An opportunity lost?

[MY VIEW] The overwhelming sense you got after the USA fell to Ghana Saturday was that it was an opportunity lost. A chance to, as even Bob Bradley said right after the game, "go deep in the tournament." But the USA's dramatic advancement to the round of 16 and its favorable bracket created expectations that were far greater than reality.

This wasn't the first time the USA lost an opportunity to do something big. In 2002, it reached the quarterfinals, where it outplayed Germany but lost, 1-0. Your immediate reaction then was that the USA could go years and never get close to the final four again.

How fragile a World Cup campaign can be was proved four years later when the USA went out after three games with what was a more experienced team.

A lot of factors go into a successful World Cup -- player personnel, of course, but also team chemistry, preparation, coaching, the draw and luck. If any one of them is missing, a World Cup can be doomed.

This was a World Cup where everything seemed to be working. You could see it in the body language of the U.S. players. How they prepared for the games. How they celebrated together. It was a lot like 2002 in South Korea, where Bruce Arena had arranged for the players to stay in the heart of Seoul with their families.

Then as now, the USA was one big happy family. Problem is, that only gets you so far. The USA simply wasn't good enough.

The difference between the 2002 and 2010 World Cups, of course, was the interest level.

The games eight years ago were played in the middle of the night. In 2002, ESPN broadcast the games in an arrangement brokered by MLS. In 2010, ESPN had paid heavily for the rights and took a big interest in promoting its coverage.

Soccer is eight years on, and it's that much more entrenched in our sports culture, particularly among those in their 20s and 30s.

You could see the excitement the USA's run to the final of the Confederations Cup generated last year when it finished second -- and that was for a tournament few had heard of and ESPN covered as almost an afterthought.

The excitement the USA's run at the World Cup generated was no surprise here.

What it means is hard to say. The only thing similar was the 1999 Women's World Cup. Look what it got women's soccer. Little.

Men's soccer is much stronger today than women's soccer was in 1999, and MLS is much stronger than it was eight years ago when its owners bought the World Cup rights so ESPN would broadcast MLS games. It had only 10 teams in 2002 but will have 18 in 2011 and another on the way in 2012.

Will the USA be back as strong in 2014? Hard to say.

Many of the key players -- Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard -- will be in their 30s.

There aren't many players coming up. That was made evident on Saturday as Ghana started three players from its 2009 Under-20 World Cup championship team. Who does the USA have coming up from its U-20 team? Maybe one or two of its graduates are even playing first-team soccer. The top young prospect in MLS, D.C. United's Andy Najar, isn't even eligible to play for the USA.

Every four years, foreign journalists come out of the woodwork and ask for our opinions on soccer. Almost always they will ask whether soccer will make it in the United States. As if there was any doubt about it.

Thinking ahead to the (for now) Brazil-hosted 2014 World Cup, a Brazilian reporter asked me the other day whether Americans think they will win the World Cup in Brazil.

It took me a second to understand the logic of his question, assuming the USA will build on its success in South Africa.

I had to say no.

We're not like Brazilians, who expect to win every World Cup.

We're still happy to get a chance to dream every now and then.

8 comments about "An opportunity lost?".
  1. Manuel Trejo-von Angst, June 27, 2010 at 8:42 a.m.

    "There aren't many players coming up. That was made evident on Saturday as Ghana started three players from its 2009 Under-20 World Cup championship team."

    I have a different view of this. Arena and Bradley both are VERY reticent when it comes to thinking outside of the box when it comes to player selection. There are more than a few youth players who I know are more than capable of competing for spots on the senior team who just won't get it until the fans yell and scream for it to happen.

    If Bradley loosens up a bit and actually watches the youth teams, I have no doubt Stefan Jerome will be the player we are all talking about going into 2014 as the one to lead the way. His skills on the ball as a forward are light years ahead of our current midfielders and his finishing aint half bad either.
    If Bradley stops being so conservative in his team selections I have no doubt the youth can lead the way and do bigger and better things in 2014.

  2. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, June 27, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.

