Photo by ISIphotos.com
It was an ugly loss, but one you came away feeling didn't have to happen.
The U.S. Under-20 national team's 3-0 loss to Germany was never really competitive, at least in the sense that the Americans never did look like a team capable of threatening. The Germans were organized and efficient, but hardly a team who looked intent on dominating. No, it was the United States which helped Germany post such a resounding result, with its combination of defensive lapses, unforced turnovers and lack of organization.
While you can always blame the struggles of a youth team, at least in part, on jitters or even just a bad game, but Saturday's match stood out because of head coach Thomas Rongen's decision to employ a 4-3-3 formation and bench several U-20 regulars in favor of some untested players.
Brian Ownby and Dillon Powers hadn't been regulars on the U-20 side, and neither was a starter in the qualifying tournament, but both earned starts vs. Germany and each played a part in the loss getting out of hand.
It was Ownby who was beaten on a run from midfield, only to compound the error by committing a foul with a clumsy tackle in the penalty area. And it was Powers who lost his mark on a corner kick, thus giving German captain Florian Jungwirth a clear look to bury Germany's third goal.
It is easy to blame Ownby and Powers for their mistakes, but they were simply two young and inexperienced players thrust onto an international stage against a tough opponent. The blame should fall to Rongen, who passed on players such as Dilly Duka, Bryan Arguez and Peri Marosevic in favor of players he decided were in better form.
Yes, injuries played a part in Rongen's decisions, and a reason why Chivas USA's Gerson Mayen went from not even on the team to starting at right back, but the struggles of the defense were attributable, at least in part, to the struggles of a midfield Rongen constructed.
It shouldn't be assumed that a different U.S. lineup beats Germany, and Rongen knows more than most about the form and fitness of his players, but when a coach plays new players over more established players in a major tournament, and his team loses, blame will follow.
Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered what American midfield played on Saturday, the Germans are a strong team even without the handful of stars it was unable to field for the Under-20 World Cup, but while a loss may have been inevitable, a 3-0 loss dents the U.S. chances of being one of the third-place teams to progress to the knockout rounds.
This team can't really think that far ahead. A match against a tough Cameroon team awaits on Tuesday, and Rongen will be left with little choice but to play the players that got the team to Egypt, because the players he thought were on top form clearly aren't.
Some more thoughts on USA-Germany:
The third goal started on a counterattack but if you want to place specific blame you can point to Gale Agbossoumonde, who floated back during the counter and found no man to mark. While that, in itself, isn't a crime, he wound up dropping back far enough to keep Manuel Schaeffler on-side as he made a run from the far flank. The initial replay made it look as though Schaeffler was Ike Opara's responsibility, but further inspection shows that Opara was marking Richard Sukuta-Pasowhen Schaeffler came streaking in from behind for Germany's third goal.
Mikkel Diskerud is skillful and has good ideas, but he needs to be partnered in central midfield with players who can do the heavy lifting and win the possession battle. A central midfield trio of Diskerud, Arguez and Duka to go with Jared Jeffrey would have been a better bet against Germany and is a group we should see vs. Cameroon.
Other bright spots? Jared Jeffrey and Tony Taylor showed glimpses, as did Brek Shea, who was extremely active, even if he did get caught up in trying to beat double-teams at times.
Causes for concern? I'm not convinced Agbossoumonde is a centerback. He's a much more capable fullback. If Kyle Daviesis healthy, he should probably get the nod in central defense alongside Opara, who I thought did well despite some questionable foul calls against him early on.
On to MLS, where Shalrie Josephhas all but locked up SBI's vote for MLS MVP. Yes, there are players who have scored more goals and delivered more assists, but this year Joseph has had a season where his MVP candidacy must finally be taken seriously.
Earlier in the season, when injuries had ravaged New England's forward crop, Joseph stepped in and played forward, scoring goals and setting up teammates. Since moving back into central midfield, Joseph has returned to his dominating self, but he has continued to find the net. He scored game-winning goals against Seattle twice in a five-month span and has also kept the assists coming. After his two-goal effort in New England's 2-1 comeback win vs. Seattle, Joseph now has eight goals and eight assists.
If you want to know how important Joseph is to New England, consider this. The Revs have lost just one match since he returned from a knee injury in mid-July in matches where Joseph plays more than 25 minutes (6-1-2). The two matches missing from that equation were a loss to KC (where he received a highly-questionable red card early in the first half) and to Chivas USA (with Joseph serving his suspension.
There are plenty of candidates for MVP, including Omar Cummings, Stuart Holden, Dwayne DeRosario, Fredy Montero, Zach Thornton and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but right now our vote goes to Joseph, who is a candidate every year but has made perhaps his strongest case this season.
San Jose's 2-1 victory against D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Sunday snapped a 20-match regular season road win-less streak. The Earthquakes hadn't won on the road in 477 days. That is the second longest such streak. The longest? The Red Bulls' current 25-match regular season road win-less streak. The Red Bulls travel to San Jose this weekend.
What did you think of the U.S. Under-20 team's performance on Saturday? Think some lineup changes can help the Americans beat Cameroon? Agree with our pick of Shalrie Joseph for MVP? Think the Red Bulls will win a road game this year?
Share your thoughts below.