I love the World Cup. Really I love any of these top flight soccer tournaments. Euro, Champions League etc. For an American who works evenings, a good mid-week showdown with so much on the line is a welcome respite from the BeachBody infomercials and radio shows on TV that fill weekday cable.
Wednesday will mark the first day since the tournament started on June 11 that there will be no World Cup to keep me entertained. Whatever will I do? I think I will workout. The workout has lost out to World Cup far too often the last 2+ weeks. Tomorrow I get back in shape.
So What Happened to the USA? At this point some 3+ days after the game, my observations have been hashed and rehashed. I will outline the arguments I have heard against the USA below, with my opinions to follow.
1. The USA defense did them in. I agree on this. I stated early on in the tournament that somehow the USA has become a successful attacking team, but lost its edge defensively. Ultimately, speed is what the defense lacked in my opinion. Their most consistent defender in the world cup was RB Steve Cherundolo who has decent pace. Cherundolo earned his spot late, but was consistently the best defender the USA had.
Jonathan Bornstein, who played LB, also showed that speed is an attribute you need at this highest level. Bornstein was regularly torched in the run up to the World Cup, but once added to the line up, helped quell the trouble coming from his side of the field.
Unfortunately for us, the speed in the middle was not available, and teams scored goals with audacious plays, right down the middle.
2. We need strikers. Oh yes, we need strikers. For the second straight World Cup, the US strikers failed to score. The midfielders provided plenty of support and excellent passes. On the weekend the USA was eliminated, strikers scored for Uruguay(2), South Korea(1), Ghana(1), Germany(3), and Argentina(3). England, Mexico and USA strikers failed to score, all three of them went home.
I am a big fan of Altidore, but his game needs that maturity to finish goals for his team. he's only 20, and his partner when USA was playing its best soccer last year, Charlie Davies is young and on the comeback trail, so I reattain hope.
3. Poor coaching. I agree here as well, though not to the degree of many. Bradley seemed to make intelligent decisions in game, and generally had a good feel for his team. However, some players he favored regularly hurt the team (Clark, Findley) and the team needs an attitude adjustment.
The skill has improved on the US side, particularly in the mids. A more aggressive, attacking mindset is needed at all times. Both US goals conceded to Ghana were a result of passive play both in the midfield and then by the defenders. The team regularly conceded possession, passes and space to opponents just by being passive. This can be coached out. If it can't, the team is in trouble moving forward anyway, as that means the skill isn't there.
4. Who cares it's soccer? People with this mentality seem to say that it was fun while it lasted, but ultimately it doesn't matter. I disagree with this take entirely. First of all, there are many of us who care. Secondly, the players care. Why shouldn't the USA be able to progress deep into the world's tournament. I am not content to be an also ran in soccer just because half the people out there don't like it.
Which brings me to my next point. I have heard a lot of people tell me that they really like the World Cup, but can't get into soccer year round. To me, this along with "who cares it's soccer" are symptoms of the same disease. That disease is the general sporting public failure to embrace soccer. So why is it that World Cup can gain a foothold on the American sport psyche, but soccer can not?
Obviously this has been debated, and likely this blog is not going to solve the problem, but I see it as this: Americans do not have a rooting int rest in soccer in general, the tactics and strategies are unfamiliar and we know little about which players are worth watching. Any sport where you don't know who to cheer for, don't know why the players are taking the actions they are taking and what players are good is difficult to watch. Ask any non-sports fan who tries to watch the Super Bowl with int rest. ("Why do they always run the ball right at the middle, there's a bunch of guys there" UGH.) You just can't fake it.
In the World Cup, the rooting int rest is already built-in, as we all have a country we are from. So we cheer for that team. Almost always, fans say at a World Cup time they enjoyed soccer in that setting but for some reason it lacks luster outside of that. The problem isn't with the game (as we saw when the US dramatics the last week) the problem is we are unaccustomed to the game.
You just have to dig in to become a fan. It isn't easy, but if you enjoyed the World Cup, you will enjoy the English Premier League and even MLS, but you need to give it a chance and really learn about the teams, the strategies
What's Next? A lot of people wondering what happens next in the world of International soccer, and with the US team specifically. Well the US national team will play a series of exhibitions through the fall and into next year. (Correct term in soccer is "friendly"). The team will prepare for next year's Gold Cup tournament. This is the North and Central American championship tournament. The winner of next year's gets a pass into the 2013 Confederations Cup, a type of preview tournament for the following year's World Cup.
In 2012 and 2013 there are two stages of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
So that's what the team will be up to, most of the games will be on national TV through ESPN and their various outlets. No reason not to continue to follow the team you started to in the World Cup.
But what will the team look like as it moves towards 2014? Many of this year's star players will be advancing into their 30's by 2014.
If I had to guess, Dempsey, Donovan, Onyewu and Howard will all be going strong by 2014 into their 30's, hanging on to world class status or just below. Meanwhile, Altidore, Bradley (player) and Edu will be near the top of their game and world class. Striker Charlie Davies, who missed this world cup due to injury, should also be in the prime of his career if his recovery is full as expected. Other midfielders like Holden, Feilhaber and Rogers may develop into starting players. Bornstein and Jonathan Spector should still be viable defenders, and Heath Pearce and Chad Marshall were 2 of the final cuts off this roster.
The US will need to develop some defenders and some scorers, but remember 4 years ago, Altidore and Bradley, two major contributors to the cause this year were off the radar for the full US National team.
Don't I have anything to say about the robbed England goal Sunday? Finally a word on the officiating over the weekend. Bad bad bad. I am more a proponent of a 4th "replay" official (in the knockout stages at least) than ever. This would allow for review of incidents (including diving), and goal line calls. Offsides calls probably can't be reviewed. I understand the sentiment that the tournament is officiated the same from game 1 of qualifiers to The World Cup final, but that missed goal in the England game...man...that can't happen.
So I'm thinking something LeBron Jamesy for tommorow's off day before a preview of the big 4 weekend matches on Thursday.