FOR STRIKE FORCE, PLAYTIME IS OVER
Even before the final whistle in the U.S. national team's 4-3 win over Germany on Sunday, the game's imminent storylines had become clear.
Clint Dempsey, named captain just last week, showed why he's the best player in the American talent pool right now with a pair of world-class goals. Jozy Altidore had a big game in the red, white and blue for the first time in nearly two years, opening the scoring with a volley and adding two quality assists.
But it was a comment from manager Jurgen Klinsmann about those two breakouts that caught my attention most in the aftermath of RFK Stadium's Centennial Celebration game.
"Jozy can learn so much from Clint and is learning. They will start to have a chemistry, they will start to have an instinct for each other," Klinsmann said. "That will come by time - it won't come overnight."
Hold on. Six years isn't overnight, is it?
After all, that's the number of years that Altidore and Dempsey have played together for the United States, with the then-Red Bulls starlet making his international debut against South Africa on Nov. 17, 2007. Dempsey, who scored the Americans' lone goal in the 2006 World Cup, was in the squad that day in Johannesburg, too.
In fact, of Altidore's 14 international goals for the United States since he broke into the team in 2008, only two have come without Dempsey being on the field: a pre-World Cup friendly against Poland in Chicago and a friendly against Slovenia in Nov. 2011, also the last match in which Altidore had scored entering Sunday.
The partnership, then, is hardly a nascent one. Familiarity shouldn't be a problem.
And yet Dempsey has not assisted on any of those 12 Altidore goals that he was present for. As for the other side, Dempsey has tallied seven times in just this singular 2014 cycle of World Cup qualifying; Altidore has zero assists.
If you can't chalk that up to experience with one another, though, the follow-up question becomes obvious.
Let's be fair, of course - neither of the U.S.' two top strike options is known primarily as a set-up artist. Dempsey's move into second place Sunday on the all-time national team scoring list is evidence enough of that. But each has had their own share of moments in the facilitator role during their respective club careers.
Deuce had seven assists in a breakout 2011-12 with Fulham, while Jozy had four with AZ this past season. If you take that kind of assists ratio and extrapolate it to Altidore's 57 caps - the vast majority of which have seen him partnered with Dempsey either as a central attacking midfielder or as a second striker in the final third - we should have been seeing much more link-up play between the two than we actually have.
Klinsmann, even the eternal optimist that he is, frankly shouldn't be merely sitting back and accepting it.
A good attacking system cannot function with just two cogs, to be sure, and Altidore's lack of service with the national team has been well documented. But to say that all that the two require are more reps after the number that they've already put in over the last six years is being overly passive about the situation.
While Sunday may be a pretty blatant exception, most of Dempsey's goals for the United States have come with him playing in that second striker role as opposed to the trequartista-type one in which he lined up against Germany. The 2009 Confederations Cup is one fairly famous example of this trend, as late-game substitutions resulted in then-manager Bob Bradley shifting Dempsey from the left side of the midfield up front and watching the goals pour in from there.
The Altidore-Charlie Davies strike force may have been the main USMNT talking point of that summer, but Dempsey and Altidore had their run-outs. They've kept having them. And when it hasn't been Dempsey putting on the superhero cape and doing it all himself (see his left-footed beauty on Saturday), the U.S. generally hasn't scored much against Klinsmann.
Grind-it-out soccer is fine when it works. But when you have the forward talent that the U.S. seems to have and the number of games that that talent has spent with one another, there should be a sound understanding between them. There should be goals. And there shouldn't be pleas for "more time" from Klinsmann.
The U.S. hasn't had this level of individual quality in its attack since a young Landon Donovan partnered with Brian McBride in his prime in South Korea. It's high time for the U.S. to stop making excuses.
And start demanding more of what we saw at RFK.