The 2010 USA World Cup Team just finished their run in the 2010 World Cup with a 1-2 defeat to Ghana in a second round match. Anyone who has watched this World Cup knows there were some scintillating performances and wonderful moments by the USA team and certain individuals. At the same time, however, there where some glaringly consistent deficiencies throughout tournament that not only hurt the US in their final match against Ghana, but haunted them through the whole tournament. It also exposed some major areas in our country’s development that need to be changed and improved dramatically in order to improve our status in the international football world. Don’t get me wrong, there where some big positives that took place on the field, and even bigger positives off the field, but the reality is we are not where we could be and definitely not at the lofty position sometimes the media hype would have us.
Analyzing Group C:
Prior to the World Cup, England and the USA were favorites to move on to 2nd round knockout play, which both countries did. But as we saw, it was not easy for either country to advance. In reality this was not a strong group, but a difficult one because all four teams where capable of competing against each other. It was very naïve to think that Slovenia and Algeria would be walkovers, and as both countries demonstrated, they were not! England, promoted as one of the top teams in the tournament, was very poor. Surprising concerning their qualification play and the discipline Head Coach Capello seemed to instill within the squad. Their performance has raised serious questions concerning the development and status of English players not only within their own country, but also on the international stage.
Analyzing USA Play in the 1st Round:
USA vs. England:
There was a lot of hype about this game, but the highlight of this match was a blunder by England’s goalkeeper Robert Green. In reality the USA was fortunate to get a point here. This match also started the pattern for the USA of giving up early goals in the tournament and showcased one this team’s consistent problem areas: scoring. Green’s save on Jozy Altidore in the second half was the USA's only true opportunity of the night and the start of many missed chances for the USA squad during the tournament. There where some outstanding performances in this match for the USA, for example Tim Howard’s play on the night was outstanding. Along with England’s poor decisions, especially in the second half, Howard was the reason England did not score another goal. Steve Cherundolo dominated all duels on the opponents left flank and his play that night was the beginning of a very solid performance from him in the first round. Everyone touted the USA's ability to neutralize Wayne Rooney, but in reality it was Rooney and the rest of the English players who neutralized themselves. It was England’s decision, not ours, that earned USA the point this night.
USA vs. Slovenia:
While the USA was favored to win this match, I did not share these sentiments. Since Slovenia had beaten Russia in a playoff to qualify for the World Cup and showed they have a very stingy defense, I saw this game as an uphill climb for Team USA. As we saw, Slovenia was a much better team than many people thought in the USA, scoring 2 goals in the first half, one of which was another early goal conceded by the US, demonstrating the USA's defensive frailty and organization problems. It also was the beginning of questionable tactics used by USA Head Coach Bob Bradley. Bradley had Robbie Findley start as a striker, a questionable surprise starter despite starting against England. Central midfielder Jose Torres was also in the starting squad against Slovenia. Both players performed below the level of play. To Bradley’s credit he recognized this and quickly made substitutions, Maurice Edu for Torres in midfield and Benny Feilhaber for Findley. This pushed Clint Dempsey up top with Altidore and Feilhaber took over Dempsey’s role in midfield. These adjustments would set up one of the greatest comebacks in the history of World Cup play and demonstrated a character in a group of players you rarely see in any sports team. As we know, Landon Donovan scored the first goal. I’m still wondering what the Slovenian goalkeeper was doing here but give full credit to Donovan for punishing slipping defenders and a goalkeeper who seemed more worried about his face then stopping the ball. The goal was as special as it was unique. It was also very important, maybe more important than any other goal in the tournament. Without it, all other goals possibly would not have mattered. The 2nd USA goal scored by Michael Bradley was a very nice goal, but if you look at the replay, the key is Bradley’s intelligent running off the ball, which was even more impressive than his quality finish. While the Slovenian players, especially their midfielders, were caught ball-watching Donovan’s quality service into Altidore, Bradley took full advantage of the situation by running completely unmarked into the Slovenia’s goal box. Also Altidore deserves credit for winning the duel in the air. He might never be a David Villa. He may never be a Brian McBride, as Altidore missed a lot of goal scoring opportunities in this tournament, but he was involved and responsible for some very important goals for this team. As we know, the next goal the USA scored in this match was called back in very controversial fashion, but as the tournament progressed, this call would be one of many poor or missed calls by the referees. It's unfortunate to have a call affect such a special second half performance by the USA squad.
