Yesterday my good friend Dre wrote in his blog (The Son of Prince), decrying the inclusion of Brian McBride in the U.S. Nat'l Olympic team. In his post, he stated that McBride is "just a one dimensional player" who doesn't fit into the team's quick-passing "toca toca toca" style. While I agree that he doesn't fit into the side, I don't completely agree with the fact that McBride is completely one-dimensional. True, his main (many would argue ONLY) strength is winning balls in the air, and he does that with aplomb. However, I believe he also offers a wide array of talents, including the ability to hold the ball up, cover defensively (especially from set pieces), and a steely sense of grit and determination many other players lack. This "work hard" mentality is one that sums up the American style of play, and I believe it also is our downfall. I will speak about this in subsequent postings, but for now I return to Señor McBride. In my opinion, McBride shouldn't be included in l'équipe américain for the simple fact that he's hindering the development of players who actually need it. While watching the game, I heard an announcer speaking on the issue of overage players, and the fact that the Netherlands decided to limit their haul to a solitary Roy Makaay. "You're allowed to bring three overage players, why wouldn't you bring three?" For me, the answer is simple. The Dutch understand the meaning of this tournament: it's to blood new players and get them some important international experience. The reason Brazil has never won the tournament is because they also understand that the real importance of the tournament is to develop the players for the real issues at hand, namely the World Cups and Copa Americas of the future. If an overage player is included, it's because he can pave the way for future generations by example through his play (Ronaldinho) or by his vast experience, making him essentially an extra coach (Roy Makaay). In the case of Ronaldinho, it's a mutually beneficial endeavor, letting him get some extra fitness and competition as well as letting the wunderkinds of Brazil learn firsthand from his brilliance.
In the case of USA and McBride, the exact opposite situation has substantiated. Rather than include McBride as a bench player to coach and encourage the youngsters, the manager Piotr Nowak has decided to use him on the field, obviously hoping his presence as an established EPL striker will lift the team and carry them to victory. I believe this is the exact opposite of what will happen. As Dre stated, McBride's very presence on the field changes the entire dynamic of the team. In what I feel is the "Thierry Henry" effect, knowing that McBride is on the pitch almost forces the team to play through him in a fashion by which Arsenal lived and died towards the end of his career. What should be a technical, quick passing team that plays on the ground in an entertaining and effective fashion, turns into carbon copy of the English teams of yesteryear, attempting to ram long balls down the gaping mouths of defenses all too happy to gobble up every high ball played into McBride. This tactic is not only ineffective, it also is physically taxing on the increasingly geriatric Captain America who often has to deal with two or three mobile, agile and all too hostile "kids" draped all over him for 90 minutes, anticipating every single ball and hammering McBride with great delight. Like Arsenal, proven brilliance (or in McBride's case, proven goodness) must be sacrificed at some point to develop future backbone.
My solution? Let's get on a conference call with Arséne Wenger and ask him how to win with kids.
Coming up: Some more of my problems with the American soccer system, why I get angry whenever I speak about Juventus' transfer woes, the ESPNization of soccer, and why I hate McDonalds. Or anything else I can think of in the meantime.
--Note: 12:30 PM
I just did some research, and in fact the Netherlands has included the full number of overage players. Japan is the team that hasn't brought any over-23s. However, the fact still remains that the players the Netherlands brought fit perfectly into the style with which the Oranje like to play. In addition, the players they brought are not superstars who will overshadow the younger players, but rather experienced workers who will uplift their younger compatriots.