On the other side of the pond England currently has a golden generation of footballers who are perceived to have underachieved on the international stage by some. (I am not included in this group: I think England has gotten about as far as they should in European and World Cup Championships) Currently, the United States has something a lot less desirable than a golden generation: I’d call it a lost generation of footballers.
Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra, Taylor Twellman, Danny Califf, Bobby Convey, Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, Conor Casey, Cory Gibbs and Steve Cherundolo represent the most hyped and hopeful generation of American footballers ever. However, this group as a free standing unit has achieved virtually nothing on the international stage, and the clock is ticking on them. Every single player I have listed participated on the underachieving US World Youth Championship squads of 1999 and 2001 and have failed to meet their potential in the biggest matches the US has played on the international stage. Simply put the US had to continue to rely on an older generation of players like Kasey Keller, Claudio Reyna, John O’Brien, Frankie Hedjuk, Eddie Pope and Brian McBride longer than Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley or US supporters would have liked. (Or longer than the players themselves probably would have liked, but in McBride, Pope and Reyna’s case the US still hasn’t found reasonable replacements a year after they retired from the national team.) Now with the torch firmly passed to this “lost” generation, a new generation with a more seasoned technical savvy and a much more professional upbringing threatens to break down the gates of the national program and lead the team itself. This generation led by Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, Danny Szetela, Charlie Davies, Greg Dalby, Lee Nguyen, Sal Zizzo, Robbie Rogers and others seems poised and ready to take the reigns of the under performing US National team program. Between 1995 and 2003 the US defeated Brazil, Argentina (twice), Germany (twice), Portugal, South Korea (twice), Sweden (twice), Russia, Japan, and Australia. Since 2003 when the most of the aforementioned players became regulars on the national team the US lacks a single significant victory against non CONCACAF based competition.
The “lost” generation of American football has precious few chances left to assert the leadership and quality that has long been expected of them. Landon Donovan, for instance is the most talented footballer ever produced by the United States but he lacks the maturity and consistency to even by considered an automatic starter for the national team at this point. DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard and Bobby Convey have all stagnated as international players over the past few years, although in fairness Howard seems to have regained his confidence since moving to Everton for his club football. The bottom line is that the generation of footballers now leading the U.S. has failed to even remotely deliver on the promise they held.
An opportunity, perhaps one of the last awaits this group on Sunday. Normally, I like to deemphasize friendlies, because they are exactly what they are meant be: glorified exhibitions which do little to simulate the pace or intensity of World Cup qualifiers or the World Cup itself. But when the opponent is Brazil, and you have a group of players who lack any sort of meaningful international accomplishment this is an opportunity tailor made for seizing. Add to that the fact that Dunga, Brazil’s Manager has called up a full “A” squad, and you quickly realize the likes of Donovan and Beasley are going to excel or be shown up by the very best world football has to offer. If they don’t take this opportunity, perhaps they will find themselves fighting for their place in the starting team as a new hungry generation of footballers, all of whom I expect to be playing in Europe at this time next year (most of the young players I mentioned are already in Europe) senses the void and seizes the opportunity for themselves. The US will qualify for World Cup 2010 and will have quality all around the pitch. The question is what generation will the first team players for the US who start in South Africa hail from?