USA vs. Algeria:
Algeria was supposedly weakest team in Group C, but I knew during my broadcasting of 2010 African Cup of Nations, if Algeria could keep their composure, they would be a very worthy opponent. They were a team that was well organized, possessed the ball well, played with purpose and understanding within them, had great endurance, and rose to occasion against tough challenges as they demonstrated against the Ivory Coast at the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Knowing this, their results in their first 2 matches in the tournament did not surprise me at all. Defensively they were very well organized, if it was not for a goalkeeping blunder, Algeria probably gets a point against Slovenia. The obvious challenge for them was scoring. Against the highly favored USA, Algeria almost met that challenge in the beginning minutes of the match, when one of their players volleyed a ball that was denied by the crossbar. This saved the USA from giving up another early goal, and would be one of the few chances Algeria would have the remainder of the night, even though Algeria was a not pushover at all in this match. The truth is this is a match the USA should have put away much earlier than it did. Once again the Americans relied on late Landon Donovan heroics to score in the last 2 minutes of the match. Yes it was dramatic and made a lot people happy, but it did not take away the fact that the USA had really struggled to finish their opportunities in this match and the tournament as a whole. Even though a goal by Dempsey was wrongly called off side by the linesman, the euphoria of Donovan’s goal also hid that the fact USA was also only 2 minutes away from sending American soccer back to the Dark Ages.
Analyzing the 2nd Round Match:
USA vs. Ghana:
Ghana was the only African nation in this World Cup to make it to the 2nd round. As everyone saw in their group play, Ghana, one of the youngest and fastest teams in the tournament, were incredibly well organized defensively, giving up few goals, and playing a calm and highly technically organized possession game. Goals, other than penalties, seemed to be Ghana’s biggest obstacle. Against the USA this obstacle was removed early in this match. Ghana’s midfield was superior, physically dominating duels and literally stripping the USA midfielders of the ball numerous times. One of those times cost the USA a goal, again in the early stages of the match. Ricardo Clark, who was the USA midfielder who was dispossessed leading to the goal, was a questionable starter. Again USA Head Coach Bradley recognized quickly that Clark needed to come out and subbed him with Maurice Edu around the 30th minute. Landon Donovan tied the game up in the second half, but Ghana would score the winner in the first overtime. This game exemplified the same characteristics that haunted the USA throughout the tournament: the inability to score, questionable tactics by the Head Coach, average technical abilities, and substantial defensive liabilities and disorganization. No question the game’s result could have been different, but the USA’s ability to finish its scoring opportunities was not only negated by the outstanding play of Ghana’s goalkeeper, but the USA players themselves.
The Positives and Negatives of the USA Squad’s Performance:
- Desire, Character, Perseverance, Finding a Way to Win, Heart, Don’t Quit or Give up Mentality, are a few ways of describing this team, especially after their performances against Slovenia and Algeria. These qualities can only be admired and respected, but remember all these qualities don’t replace skill. As a good friend of mine said to me “I look forward to the day our talent matches these qualities!”
- Landon Donovan. I will admit I have not been a fan of Donovan over the years, the best field player our country has produced up to this point. He was the poster boy in my opinion for everything I that I disliked about American soccer. All the criticism he received prior to going to Everton was well deserved, but I have to admit, I really like the maturing Donovan. Not only for his play on the field, but his demeanor off. To consider him in the same breath as Pele, Cruijff, Beckenbauer, Maradona, Best, Zidane, etc. is a bit of a stretch, but he is a very good player. His recent play in this World Cup not only helped increase awareness of soccer in the American mainstream, but also put Donovan in the history books as a true American soccer legend. Let’s hope MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation recognize Donovan’s contributions to USA soccer and let him go back to Europe to play full time. He deserves this. Landy Cakes is dead! Long live Mr. Donovan! Well done Landon.
