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Looking Back at Project 2010: Part I

michael bradley

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.

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  1. Charles

    November 13, 2009 at 11:43 am

    My Sounders got bounced, I only have this and FIFA soccer video games in my life, please do not turn people off of this.

  2. Cavan

    November 13, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Finally, what good does it do to hypothetically compare our national team to anyone else, like Australia. That’s why they play the games. I guess it sells lots of papers in England though.

  3. Cavan

    November 13, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I wouldn’t look at ’06 as any indicator for how this next World Cup will play out. There is a huge difference in play and results between European World Cups and non-European World Cups. The European teams (outside the big powers) clean up in Europe. They get bounced in the group stages anywhere else. If you look at ’06, the cynical, defensive posture of the Europeans won out. There were (almost) no equalizers scored. Most of the time, the team that scored first scored again off of a counterattack because the other team had to push it.

    Contrast that to ’02 and in this year’s Confederations Cup. There were plenty of equalizers and see-saw games. Common thread? The games weren’t in Europe. Suddenly the European teams were no longer invincible. The powers were still quite formidable but not invincible.

    There’s something about being in Europe that just breeds dull, cynical play in World Cups. You could go back farther and compare 1986, 1990, and 1994. (To be fair, 1994 had some key rule changes that increased scoring.) Usually I attest it to weather but the weather was in the 50s this past June in South Africa.

    As far as winning the World Cup, a lot of things have to bounce your way. The Germany game from ’02 reminded us of that. Can our team contend? Absolutely. Will they play well and get some good bounces? We’ll see. Meanwhile, it’ll be a fun ride for the fans.

  4. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    November 13, 2009 at 8:44 am

    I have a copy of the report, that I downloaded years ago and the link is gone. Anyone who wants a copy, email me at and I will email it to you. It is a PDF file, and runs about 140 pages.

  5. Kartik

    November 12, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I honestly felt if the Confed Cup team could reach the quarters and semis, anything was possible. But the loss of Davies and Onyewu really messes up that chance

  6. Chris in Belfast

    November 12, 2009 at 6:35 pm


    Can I ask in this series that you and any MLS Talk writers contributing be very specific when discussing structural deficiencies in the league? I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve read writers on this site say things about the inner-politics of the USSF and the meddling and the ways that player development is hamstrung, but nothing more than saying that it happens and assuming everyone has the inside knowledge. I don’t, so I don’t know what you’re referring to; and it would make it much easier for me to follow your arguments and agree or disagree.

    Thanks, and I look forward to reading.

  7. sam

    November 12, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    agreed, once we get our infrastructure working well, well be a power, and id hrough ireland into that top 16 teams, regardless of the rankingsa there very good

  8. Joe Ginto

    November 12, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Anything “can” happen is radically different, Matthew, then “All indications are that we can compete to win it and very well could win it.” That was what Lawrence said and I completely disagree. It also really irks me that any critical view of the USMNT is somehow seen as being against the U.S. team. It’s a load of crap and should be stopped immediately. I’m extremely critical of my Azzurri. You think that means I’m not ‘rallying’ behind them? Nonsense. We’re not 4th graders here.

    Korea/Japan ’02 was such an outlier in so many ways. I don’t mean, necessarily, that the U.S. was just fortunate. They were indeed, very, very fortunate (the disgrace of an effort against Poland reminded me very much of our effort against the Czech Republic in ’06). However, they played well against S. Korea, Portugal, Mexico and Germany. Is it inconceivable they’d do the same thing in S. Africa? Not it’s not inconceivable but it is hardly probable or likely.

    The USMNT simply isn’t a top 16 world power. If you accept the top 16 teams will all qualify for S. Africa (France, Portugal must advance in order for this to work but bear with me), then the US would be just another one of those teams that is hoping everything falls perfectly in order for them to sneak through. That’s simply not the same as saying we have a good chance or a decent chance. We have a ticket to the dance so we have a chance, but let’s not let enthusiasm get in the way of objectivity.
    We have about as much a chance to win the WC as Greece or Ukraine do. Let’s hope by 2018/2022 we can say we have as much a chance as the current Paraguayan or Portuguese teams do. That would be progress. That would be reasonable…aggressive, but reasonable with the right infrastructure and all pieces of the USSF/MLS/USL/College Soccer/Youth soccer working in concert.

  9. Charles

    November 12, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Well having a shot of winning it IS pretty broad and seeing a tourney like Korea/Japan ’02 is not out of the question, right ?
    So then winning the last game the US lost and call it a “shot of winning” it all is not that far out of the question either.
    The British have been doing it since ’66, with only one fourth place in 1990. Very few would say they don’t have a shot of winning it all, but they rarely get to the final four. Better team, probably but my point is the US ISN”T going to win it all, but to be competitive ( have a chance ) they just need a few big wins.

  10. Joe Ginto

    November 12, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Would love to actually read this report as I’ve heard so much about it. Seems odd it’s not readily available, no?

    Lawrence, I love your spirit and love the “mighty-mighty U.S.” but there’s no way we’re competing for the World Cup next year…unless by “competing” you mean we’ll be one of the 32 sides.
    By region here are the sides that have a better shot at the title than the U.S.:
    Africa: Cameroon, Ghana & Ivory Coast (Cameroon haven’t yet officially qualified but if they can take care of business against the bottom of the group Morocco they’re in.
    Asia: Australia is clearly a better side than the U.S. I think we could hold our own against Japan and Bahrain or New Zealand are just fodder for whoever is fortunate enough to draw them next year.
    Europe: Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, England, Serbia, Italy
    (Euro teams in playoffs) Russia, Portugal, Bosnia, France, Ireland
    South America: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile (Uruguay)
    We’ve proven we can handle any team in CONCACAF and have a great chance of pulling away with a positive result.

    Kartik, and anyone with a critical eye, can not be seen as not “banding together” because they are calling it as they see it. Christ, for those of us that follow football we know what we see with our eyes. We love the USMNT. I have screamed my lungs out for 90 mins straight on more occasions than I remember. I’m not less of a fan for realizing they are at least 20 teams in next year’s tourney that have a better shot at winning the WC than we do. Them’s the facts.

    The U.S. have a better shot at winning the World Cup in the future than say Scotland, Wales, Norway, Peru, Canada and China. You’d have to really come up with a compelling argument as to why they have a better shot at winning it than 2/3 of the teams that’ll be in S. Africa.

    • Matthew N

      November 12, 2009 at 2:14 pm

      While I agree with what you’re saying, anything can happen. We saw that this summer in the Confederations Cup. Is the US a better squad than Spain? Hell no, but we beat them for 90 minutes. The US certainly isn’t a favorite, but that didn’t stop me from putting the max bet on them at 110 to 1 odds. If we get a few lucky results on the group stage or a couple bad games by our opponents, we could squeak through and then anything can happen.

    • Lars

      November 13, 2009 at 12:18 am

      You’re joking right?

      Australia better than the US?

      The US plays in a much more competitive region, against tougher competition and performs admirably (even if they don’t win major competitions) on the world stage against super powers from Europe and South America.

      Australia plays in the weakest of the world regions, Oceania’s wonderful Confederation excepted (they don’t really count).

      The US is better than most European sides, with the exception of the superpowers, and don’t forget they took down Spain. Granted, no European teams perform well outside of Europe (trouble dealing with alt and distance) but to say that Denmark or Switzerland is superior to the US is a travesty, a shame and a mockery, or as I like to call it, a Traveshamockery.

      I would put the US on par with most South American teams in terms of talent (Argentina and Brazil excepted, perhaps Paraguay as well), but is not nearly as well coached as any of those sides (except Argentina).

      The US has a solid shot at winning. It’s just a matter of luck of the draw, as well as using the weapons it has effectively.

      • Peter C

        November 13, 2009 at 1:30 pm

        Australia moved to the Asian Confederation a short while back.
        New Zealand of Oceana will be playing Bahrain(5th in Asia) for a WC berth.

      • Kartik Krishnaiyer

        November 13, 2009 at 3:37 pm

        Denmark is a bad example: they are only one of two European countries to ever win a tournament outside the continent (France is the other) when they won the Confed Cup in the mid 1990s.

        Switzerland is one thing: I think the US is superior to Switzerland, but Denmark has a very good record in major competitions and has produced three of the top 100 men’s players over the last 20 years which is three more than we’ve produced.

  11. Matthew N

    November 12, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Isn’t poor youth performance just something we have to accept with the dysfunctional organization that is US Soccer running the show?

  12. Kartik

    November 12, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    how did you get a copy of the report? Can i read it online?

  13. todd

    November 12, 2009 at 11:29 am

    i think Euros is probably bigger than Confederations, no?

    Also… Costa Rica was the best team in the Hex for the first half of it. Just because they fell apart doesn’t mean they weren’t extremely in form earlier.

    • kevin_amold

      November 12, 2009 at 6:07 pm

      Eh, I think we’d both agree that the table never lies. They are the fourth best team in Concacaf. They feasted on three home games and an away match to T&T in the first half if I’m not mistaken. The tough part of their schedule came back to bite them, and they didn’t do themselves any favors at all.

  14. Lawerence

    November 12, 2009 at 10:53 am

    We finished second in the biggest tournament since the last World Cup. Maybe you should save this post for a year until 2010 is actually complete. You claim that all indications are that we won’t compete to win the World Cup. I disagree. All indications are that we can compete to win it and very well could win it. Not having Davies hurts but with no home team since the African countries are never any good, this will be much more like 2002 than 2006. In 2002 we could have won the World Cup, and now we are even better than then. Yes I agree that the youth teams failures are troubling but we were not done any favors in either tournament by the draw. This series of yours is inappropriate at this time when we need to be banding together to support the team as we will be one of the favorites to win the trophy next summer.

    • Chris in Belfast

      November 12, 2009 at 6:36 pm

      Ghana beat the US in 06. Just sayin’.

      The African teams are a heck of a lot better than most people give them credit for. Or is Eto’o not better than any player on the nats?

  15. Cali Comet

    November 12, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Brilliant Kartik!

    I look forward to this series and cannot wait to see some of the recommendations that were made but not implemented.

  16. TOGID

    November 12, 2009 at 9:46 am

    There may never have been a more jarring rollercoaster ride in U.S. soccer history than that four-day stretch last month — winning in Honduras to clinch a World Cup spot, assuring first place against Costa Rica … while an auto accident threatened the career of one of our most promising strikers ever, and our best defender sustained a freak injury.

    All told, it’s been quite the dramatic year, indeed.

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