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Brazil 2014 – Is the USMNT Prepared for Progress in World Cup?

Written by on June 10, 2011 | 5 Comments »
Posted in The Training Ground

Gary Powell is not encouraged by what he saw against Spain last Saturday.

Like most supporters of our national teams, I want the USMNT to do well so football will continue to grow in United States.  Moreover, I have a deep passion for the sport and vested interest as my U13 son plays competitively for a USSF Development Academy.

So my question is simple: “has our national team taken necessary steps to go further than round of 16”? My answer is a resounding “no”!

USA and Mexico seem to be perennial locks of making World Cup, with Honduras or Cost Rica pulling in third spot.

The USMNT recently beat Canada first round of Gold Cup.  A one-off match that only proves what we already knew: that USA has deeper squad than Canada but far behind top World Cup teams like Spain (B-team or not).

USSF Technical Director, Claudio Reyna, recently spoke at coaching summit in April about his goal of USMNT moving to an “attacking style” of play.  He also said the goal of USSF is for its national teams to compete with Spain, Argentina, Germany, Netherlands, and Brazil.

With players like Altidore, Onyewu, Jones, Kljestan, Edu, Rogers, and so on . . . they don’t have the touch, vision, creativity, range of passing, skill to do that.

Yes they’re strong MLS players, but to think they have what it takes to compete with football’s best is asking too much.  We can’t keep possession beyond 3 passes . . . even against lesser opponents!

In the Gold Cup match against Canada, the second or third pass was to Tim Ream, who promptly booted it 50 yards right to Canadian keeper.  I immediately lost interest and channel-surfed.

Checked in from time to time, but didn’t see anything remotely close to Spain or Germany.

Watch Spain or Barcelona play.  They pass the ball around to each player on the pitch in first few minutes.  No rush to score quick goal.  They get feel for the ball, control game from the start.  They’ve set the bar.  They’ve proven their style of play is superior to long ball or speed and power football.

Germany has shown they are quick attacking team with typical German precision.  However, it hasn’t proven to be superior to ticqui-taka style of Spain.

Who’s best and what style of play works can be cyclical.  However, abilities such as skill, vision, creativity, quickness of thought and feet are common traits of successful national and club teams.

In the World Cup, especially in knock-out stage, a solid one-off performance or hot streak can be a nation’s best friend.  However, it usually faces reality. Paraguay or Slovakia for example in 2010 World Cup.

The teams that routinely have deep, successful runs – Germany, Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina – don’t get there by luck.  They identify and develop talent with abilities I just spoke about.

They aren’t genetically superior or have special DNA.  For whatever reason, the vast resources of USSF have been unable to crack the secret code.

Since 1994, the pool of talent has widened significantly but hasn’t deepened.  Yes we’ve produced Landon Donovan (who’s average on world stage), but one person doesn’t spike the graph.

We saw in Spain performance that newcomers and seldom used players like Lichaj, Spector, Edu, and Rogers were greatly out-skilled by a largely B-side Spain team.

It’s mid-2011 and 2014 World Cup qualifying isn’t that far off.  Unless I’m missing something, we haven’t identified anyone in the other USMNT squads (U23, 20, etc.) who will push us to the next level.

I’m sure we do have those players, but for whatever reason, we’re either not identifying or developing them.

Moreover, Bob Bradley is still the coach.  Even if he were replaced, the player pool just isn’t there.

So in my estimation, the USMNT will have a difficult time to do anything more than a first round exit in round of 16.  That’s assuming they don’t’ get placed in a difficult group.  USA doesn’t have precision of Germany; speed and attacking prowess of Argentina; creativity and vision of Brazil.  No one in USA pipeline comes close.

It may be disheartening, but 2018 and 2022 are more realistic.  Far enough away to have guarded optimism but close enough to affect meaningful change.  We’re fooling ourselves if we think differently.

As for our completion, the majority of key players in Spain, Argentina, Germany are early to mid-twenties.  Brazil has a great group of young talent ready to step in for 2014.  However, many key US players will be 30+ by 2014 (e.g.., Dempsey, Bornstein, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Donovan) and no one to fill their shoes.

Agudelo is a step up from Altidore, but we need a dynamic player like Rossi up front. Charlie Davis comes close, but hasn’t featured for Bob Bradley in recent games.

Michael Bradley is a good, journey-man type central mid, but he doesn’t have the passing and vision we need to compete at highest levels.

Jermaine Jones has not fit in.  He’s not made an impact.  Made many critical errors in Spain game and was non-existent against Canada.

