2009, has been a very complicated year for US National Team supporters. We’ve had the high of our first ever FIFA final combined with the low of a 5-0 loss to arch rival Mexico. We beat World Cup qualifier Honduras four times this year and gave Spain its only loss of the last three years. We’ve suffered our worst ever defeat to Brazil and our worst defeat in any competitive match since 1957. We qualified for our sixth consecutive World Cup, which is a longer streak than England, France or Holland but at times looked less impressive in doing so than any cycle since 1990. We only managed to get a single point in two qualifiers against one of the worst Costa Rican teams in recent memory.
2009 seemed to be a walking contradiction in US Soccer. After this week’s friendlies the National Team would have played 24 matches this calendar year, and yet we don’t know anything more about the progress of the program than we did twelve months ago.
One thing we do know is that the recent performances in two youth tournaments fell well below expectations and that could be a negative harbinger for the future. After all, the US has traditionally performed to a higher standard at the youth level than at the senior level.
The Q-Report which was formulated by Carlos Quiroz, a decade ago (who went on the manage Real Madrid and Portugal and coach at Manchester United) gave a blueprint for the US’ national team program development. In this series, we will look back at the Q Report and look for answers for our current problems.
The performance of the US Team in the Under 20 World Cup last month, was unacceptable. A talented team who had the added benefit of competing against sides missing many players contracted to European clubs was embarrassed in the tournament. The result of the tournament was the US’ first failure to clear the group stage of the event since 1987, a streak of nine consecutive appearances in the knock out stages.
The Under 20 team often lost it composure at critical times, showing a lack of discipline and understanding of the circumstances around the ongoing match. The individual exploits of Dilly Duka, Tony Taylor and others had us on the edge of our seat at various moments in the tournament. But the team did not play collectively: it was a group of individuals that Thomas Rongen, appeared to take to Egypt, and that was a dramatic departure from past US youth sides who have often shown better than the sum of their parts would indicate.
Rongen has had some success with the U-20s in the past, but this edition of the team makes you wonder if the former Fort Lauderdale Striker player is on the chopping block from yet another high profile coaching job.
The U-17 team that Wilmer Cabrera took to Nigeria played some pretty football, but ultimately failed against better sides much like the previous US youth teams have done. The omission of Joseph Gyau, coupled with the injury to Charles Renken and withdrawal of Sebastian Lletget handicapped Cabrerra’s side. However, the performance was still underwhelming when you account for the missing players.
It was thought by some at the start of this year that the US could actually win the U-17 World Cup. The loss of three stars did not help the cause, but more importantly the lack of finishing touch and ideas in the final third, killed the US chances.
While Cabrera is the type of coach the US has long needed to attract into its system (Cabrera played in three World Cups for Colombia, while the rest of the US coaching staff has played in a total of one World Cup) the results he achieved were not that different than those of his predecessors and in some ways was worse, given the apparent amount of talent at his disposal. Yet, Cabrera is being perhaps hamstrung by the current setup in US Soccer.
Cabrera came to the USA to wind up his career in USL with the Long Island Rough Riders. He then began working for MLS, which as an entity has been more committed to the integration of Latino communities into our football culture than the Federation has appeared to be through the years.
But is Cabrera being held back by a structure that makes real change difficult? We’ll explore that and other topics in this series.
When the Q Report was written it began with this lofty thought:
Throughout history, Americans have many times demonstrated a remarkable ability to accomplish extraordinary goals. While Americans do not own a monopoly on inventiveness or problem solving, one fact sets them apart from the rest of the world. America’s collective resources and creativity are the greatest on earth.
The report was aimed at bringing the US Development system up to a standard where we could win the World Cup in 2010. As every reader of this site knows, the US is not in the position to contend to win next summer’s World Cup, and arguably isn’t any better off than we were when the report was written in 1998.
The introductory passage of the formal report read:
In January 1998, Alan Rothenberg, Hank Steinbrecher and Sunil Gulati of U.S. Soccer commissioned Coaches Carlos Queiroz and Dan Gaspar to research soccer in the United States and make recommendations to help the USA reach a goal of making the U.S.National Team an honest competitor for the championship of World Cup 2010.
In fairness, not all of the recommendations of this report were implemented by US Soccer, but given this stated goal we can surmise that the project has been a failure. In the next part of the series we are going to look directly at the report and its successes or failures.