeeper Tim Howard. Time and time again, Howard has proven to be the difference between a slim victory and a heavy defeat for the USMNT and his leadership has been irreplaceable in creating a back four that has undergone its share of changes in recent years.
2. True or false: Jurgen Klinsmann’s first nine months as head coach have been a success?
Ravita: True. The more accurate barometer will come in a major tournament, but his record has been consistent with previous USMNT coaches. The national team hasn’t fared well playing European teams IN Europe, so the defeat of Italy was a big selling point to me. They aren’t quite there yet, but if he is able to marginally improve results while changing the overall culture of the program, then it’s worth it.
Robertson: True, simply because there seems to have been a change from top to bottom. I can’t put any of the Olympic failure on Jurgen and he’s on a nice run right now having won the games in Europe, especially the win against Italy. However, nothing that he has done so far will hold a candle to the importance of the next 6 months.
Baxter: I would give him an incomplete – albeit with a star next to it. I don’t think you say it’s been entirely successful given some of the bumps he’s hit. And remember, he insisted on overseeing the entire national program so the upset in the Olympic qualifying tournament goes on his resume too. But for years we’ve been hearing that US soccer needs to adopt a full-blown European-style approach, and that’s what Klinsmann is bringing. I believe he’s on the right track but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few more bumps coming up in World Cup qualifying.
Davis: True. Despite some early hiccups, he beat Italy in Italy. It might not have come with the stylish soccer so many imagined, but his job built confidence through winning.
Serrano: True. It’s been quite the exciting tenure for Klinsmann but it is one that can only be described in one word: progress. While the attacking formation is still in the works, Klinsmann has shown a commitment to bringing in new blood to the national team and when you factor in a confidence-building victory over Italy, Klinsmann’s charges should be in high spirits when World Cup qualifying rolls around. I’m also a big fan of the U.S. boss’ idea to join Twitter and create more communication with his fans. Now about Herculez Gomez…
3. True or false: Stuart Holden is more entertaining off the field (“No Holden Back”) than on it?
Ravita: True, but only based on the fact that he’s been injured. When fully healthy and in top-gear, he has the potential to be a cornerstone of the national team along with Donovan and Dempsey. From a marketing perspective though, he’s done well to stay in the limelight while sidelined.
Robertson: It’s been so long since he’s worn a US jersey that it’s tough to even know how on- the-radar he is at this point. I will say false, because he is the type of player that can turn the United States from a decent team into a good team – way more entertaining than any video!
Baxter: Wow. I don’t know how to answer that. You have to love him in both places.
Davis: True, at least until he’s healthy. Even if he was, Stu’s game is much more nuts and bolts than many American fans like to imagine. He’s not a flair player, and while he can make a nice pass, he’s not necessarily creative enough to beat out the videos.
Serreno: False. While Holden’s show is certainly entertaining, prior to his injury Holden was one of the—if not the—most dynamic player in the U.S. player pool. Whether it is playing in the center of the park for Bolton or streaking down the flanks for the USMNT, Holden’s career remains one that is in ascension. Although he has battled a yearlong knee injury, he is currently in the middle of a recovery process that could see him play a role for his club next season.
4. True or false: Michael Bradley has erased doubts that he was a product of nepotism?
Ravita: I don’t think those doubts were truly fair to begin with, especially in recent years. He is one of the best passers of the ball the United States has produced in recent years, maybe the best since Claudio Reyna. Bradley very seldom gives the ball away, and that is an invaluable commodity when going up against the world’s best sides.
Robertson: Absolutely true. If you can run a midfield in the Serie A, you can run a midfield for the United States National Team. In the last five years or so, he’s shown a versatility to his game with the goals he scored in the Eredivisie, while he seems to have gained a grit in the Serie A that maybe he didn’t have before. Show me a better option than Michael Bradley in center midfield for the United States right now.
Baxter: I never really bought into the nepotism stuff. I always thought Michael Bradley was a tough, hard-nosed player – the kind the U.S. needed in the midfield. Sometimes I felt like the familial relationship worked against him because, when his dad was under fire, it seemed to be that Michael tried to single-handedly rescue him. That was unfair and unnecessary pressure. But his success in Italy has proven that he is a more well-rounded player than I thought he was. He can play differing styles and still be a success.
Davis: True, though he did that for me years ago, starting with the move to Holland. Seeing Michael as a product of nepotism was a product of 1) overrating other players in pool that could play his position and 2) general dissatisfaction with Bob Bradley.
Serreno: True. A brief disclaimer: I have never considered myself to be in the camp that felt that Bradley was earning his spot due to the presence of his father in the camp, but this has been an incredibly enlightening season for the U.S. national team midfielder. For Serie A side Chievo, Bradley has quickly become a cult figure and has showcased the tenacity and awareness that will likely make him a national team mainstay for years to come.
5. Which young keeper in the U.S. program do you like best to ultimately succeed an aging Tim Howard?
Ravita: Bill Hamid. May seem like a stretch given his form over the past year or so, but I think he has such high potential. A lot will come down to his attitude and how much work he’s willing to put in, but his size, strength and goods hands make him the ideal choice in my mind.
Robertston: I think right now we’re still in the formative stages of seeing who Howard’s successor will be. I’ve never been sold on Brad Guzan as a No. 1 top line goalkeeper and right now we’re in a wait and see mode to find out whether guys like Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Zac MacMath and even a dark horse like Chris Seitz can step up to the international level.
Baxter: I don’t know that I feel particularly good about any of them. Nick Rimando is playing well right now but 1) it’s in MLS and 2) he’s 32. Both Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid are sure to get long looks. But they’re going to have to go to Europe to really impress Klinsmann. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the keeper cupboard is bare. But no one appears to be the frontrunner for the job either.
Davis: Bill Hamid. I still think he’s the most talented young keeper the US has, and with a few more years as a pro under his belt, he’ll be the guy to take over when Howard steps aside.
Serreno: Brad Guzan. It’s incredible to consider Guzan to be “young” at this point after he has had such a lengthy professional career, but at the ripe old age of 27, Guzan is still in his formative years as a net minder. The painful realization for the Aston Villa man is that he’ll need to depart Villa Park in search of playing time if he is ever to make an impact at the club or national level. If he does not, look for DC United goalkeeper Bill Hamid to serve as the understudy for Howard.