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Fluffy Philosophy: The US’ Lack of Defensive Backbone

June 9, 2010

Opinionated we are here at Fluffing the Lines, but every now and then we like to make an intentional effort to extend beyond the limitations of football discourse, stir the pot and, of course, fluff the lines. Fluffy Philosophy is part of that effort to politically pontificate and poll the populace. Though invalid, or fluffed, arguments will appear, the topics delve deep into the greater football-related issues of our world today.  Join us in the conversation…

While the US has become a consistent qualifier for the World Cup thanks in large part to a high work rate, endurance and a stingy defense that keeps the squad from getting creamed when it cannot produce on the offensive end, it is the defensive third and the American work ethic that are the source of all the question marks in 2010. The US is in the unique situation where injury is preventing the squad from fielding what appears to be simply a viable defense.

The American Dream is a cliché that we hear far too much in the US – a cliché that is primarily grounded in the opportunity our country affords people to express a work ethic unlike any other. At some point or another we have been, are or will be in the future the best at everything in the world. It is that image that makes beating us in anything a joy for the opponent. Soccer falls into the category of future world dominance though. And while we have not yet been feared as a soccer power, the rest of the world knows that we’re coming (albeit eventually)!

This year, however, is a different story. This group of men demonstrates the next great barrier in our advancement as a soccer nation: a lack of work ethic. Notice that it is not a lack of work rate; this squad will still be a constant source of effort. To say there is no difference between work rate and work ethic is shortsighted though. Work rate is merely hard work and effort. Work ethic includes a certain intuitive and strategic thinking – a greater purpose. Those people, i.e. many of our grandfathers, who pursued and achieved the American Dream represented true work ethic. Today, work rate, misnamed work ethic, is more American. We value getting to the top quickly, taking short cuts and demonstrating that we’ll do whatever it takes and work overtime. And we value quick reputation building over taking the time to lay a solid foundation and thinking critically about the next step.

The next step for American soccer is defense that leads to offense. Bob Bradley knows this, but he doesn’t have the personnel to make it happen. The US has been characterized by work rate since its return to the World Cup in 1990, which has led to the majority of our up and coming talent being noticed because of their work rate, especially those on the defensive end. We have no quality defenders because we do not promote players who can defend and control the ball – those players instead become our defensive centermids.

With US centermids winning the ball it is possible to counter-attack, but the balls won by the defense often start with a very stagnant or sloppy first pass. It is not necessary for a centerback to have the offensive prowess of Thomas Vermaelan or Gerard Pique (both have defensive lapses mind you), but it is necessary for him to have what we call a “positive touch,” which means a touch that does more than simply control the ball, i.e. show that the player is thinking ahead. Our defense is notorious for slowly starting the offensive movement because it cannot quickly move the ball to someone who does have offensive capabilities (counter example here but note: not a defender).

And so there you have it. No quality defenders, just some players who are good at pissing people off…with more discipline than the rest of the pool. And the reason those defensive centermids cannot drop to centerback is because they are either lazy or they have to be overly involved in the offense (even from the center of the defense; read more on our lacking creativity here) or both. America, the country that perfected the idea of specialization, which all of us economists know is best, is promoting well-rounded mediocrity. The perfect example is the defensive centermid – trust me, I am one.

Food for Thought:

Gooch has grown into a lower quality defender – injuries aside – but he is the exception that proves the rule. Without Gooch’s growth and injury, we would not notice that the US lacks another player on our squad who can lead the core of the defense. The US should not be content with players who simply make do. Bring in the specialists!

Previous Installments of Fluffy Philosophy:
The US’ Lack of Offensive Production

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