Everyone is on a long and desperate search for targets

Follow us world Cup Coverage and live updates for Argentina versus Saudi Arabia.

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – There were crosses that fizzled low towards Josh Sargent, clipping the grass as they went, crosses arching high into the air. Some came from the depths, drifting and hanging, and some appeared in an instant, tumbling through a forest of dangling legs and stretched out bodies.

Almost all of the many and varied types of crosses that were delivered in Sargent’s vicinity had one common denominator: they left as soon as they arrived. Some traveled the length of the penalty area, and bounced out of play on the other side of the field, unstained by human touch. The others were snatched from the air by Wayne Hennessey, the Welsh goalkeeper, and greedily clutched his chest.

There was, in Sargent’s defense, one exception: a sharp, instinctive header from a cross smuggled in from the sideline by Anthony Robinson when the game was still young and fresh, was only denied by an inconspicuous combination of Hennessy’s firm grip and goalpost.

That alone, though, likely wouldn’t have been enough to disprove the long-held belief that the single biggest flaw in the USA squad, is a shining Achilles’ heel that will limit their progress in this World Cup — and any upcoming World Cup finals until they’re over. Solved – it does not have a cutting edge. Goals for the United States do not come easily.

During his four years in charge, American coach Greg Berhalter has gone to great lengths to find a solution. Sargent may have come to be seen as his default choice, the fact that he is not a dim-witted person is somewhat offset by his movement intelligence, willingness to run, and non-stop reserves of energy.

But there were times on the journey to the World Cup when Jesus Ferreira had a chance, too. For a few months, there was a belief – or at least an apparent attempt to try to believe – that Riccardo Pepe might be the answer. Jordan Bivoc, for a while, was touted as a potential fix. Giasi Zardes, barely in the spring of his career, was gone.

When none of those were convincing, Berhalter included Haji Wright in his squad for the tournament in Qatar and once again returned Sargent – in rich condition to Norwich City, his team in England’s second tier – as first choice. He and the team are right back where they started.

It’s not that the United States can’t score, of course. He must work hard for each of them. Tim Weah’s goal against Wales, the country’s first at a World Cup finals in eight years, was appropriately beautiful, intricately worked out and aesthetically pleasing: a quick conversion from Christian Pulisic, a through ball slid into space, and Oh stop. Temporarily. A moment to adjust his foot to drive the ball under Hennessey.

However, scoring only perfect goals is anathema. A team hoping to reach the playoffs needs to score in other ways as well: dirty goals, cutaway goals, lucky goals, cheap and dirty goals, goals that come from nothing and goals that come from play. Percentages, goals that bring with them just a slight hint of shame. This American team doesn’t do that, at least not as often as it should.

Sargent was not responsible, of course, for each of these crosses to prove unalterable. Some were too hot, too cold, too hard, too soft, the Goldilocks group of births. But to make the most of imperfect material is the striker’s craft, not art, the trait that separates only the outstanding from the talented.

This absence was not noteworthy on the US national team. There are a lot of golden-level strikers in this tournament – Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane, Lautaro Martinez, Kylian Mbappe – and many others, from Erling Haaland to Mohamed Salah to Karim Benzema, but they are not.

But it is their rarity that makes these players so special. With his skill set scarce, Manchester City were willing to meet Haaland’s exorbitant financial demands. Because the reward could be so great that Liverpool were content to pay an extra fee for Darwin Nunez, who is believed to be the best elite striker in his component parts.

Everyone else—particularly internationally, where problems can’t be solved with cold, hard money—has to do what they have available and address it. Ecuador, for example, opened the World Cup with a brace from Ener Valencia, now 33 and drifting into the fall of his career in Turkey.

The Dutch began their career with Vincent Jansen, a roaming striker who has spent the last few years in Turkey (which is always Turkey), Mexico and now Belgium, as the tip of their spear. There have been times, at the Ahmed Ben Ali Stadium, that it might have been thought that Wales had appointed a statue of Gareth Bale to their team.

There is a reason for that. Barely touching the ball as the clock ticked and his country’s long-awaited return to the World Cup finals quickly threatened to sour, Bale lunged past Walker Zimmermann to meet an optimistic ball from the wing. It wasn’t a particularly good pass. The situation was not particularly promising. Bell was facing away from the goal, the US defense in good shape.

But the striker’s craft is to make the most of limited materials. Bell’s outburst was sudden enough to catch Zimmerman by surprise. By the time he realized what he was doing, he had already clipped Bell on his ankle. 33-year-old Bell fell. Penalty. He stood and stared at the ball, controlling his breathing, then Matt Turner’s outstretched arm crossed it.

It was a well-deserved goal for Wales, at that point, but not one he had to work particularly hard on. It was a cheap goal, a dirty goal, the kind of goal a striker doesn’t score often but creates.

And that, of course, is his value and that of Bill. He is not a member of the team because he can run more or faster or because he is a central force in the way Wales play. Not anymore.

No, he’s a member of the team for the same reason that Valencia, in his thirties, still leads the line for Ecuador: because he has that talent, which can’t really be taught or trained, of being where he needs to be, of conjuring something out of thin air. To achieve goals through a combination of wisdom, intelligence and unbridled will.

For all of Sargent’s energy, or Wright’s raw talent, the United States has no such player; If that happens, they will likely have beaten Wales on Monday night, taking a huge leap towards last 16 qualification in the process. In this absence, her long, miserable search for targets—the cheater and the troublemaker, the ugly and the imperfect—will continue.

#long #desperate #search #targets

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *