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ASN Weekly Debate

Was 2012 a Success for the U.S. National Team?

As 2012 winds down, ASN deputy editor Noah Davis and contributing editor Ryan O'Hanlon discuss whether it was a good 12 months or a bad one for the Red, White, and Blue.
BY Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon Posted
December 21, 2012
5:40 AM
Noah Davis: OK, @rwohan. Let's talk the United States national team in 2012. In one word, and one word only, describe your thought on the team's performance.

Ryan O'Hanlon: Enough.

Man, that word looks weird by itself.

Davis: That's a good choice. I'm not making myself do this ridiculous exercise. Sucker. But yes, virtually everything about the team this year was adequate, but barely so, right? The glass isn't half full or half empty; it just has water in it.

O'Hanlon: One day I'm gonna start off one of these debates. One day. My other word would've been "something." As in they did a lot of things—played a lot of games—and some of them were bad (Antigua, Jamaica) and others were good (Italy, Mexico, Russia, even Scotland). Yet, none of them really mean all that much. So, I guess, there'a not much more that a team can accomplish in a two-years-before-the-WC-year other than just, well, something.

Davis: Increasingly, I think it must be nearly impossible to accomplish anything as a national team coach. But that's a topic for another time. It was a weird year. The USMNT did what they needed to do—qualifying for the next round, winning some impressive games away, finding some new talent—and yet the whole thing feels unsatisfying. Maybe that goes to your two-years-before-the-WC-year point, but I'm not sure how many important questions we answered. Jurgen Klinsmann did, however, manage to provide answers to questions no one was really asking.

O'Hanlon: Like, What Position Should Eddie Johnson Play?

Davis: Yes. But not, Who's the Next Centerback? Or, Is There A Forward Who Can Score in the World Cup?

O'Hanlon: But, Is There a Reserve MLS Striker Who Can Serve a Good Ball Into The Box On A Small Field In Injury Time?

Davis: Nailed that one. Also unanswered: Is Jurgen Klinsmann the Right Coach?

O'Hanlon: But yeah, the important questions—which seems like such a heavy-handed sportswriter term, but here we are—haven't been answered. Although, how much of that is Klinsmann's fault, I'm not so sure. Clarence Goodson was great against Italy, and then not-great at any point after it. Bocanegra seems like he got old really fast—and his club being demoted three divisions certainly didn't help. Geoff Cameron is there, and I guess we're sort of back where this year started in some ways.

At the same time, Danny Williams, Fabian Johnson, Terence Boyd... hell, even Graham Zusi (who is better than both Ronaldos combined, according to some Twitter-happy US fans) are all calls Klinsmann deserves some credit for, no?

Davis: I was just thinking that. If you (shameless plug) look at the Top 11 players on the year end list, you see a buch of guys who weren't on the squad when 2012 started. The team, pretty quietly, underwent a transformation that's not entirely done. Klinsmann has some pretty tough decisions to make in the near future. He is certainly capable of making them. The question, of course, is will he make the right ones?

O'Hanlon: Agency, which is a common trait among human beings, is definitely something this dude's got. It'd be nice, sure, to have a unanimously set lineup heading to qualifying—or at least a set backline—but that's not really how, sports, or anything, work, and especially not when you're trying to overhaul a pretty large and embedded institution like American soccer. So, we're moving somewhere, and it doesn't appear to be toward a cliff.

Davis: We're heading toward Germany. If nothing else, 2012 was the year in which the USMNT became Jurgen Klinsmann's USMNT. Which is good, because he's the coach and all. Part of me is surprised it took that long, but the transition from coach to coach is more difficult than we realize, I suspect, because the national teams play so few games. As far as a set lineup, what's amazing to me is that we don't know who that would be. Obviously, injuries play a role—a big one—but even if everyone was healthy, your opinion and my opinion and everyone else's opinion of who to start and, hell, what formation to play, is different. That is soccer, I suppose, but that is also frustrating.

O'Hanlon: Is it sort of frustrating in a good way, though? Like, the lineup isn't set for a number of reasons—injuries, inconsistent play, inconsistent selections, lack of games—but isn't one of those reasons also that there are a lof talented players now, compared to the past? I'm not sure Spain or Argentina or Italy or whoever else would have a set lineup among fans and writers, either, which, yes I just compared the U.S. to those countries again, but that's ultimately who we want the competition to be.

Davis: True, although it's hard to think Spain, Argentina, et al don't have a No. 1 pair of centerbacks. But Klinsmann can't please all the people, all the time, or whatever the appropriate German phrase is. Are we agreed that the U.S. is in a better place now than it was 12 months ago?

O'Hanlon: Yes, because Timmy Chandler re-committed. But terrible jokes aside: yes, definitely. If only—but definitely not "only"—because we're a year closer to the World Cup.

Davis:  Agreed. It turns out that two years out from the World Cup is a great time to do everything and nothing with your national team. Give 2012 a letter grade. I'll go B-minus.

O'Hanlon: In my classes I only give pass-fail grades because that's just how I roll, so I'll say "pass." But I'll also say B.

Davis: So we've gone from "enough" to "B" in 947 words. Perhaps that says something about our (outsized?) expectations for the squad.

O'Hanlon: Wow, you counted that up pretty quickly, nerd. If you think about it, though, a "B" today is basically considered "average," so maybe it says more about our outsized expectations as a society? Or not. Whatever. Just get us to some games that actually count.

Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon do this every week. Occasionally, there is a pancake breakfast.

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