[MY VIEW] Lost in the euphoria of its dramatic passage into the second round and demonstrated clearly in its loss to Ghana is that the USA has hit a frustrating plateau. There has been no significant increase in U.S. national team talent for a decade.
Thanks to the brilliance of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, and an admirable fighting spirit, Coach Bob Bradley’s team went undefeated in the first round and won its group.
That achievement overshadowed for a while this team's troubling lack of depth.
In its last six World Cup appearances -- an era that began in 1990 when the USA qualified for the first time in 40 years -- the Americans have now reached second round in three times, including once on home soil in 1994.
It's best run was the quarterfinal finish under Coach Bruce Arena in 2002, with a squad deeper in talent Bradley’s 2010 team.
Up front in South Africa, the USA’s main man was Jozy Altidore, who scored just one goal in 30 league appearances for Hull City last season in the Engish Premier League. Altidore went scoreless in South Africa.
When rising star Charlie Davies was ruled out because of car-accident injuries, Bradley went on a desperate search for another forward and the best he could come up with was Robbie Findley, a slightly above average MLS player.
The 2002 squad was spearheaded by Brian McBride and Arena had no problem providing him with suitable partners, including Donovan, Clint Mathis, Josh Wolff – all of whom made key contributions.
Eight years ago, the midfield included Claudio Reyna and John O’Brien. In 2010, Michael Bradley had a good tournament but neither his partnership with Ricardo Clark nor Maurice Edu was near as formidable as the Reyna-O’Brien duo.
ThatOguchi Onyewuwent eight months without playing before the World Cup showed in his first two appearances, and eventually Carlos Bocanegra moved into the middle to partner with Jay DeMerit, who played every minute.
DeMerit, who plays in the English second division, has gone far on his limited skills and superb athleticism, but why is it that the United States can still not produce well-rounded central defenders – who can thwart and handle the ball well?
We have not seen another U.S. central defender as good as Eddie Pope, who started all the 2002 games.
The USA provided some thrills at this World Cup, with their first-round comebacks and the dramatic win over Algeria. They won the hearts of Americans who never paid much attention to soccer.
That’s a significant achievement. But this World Cup performance leaves us with the lingering question of why a nation with so many players and so many resources hasn’t shown more progress since becoming a World Cup regular two decades ago.