- Steve Cherundolo. His play against Ghana might not have been up to par with his play in the first round, but he played very well in the first 3 matches.
- Bob Bradley. Give him his due for quickly recognizing necessary personnel changes during matches. Criticize him because many personnel changes were a result of his original decisions that turned into mistakes.
- Michael Bradley. His attitude, goal, and play were major contributions to the team’s moments of success. He did himself a lot of good this tournament. He’s still just 22 years old.
- Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. If it was not for these two, who would have scored our goals? Our strikers?
- Benny Feilhaber, Jonathan Borstein, and Maurice Edu. Definitely did not hurt themselves this tournament.
- The Ref from Mali. If people don’t realize, he did a lot of good for soccer in our country. As a nation that despises injustice and relishes the theoretically level playing field of athletic competition, his call certainly raised awareness of the World Cup and soccer in general United States.
- Jozy Altidore. He did not score one goal in this tournament, but his play caused a lot of problems and created some very important goals.
- Tim Howard. He is a very good goalkeeper. Had a memorable performance against England. Comments about Ghana’s goals are just silly.
- Scoring goals. This is his second tournament that not of one of our strikers scored. Opportunities were created, but players technical levels did not let us take advantage of our chances.
- Giving up early goals. Some would say the USA needed this in order to really start playing, but as we found out against Ghana this only goes so far. Not a good tactic to get used to, even though it led to some memorable performances.
- Defense. Giving up early goals also exposed instances of very amateurish defensive organization, something you certainly would not expect at this level. The tournament also exposed our defenders’ lack of speed and their one dimensional qualities. Defenders’ first priority is to defend, but in the modern game they are expected to do a lot more than just that. More than what are our current group of honest defenders have to offer.
- Bob Bradley. His decisions concerning tactics and player personal were poor at times in this tournament. This was justified by his substitutions. At least he quickly recognized his mistakes and made changes quickly. Some of them, as we know, turned out to be quite good.
- Robbie Findley. Sorry MLS, but Findley does not have the technical qualities to be a starter at this level. He might not have qualities to play at this level at all, but it is not his fault he was put in the starting eleven.
- Jose Torres. Should he of been in the starting 11 against Slovenia?
- Technical Levels of USA players. Current levels might be adequate for “B” level competition, but if the USA wants really improve their status in the football world, we need to develop players with much higher technical abilities at a much younger age and promote a more intelligent, higher tempo technical game within our country.
- CONCACAF Qualifications. Very difficult process, but have we learned, recognized, and admitted that World Cup play is different and a much higher level of play?
Did you know other than fans from South Africans, the fans of the United States were the largest non-native fan base to attend this World Cup? It must be said that this is based on ticket sales from our country, which also included purchases from fans from other surrounding countries and immigrants in the U.S., but all of you who did go attend this World Cup not only supported strongly and uniquely the USA team, you are probably going to be the major reason he USA gets the World Cup in 2018. If we are going to attend matches all the way in South Africa, FIFA knows for sure we will come to our home matches. Did we ever have an empty stadium during our 1994 World Cup? Also, kudos out to President Obama’s Administration for understanding the importance of the World Cup. Sending former President Bill Clinton attend the matches was incredibly significant, respectful, and cool for our sport! The World Power should be aware of the World Game.
What Needs To Be Done To Improve the USA National Team?
There are 2 areas in my opinion that need to improve, one of them needs to change dramatically, in order for the US National to get ahead.
Our Professional Leagues:
- MLS. Major League Soccer’s Commissioner Don Garber and the owner investors need to be congratulated on turning around the commercial side of league and for investing in professional soccer. Now they need to focus on improving the quality of play in MLS.
