The U.S. national team’s boredom-inducing 0-0 draw with Scotland did not warrant a match recap. I was in bed with food poisoning during the match, and by the 60th minute, I wasn’t sure if my nausea was caused by tainted shrimp or by the giveaway-a-thon on the field. Having skipped the Scotland match, I couldn’t then recap the significantly-more-interesting Austria match, lest I be accused of anti-Scottish bias. Any journalist knows: You don’t want to open that whole “was that anti-Scottish?” can of worms. I am constantly on-guard to avoid anti-Scottish prejudice.
But we can still learn things from these matches! And you can learn them from Brian Straus’ “three thoughts” column on SI.com. But for those of you who like your analysis with less expertise and more “Simpsons” references, here are my “five musings” (that’s two BONUS musings! Up your game, Brian) on the two friendlies.
I can’t believe we haven’t been calling Michael Bradley “Lex Luthor” until now. These blog posts are 40 percent hair jokes. There’s not much to do during a dreary D.C. United road loss other than compare Nick DeLeon’s hair to a cauliflower, a mop, Sideshow Bob, late-period Diana Ross or the backside of a highland cow (the best kind of cow! That was not anti-Scottish!). I’m the one who dubbed Brek Shea “Emo Donald Trump.” I’ll also put Omar Gonzalez on notice to re-think that ponytail unless he wants a World Cup full of Steven Segal jokes. But I failed you when it came to Michael Bradley; it took an Italian TV commentator to start calling him “Lex Luthor”. In hindsight, I can’t believe I missed it. I feel like Jim Kramer explaining how I missed the collapse of Bear Stearns; in my field, failing to mock the appearance of a bald man with a head shaped like a kidney bean is criminal malpractice. I apologize; I won’t let it happen again.
Sunderland is making Jozy Altidore a better player. I’ve long said that Jozy needs to be a bit more like Brian McBride. McBride — much like a lion tamer — made a career of sticking his head into dangerous places. He was gritty, effective and ugly (although my wife would take issue with the ugly part). Jozy’s Sunderland team is perhaps the ugliest team to play in the Premier League since … well, since Jozy’s Hull City team in 2009-10. (How many leprechauns has Jozy screwed over to be cursed with playing for these awful teams?) But here’s the thing: Jozy has been playing well for Sunderland. He’s been playing the target striker role, which is a dirtier job than any of the coal-mining jobs in Sunderland. He’s been fighting for headers and holding off defenders and chasing hopeless balls and putting in a tough, gritty, dare-I-say “McBride-like” performance. This is a new part of Jozy’s game. In a perfect world, we’ll get him facing goal and taking on defenders, but it’s nice to know he can bump and bang and hold the ball if that’s what we need him to do.
Let’s remember: There will be goal-line technology at the World Cup. Winston Churchill once said: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” If I may modify that quote for FIFA: “You can always count on FIFA to do the right thing — after about 10 years, 600 panel discussions, 14 ‘gotcha’ pieces from the BBC, 900 corruption allegations, three corruption investigations, and 47 face-palmingly-ridiculous quotes from Sepp Blatter.” There was a goal-line incident in the Austria match, but don’t worry: There will be goal-line technology at the 2014 World Cup. It will be roughly the same technology that tennis has used successfully for almost a decade. So basically, it’s like if your office recently approved the use of Windows XP. Way to walk the razor’s edge, FIFA.
Sacha Kljestan had his chance and didn’t take it. Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and others were PLAYING in the Scotland match. Sacha Kljestan was AUDITIONING. And his audition went about as well as this one. I’ve been a Kljestan backer (or at least Kljestan-curious), and a lot of us have been trying to figure out what “good in Belgium” translates to in, say, the English Premier League. But Kljestan didn’t show enough on Friday to force his way onto the team. He probably lost ground to everyone seeking the “in the hole behind the striker” role except for Freddy Adu. And his lackluster performance reminds us that.
A lot is riding on Clint Dempsey. Klinsmann’s preferred 4-2-3-1 was clearly put in place with Dempsey in mind. It makes sense: Dempsey would be deep enough to turn with the ball but far enough forward to score. But Klinsmann didn’t seem to factor this in: What if Dempsey isn’t any good? A year ago, none of us thought that was a question even worth asking. And to be clear: I am NOT saying Dempsey isn’t any good. I am a big-time Dempsey backer; his 2011-12 was probably the best year an American field player has ever had. But his drop-off since coming to Seattle has been noticeable. There’s plenty of time for Clint to recover and to validate his decision to leave the Premier League in the process. But Seattle’s games in April and May will provide something rarely seen: a compelling reason to watch early-season MLS matches.