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ASN Weekly Debate

Are The Upcoming Friendlies Meaningless?

Our two-man debate squad goes into depth on the matches against Scotland and Austria. One of them uses a college application metaphor to get his point across. Arguments ahead.
BY Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon Posted
November 15, 2013
12:00 PM
Noah Davis: Ryan, in this week's podcast, you said that the upcoming friendlies were "meaningless." You were roundly criticized for your position. If Jon Arnold had booing noises, he would have used them. In typical fashion, you backed down from your statement but would you like this opportunity to defend yourself using the written word? Please say yes, otherwise this is going to be an incredibly short debate.

Ryan O'Hanlon: We do need booing (and other) sounds on the podcasts. That is a great idea. My argument here is summed up by the roster for the U.S.–Russia game.

Davis: You mean the game where Mix "the U.S. doesn't lose when I play" Diskerud scored a dramatic goal, Geoff Cameron starred at center back, and Michael Bradley showed he can do Michael Bradley things even in Southern Russia?

O'Hanlon: Yeah, the game in which Carlos Bocanegra, Josh Gatt, Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams, and (haha) Geoff Cameron started.

Davis: Good joke. [groaning noises] I have two counters to that. One: it was a midweek friendly in Russia. The two friendlies are full training camps where guys can impress the staff. Even if the games are meaningless, which they aren't, the attitude, skill, etc. displayed in those camps could be the difference between Terrence Boyd/Edgar Castillo/Eddie Johnson/Sacha Kljestan/etc. making the roster in Brazil and not making it. And two: of course some of the guys who play in this game will be irrelevant in a year. But so what?

O'Hanlon: I don't buy the "attitude" thing. That's garbage, to me. Sure, if a guy is an asshole and is actively trying to destroy the team, then maybe you don't want him around. But the U.S. wants to do as well as it can at the World Cup, don't they? That involves putting out the best-possible collection of 11 players, right? I don't see how two games in November play much of a role in deciding that—especially when all of these guys are gonna be playing so many games between now and the World Cup.

Davis: Well, actually, you want to pick the best team, not the best 11 individual guys. Klinsmann made that mistake earlier in his tenure. And yes, I would say that actually being in training camp, even one that's seven months before the World Cup, is a good way for a guy on the fringe to show that he belongs. It's certainly a better way to do it than to not be there. It's not like there are 23 clear cut guys. There are probably 18-20 yes and then like 10-15 maybes. And are they going to play a lot of games? In 2010, the U.S. played one game in January, one in February, and one in March. That's not exactly a lot.

O'Hanlon: The individual players are all going to play a bunch of games, are they not? It just seems to me like we—in America—seem to value a guy's performance with the national team more than, you know, the much bigger sample size of how he plays with his club team.

Davis: Right. Like those guys playing on MLS teams who don't have games until March. I guess we could measure their FIFA 14 exploits or something.

O'Hanlon: I think everyone on the national team should just quit playing soccer professionally and just play for America. That's how it should be.

Davis: It's a good thing you're not the manager.

O'Hanlon: So, you think that since a portion of the U.S. roster won't be playing games for a few months—which is not a good thing, for the most part!—that means we should ignore how the players are playing with their club teams for the remainder of the year and into next year? I don't understand.

Davis: No, I'm saying that you saying whatever happens in Scotland and Austria stays in Scotland and Austria and doesn't matter in terms of the greater picture is silly and shortsighted and just plain false.

O'Hanlon: I picture it now: the U.S. loses to Ghana in the round of 16 in Sao Paulo. Klinsmann pours a can of Brazilian Sprite on himself. Looks into the mirror. He's not weeping. It's just theatrically-placed soda, dripping down his cheek. He looks down. Looks back into the mirror. "Man, if only we'd played better against Austria in that exhibition match eight months ago."

Davis: That would be Pepsi, the official soft drink of U.S. Soccer, which shows how much you know. But let's try another angle. Choosing the American roster in Brazil is not unlike choosing a college class. The admissions office led by Klinsmann has already weeded out the obvious candidates. Now there's a pool of applicants who all look more or less the same and the goal is to find reasons to eliminate people. Maybe that B- in sophomore year European history is enough of a blemish.

O'Hanlon: Sure, but should it be? That's what I'm saying. If Sacha Kljestan playswell in these two games—but then loses his spot with Anderlecht and has a terrible end to the season, do you bring him? And vice versa: let's say he's not good in these games—but he lights it up in Belgium and continues to score goals, do you bring him? I just think there's a lot more soccer to be played—again, a much bigger sample size—that should go into the decision-making process.

Davis: Well of course. But you want to dismiss these games entirely.

O'Hanlon: I think the U.S. should play, obviously. The more games the better for a team, like you said, that barely plays games. But still, in the larger sense of the process that forms the team that will be in Brazil and how they play in Brazil, these games are relatively unimportant.

Davis: But far from meaningless.

O'Hanlon: I wouldn't say "far," but sure. You win.


Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon do this every week. We promise they are still friends.

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