|Tab Ramos' U20s play Canada tonight in a WC Qualifier|
A high school player, and a youth soccer coach. In other words, I'm far from an expert when it comes to the game. Then again, I don't consider myself an expert in any of the sports I cover.
I prefer to be an interrogator. When I want to know more about the games I cover, I go to those who've been on the sidelines, and on the field, and ask them about it. Now, before Grant Wahl jumps ugly on me, I also like to read up on things, and there are a lot of great writers (Grant included) who do an excellent job analyzing the game. However, if I were to choose a story (or a book) that is going to teach me about the game, I'm going with the one heaviest in interviews.
That's my preference, and I'm sticking with it.
Just to go off on a tangent for a second, one of the things that's bugged me in baseball the last decade is when I have to call an agent and he begins to tell me how great his client is, and expects me to quote him in my stories. Uh, Mr. Boras, you're his agent. You're paid handsomely to make your client sound terrific. I have scouts and such around the country who can tell me how great he is, thank you.
Anyway, how's that for an entry point into tonight's Under-20 World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Canada? I'm here today to analyze the game as a former high school player and youth coach.
Because, with my background, I don't care about the formation, tactics or "style."
What I care about is how the U.S. team under Tab Ramos competes in an elimination game. I've watched the first two games. I saw team outplayed pretty badly by Haiti, in a game it won 2-1, and I saw a team that looked very slow and methodical in a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.
What has been lacking from my pedestrian point of view is the urgency to attack. Seems the mantra now in U.S. soccer is for "improved possession" but at some point, don't we want to see a team that gets after the opponent when it has the ball? Again, I'm no expert, just an observer. I've watched the U.S. U-20s play 180 minutes and the chances they've created have been few and far between.
What I do know as a former high school player and youth coach is that it's a lot harder to play "nice soccer" against teams that don't allow you to play nice. I remember as a player, taking the field with every intention to pass the ball around and possess the ball, but coming up against teams that were faster and more aggressive than us, or better with the ball than us. And, at that point, it was "let's compete." As a coach, I've seen my little guys look like Spain against lousy competition. And then when we play a team three levels better, the parents typically comment, "We didn't pass the ball today like we did in the last game." Well, no joke, Mom. The other team wouldn't allow it.
I can't figure out if the U.S. simply wasn't good enough to look good against Haiti or Costa Rica, or if Haiti and Costa Rica just did a good job of making the U.S. look jittery.
Two wins in two games. Can't be too critical. And, of course, it's a youth tournament. So, I understand the ultimate goal for Ramos is to develop players for the next level.
But is it crazy for me to think that part of the evaluation process now - tonight - has to be observing how these young men play in an elimination game? Are they focused? Ultra-competitive?
That's what I'll be observing tonight.