    Even with soccer as a comparative also-ran in terms of public sporting interest, a country as big as the USA, with as many soccer players as we have at all levels, should be able to produce enough top-flight players for us to field a team of real contenders at all international tournaments. USSF and MLS need to look hard at how players are trained in this country, and make serious changes.

  3. karl ortmertl, June 27, 2010 at 5:14 p.m.

    I disagree that there's nothing moving forward. Howard is young for a goalie. He'll be around for the 2018 World Cup. Donovan and Dempsey will be thirty one. 2014 will be their last WC, but they should be fine. Altidore, Torres and even Michael Bradley (maybe as a defender) are all young. Luis Gil will be a good one. The offense will be fine next cup. What we need is to find defenders and a good coach. This was definitely an opportunity lost as Ghana is not an impressive squad. They shouldn't have had a goal - it was defensive blunders that gave them their goals. Unless we upgrade the coaching, this is where we'll be stuck. I don't know if we'll ever be a top notch soccer nation. You need to have kids growing up playing in the streets to develop their own individual styles. As long as our kids learn via soccer mom's driving them to soul-less, blandly coached soccer practices, the production of Donovan's, Dempsey's and Torres' is almost a miracle.

  4. James Froehlich, June 27, 2010 at 5:53 p.m.

    Everyone --- if you have the ability to go back and listen to the post game discussion following the Englandn - Germany game, you have to do it !!! In the discussion among McMananan, Lalas, and Klinsman about the future of US Soccer, I got the distinct impression that Klinsmann would jump at the chance to take over the USMNT coaching job. If not that, maybe Gulati's position --- that might be even better. Whether I'm dreaming or not, Klinsman's comments are worth hearing. Many of us have said similar things but this was for a national audience.

  5. David Huff, June 27, 2010 at 7:25 p.m.

    If we are ever to develop quality youth players we need the USSF to dump its English-based approach to player development which has failed England miserably. The Academy program for U18s and U16s comes way too late when you have youth system players in South America and continental Europe becoming professionals at 16. The USSF's approach is a ripoff of the FA's Academies and Centres of Excellence program which have been failing England. Instead we need to adopt Brasilian and Argentine training methods, start with kids 8-12 years old working on small futsal balls on a hard surface to get many touches on a ball that doesn't bounce much, giving the kids a comfort level with the ball and advanced technical skills. Banal Bob (aka 'MLS Bob') needs to be held accountable for his starting lineup decisions with regard to Clark and Findley in the most important match of WC2010 for Team USA. Clark was a known quantity in terms of his inability to maintain possession and make bone-headed mental mistakes and Findley is a north-south sort of speedster who simply cannot finish. Edu and either Buddle or Gomez should have started.

    The USSF that brought us Bradley should also be held accountable for their failures, Sunil Gulati and Dan Flynn need to be gone. Recall it was they who were unwilling to give Klinsmann suffient control of the program so that he run things to bring it to the next level. They also refused to look at bringing on board other similar coaches of quality such as Argentines Pekerman and La Volpe who conducted themselves well for Argentina and Mexico during WC 2006. Why doesn't the men's program deserve a foreign coach who can raise things to a new level? The women's program has benefited greatly since bringing in Sweden's Pia Sundhage to replace the awful Greg 'Long-Ball to Abby' Ryan back in 2007 after the Hope Solo fiasco. Coach Pia has that team playing attractive soccer that uses the full range of technical skills. A seriousa house-cleaning needs to be done at USSF if we are ever to get past having a mediocre men's program. I want to see the US win a WC during my lifetime, do the rest of you feel the same?

