U.S. national team coach Bora Milutinovic isn't changing his ++ flat-four zone defense despite his players' pleas.
L But he should, says Hubert Vogelsinger, a former NASL coach.
"I would say to Bora: 'Realize where you are. This is not Mexico, where you were successful with a sound, four-back defense. This is not Costa Rica. This is America.
" 'You have highly athletic, very intelligent players, who, because of inexperience, act better when they mark man-to-man, when they know exactly what they have to do.'
"I would say to Bora, 'Lay out the game plan, give them a clean assignment and play with a sweeper.'
"American players like [Alexi] Lalas and [Marcelo] Balboa, they react better when they know their job."
Vogelsinger, 56, has been around soccer since his days as a player at Rapid Vienna in Austria.
After his playing days, he coached Yale University, the Boston Minutemen, Team Hawaii and the San Diego Sockers.
Like many, he sees the U.S. team as headed for disaster with a defense that depends too much on a sophistication that American players do not yet have.
The problem boiled over after the 3-1 loss to Sweden in the Joe Robbie Cup in Miami a few weeks ago.
In the heat of passion, defender Lalas and goalkeeper Brad Friedel criticized Milutinovic's defensive scheme.
A few days later, no doubt after being lectured about their candor with reporters, Lalas tried to minimize his criticism.
But the problem won't go away.
Vogelsinger thinks Milutinovic needs to take veteran Thomas Dooley out of midfield and move him back to sweeper, where he was effective in the German Bundesliga.
"You cannot play Balboa or [Desmond] Armstrong back there. Balboa is too much of a risk-taker and Armstrong too conservative. Against Sweden, they made so many mistakes.
"To play the kind of defense Bora wants to play takes years of maturity and understanding. Very few teams in the world are able to do it.
"I see the U.S. defense at this time in a confused state. They are playing Lalas as an outside defender, and he is inadequate because he doesn't have the mobility to go forward.
"In the middle, in the air, he is physical and strong. That is where he belongs."
Vogelsinger sees the U.S. strengths as endurance and athleticism, discipline and coachability.
But, he said, "experience overrides everything, and that is where we are lacking."
U.S. SOCCER SCHEDULE
Jan. 15: USA 2, Norway 1
Jan. 22: USA 1, Switzerland 1
Jan. 29: USA 1, Russia 1
a-Feb. 10: Denmark 0, USA 0
(Denmark won 4-2 on penalty kicks)
a-Feb. 13: Romania 2, USA 1
Feb. 18: USA 1, Bolivia 1
Feb. 20: Sweden 3, USA 1
March 12: USA 1, South Korea 1
March 26: vs. Bolivia
at Dallas, 3 p.m.
April 16: vs. Moldova
at Jacksonville, Fla., 7:30 p.m.
April 20: vs. Moldova
at Davidson, N.C., 7 p.m.
April 24: vs. Iceland
at Chula Vista, Calif., 6 p.m.
April 30: vs. Chile
at Albuquerque, N.M., 6 p.m.
May 7: vs. TBA at Fullerton, Calif.
May 15: vs. TBA
at Monterey Park, Calif.
May 21: vs. TBA at Cleveland
May 25: vs. Saudi Arabia at TBA
May 28: vs. Greece
at New Haven, Conn.
b-June 18: vs. Switzerland
at Pontiac, Mich., 11:30 a.m.
b-June 22: vs. Colombia
at Pasadena, Calif., 7:30 p.m.
b-June 26: vs. Romania
at Pasadena, Calif., 4 p.m.