I think Claudio Reyna is on to something.  But saying you want to compete against the best is easy.  Fundamental change is hard.  Extremely hard as systemic changes may need to occur.

Doesn’t mean USSF is flawed.  As entities grow, their systems and processers need to mature.

However, they typically lag.  Familiarity breeds complacency.  Maybe USSF needs an overhaul or serious introspective look at where they are.

It could be something as fundamental as coaching proper fundamentals and player identification.  This is something countries like Spain, Germany, and Netherlands invest heavily in, as do club teams like Barcelona, AC Milan, and Ajax.

USA will likely do well in Gold Cup, but mostly due to lesser competition in CONCACAF.  It will give false hope for Confederations Cup (assuming we make it) and 2014 World Cup.  Bob Bradley will stick with same faces and we’ll perform same as we have.  Hey, didn’t this same series of events transpire in 2009 – 2010?

The best thing that can happen to USA Soccer is more embarrassing losses like what happened against Spain.  Catastrophic mishaps are often the impetus that’s needed to implement real change.

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5 responses to “Brazil 2014 – Is the USMNT Prepared for Progress in World Cup?”

  1. the man says:

    good article, I agree with alot of the many points! good job!

  2. Move To Europe says:

    I have a son who plays at a well respected Premier club and is now at U15. I have become increasling skeptical of the coaching as we are NOT producing soccer players with skills, touch, or knowledge of the game. You look at the coaches and to be honest they are stuck where soccer was 20 years ago and I really do not see it being transfored. There does not appear to be any forces in place to transform where we are going. If you watch the games at the youth level the top clubs do not focus on player development but playing physical game with pace. You see the kids with the field vision and skills but they get lost in a game that is focused on just winning especially at the younger ages. I too wondered about the likes of a Rossi coming from the US but then I discovered he moved to Italy with the hopes of playing professional soccer some day. I am pretty sure he would not gone anywhere playing in the US because he was too small and not physical enough.

  3. Fred Haas says:

    Sadly, I believe your assessment is more on target than many might like to believe. Prior to the 2006 World Cup, Nick Hornby wrote a fantastic article in National Geographic about how the game has changed. In it he explained that if your national team didn’t have anyone playing for one of the top dozen or so European clubs than your team is no good – another cutting truth.

    The best and brightest American players are role-players at best for mid-table Premier League teams or struggle to get playing time in a handful of European leagues. What’s more the most successful ones are almost entirely midfielders. None of them get even a sniff of the Champions League, let alone Europa.

    The result is a national team that’s strength is a midfield that simply isn’t strong enough. Then there is a defense that is often shabby and strikers that are easily stymied. They always work hard and often make a little luck for themselves but sorely lack in top-class quality.

    Identifying players seems to be a serious problem too. What has always struck me is just how many USMNT players are the product of suburban affluence. Why are there so few players from the inner cities, maybe with deeper ethnic roots maybe not, clawing there way into the player pool? America is one of the world’s great melting pots with all kinds of rich traditions and connections to the game. Why does it not show more prominently in the players we produce?

  4. Mark says:

    I also agree. However, I believe that a change in Coach would do some good. A coach who will drill first touch skills, movement off the ball (watching Spain, one sees that as soon as a player receives the ball, he has several choices of whom to pass to. This is because the players around him have moved into positions where they are free to receive the ball). This horrible habit of passing the ball backwards is a direct result, as players receive the ball and don’t have anyone forward to pass it to. Since the U.S. players are mostly nervous about dribbling forward, they pass it back or square.
    PLEASE get a new coach that will teach more than “hard work and passion” to win a match.
    Get one that will teach and improve skills.
    Oh yeah…and strategy, formation and team selection as well.
    I’m scared for 2014.

  5. Soccerlogical says:

    Instead of just following PR and media hype I recommend everyone do a bit of research and dig beyond a superficial surface. Everyone who actually knows the game is aware of the fact that Klinsmann was just a motivator for the German NT and Lowe was the tactician and brains. So let’s stop mentioning Klinsmann just because he is a blond German who dolts like Wynalda and Lalas keep bringing up.

    With the likes of Holden, Kid Bradley, Chandler, C Davies, Agudelo, Altidore etc.. there is ample “bite” to compliment Lando and Dempsey for 2014. Coach Bradley is not a fool and very objective… he will get the right formula by 2014.

    The only thing I would like to see is Boca at CB with either Ream or Edu, Chandler at LB and a proper winger we can bring off the bench (no, NOT Robbie Rogers).

    PS Mentioning USA’s talent pool and potential with the likes of Spain, Germany and Holland does little for one’s soccer knowledge credibility.

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