The US National Team year of pain hit an appropriate low point on Sunday as the US backline once again showed their lack of quality and class in conceding four goals to a somewhat average Brazilian side (by Brazil’s high standards), who struggled last month to defeat Algeria and was outplayed by England earlier this summer. As someone who has watched the National Team closely since the late 1980s, I am very concerned by some of the obvious regression I see with our senior national team. Many of the problems stem from a generation of players as we discussed last week that have completely let the United States down with uneven play and a clear lack of leadership. While the number of quality American Footballers has increased over the past seven years, the top players that the United States produces are inferior as footballers to the top Americans players circa 2000. This creates a dilemma in playing style for Coach Bob Bradley.
Thus far in 2007 it is obvious that Bradley has overestimated the quality of the talent he has in the US player pool. Coach Bradley has instilled a new system in the national side that involves attacking down the flanks against superior opposition. Previously the United States would organize itself defensively against such opposition and rely on counter attacking. Generally, the Americans would defend well and spacing on the pitch would be impressive. However now with the wider more attack oriented approach, the US’ spacing and defensive responsibilities are often coming into question and the wide backs are pushing too far forward. The United States must fix this problem or change approaches if it is to safely qualify for World Cup 2010.
The CONCACAF region has improved dramatically in the past few years. As the Gold Cup showed, the United States and Mexico cannot continue to take the regional opposition lightly. Unlike Mexico who has some superb proven young talent in Carlos Vela, Nery Castillio, and Andres Guardado, the US’ young talent like Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore and Danny Szetela are untested at the top level of International Football. In fact, Szetela and Adu were little more than average MLS players which doesn’t say a whole lot for their prospects as internationals.
The Americans risk embarrassment in the upcoming qualifiers if things do not change. Even in the best years for the U.S. winning in Central America has been a struggle. Not only has the US encountered difficult fans, venues and climate when traveling to Central America, but the officiating often times has not been kind to the Americans in those nations. (Recall the controversial qualifier against Costa Rica in 2000 when Frankie Hedjuk was sent off, and Eddie Lewis called for a frivolous foul in the box leading to a game winning penalty for the Ticos all in stoppage time. The ensuing argument had Bruce Arena and Claudio Reyna suspended by FIFA for five and three matches respectively. )
It’s time for Bob Bradley to explore his options in central defense beyond Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu. I believe that Danny Califf, Jimmy Conrad, Jay DeMerit, and Jonathan Spector all need to be tested against quality opposition in order to ascertain if they will make adequate replacements. Up front, Jozy Altidore, Johann Smith and Kenny Cooper need to be looked at as well before the qualifiers begin.
Do I think the U.S. could miss World Cup 2010? Anything is possible, but it is highly unlikely the US would finish below 3rd in the region. But if I had to compare the U.S. to our primary regional rival Mexico, right now, the U.S, is miles behind Los Tres Colores. Mexico should roll right through CONCACAF qualifiers and the 2009 Gold Cup, while the US has to find playmakers and a consistent defensive efforts.