The World Cup continues, but for the U.S. National team it is over, and it was a disappointment for those who follow the sport in this country.
No wins, only one goal scored by an American, and four shots on goal in three games! Not much to show for a process that started nearly two years ago with regional qualifying.
Lost in the disappointment, is the fact that the U.S. qualified for a World Cup final for the fifth consecutive time, and finished first in the final CONCACAF qualifying standings. That is a meaningful accomplishment, and not one to be taken for granted.
We were over-ranked at #5 in the world, and under-confident in competing against the Czech Republic (which was also over-ranked at #2) Italy and Ghana. Ghana, making its first-ever trip to a World Cup final, advanced with wins over both the Czechs and the U.S. So much for the experience factor!
The USA’s 1-1 draw with the Italians, despite playing a man-down (9 vs.10) for almost a half, will be pointed to as a major accomplishment, but the results of the overall three-game efforts should not be judged by that “high point”, but rather by the third game against Ghana.
Head-to-head, winner advances, and the U.S. did not win. Forget bad calls from the referee, tough group, injuries, etc.! Advancement on the line and we did not win a game we could have won.
In fact, the U.S. has never won the third group game in a World Cup final. Again, the defining word is Never!
In 1994 the U.S. lost to Romania and in 2002 the loss was to Poland. The U.S. advanced both times despite the losses. This time a loss in the third game resulted in an early exit and a trip home.
The immediate reaction to the disappointment of World Cup 2006 has been to fire the coach. Bruce Arena’s future with U.S. Soccer will be a hot button topic for some time. He probably did make tactical mistakes, which showed up in the results when players failed to show up to play. He counted on some players who stepped up in 2002 to do it again, and they didn’t.
Before the World Cup there were those who called Arena a genius. There are those who now call him an idiot. Perhaps some of those are the same critics. Who knows?
But what has happened has happened. What is now important is for those in a position to analyze just where our national soccer program is at this point to do their jobs. What needs to be done to make us better?
Sunil, you are a smart guy, and I am confident that you will figure it out. You understand what we have to work with. You understand the American athlete, and know that we do not draw from the youth clubs of the English Premiership or the German Bundesliga. Our players don’t come from Madrid, Prague, Paris, or Stockholm, or the slums of Rio de Janiero. But we can get to where we want to be from the cities and suburbs from where we come. We have done that before in other sports, so why not soccer!
Much has been said about how Major League Soccer has been a boost to our national team program. It certainly has played a role, but as part of this overall evaluation by the powers that be, they must include whether or not MLS can produce a finished product that will allow the U.S. to take the next level.
Personally, I don’t think that MLS can do that.
Much credit should be given to MLS for providing a professional league where young professionals can grow and develop. It has given Arena a level of player depth greater than what the U.S. has ever had in the past.
It has helped to develop players like Clint Dempsey and Jimmy Conrad, who individually did very well in this World Cup. It will be difficult for the league to give up its young stars, but if those players are truly to improve to the next level, they have to move on.
U.S. veteran Eddie Pope has remained loyal to MLS throughout his career, but there is no telling how much he would have grown as a player had he gone to play in Europe. Landon Donovan didn’t have the grit to stick it out in Germany as a young professional, and in this World Cup in Germany he didn’t show the grit to lead when his national team called on him to do so. He needs to take a job overseas, if someone will give him one.
In MLS, the stars do not have to compete day-to-day to make the roster for the next game. Their jobs are not on the line every day. They have a contract. They are part of the marketing plan. People expect to see them play.
In Europe these same players, Dempsey and Conrad, would have to earn their way on the field. Same for Freddy Adu, who felt he was ready for World Cup glory. At some point in time, MLS has got to let him go. Sooner than later would be good for Freddy.
Freddy has been told that he is a star for so long that he believes it. It’s good to be confident, and to talk about signing with Chelsea, Real Madrid, etc. However, only if he is in that team environment, competing day to day with no guarantee that he will even be on the bench on game-day…..that is what Freddy, Clint and Jimmy need at this point in their careers.
So the disappointment runs deep. More people care than ever before, and that is actually a good thing. That means that the results of the U.S. team are important to a lot of people.
Another four years….2010 seems a long way off, but back in the ’90s wasn’t 2010 the target year that US Soccer set to be competitive for a World Cup championship? If we are to get there some things have to change…..and our world philosophy of competing at the highest level has to be taken to the next level before our players, and our team, can get there.
Sunil, you are the man for the job. You are the one who can put together all of those smart men, and women, who can take the visitation to a higher level of reality. There is no American better positioned, or more experienced, to lead the sport in the right direction than you are. You are a smart guy, and 2010 is right around the corner!