HOW TO WATCH
In about an hour, the U.S. men's national team will square off against Switzerland in Zürich.
There's some history between the two: they played in the 1994 World Cup, in the first-ever World Cup game played indoors -- at the Pontiac Silverdome. That game ended 1-1. The most recent meeting was eight years ago, on Oct. 17, 2007. That was also the only time the USMNT's ever beaten Switzerland: a 1-0 victory, on a late, late Michael Bradley goal. There have been three defeats and another two draws besides that World Cup game.
Both teams made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the World Cup in Brazil, both lost in extra time in the first knockout round. That's where the similarities end.
The United States made hard work of their World Cup campaign, engaging in one Herculean task after another, capped by an all-world performance by Tim Howard against Belgium that ended in extra-time defeat. The Swiss navigated what could've been a tough group for them with some ease, a blowout loss against France aside. Switzerland more than held their own against World Cup runners-up Argentina in the round of 16, only to lose.
Thanks to the immigration of Yugoslav refugees from the civil wars of the 1990s — particularly Kosovar refugees — the Swiss talent pool is deep. Players like Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Josip Drmić, and Haris Seferović would, in an alternate history, be likely playing for Yugoslavia.
The USMNT goes into this game with far, far more questions than answers. Let's be blunt: aside from a 1-0 win against the Czechs and a 2-0 victory against Panama, the USMNT's record since defeating Ghana is atrocious. It's hard to know where to even begin: where the United States used to be a fearsomely fit team, they now wilt in the second half. Where the United States used to be an astonishingly tenacious foe, clawing victory out of defeat, they now surrender at will.
Used to be. Used to be. Used to be. All replaced with...what, exactly?
I don't know.
You don't know.
And here's what should concern everyone: neither does Jurgen Klinsmann.
Three years, eight months, and two days after getting the job, and promising to overhaul a program that may or may not have needed it, Klinsmann has yet to deliver on any of the things he's promised. Attractive, flowing soccer? Nowhere to be found. Tactical and technical acuity? All the way down.
In every way, it looks like the team has absolutely regressed. The team's performance at the World Cup was something out of the Bora Milutinovic era: bunker down, counter attack only when necessary, and hope that the keeper can keep things close. It's gotten worse since then, with no prospect of improvement.
These are players who manage to produce at club level — and yet, with the national team, they are cranking out below-par performances with shocking regularity. Klinsmann's answer — to the degree you can call it one — has been to first blame their fitness, and now to hire Berti Vogts, his old coach.
This should fill exactly no one with confidence. Vogts was last successful with Germany — twenty years ago. Since then, he's had an unremitting record of failure: Kuwait, Scotland, Nigeria, and Azerbaijan all had their worst performances as a team under his direction.
This is the man that Klinsmann has turned to for help. God help us all.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Let's keep it simple here:
- Can the USMNT hold on to the ball?
- Will the USMNT give up more goals in the second half?
- Will we see more "experimentation"?
It's ridiculous that we're discussing whether the USMNT can maintain possession in a game, like it's 1990 all over again, but there we are. Meanwhile, this is what passes for "analysis" from Klinsmann:
"We want to win, but these are also important experiences. We want to make progress in managing the game and taking the game to the opponent and winning away from home and not being in our comfort zone. We were out of our comfort zone [in Denmark], and were pretty much in the game until the last couple of minutes before the end."
Read that again: "We were out of our comfort zone [in Denmark], and were pretty much in the game until the last couple of minutes before the end."
This. Is. Denmark. Which, admittedly, won the Euros in 1992, but c'mon. And the USMNT was "pretty much in the game until the last couple of minutes" the way I'm pretty much a nuclear physicist. Hint: I got a C- in high school physics.
The USMNT loses on a second-half goal, or two.
For your edification — I hesitate to call it enjoyment — here's a post-loss Klinsmann press conference bingo card, courtesy of the guys from the Open Wide For Some Soccer podcast: