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American Soccer

I Come Not to Bury the USMNT, But to Praise Them

The United States national soccer team listens during the playing of anthems during a 2010 World Cup second round match against Ghana at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 26, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)
So how good is the US Men’s National Team? Over the past two years, the US team has fully revealed itself in relation to other teams and this is the report card-

• The USMNT is well ensconced in the second tier of international soccer, which is no small feat. Over the past 20 years, the USMNT has moved from international laughing stock to the group just below the tier that includes the best teams of Europe and South America.

• The US team is good enough to ruin anybody’s day, including world powers like Spain and England and, for a half, Brazil. But they are not yet good enough to do that on a consistent basis for an elongated run.

• They are the best team in CONCACAF (yes, you heard that right Mexico) and finished in first place in the World Cup Qualifying in CONCACAF, which is a far more grueling and challenging ordeal than finishing in first place in most of the European World Cup Qualifying groups.

• They are team with big quality in certain places (especially the midfield and in goal) and deficits in others (strikers and the back line). That is a criticism that most teams, including teams in the top tier, must often endure.

• The USMNT clearly has more heart and courage than they do soccer skill. That is not a small triumph. Italy and France have a lot more skill, but without any heart, they became national embarrassments.

There was a time not too long ago when watching the US team was absolutely cringe-worthy. The US could not string together passes in the midfield, release midfielders on a break and what passed for defense was a series of harried clearances to nobody in particular. Occasionally those teams would emerge victorious based on shear tenacity, but nobody would ever confuse those teams with something good.

Our current team still makes some foolish mistake that leads to early, soft goals, but they also have the ability to conjure up moments of beautiful, flowing skill. The two goals against Slovenia (and possibly the third that was unjustly ruled out) were moments of great quality from a team that expects to be able to move the ball forward and score a needed goal.

So what for the future? The current squad has a core of young players who will only get better. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres, and Maurice Edu are very far from finished products and all have at least one and probably two World Cups left in them. Charlie Davies, whose absence was sorely missed by this team, will hopefully fully recover. Combined with Tim Howard, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, who all probably have one more Cup in them at their current skill level, this is a nucleus of a team that will only improve.
I would not be at all surprised to see a completely new backline in 2014, perhaps anchored by Clarence Goodson and Omar Gonzalez. Furthermore, it is easy to forget how long four years is in soccer time. Four years ago, Jozy, Maurice, Benny and many others were not on the radar, and I am sure that there are potential godsends being prepared for this team that are, at the moment, largely unnoticed.

Finally, I am writing this dispatch from Italy right now, which may help me with my perspective on all of this. Do you know which team the Italians hate the most? The Italian team – at least this year. They despise their own team, and its failure, with a NASA-hot fury. That is not a healthy way to lead your life – to hate the thing you love – and US fans should always try to avoid such a decent into the abyss.

Moreover, the Italians expressed an admiration boarding on jealously for the US team. For the Italians, the US team is everything the Italian team is not – passionate, honest, young and with great room for improvement. They see the US team as something to be admired and feared, perhaps not now but sometime soon.

South Africa 2010 may not have ended in triumph, and the game against Ghana was clearly an opportunity for greatness lost. But it was absolutely another step on the road to the USMNT’s ultimate destination, and the glory that will come with that summit.

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  1. Lloyd

    June 28, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Refreshing and spot-on the mark with this post. I said I would be proud of my beloved USMNT as long as we left our hearts on the field. Despite our negatives I have Big hopes for our future. Can’t wait for the Gold Cup!!!

  2. golandongo

    June 28, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    thanks for writing an even handed appraisal of the USMNT minus the anger, vitriol, spite and general hatred of one writer on this blog. Dylan Thomas call your office, this is how you write a good and fair appraisal with out coming across as a slavish acolyte or a bitter spiteful crumudgeon.

  3. Charles

    June 28, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    I agree…sort of.

    We are still on the verge of not making the final 16, as oppossed to other second tier teams. As opposed to Mexico, England ( when they qualify ), who always make it to the second round.
    Needing South Korea to beat Portugal or very last second goals taking us to the second round in two out of last four World Cups, the other being “didn’t make it” years.

    I do think that we will or have passed those teams and perhaps this will be the year we remember. England finishing second in our group after a tie game with them.

  4. Paul

    June 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Damn good post. Says everything that should be said about where the US national program is, our future, the lost opportunity of this Cup, ect. We are a rising top 16 team in the world. The burning question: how do we advance from where we are now? How does the national head coach enter into this? Is Bradley the right person for the future?

  5. Cavan

    June 28, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Good article with an honest analysis. I completely agree that our national team is now clearly a 2nd tier team internationally. I think it’s fair that the best teams regard them as dangerous to play against but also inconsistent. All accurate assessments based on what they’ve shown on the field. A round of 16 finish is very respectable by any standard.

    I think it’s also fair to say that the loss to Ghana was a missed opportunity. However, I think that we should focus on having our team get good enough so they don’t worry about the draw and see a team like Argentina as beatable rather than a long shot. I also think this World Cup was a step forward in that they made it to the knockout round by taking care of business rather than backing in like in 1994 and 2002.

  6. Mark

    June 28, 2010 at 10:59 am

    good points, although you fail to address the elephant in the room: Bob Bradley. Does Bradley stay because he won the ’07 Gold Cup, finished first in Concacaf qualifying, 2nd in the Confed and won group C or does he go because he consistently got his team selections wrong at this tournament leading him to waste substitutions early, failed to learn from those mistakes and was unable to get the team to stay focused at the start of games? If he goes, then who comes in for the next 4 year cycle?

    Also Goodson is 4 days younger than Gooch. Both are 28, so I doubt Goodson will be part of a new look back line. Spector is more likely to move to CB with Simek stepping in at RB. That still leaves Bornstein at LB. He played OK in the two latter games but he’s still a catastrophe waiting to happen. The biggest concern is the lack of players coming through at forward. Either Jozy needs to develop the ability to lead the line alone so we can play 4-5-1 / 4-2-3-1 or Findley and Adu will need to come on leaps and bounds and Davies to get fully healthy and continue on the trajectory he was on before the wreck.

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