The United States’ men’s national team faces Chile tonight in what would be a rare out-of-FIFA-window friendly, if the U.S. didn’t do this every year. Tonight’s match against La Roja and next week’s affair with Panama mark the end to the team’s annual winter camp, affectionately if harshly known as “Camp Cupcake” to fans and critics alike.
Given that out-of-window nature of the game, it’s always difficult to discern lessons from these January affairs. Thankfully, our years of experience at being a website (that’s been up for less than a year) are here to help. Here are all the major questions that will be asked after tonight’s game, and their answers.
1. Did the result matter?
No. No, it did not.
A few of these players are in preseason with their clubs. Others really haven’t played real soccer games in the last six months. The stage was set for the result to never matter from before the U.S. men’s national team even scheduled its excursion to South America.
At the final whistle, the score, once again, was irrelevant. No one qualified for anything. No important lessons were learned that had to do with the final score. We need to stop having these conversations after meaningless friendlies.
2. What did Jurgen Klinsmann’s formation tell us?
What did the weather today tell you about global warming? That’s right, the same thing Klinsmann’s formation told you about the state of the men’s national team: nothing of importance.
No one can say with confidence what Klinsmann is thinking. And that’s a good thing. The U.S. Soccer Federation doesn’t give him his paycheck to keep the public informed; it pays him to make decisions that will ultimately pay dividends during games that matter. Part of that process involves the German testing out different formations.
Unless you know the personnel you’ll have for games that matter, it’s almost pointless to force lessons out of random gatherings of players wearing U.S. national team jerseys in competitions against other countries. We don’t have to always dig that deep. Let’s not care about 4-1-4-1s or 4-2-3-1s or diamond midfields or Jermaine Jones in goal as a sweeper keeper. Just watch the game or don’t and enjoy it or don’t. You’ll sleep better.
3. What did we learn from Jozy Altidore’s performance?
Are we still learning things from Jozy’s performances? Really? How many times must do you need to see someone perform until you realize you’ll learn nothing new from random 90 minute chunks of their lives?
For years now, Altidore has gone through extended spells alternating between playing and not playing well. In that respect, he’s been amazingly consistent. Does he “work hard for the team”? Sure. But can you convincingly make the case that any game Altidore has played in over the last several years has been instructive about how he’ll perform in his next game? Of course not. This game is no different.
Against Chile we learned that Jozy Altidore isn’t American Wayne Rooney or American Danny Welbeck or even American Chicharito. Jozy Altidore is still Jozy Altidore. Taking anything else away from his performance in Rancagua is a waste of time. Arguing with someone about it basically means you don’t care about that person.
4. Shouldn’t these guys really be playing in Europe?
It’s as if momma rang the triangle on the porch and yelled, “Come and get it!” U.S. men’s national team stars are running home by the boatload, leaving Jürgen Klinsmann in the awkward position of having to unearth even more Euro-Americans who’ve never spent significant time in the United States and thus have little interest in moving stateside to play their soccerball. MLS is for dinner, and the Yanks abroad have been starving for some home-cooked love. And ginormous paychecks.
But is MLS the best place for U.S. players to develop? I mean, Chileans are testing themselves against the best, in some of the best leagues in the world. *bangs head on table*
Staaaaaaaap it. Isn’t the answer always: it depends? Doesn’t this question imply that players develop in vacuums? Aren’t players allowed to take money into account? Happiness? Is it wrong to go where you’re wanted? Needed, even? Spending your life being miserable isn’t a viable solution. Ask Landon Donovan. U.S. men’s national team players should play wherever they feel is the best fit. If that’s in Toronto, great. If that’s in Seattle, wonderful. If that’s in New York, go get it. If that’s in Stoke, I understand if you want to move.
The greater point: Nothing about this friendly is going to change the calculus on this question. One bad game won’t make Europe panacea, and a good performance won’t vindicate Major League Soccer.
5. Did the United States miss Landon Donovan?