  6. Stan Baker, June 28, 2010 at 12:33 a.m.

    It is also my dream that we win a World Cup in my lifetime. In order to move ahead we definitely need to start thinking outside the box though and to not remain satisfied with the way our team plays, the lack of player diversity/creativity (leading to predictable play), and the negative coaching mindset of our present senior men's team. Bradley needs to go and someone with international experience (South America or Spain) needs to be assigned. There is absolutely no excuse for us not having more Latin American influence on our team.( I'm not referring to Landon Donovan growing up in Southern California.) I see quality latino youth players every day. Somehow they all disappear before arriving to the senior team. We also need to look to our inner cities and focus money on getting African Americans more interested in the game. If we stay in the suburbs we will die there. Emphasis needs to be on the 6-14 age group during which time true development takes place. The U17 residency is definitely too late. U17 coach Wilmer Cabrera is a good fit but Thomas Rongen should be replaced by an experienced coach with Latin American influence. Why not hire Pekerman from Argentina. Why doesn't United States soccer invest in regional training centers where kids are identified early on and where they can go to school and train twice daily for soccer. It is easy to point out our present problems though. Too many club programs focused on money=winning at the youth level without the focus on development. The need for direction from someone at the top who can bring the crazy parade of fractionalized youth leagues together. Right now the clubs do what is best for bringing in money. Too many games and not enough training. Not enough hours just playing the game for enjoyment. Too many kids quitting soccer before 13 years of age. Few clubs willing to go with lower numbers 8 v 8 at the youngest ages allowing for more touches on the ball. The need for playing on different types of surfaces. Futsal. The proper training environment with focus on technical ability and solving the games problems in small sided situations. (Two training sessions a week is leaving us behind) Why not have a third or fourth where the players just play with little structure. The lack of coaches at higher levels influenced by the latin game with the emphasis on playing the ball on the ground more horizontal than purely vertical. The development between 17 and 22 is also crucial and until we get our players practicing more hours each week in a professional/demanding professional environment we will not get there. This is another period where we continue to fall behind. Specialized training sessions where players in this 17-22 age group train position specifically during the week are crucial. PART 1

  7. Stan Baker, June 28, 2010 at 12:46 a.m.

    PART 2 – It is also my dream to see us win a world cup in my lifetime. Better coaching education is also vital for us to move forward. Not necessarily for learning more methods of coaching our players but to also learn what is detrimental to development. We should not only have more USSF coaching courses held in Brasil, Argentina and Spain but partnerships with these countries should be developed where our coaches can learn on an ongoing basis and obtain licenses in these countries. More coaches should take it upon themselves to learn Spanish and Portuguese in order to access information about the game in these languages. Why was the Latin American Soccer Coaches Association disbanded? Why did the NSCAA not want to have anything to do with a partnership that I proposed to them with ATFA in Argentina? Knowing that we need to look south for our development ideas over the past ten years I have invested time learning about the South American game and how to use the knowledge to help player development in the United States. This includes studying for the Argentine Youth/Pro licenses through ATFA (Argentine Coaches Association) the Brasil Level 1 Youth License through the Escola Brasileira de Futebol, the Peruvian (FPF) coaching license in Spanish along with three weeks observing the Tahuichi Academy in Bolivia. All of this with the hope that in my small corner of the United States in the Pacific Northwest that I can in some small way place a loud and impactful drop in the bucket by impacting the players and community I work with. Let's go people. The time for complaining is over. Let's each one of us do something to help us move ahead. Start a futsal program, help create positive soccer culture in our community, fight against the 11v11 at u10s etc... No time to wallow in the sorrow of exiting in the round of 16. It's not the American way. Let's each take it upon ourselves to help make a difference!!!

  8. Chaz Worthy, June 28, 2010 at 3:17 a.m.

    When u considers the gaggle of football ne'er-do-wells (excluding TH,CD,LD, and MB…) we put onto the pitch against these Dream Teams…we got bang for our buck
    and so much fun and some very rare soccer thrills…

    What do people want? The US is clearly a top-15 national side and if one day we can raise our own Messi or Rinaldo.
    ..We might win…

    So if we had slid past Ghana…exactly WHAT was supposed
    to happened against GERMANY?
    Exactly, how many years of “youth development” “the right coach” “choosing the right players” “tactics, formations, skill sets, blah, blah, blah, until we could go into a match again a Germany or Brazil or Spain utterly confident of a “good result”?

    This WC was wonderful and god keep soccer a “boutique” sport in the US forever…I love soccer but I dread the day the Americans become as overwrought in their expectations of the national team as the rest of the supposedly-sane world.

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