Mired in mediocrity, the U.S. nevertheless pushed to the brink of qualification for the 2010 World Cup when it posted critical wins over Hexagonal minnows El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago last month. Yet questions of selection, confidence and leadership persist.
Eight games into the Hexagonal, and three-quarters of the way through the busiest year of the U.S. qualifying campaign, I haven't been able to pinpoint just what is ailing the national team. But I do have an idea.
In beating El Salvador 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium and nicking Trinidad 1-0 in Port of Spain, the Americans did barely enough to win. They were the better team, marginally, over the 90 minutes in both matches, yet only one
El Salvador zipped balls through the midfield to its dangerous attackers, against whom the Americans disquietingly floundered too many times. T&T found space in the goalmouth for headers that either missed the target or were gobbled up by Howard.
In neither case did the modus operandi of the opposing teams come as a surprise. The Salvadorans, good on the ground and quick up the field, had beaten Mexico at home in the Hexagonal, clear proof they weren't the listless road pigeons they've been in the past. A disallowed
Four days later, a robust T&T team coached by former international
The easy target is head coach
The middle is also a muddle in light of
One of the many flaws of such rationale is all those players are young -- even Jones is only 27. If this team lacks anything, it's veteran leadership, especially in the middle of the park. There's youth everywhere, and unless past World Cup stalwarts
Others, like Onyewu and
The leadership gap is also glaring in central midfield, where
There's more youth up front. Altidore just turned 20, and