Nearly one year removed from the United States’ disastrous start to the 2006 World Cup, American soccer faces a plethora of challenges this summer which will tell as much about the direction of American soccer as last summer’s early exit in Germany. In the 2006 World Cup, American soccer fans were brought to the somewhat brutal realization that our National Team DOES NOT stand amongst the world’s elite soccer nations. Many, including myself, already believed that to be the case. After painstakingly watching the draw unfold in the tiny living room of my suite at school, I was prepared for the worse. I don’t remember much from watching the draw, except that the US was one of four nations remaining to be chosen and there was one rather unenviable vacancy at the bottom of a loaded Group E. The rest, as they say, is history. Six and half months later, it was all over. Not much to my surprise, the US was going home after 3 matches. This is not say I lacked confidence in the team. Advancing from that group was simply a Herculaneum task for a nation that had won only three matches at the Finals since 1950. Thus, it was very difficult to gather a lot from our team’s performance in Germany other than,
A. they are not a global powerhouse (Again, I think many already believed this) and
B. they are, however, capable of battling the world’s best in a World Cup played on foreign soil (a victory over Portugal and a closely contested quarterfinal with Germany in 2002 should have already indicated that).
The packed summer schedule should provide us with more answers. In 2005, the United States captured the CONCACAF Gold Cup, retaining their Confederation championship that they had lost in 2003. The same year, the United States finished atop CONCACAF World Cup qualifying after being the first nation in the region to secure a place in Germany with a win over rival Mexico. The recent success against the Mexicans does not stop there. In February of this year, the Americans improved to 7-0-1 against Mexico on US soil since 2000, outscoring the Mexicans 13-0 over that stretch. There was also, of course, the historic 2-0 victory on neutral territory in the 2002 World Cup which propelled the Americans into the quarterfinals and sent the Mexicans packing. The dominance that the United States has enjoyed over Mexico as of late is perhaps a signal of the changing of the guard. The Mexicans, once the most feared team in CONCACAF, can no longer lay claim to being the region’s best due to the upstart Americans. That is why this summer is so important. The United States is still struggling to wrest the crown of CONCACAF’s best from Mexico’s ever-loosening grip. Unlike last summer in Germany, there is no in-between now. Either this summer will be a solidification of the United States’ dominance in CONCACAF or it will be a huge step back. Although I was very disappointed upon the US’s early exit from Germany, I could deal with the fact that our National Team is not quite seasoned enough to advance out of a group that includes the eventual champions, a star-studded European side, and Africa’s best. However, I’ve gotten used to the United States’ regional dominance. It is, after all, one of the weakest confederations in the world. The United States will not be a serious World Cup contender until it can continuously re-establish its dominance in CONCACAF. Here’s to hoping for the second in a long line of consecutive Gold Cup titles. That oughta give us the other side of the story: the side that was not told in Germany.