USMNT: The Games, Some Scouting, One Observation

As nearly everyone who could find this site through Bloglines or Soccer Blogs knows, the U.S. Men's National Team (screw "USMNT"; let's call 'em...the "Yanquis") has a pair of games coming up over the next week: Ecuador on Sunday (and damned early....mimosas?) and Guatemala on Wednesday (won't catch this one; bookended between much, much more alluring CONCACAF Champions' Cup games; drool....).

But, for people who don't follow the game (soccer) or this site (title is up top) regularly, I sent a preview of both games to the good people at Write On Sports. It's nothing fancy, but it gives the reader a few names and implies the crucial thing: if you can only watch one of these games, make it the Ecuador game.

Regarding the Guatemala game, this one is likely to tell us only one of two things: 1) that we're still better than most teams in our region and that's only a question of degree on a given day; 2) in the event of a win or a draw, that the Yanquis had a bad day. Anything else we learn - whether we score, or totally fail to score - will carry an asterisk to signify that this was Guatemala, after all. I'm not belittling the Guatemalans for sport, or mocking them; I'm merely saying the reason the Yanquis haven't lost to them since 1988 matches the reason why Liechtenstein freaks friggin' out when they draw, say, the Republic Ireland. There are simply expectations.

Ecuador, on the other hand, promises to be educational. In writing the item for Write On I did a bit of digging on Ecuador, something to refresh my impressions on the team. That digging, which mainly happened on Wikipedia, reminded me of Ecuador's 2006: they made the Round of 16 (where they lost to England) in Germany by beating Poland and Costa Rica. In qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, they topped Brazil in the CONMEBOL marathon. The team they're sending featured a name or two people may recall: Carlos Tenorio, who bagged two goals last summer; Ulises de la Cruz, from Aston Villa and now Reading. I want to pretend I remember more of these guys, but I don't.

What I do remember, though, is that Ecuador looked something solid last summer. Till they hit the hosts (Germany) and England lulled them to sleep in the second round, they looked impressive back-to-front. Their game against a familiar foe, Costa Rica, saw them beat that team by a score the Yanquis attain on a good day.

Based on that, they ought to provide a decent measuring stick for the Yanqui team in terms of where both the trialists (one in particular) and the regulars are. Looking forward to this one...Guatemala...not so much.

I'll close with the observation. Look at the list of forwards called up for these two games:

Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Wizards), Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution)

Where do all these guys earn their paycheck? Does that tell us anything, either about the players themselves or about Yanqui forwards in general? Is there a problem? If so, is there an answer?

For now, I'm willing to say there isn't a problem problem. Like any sane person, I'd rather see the forwards leading my side drawing love from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, and so on. But I also take comfort from the fact that Yanqui teams usually field competent defenders and defensive midfielders. And the fact that American teams know how to defend well enough means that forwards playing in our league at least have some educational work in figuring out how to beat them.

So it could be better, but it could also be worse. We're learning at least.

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