After Clint Dempsey moved to Fulham in 2007, his leap in quality was beyond remarkable. This was evidenced in his subsequent call-ups to the US national team. Stronger, defter, more confident. He was a new player. He’d already been a stand-out in Germany 2006, scoring the only non-own-goal for the US, but after his move to the Premier League, his ability, drive and influence on others seemed to escalate drastically in a short amount of time. His first season at The Academy EPL was already showing a return.
Overall, the schooling of US players abroad has been of great importance to the development of the national team. Bocanegra, Feilhaber, Beasley, Bradley, Adu and Edu have all been among those to join the likes of Everton’s Tim Howard in the diaspora of US talent. They ship out to strong leagues abroad and later bring their new prowess back to their national team.
The progress has been notable, and, under manager Bob Bradley, the US has looked the strongest it’s looked in ages.
Now, I did not expect the US to topple a Brazilian side who can pull both Kaka and Robinho off the gun rack any time they want. But four days earlier, a ten-man US admirably earned and converted a 41st minute penalty and then held Italy off until the 58th minute, when sub Giuseppe Rossi sparked the Azzurri comeback with a confident blast from distance.
The Italy won 3-1, but based on the way the US staved off the inevitable Italian goal fest until Italy made substitutions, I felt sure that if Ricardo Clark hadn’t seen red after his 33rd minute late tackle, the USA could have held their own against the standing World Cup Champions.
So while I knew Brazil would probably win. I still expected a decent performance from my countrymen.
The first goal came from a needless tackle and bad man marking on the set play. It happens. But the second goal was an absolute shock. The US won a corner kick (I repeat: the US won the corner), which they took short. Landon Donovan passed to DaMarcus Beasley who’s first touch had all the grace of a blindfolded, drunken water buffalo. Brazil gobbled up his mistake and the counterattack led to two Brazilians rushing toward one backpeddaling US defender. Robhino fired the second goal past Tim Howard, sealing the US defeat.
And Beasley’s touch wasn’t some fluke error. It simply came at the worst time and inspired the worst reaction. Throughout the first half, the US seemed to forget how to pass. A foolish dispossession here. Mistaking the touch-line for a teammate there. It was painful to watch.
The US would get another red card for Sacha Kljestan’s rash tackle and Brazil would score another goal when Maicon found net off a sharp angle and a choice deflection.
By then, I wasn’t expecting a US miracle. I did hope they could sully Brazil’s clean sheet and carry away a modicum of pride.
Again, the ten-man side showed some grit and some shots went off the bar. But 3-0 was the final score.
If the FIFA Confederations Cup was to provide the thermometer reading for the US before the next World Cup, the boys are lukewarm. They need to get hot if they want to get past the 2010 group stage. Maybe the fact that they now need to beat Egypt by at least four goals for the chance to stay alive in the Confederations Cup will raise the temperature.
It wasn’t the act of losing to Brazil. It was the sloppy play that led to the first two goals. It was the lack of composure that saw two important players ejected in two matches.
I think the US were overwhelmed by the idea of Brazil. The reputation that preceded the heirs of Pelé was too much. The collection of mistakes and the disorientation that pervaded the US eleven raises big concerns on the eve of South Africa 2010. These concerns can be addressed with more seasoning in Europe.
In the face of total demolition, Dempsey, Feilhaber and Donovan, who all ply their trade in European leagues, kept their heads and looked the most likely to spark a US goal.
So, while it is bad for Major League Soccer in the short term, I’d like to see more of our players go to the Premier League and elsewhere in Europe. The step back our domestic league might take will lead to a step forward for American soccer on the whole. The boys will come back from school in Europe with great gifts for the national team that will filter down to every other level of the sport in this country.
What once seemed like an oddity, the American footballer in Europe, is now becoming a foregone conclusion: our best players will cross the Atlantic. Once they’ve shown their individual talents to the world, the clubs in England, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere will be willing to hire their services. As long as they eventually come back, this is a healthy development for the sport here in the States.