- The first thing I would recommend is to ensure every coach in the league understands what good positional play is. This is not demonstrated often, and if upgraded would immediately improve the quality of play and demand more technically from the players, some what important, especially from a league that wants to promote an attacking style of play. MLS needs to understand you cannot play attacking soccer without technically competent players and coaches who do not understand how to play or coach this style. Let’s also choose our International players wisely. Are they big names that really can bring butts in the seats and improve the level of play? Let’s not forget the unknown international that is talented and can create revenue for the league through the transfer market. The question here is does the MLS have the qualified personal to identify this type of player?
- Secondly, hire coaches and technical directors who are qualified and experienced to do their jobs and still make our players better. It seems often that having played in the MLS means you are qualified to be a Head Coach or a Technical Director. The league seems to be used as a training ground for these positions. Some have found success, but more often others have floundered but still seem to keep employed. You are not going to tell me there was not better coaches available than DC United’s recent hire of Curt Onalfo as Head Coach, are you? There was and is. Let’s not talk about money wasted over the years in the transfer market because of poor player selection. If the MLS wants to promote an attacking style of play, why do we have so many coaches who are not capable of promoting this style of play? In order for the MLS to contribute to improving the USA National Team, it must lose its arrogant inbred country club mentality and start making decisions what best interest of soccer, especially what goes on the field. (This might be difficult because too many people are afraid to bring in qualified individuals because they might get exposed.) It will only help their game. Robbie Findley might be a star in the MLS, but as we saw in the World Cup, he was far from that on the world stage.
- USSF Division 2. The second division professional league needs to improve its quality of players, maybe focusing on younger players. It’s a league that is competitive, demanding, and often well coached, but at the end of the day how many players are going to be transferred creating revenues for their club?
What does youth soccer in America have to with professional soccer? The answer is NOTHING! Youth soccer in America is currently about 2 things, MONEY and GETTING JOHNNY AND SUZY USA a college scholarship. The USA will never even come close to becoming an elite player on the world stage until this segment of US soccer is completely changed, not only on the field, but the whole culture and mentality. Not an easy task, especially when you are talking about people’s livelihoods and political votes. It also demonstrates how naïve people are, especially parents who blindly spend money to get their children exposed to college coaches. How is it when in all other parts of the world youth development is a full-time profession, but in the States the youth clubs’ boards are mostly run by people who have full-time professions outside of soccer and really don’t have a clue about what it takes to develop professional players?
Youth soccer is big business in the United States, but not in the sense of developing players for the transfer market. The American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. I have nothing against anyone who makes a living from soccer as long as they’re honest and qualified in what they are offering. Unfortunately we have a lot of people and clubs who are not. The result is an over-inflated and unknowledgeable environment that is doing a very poor job producing professional players. To prove my point, just divide the 18 million youth players we have playing in the States by the number of world class players and high level professional players we are producing? The reality is that the USA will never be a world power until players are selected based on their abilities, not their parents abilities to pay, and we recognize the need to develop professional talent at a much younger age. We also need coaches who have the ability to compare what goes on in other parts of the world, a big weakness overall in our coaches. Simply put, the culture and mentality must change completely. Not only on the amount and quality of training and competition, but there also needs to be recognition that college soccer and professional soccer are worlds apart and players need to be identified, trained and developed completely different and separately. To say that the new US Soccer Development Academy is going to be the answer is a little premature. Some players are still paying ridiculous amounts to participate, even though MLS is paying for all expenses for their teams, which is a good start. But do people realize that they are focusing on players that are too old for the professional game? How about the coaching? They are ex-MLS players so it must be good right? Do we also have the best coaching available for our Youth National Teams?
The deficiencies our National Team possesses are a reflection on how we develop young players. As we found out giving the “old college try” at the World Cup can only go so far. The good news is that we can make choices that can really make a huge difference in the quality of our soccer in our country, instead of having our professional leagues and national teams simply function as an extension of the current youth and college game.