New England Soccer Today


It may be hard to believe the United States Men’s National Team is suffering from overconfidence in the wake of a humbling 4-0 home defeat to Spain, but after the last two performances against Panama and Canada, a curious case of arrogance appears to be troubling the U.S. as of late.

Clint Dempsey's play in the attack has been phenomenal for the U.S., but his defensive effort leaves a lot to be desired. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/

The U.S. opened the CONCACAF Gold Cup against Canada playing exactly as one would hope coming on the heels of an embarrassing defeat. From the opening whistle the Americans looked the superior team and at times carved through the Canadian midfield much as Spain had done to the U.S. three days prior.

But after taking a deserved 2-0 lead, things began to unravel for the U.S. Players looked tired or just plain lazy as Canada started to get the better of the play, easily finding gaps in the U.S. defense and forcing Tim Howard  to make several impressive saves to preserve the shutout.

If head coach Bob Bradley, Howard or one of the other veteran leaders on the team chastised the squad for the late letdown after the match, then it clearly had little effect heading into the next match. In fact, the U.S. started the match against Panama much as they finished against Canada: looking lethargic and performing as if they believed emerging victorious from the match was a given. Unfortunately for the U.S., it was not.

The U.S. may have put together a few dangerous attacks and, in actuality, probably had more threatening opportunities than Panama in the first half. But it was in defense rather than attack where the worrying signs were most prevalent. From the opening whistle the U.S. midfield, led by veterans Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, simply seemed unconcerned with aiding the defense after turning the ball over.

Sure, Michael Bradley turned in his typical box-to-box performance and Jermaine Jones often sat back, but Donovan, and especially Dempsey, left outside backs Carlos Bocanegra and Steven Cherundolo isolated on the flanks. Dempsey was often seen walking back after the U.S. lost the ball, allowing Panama to get numbers down their right flank without making any effort to track them. If Bocanegra looked overwhelmed at times, a lot of the fault falls on Dempsey.

Many have pointed to Dempsey’s impressive offensive forays and success in the attacking third and given him a pass on defense, but as a midfielder, that’s part of the job description. Some have called for Dempsey to be moved to striker, a spot he often sees time at late in matches, full-time, but for a player who thrives when he’s on the ball, he still seems better suited for midfield. And as a midfielder, it’s Dempsey’s responsibility to defend, something he’s done plenty of at Fulham FC and particularly during his time with the New England Revolution.

Donovan, meanwhile, put in a fantastic performance against Canada and could be commended for his effort to track back and help out on defense. Yet, that same effort seemed lacking on Saturday against Panama, though his involvement in the attack was also diminished. At best, both were struggling from fatigue after a busy schedule, but it certainly appeared neither was too concerned of the threat of Panama’s attack.

And Panama made the U.S. pay, scoring twice in the first half and putting the U.S. in a two goal deficit at halftime.  That two-goal shock seemed to wake the U.S. up in the second half as they brought the score within one, but it was too little too late.

As the U.S. prepares for its first-ever match with an underwhelming Guadeloupe on Tuesday, Bob Bradley and his veteran leaders, particularly Howard and Bocanegra, need to stress the importance of taking every opponent seriously – something their rival Mexico has done masterfully both on the pitch and in the media throughout the Gold Cup. The U.S. should dominate their weaker regional adversaries, but they can’t do it by just showing up. They need a complete game from everyone, and Dempsey and Donovan need to be the leaders of it, showing the importance to of playing end-to-end soccer to youngsters like Juan Agudelo and even Jozy Altidore.

Of course, overconfidence can hardly be faulted for the poor performances of center backs Clarence Goodson and Tim Ream, who have both looked out of their element in the Gold Cup. The pair’s play shows a worrying lack of depth in the heart of the defense as former stalwarts Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu and Bocanegra grow older.

But for the U.S. to succeed right now, the pressure needs to come off of Ream and Goodson and that will only happen once all 11 players put in the effort to defend. Granted, the U.S. could very well win on Tuesday without the maximum effort, but they won’t be advancing much further unless there’s a drastic shift in attitude.

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