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It’s no secret that teamwork is the secret to success in sports, and in soccer it is especially apparent. Players need to know the exact timing, touch and movement of their teammates in order to interact seamlessly on the field and ultimately secure victories.
This comes mostly from playing together, as evidenced by the Spanish teams who won three major trophies from 2008-2012, relying on a core of players that played together extensively at the club level for Barcelona and Real Madrid. Consider also, the group of German players who won the 2014 World Cup, with a core made up of mostly Bayern Munich players, the best German club side in recent memory. The teamwork built on the club side prompted the quick decision-making with the national team.
When looking at the United States’ national team, and their defeats to Mexico, and subsequently Costa Rica, it’s clear that this connectivity is decidedly absent from the American team. Players lack the sixth sense to know exactly where their teammates are that is so present in teams like Spain, Germany and even Mexico to a certain extent. Plays are made on individual prowess, rather than team effort. That’s no way to build a successful national team.
Nowhere is this more evident than the back line, where despite being absent for almost the entirety of 2015 with the USMNT, Geoff Cameron remains the focal point and organizer of a defensive group that looked completely overmatched against Mexico. While Cameron is the first choice center back of many USMNT fans, you couldn’t help but feel that Jurgen Klinsmann desperately wanted John Brooks to grow into the center back-leader role over the summer, and Brooks simply wasn’t up to the challenge. Thus, in the CONCACAF Cup, Klinsmann defaulted to Cameron, who did his best to make up for the chemistry he lost in his absence.
Additionally, the play of Clint Dempsey further reinforced this lack of teamwork, as the player many consider to be the United States’ best ever played an incredibly selfish and unremarkable brand of soccer against Mexico. Serving as a supposed link between the midfield and attackers, Dempsey frequently opted to take defenders on, rather than playing the likes of Jozy Altidore or Gyasi Zardes into space, many times with little success.
While he is amongst the best players in the continent, it’s easy to see how unselfish Mexican international Andres Guardado is when he plays for the national team. Though he’s won basically every international accolade that CONCACAF has to offer, Guardado still gives maximum effort for Mexico, in an effort to win and make his team better, not necessarily just for the personal attention.
Against the United States, he was a force linking the midfield with the attack, and essentially served a role for the Mexicans that Dempsey simply couldn’t for the United States.
The good news for American fans is this is a fixable issue. More training camps for this crop of American players will bring them closer together, and hopefully develop chemistry. However, Klinsmann would be best served by encouraging these players to function as one unit both with and away from the national team.
Whether they play in MLS or abroad, USMNT members need to be in constant contact, pushing each other to be the best they can possibly be. Only when they realize the incredible power of teamwork will the USMNT realize the potential they hold to wake up one of the soccer world’s greatest sleeping giants.