Without Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore, the U-20 World Cup was flying below the radar of many US Soccer supporters. For years, US Soccer has emphasized the results in youth tournaments and for years the US has performed admirably at this level. While the USA struggles to escape the group stages at senior events (The US has advanced from the Group Stage in three of its last seven non- CONCACAF events, the most recent with three points and a minus 2 GD in the Confederations Cup), the US almost always advances from the group in the U-20 and U-17 World Cups. (The US has advanced to the knock out stages of eleven consecutive U-17 or U-20 World Cups for which the US has qualified.)
With the shocking one sided loss to a shorthanded German squad who had lost several players to withdrawal days before the tournament however, I sense that the fans are now engaged in this competition. This is after all a tournament which has seen the US defeat England, Argentina and Brazil in recent years, and captured the imagination of the football loving public in the country.
The rest of CONCACAF had looked even worse than the US, if that is truly possible, until Honduras gave a resounding and convincing performance Sunday versus Hungary.
The US has a lot of work to do in a tough group. Eleven straight knock out stage appearances (six in this tournament) are a lot to live up, especially given that the US has qualified for, and advanced in six consecutive U-20 World Cups. This team doesn’t want to be one to break that tradition. I can assure you of that.
- The continued struggles of the Chicago Fire and DC United further demonstrate why it may not be wise to promote the “loyal” assistant when you have a history of winning trophies like both clubs do. United’s home loss to San Jose surely must make Soehn’s seat a little warmer.
- I really think Tom Soehn is over his head as a Manager. More on this in the next week or two.
- New England is a team nobody will want to play should they make the playoffs, which is appearing more likely. Steve Nicol and Paul Mariner have an incredible record of beating Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs, and have been less affected by international call ups and injuries in the second half of this season than in the recent past.
- Columbus was impressive this weekend versus the Galaxy, and midweek against Cruz Azul, one of the best teams in North America under Enrique Meza. The flip side of the coin is the Puerto Rico Islanders of USL-1 who have been embarrassed in this season’s CCL (after just missing the final last season) being shelled at home by both Cruz Azul and Saprissa in a way Columbus was not. Next year, CONCACAF must re-evaluate whether allowing Puerto Rico to qualify easily via the CFU Caribbean setup is fair, considering they are clearly the weakest team in the Group Stage this season. However, we must recall that they did beat an MLS team to qualify for the Group Stage, so the real big question is, how weak would Toronto have been in this competition? The good news is that by TFC being eliminated, Columbus and Cruz Azul did not have to play a second away team on a rubber surface since Saprissa plays on that junk at home.
- #7 seed Vancouver shocked #2 seed Carolina in the USL-1 playoffs, an upset reminiscent of some ways of some of the recent shockers in MLS playoffs. Vancouver now faces Portland in the semi-finals in a Northwest derby that is sure to be contentious. A preview of MLS 2011, which I for one did not predict.
- Good news: Michael Bradley played 45 minutes for Gladbach this weekend. Bad news, was that Bradley was awful and so was his team being thrashed 3-0. Bradley is so rusty that he missed a routine finish (aka a sitter ) towards the match’s conclusion
- While Americans were struggling for pitch time, Hondurans Hendry Thomas and Maynor Figueroa were playing key roles for Wigan in a 3-1 shock win over Chelsea.
- Despite all the success Hondurans are having in Europe, I am backing off my prediction that they will beat the US, due to the current political crisis. In fact, I believe Honduras may lose both its remaining matches (the second match is at El Salvador) and be wiped out by a COMNEBOL team in the playoff. If that happens, it is too bad, because Wilson Palacios, David Suazo and Maynor Figueroa are more likely to show well for CONCACAF in South Africa than any current player Costa Rica sports. But the political instability of Central America which has done in many a previous talented side from the region is destined to do the same to this version of Honduras’ National Team.