Today I was bebopping around the house with soccer on in the background. I was casually watching England defeat Scotland in Women's Soccer when I left the room. When I returned, the Men's National Team was playing a friendly against Venezuela. Now Venezuela is teetering on Civil War and in the 2018 World Cup cycle they came in DEAD LAST in CONMEBOL. This is going to be a nice test for the Americans coming off of the Debacle in Trinidad & Tobago, I thought.
I was 100% on board with the hiring of Earnie Stewart as the GM of the Men's National Team. I was satisfied with Gregg Berhalter being hired as the Coach. I was looking forward to a bunch of fresh faces hungry for victory.
As play began I was impressed with the American's attacking style. Then I blinked my eyes and the U.S. defense passed the ball back to goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Inexplicably, Steffen panicked and passed the ball to a Venezuelan Forward at the top of the penalty box.
I learned when I was TEN not to clear the ball to the top of the Penalty Box
Venezuela scored an easy goal as Zack Steffen was incredulous with his defense. Listen, I can hear Coach Minjarik yelling at Steffen FROM HIS GRAVE. "Clear deep or to the sides, never clear across the defensive middle." Then Steffen made another error and the next thing you know the U.S. team was down 2-0, rattled, and looking up at an inferior opponent. But this loss, this loss should have warning sirens blaring for U.S. Soccer.
Back in 1994, the United States advanced to the round of 16 in the World Cup and was playing Brazil on their home turf. Earnie Stewart started that game and I guarantee you that he remembers the game. Going into the match, he was one of the only Americans with experience in Europe. On paper, the Americans were heavy underdogs, but they had 2 things going for them that can steal soccer games for you. They were scrappy and they had the better goalkeeper.
You see that C on Tony Meola's arm? He carried that American team. As that '94 game went into the second half, the Brazilians were pressing hard, they wanted no part of a shootout. Not only was Brazil the second leading scorers in the tournament, the eventual winners sent barrage after barrage at Meola only to be turned away time and time again. The United States lost 1-0 but they earned international respect.
Every World Cup Cycle since then has had an American Team led by a Top-Flight Goaltender (or 2).
1998: 2 Goaltenders in the Premier League (Friedel & Keller)
2002: 2 Goaltenders in the Premier League (Friedel & Keller)
2006: 2 Goaltenders in the Premier League (Howard & Hahnemann)
1 Goaltender in the Bundesliga (Keller)
2010: 3 Goaltenders in the Premier League (Howard, Guzan & Hahnemann)
2014: 2 Goaltenders in the Premier League (Howard & Guzan)
2018: Starter - 38 year old Tim Howard / Backup - 32 year old Brad Guzan, both back in America.
Which brings me back to Zack Steffan. If you look up the Goalkeeper Leaders in MLS, you come up with....surprise, surprise.
The MLS team with the least amount of goals allowed, as of today, 6-9-19, is Atlanta United led by BRAD GUZAN. Right f@cking now, cut Zack Steffan. He is an average MLS goalkeeper. Beg Guzan to come back and steady the ship this year while you test run some young kids like Ethan Horvath or Tyler Miller in Fall Friendlies. Even Bill Hamid should have been starting over Steffan, Hamid at least leads MLS in saves, as of today, 6-9-19.
The U.S. Men's national team's strength for a generation has been Goalkeeper and today it was their glaring weakness. Running out average MLS'ers isn't going to cut it. Not for the Gold Cup. Not for Nations League. And definitely not for Qatar in 2022.
Go back and look at the box score for today's game.
Shots on Goal: EVEN (4 a piece)
Possession: EVEN (50-50)
Passes: EVEN (Technically 478-454)
Pass Accuracy: EVEN (86%-85%)
Goalkeepers: Venezuela had the better Goalkeeper. Period.
Think about that.
(Don't get me wrong, Wuilker Farinez is a nice player, but he's not playing in Europe or MLS. He's playing first division in Columbia.)