If you were busy watching the World Cup then you might have missed this US Soccer news dump that happened towards as the final round of group matches.
Two home matches TBA
vs. 🏴 in London at Wembley
vs. 🇮🇹 at TBA venue in Europe pic.twitter.com/g58smtzoup
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@ussoccer_mnt) June 25, 2018
I honestly can’t decide what’s more peak US Soccer; scheduling post World Cup friendlies against Mexico, Brazil, England, and Italy, or announcing it during a time when anyone who cared would not only be watching the World Cup, but would probably still be upset that the United States was not participating in said tournament.
Don’t get me wrong, playing friendlies against Mexico, Brazil, England, and Italy is a good thing. It’s good to play against top quality opposition. And due to European and South American qualifying schedules, as well as the new UEFA Nations League, it’s not easy to find time in the calendar to play against these kinds of opponents.
At the same time, these games are ultimately meaningless friendlies. In fact, the friendlies you play in the September, October, and November match dates immediately following a World Cup are the most meaningless of meaningless friendlies because those playing in the tournament will likely be taking a break from international play.
In this case, they are nothing more than simple money grabs by US Soccer. We know this because they are charging $80 for tickets to the American Outlaws, their own supporters group, in a match that ultimately means nothing. They aren’t scheduling matches against Brazil and Mexico in NFL stadiums because of the quality of the opposition, but rather to take advantage of the large fanbases those two teams have in this country which will increase the demand for tickets, giving them an economic reason to have ticket prices so high.
Again, this doesn’t really matter because you ultimately don’t really learn much from friendlies, especially in immediate post-World Cup friendlies. Teams tend to not take them seriously, you rarely have your entire squad together, and the barrage of substitutions in the second half make anything that was going on nearly irrelevant.
That’s why you can’t fault the US for playing these games and taking these money grabs. Afterall, it is better to get on the field against these teams as often as possible even though they really don’t prepare you for anything. The US will never play a competitive game against England or Italy outside of the World Cup, and in order to get to the World Cup, they need to be good against Concacaf teams, not against UEFA squads.
But the US could have their cake and eat it too. They can actually play these money grabbing friendlies while also starting their prep for the next cycle of World Cup qualification.
Simple. If you noticed that press release, the US currently has only scheduled friendlies for September and November. They did mention that there will be two home friendlies in October (reportedly against Colombia and a likely Messi-less Argentina).
Here’s an idea; instead of playing those friendlies against Colombia and Argentina, the US should forego the opportunity to make a lot of money and instead try to make the squad better by traveling to Central America and taking on their Concacaf foes in similar conditions they would see in World Cup Qualifying.
Sure, those games would certainly lack fanfare and the money that filling an NFL stadium would bring but it would be a chance to not only make the US better, but the region better as a whole. Can’t we just pretend for five minutes that that’s what it’s all about?
Imagine if the US scheduled friendlies in Costa Rica (where they’ve never won) and Panama (or Honduras, or Guatemala, or any other Concacaf nation where the US failed to win an away game over the past four years). The exposure of welcoming in a big team more than just once every four years would be great for those countries and their federations.
More importantly, it would be great for the United States. If these games were on the books, the US would be able to bring their team of young players down into Concacaf and give them their first taste of what playing in Concacaf conditions is really like. Playing Costa Rica would give the young US team valuable experience playing in a stadium where they’ve never won, experience that could help them two years later when they come back for real.
These games would also give their Concacaf opponents a chance to show something different. Right now, qualifiers against the United States often feature the smaller nations kicking and hacking every talented US player while the referee seemingly looks the other way. If they choose to do that in a friendly, players like Weston McKennie and Timothy Weah would know what to expect when they come back for World Cup qualifying.
Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. The nature of it being a friendly would allow a team like Panama the chance to go out and try to beat the US. If they lose, who cares? It’s a friendly. But if they win, that could give them the confidence that they could beat the mighty United States. Then maybe when they come back there in two years they’ll try to do it again, and as a result they’ll play a cleaner game.
In the last World Cup qualifying cycle both former managers, Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, were afraid to use untested kids because they had no experience playing in Concacaf away games. Sooner or later this new crop of players will have to get that first experience, so why not give it to them when the stakes are at their lowest?