Where Have You Gone, Claudio Reyna?

We heard from Backpost reader RefBaiter after the U.S.’s 1-0 loss to Ecuador on Tuesday night, and he had some interesting things to say about the match, and the U.S. team in general. Take a look:

“Last night was a mixed bag. They certainly played okay, but never really threatened. It’s hard to figure out the problem.

My initial reaction is that they have lots of problems in the center of midfield. Kyle Beckerman is fine defensively—not better than Michael Bradley in my opinion—but I don’t think he’s a particularly good passer. Same with Maurice Edu. He is being asked to do more than he is capable of. His first touch is weak and he can never get us out of pressure.

These guys can’t receive a ball in traffic and pass out of trouble. Think back 10 years—the U.S. had Claudio Reyna and John OBrien (and before that, Tab Ramos). We are still waiting for their replacements.

Without an outstanding creative midfielder, we are never going to be very good. And I don’t think Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan fall into the category of creative midfielder.

Some unusually levelheaded points from the RefBaiter, who was never so even-keeled with the officiating during his playing days.

We agree that the U.S. currently lacks a player in the Reyna-O’Brien mold—a box-to-box midfielder who is strong in possession and can pull strings on offense.

(They also lack a post-up striker such as they used to have in Brian McBride—an absence that may be as glaring as that of a playmaking midfielder, but that’s another discussion.)

Is there anyone out there, yet to be tapped by Jurgen Klinsmann, who can fill that role?

Stuart Holden, if he ever gets and stays healthy, could be the guy (he’s 26, btw).

What about Benny Feilhaber? He’s certainly good in possession and on offense, but he’s not exactly a bulldog ballwiner (and he’s 29).

Other possibilities include Jose Francisco Torres (23), Mikkel Diskerud (21), and, at the youthful end of the spectrum, rising Real Salt Lake youngster Luis Gil (17).

Also, you never know who will emerge in the next two years or so. Dempsey, after all, was hardly a household name when he won the MLS Rookie of the Year Award in 2004, and then went on to USMNT and EPL greatness.

There’s another possibility, too, one that Klinsmann brings up in this recent piece in The Atlantic (where he also has high praise for Torres):

“One thing you see less and less in modern soccer is the classic Number 10 [creative midfielder], because as a coach you don’t want to depend too much on one individual. The role model at the moment is Barcelona. Xavi, Iniesta—these guys work both ways. Defensively, they are nasty to win the ball back, then when they have it they are very skillful. Are they classical Number 10s? No, because you never know which one is the Number 10.”

If Klinsmann is looking to apply that model to the U.S., then he is definitely not done auditioning central midfielders.

Perhaps we’ll see a new face or two when the Yanks take the field against France on Nov. 11 in Paris, a friendly that was just confirmed today.

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Le Toux Lights Up the Linc

Friend of Backpost and longtime Philly soccer supporter (and player) the Fenistrator attended the expansion Philadelphia Union’s home opener against D.C. United on Saturday night, when Union striker Sebastien Le Toux scored all three goals in Philadelphia’s 3-2 victory. The Fenistrator kindly filed this report on the festivities:

Grills and parking-lot pickup games began around noon for the 6:00pm start, and everyone was in good spirits for the first outdoor professional match in 30 years in the City of Brotherly Love.

After a heroic bout of pre-match tailgating in the Linc parking lot, we made our way toward the stadium, where crowds were backing up at the gates.

Just past the gates, each one of us had to pass through a metal detector—the increased security was due to the presence of Vice President Joe Biden at the game—and when we finally reached our seats, the stadium was largely empty. In fact, when the match began, there were still many empty seats, as people were delayed passing through security, clearing both metal detectors and wands.

We were handed souvenir Union towels, and some small placards with the game date, the teams, and the slogan “I witnessed history!”

The Union’s call to arms is the somewhat extreme “Join or Die!” and if Saturday night’s home opener was any indication, many chose the former: There were, eventually, nearly 35,000 fans inside the cavernous Lincoln Financial Field. It seems the Union will have no trouble selling out the new 18,500-capacity PPL stadium when it opens in Chester in late June.

Pre-game festivities included Honorary Captain Walt Bahr, one of Philly’s famous “Old Pros” from the Lighthouse Field–era Philadelphia Nationals. Bahr played for the USA when it beat England in the 1950 World Cup. Of course many missed this ceremony—as well as the first 20 minutes of the match—due to VP Biden’s presence to escort his granddaughter to the game’s ceremonial first kick. The additional security was a hassle, but it did not damper the crowd’s enthusiasm at all.

Security delays meant empty seats in the first half.

So we—and some 35,000 others—were primed and duly pumped, and then Sebastien Le Toux got the game off to a dream start, redirecting Roger Torres’s cross past DC keeper Troy Perkins in the fourth minute. The Union was up 1-0 and you couldn’t have scripted it any better. A beautiful pass from Alejandro Moreno set up Le Toux for his second of the day just before halftime.

Then two second-half mistakes by the Union got D.C. back into it. First, a Michael Orozco turnover set up Santino Quaranta’s deflected goal, and then our young keeper, Chris Seitz, gifted Jaime Moreno an equalizer in the 70th minute. Seitz was about to punt, and Moreno made like he was going to put a boot in, causing the youngster to spill it at his feet at the top of the box. Moreno made no mistake in tying it up.

That left it to Le Toux to do this in the 80th minute:

…. to clinch the Union’s first ever win, lock up the MLS player of the week award, and send D.C. to a miserable 0-3 start this season. The crowd was into it, and the Sons of Ben supporters were really into it, and the 30-year wait was well worth it.

A good time was had by all, except for the United fans making the two-plus hour drive north.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we all enjoyed our Union experience, but I do have one pet peeve:

Call me a curmudgeon, I don’t care, but being a spectator at a match in the USA is the most frustrating experience if you want to actually watch the game.

Maybe I’ve been to too many games in England, where the main focus is what happens on the field, but can somebody please tell me why so many so-called fans have to drink 30 Lite beers during the match, requiring you to constantly get up and down while they interrupt your sightline of the field??

Of course many around us were too busy having a social chin-wag to be concerned with the action—until the roar of the crowd forced them to look at the pitch.

In England, two 45-minute halves of no beer, no food, no vendors, no big video screens to distract you or allow you to see something you missed…. JUST PURE SPORT! No Multitasking!! [Editor: You’ll be happy when you come to Red Bull Arena for the Union–RBNY tilt on April 24: no concession sales in the seats at RBA.]

I just found a new meaning for “Join or Die”—and I’d like to see it enforced at the Linc!