The US survived a scare in Sandy, Utah tonight. Credit to Bob Bradley for making the key tactical changes to give the US a victory over a pesky El Salvador side. The rest of CONCACAF has clearly closed the gap on the US. In fact, it can be argued that the gap has disappeared entirely. But credit Bradley for getting the most out of a side whose talent level is highly questionable and whose depth is suspect. A squad full of journeyman players who lacks a quality star like a Wilson Palacios or a Rafa Marquez, cannot be considered a runaway favorite any longer in the region.
Bradley isn’t the best choice for US manager, but he is far from the worst. Right now, the issues with the US are far deeper and wider than a manager that is easy to blame for shortcomings. The entire US program needs to be overhauled, and given the tools available to him, it is entirely possible even the best manager in the world would struggle with this set of players, and the current structure of US Soccer.
The USA is likely to finish in CONCACAF’s top three. Costa Rica can be counted as overachievers that could not sustain their play for the long haul. The shocking 3-0 defeat at Saprissa, to a rejuvenated Mexico under Javier Aguirre bucked two trends. The first being Mexico’s road woes, and the second being Costa Rica’s previous mastery of its own home stadium.
It is entirely possible, perhaps even likely at this point that the US will need to improve dramatically to avoid the 3rd position in the Hex, though in 2002, third position in the Hex turned to World Cup Quarter finalists the next year. But that team had the likes of Earnie Stewart, John O’Brien, Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride and Eddie Pope anchoring the team.
This side looks comparatively young, immature, and weak. Perhaps it is too much to expect anything but a three and out World Cup 2010. But the good news is that the Americans after last night’s results are almost a lock to qualify.
The lesson is clear. The US plays hard, and I for one cannot criticize the effort. American grit continues to be the best virtue of the US Soccer program. But developing talented players who can hack it at more than mid level European clubs, and sustain a certain style of play is something that continues to allude the US program. Until changes are made to the program, 2002 will remain a high water mark for football in this country, and something we remissness about endlessly.
OTHER CONCACAF THOUGHTS:
- The table may say that Costa Rica still has a shot at qualification, but the table can lie. We now can be almost certain that the CONCACAF top three will be Mexico, the USA and Honduras based on quality of the squad and the level of current play.
- Mexico’s class shone through yesterday in San Jose. Under Javier Aguirre, Mexico is proving that they can get results away from home and don’t need to experiment with naturalized players not good enough to play for their native country to do so. Sven Goran Eriksson set Mexico back many years, but Aguirre is bringing the side to life at the right time. Don’t sleep on Mexico: unlike the United States they do have the talent to make serious noise without outside fluke events at a World Cup, and may just do so next year.
- Honduras destroyed T&T despite having three key players missing due to suspension. The Hondurans are finally, after many years of falling short, reaching their potential.