2007 was an interesting year for the US National Team. A transition year to say the least, at times the US looked worse than any point since prior to hosting the 1994 World Cup. The American performances in the Gold Cup and Copa America were un-inspirational to say the least. Despite winning the Gold Cup the United States played below its potential in four of the six matches in the Tournament. Bob Bradley was forced to experiment with tactics and different lineup partly because it was the first year of a World Cup cycle and partly because the current generation of US players has never shown the leadership or cohesion necessary to be successful on the international level. Following the 2002 World Cup success, some of the most notable historic US National Team figures retired from the international scene. The same happened following the 2006 World Cup. This left the national team squarely in the hands of what I refer to as the “lost generation” of American Football. The generation that showed so much promise at the youth world cups in 1999 and 2001 but have been little more than on again off again performances with the national team.
For the away friendlies against Switzerland and South Africa Coach Bradley named a young, more experimental squad. Yet the results which had so long eluded the United States on the road in the Eastern Hemisphere suddenly came in very impressive fashion. Two road wins against arguably superior opposition. (in South Africa’s case. The Swiss are no doubt superior to the United States at the current point in time)
So while 2007 ends on a highly positive note, at times this year it seemed the U.S was treading water or even worse regressing. As 2008 approaches it will be telling to note how active some members of a more accomplished generation of American Football, like Frankie Hedjuk and Eddie Lewis are in qualifying or even how many young starlets are called up. Bob Bradley may not want to publicly admit it, but the generation I call lost, is probably incapable of qualifying the United States for the next World Cup without substantial enhancement from an older or younger group of players. It is no small irony that the only two Americans to make the Gold Cup Best XI were over 30: Pablo Mastroeni and Frankie Hedjuk.
Against this backdrop let’s evaluate the best and worst of 2007 for the National Team.
Best Player: Tim Howard
I don’t even see how this is debatable. Howard single handily kept the US in the Gold Cup with timely stops against Panama and Mexico in the final while clearly establishing himself as the new US #1 between the pipes.
Best Performance: Landon Donovan vs Ecuador
Donovan’s three goal outburst this past March in Tampa for a friendly versus Ecuador was spectacular to say the least. Too bad Donovan did not give similar performances when the games really mattered in the Gold Cup.
Worst Performance: Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu in the Gold Cup until the final
The central defense pairing of Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu were more often than not out of position, conceding free kicks, making ill advised back passes or being booked during the first five matches of the Gold Cup. Both Bocanerga and Onyewu have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they are too mistake prone to anchor the US defense. 2008 should yield more opportunity for Jay DeMerit, Danny Califf and Jimmy Conrad among others to play regularly.
Biggest Disappointment: Eddie Johnson and Taylor Twellman at Copa America
With no Donovan, Dempsey or Beasley the opportunity for this forward pairing of Johnson and Twellman to cement their national team futures was handed to them by Coach Bradley on a silver platter in Venezuela. But instead both showed a tentative nature and reluctance to take on defenders that is not acceptable in the international level.
Biggest Revelation: Maurice Edu
The former Maryland Terp chalked one up for College Soccer with his veteran like performances versus Switzerland and South Africa. Edu looks like a natural at this level.