Today, the United States is likely to clinch its sixth consecutive trip to the World Cup Finals. For a nation, who followed up its famous 1950 victory over England with nine consecutive World Cup misses, the achievement is nothing short of remarkable.
In the current, hyper competitive climate for world football, the US achievement is extraordinary. Football playing nations such as Holland, England, and France have all missed World Cups more recently than the US. Even in this current qualifying cycle, multiple time champions, Argentina and Germany are in serious jeopardy of not qualifying.
With Costa Rica completely collapsing on the senior level (but surprisingly making a strong run at the U-20 World Cup), it is entirely possible that a US loss tonight, will result in both Honduras and the US qualifying for next summer’s World Cup.
So, the US is about to do something remarkable. Yet questions remain about the overall direction of the program.
This week in London, American Soccer head honcho Sunil Gulati declared that the US could win next summer’s World Cup. The incredible hubris demonstrated by Gulati continues a pattern of over selling the quality of the program, by leadership and other interested parties.
Alexi Lalas this past week on his show “the sitter” declared MLS the most competitive league in the world. This is a laughable statement, unless he was simply speaking of first divisions in the English speaking nations. MLS is without a doubt more competitive and in my opinion, more compelling than the English Premier League.
But, the English Championship (2nd division) is more competitive than MLS, as are dozens of other first divisions throughout the world, most notably the Brazilian Serie A division, the Mexican Primerá Divisíon, the German Bundesliga, the Korean K-League and Japanese J-League. (language ignorance cannot be an alibi for Lalas, because he knows fluent Italian and Spanish)
This is the same Alexi Lalas who three summers ago declared Kasey Keller the best goalkeeper in the world, and stated recently that Landon Donovan was unquestionably among the top twenty players on the planet.
ESPN ran ads and programs implying strongly that Americans should tune into the 2006 World Cup, because the US was a contender to lift the trophy. Lest we forget, all this hype resulted in a tournament where the United States failed to win a single game.
Now, as the US approaches another World Cup, the hubris of Gulati and commentary of Lalas and others once again threatens the ability of Americans to objectively measure expectations entering next summer.
Assuming qualification is secured this weekend, I will be writing the in-depth series suggested by JMB321 and others on how US Soccer can take actions to match their words. The USSF has invested millions of dollars in programs that seemingly have fallen short of the mark. But heck, Chelsea and Manchester United, are both chasing Bradenton Academy graduate Neven Subotic. Of course, Subotic’s career took off when he ditched the US program.
Tonight’s match could very well demonstrate to us the shortcomings in the US program. But then again, we have had countless opportunities this summer to acknowledge that we are not meeting our potential on the world stage. Those who uncritically support the current direction of the program continue to hide behind the glorious victory over Spain in this summer’s Confederations Cup.
These supporters do the game a disservice especially when they quickly change the subject or show hostility to any mention of the five losses to respectable opposition the US suffered this summer. In these five matches, the US was outscored 13-1 in the second half of the matches: a record for futility that perhaps even the Faroe Islands or Luxembourg would not match.
We all are hopeful that the national team can continue to move forward. But as our friend Jamie Trecker of Fox Sports continuously points out, the US mixes the occasional great performance (ie the Spain victory) with several indifferent or flat out embarrassing performances.
Once the USSF, and its mouthpieces finally acknowledge the program is not where it should be at this point in time and make the needed changes, we can begin discussing winning the World Cup.