- Posted by Drew Epperley
- On February 9, 2010
- 18 Comments
- Brek Shea, Brian McBride, Charlie Davies, Eddie Johnson, Eric Wynalda, Joe-Max Moore, John Parker, Jozy Altidore, Major League Soccer, Soccer in the United States, Taylor Twellman
By John Parker
Brian Mcbride was a good player. So was Joe-Max Moore. Eric Wynalda held the American scoring record for nearly a decade.
Alright, I don’t know where to start with this, and my free writing is a little sub par here. But there is a point, and it’s not that subtle. The US has produced some adequate players up top, but the position has been the country’s Achilles heel…and an anomaly. This is a nation that hosts the most astonishing athletes in the world, and yet cycle after cycle we see gadflies, overachievers and “hard workers” leading the line. Meanwhile, the Damani Ralph’s of the world were entering the MLS and snatching golden boots.
Before the 2006 cycle, this is what we not only experienced, but expected. We waited on the coming Hispanic infusion that would introduce craft to the position; the demographics of America were rapidly changing, and the future of American soccer supposedly with it. We would see a new breed of player, one who preferred to play on the ball, to strike it from distance and to create for his teammates. Brian Mcbride was great, but we could improve.
But then something curious happened. Eddie Johnson, an American striker with sub par ability on the ball won the golden boot with the U-20’s, and then again with the MLS. It was astonishing…because he was an astonishing athlete. Playing off the hips of the defender, Eddie looked to impose his will with his speed. He didn’t finish off of crosses or set pieces but rather through balls. He was introduced to the National Team and quickly reeled off seven goals. The message boards lit up. People bought the jersey they were sure to wear for a decade…after all, who offered what Eddie did up top? Those seven goals may have been somewhat of a fluke, but they may also have been proof of something greater than just Eddie. The American style, with its counter-attacks and its high pressure defending (which leads to interceptions up the pitch) could take advantage of a forward who routinely got behind the defense. The Twellman’s of the world slowed down our attack when, if anything, we needed to be speeding up.
Don’t beat yourself up for falling for the hype to early. I did…and your favorite blogger probably did too. After all, it’s not like we could complain that Eddie’s ball skills didn’t compare with the rest of the pool. We’d later realize how much better Mcbride’s first touch was, or how much better Moore was off the ball…but the point is for a youth player it was tough to criticize him in comparison (remember, he was battling Taylor Twellman for a spot).
Yes, in the end it did not work out with Eddie. However, his fiery start revealed a seed that is just barely now sprouting. The American striker was not going to be born out of Latino influence but rather an American one. Our obsession with physically dominating our opponents…of physically imposing our will…that was the future of the position, and one that fit our American sensibilities.
Yeah, we are still lacking at the position, but let’s go back to the beginning of the current cycle. Eddie Johnson was beginning to be exposed…and…and…who started against Mexico in the Gold Cup? (Hint: one isn’t a forward, and the other probably won’t be there this summer. Look it up…it took me five minutes to figure it out too.)
Now, the trail-blazing Eddie Johnson has left us with two (yes two!) options up top who offer an array of talents. I know Davies is injured, but as an American product, he must be discussed. You see, we now have a striker tree building from Eddie. One branch, Jozy Altidore, offers extraordinary power, good speed, and a penchant for taking players on off the dribble. The other, CD9, has fantastic speed, good power, and consistently attack the goal with fiery determination. Both can score off through balls, or create a goal themselves. They can play off the defenders hip, but can also be effective receiving it with their backs to the goal. In general, they’re advantage is an athletic one coupled with adequate skills and a confidence we haven’t seen in our past strikers…it’s a confidence that wants to take over the game rather than simply be a cog. Yes, “team” play is great, but sometimes you need more from your strikers than target play. Sometimes you need a goal like Jozy’s against Spain, or Charlie’s against Mexico. Sometimes you need it from both your strikers.
So where do we go from here? Sheer math makes me believe that the previously mentioned dearth of Hispanic influence will be overcome. However, if you look at the current prospects, the proof points more to the growth of the Eddie tree.
- Brek Shea, a tall, lanky winger/striker was taken second by FCD in the draft a couple of years ago after a display of speed and flair at the combine. He may not be a striker in the end, but the mere fact that he was drafted with the position in mind was proof of a new American mindset. He still might have a future at the position.
- Robbie Findley will probably see little time on the pitch for the US in any competitive matches, but Findley seems to have become a preferred option to the Conor Casey’s of the world because of what he offers athletically (which, unfortunately, is about all he offers).
- At the U-20 level, Juan Agudelo and Stefan Jerome seem to be top options for the next cycle. Agudelo is looking at offers from NYRB and Millionaros because of an intriguing balance of size, speed and technical ability, especially at his age. Jerome, who has fallen off quite a bit since his stunning performance against Brazil a couple of years ago, is a tall, lanky striker with speed and desire to beat his defender off the dribble (perhaps too much). [Note: The other striker here is Jack McInerney, but he is unlike any American striker produced, so I’ll pretend he doesn’t exist for the purposes of this article]
- Then there is the 2010 draft. Teal Bunbury may be playing for Canada, but he fits the mold, and MLS large GA offer is proof to his value in the American game. However, Danny Mwanga, the first pick of the draft, should be of more interest to us. Mwanga told a soccernet reporter he hoped to play for the U.S., and given his status as a refugee with a green card, he shouldn’t be too far away from his citizenship. As a 6-2 striker who wows with both elite level athleticism and the technique to match, he would be a natural fit in the new breed of American striker.
- Finally, there is Alfred Koroma, the 15 year old who recently left Bradenton after beginning his second cycle. Koroma was highly advertised as the star of the new class as a player who was not only physically dominant but also technically advanced. Yes, he is young…but Jozy got his first cap at 17 and Koroma will turn 19 before the next world cup.
All of this is admittedly wild speculation. All the speculation, however, points towards one conclusion. Many of these players won’t make it, but the fact that almost all of America’s top prospects at the position fit the Davies/Altidore mold speaks to what we can learn from the past and expect of the future. Current trends point towards a focus on strikers with the ability to get behind defenses off the ball and to overtake them off the dribble.
With Davies and Altidore taking two positions in the next cycle, two remain open. Will we see an entire leading line built in a similar fashion? Will it become a position of strength? Will the American striker become a unique character in the world of soccer?
All of this is unlikely…but it’s still cool to think that Eddie Johnson may have changed American soccer forever.
Editor’s Note: John Parker is new to WVHooligan.com. Feel free to leave him a comment below.