Empire XI: The Herb Brooks Blueprint (Or ‘It’s All About Fitness For USMNT At The World Cup’)

Herb Brooks

Americans relish the underdog role—especially in international sporting competitions.

In these times, the movie ‘Miracle’ gets evoked as the prototype for success against daunting odds.  You know the story — a ragtag group of college kids make up the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, take on Russia, destroy Communism and stun the world en route to Olympic Gold. It is a myth a lot of fans hold near and dear (as shown by how often they cite the film), but admittedly, there is a quote from the movie that applies to the US Men’s National Team in Brazil.

Coach Herb Brooks tells his players as they begin to do their infamous ‘Herbies’ that he cannot promise the team will be the best at Lake Placid — but he can promise that the team will be the best conditioned.

Substitute Brooks for Jurgen Klinsmann, Herbies for beep test and Lake Placid for Brazil.

Many American soccer followers were puzzled when Klinsmann said the US players were behind on fitness at the beginning of camp. It was one of those statements that is initially far too subjective to really read into.

Three games later, that has changed.

The front six for the US played three very distinct ways in each friendly. Against Azerbaijan, they worked to break down a compact opponent. Against Turkey, they played in a very open game against a defense that pressed very high up the pitch. Finally against Nigeria, we saw the front six work to control the tempo and break quickly.

Each of these attacking styles requires different physical demands. If a team is trying to breakdown an opponent, the body needs to be strong enough to make short dynamic movements for a long period of time. Attacking players are often attempting quick sprints, high jumps, strong turns etc. with no end product. Frustration can set as the game goes on and the physical exertion can prove to be too much.  Players make less movements and settle for longer shots with a lower probability of success.

Open games require players to be able to cover larger distances which tax the legs more than anything.  Controlling the tempo requires mental stamina in that the easiest way to lose control of a match is to make mental mistakes. An exhausted Timmy Chandler and a worn out centerback pairing of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron each proved that when they were responsible for conceding penalties against Turkey and Nigeria, respectively.

The frustrating thing about the defensive mistakes was that both could have been prevented had the USMNT better adjusted to the game situation and given their backline less to do in possession. The reason this is crucial is that defenders, mainly centerbacks, are not accustomed to covering longer distances later in games which means they are more likely to show fatigue, leading to mental mistakes like getting caught in possession or passing runners off far too late for someone to pickup in time.

Fortunately, for the US, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley’s ability to cover significant portions of the field makes the back four’s job easier both offensively and defensively. Still, even they tire.

The conditions in Brazil are perfect for tired, failing legs to set in and lead to costly mistakes. That thread is set to be woven as the tournament begins. The US front six have shown an ability to endure and threaten opponents throughout the game which bodes well for their chances of scoring goals, but the back four is still having difficulty adjusting themselves to 90 minutes of fierce competition in hot and humid conditions.

If the US does not adjust to lessen the load on its back four as the match wears on, there will be opportunities for an opponent to steal a result and it would be a miracle if Miroslav Klose, Asamoah Gyan or Cristiano Ronaldo waste that chance.

Empire XI

1. There are two ways you could spin the transportation mess that took place at Belmont Park last Saturday night in regards to the proposed stadium for the New York Cosmos. This is the first . The second would be that this is all the fuel the NIMBY crowd would need to oppose any type of stadium development in the area. Unfortunately for the pro-stadium crowd, it is far easier to spin the mess towards being anti-development and the events present the NIMBY crowd with a card they can play at anytime.

2. Neither spin is particularly correct or fair (that’s the point of spins) but this event is substantial evidence for the anti-stadium argument and if the Cosmos do not rebute the arguments based off of the parking mess in an adequate fashion, it will be very difficult for the team to have local support for the development.

3. Per Doherty Soccer, the Cosmos average attendance for the Spring Season was 5041, down more than 26% from the 2013 Fall Season (the Fall Season had two more games). Factor out the Cosmos’ inaugural game in 2013 and the Fall average drops down to 6014 with only one extra game, reducing the attendance drop by about 10 percentage points. One thing to look for when the fall season begins is the fact that the Cosmos play four home games before the month of September which can potentially boost attendance figures.

4. Take it from someone with experience calling play-by-play for a radio station that takes itself seriously; the two worst sins a play-by-play commentator can commit (outside of violating FCC rules and regulations) are to not properly identify players and to be too much of a homer. The same rule applies to television and the consequences are further exacerbated when it is syndicated broadcast. This was the case for the Tampa Bay Rowdies telecast as the play-by-play man repeatedly identified Rowdies players by their first names and did not really veil his allegiances. Local broadcasts are always like this, but the problem was that this game was picked up by ESPN3, so the new, national audience is not familiar with the local team and the Minnesota United fans watching back home had to deal with the annoyance of homer broadcasters against their team. It’s not just the Rowdies or the NASL with this problem.  The Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes’ telecasts are also extremely annoying with their overt homerism.

5. The New York Red Bulls’ winless streak at the New England Revolution lasted more than half of my current life.

6. Compared to last season’s win at Sporting Kansas City’s, this Red Bull upset win was the luckier of the two. Last season’s result was the byproduct of Head Coach Mike Petke implementing a superb counter-attacking gameplan while this season’s result was much more the byproduct of Luis Robles, missed chances on the Revolution’s part and a mistake by Bobby Shuttleworth on Eric Alexander’s opening goal. Nonetheless, it is a folkloric result and one that buoys the Red Bulls who struggled without their World Cup-bound starters as well as the injured Dax McCarty.

7. Get on the Last Week Tonight bandwagon. John Oliver’s commentary on FIFA last night was accurate, funny and balanced both snark and context perfectly.

8. The US Men’s National Team arrived in Brazil sans its head coach. Jurgen Klinsmann stayed in Miami to scout Ghana who are playing South Korea tonight. Gary Al-Smith reports Kwando Asamoah, normally a left midfielder, has been training as a left back as a way deal with Fabian Johnson.

10. If Asamoah is moved back for the game against the US, then we have the matchup to pay the most attention to next Monday. If Asamoah becomes responsible for manning the left flank by himself, then we are looking at possible 1v1 matchup with Johnso,n but with both players starting as fullbacks, they may ultimately wind up neutralizing each other by limiting how far forward the other gets as part of their team’s buildup.

11. Perhaps Graham Zusi can replace Alejandro Bedoya in the Starting XI but if Klinsmann were to come out and say the starters against Nigeria will be the starters against Ghana, would anyone really have any complaints?

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