First off, all praise to Ghana’s Black Stars. Bearing the hopes of an entire continent as the last African side in the World Cup, they showed themselves more than equal to the task. This was a truly well-deserved win by Ghana – they’ve now equaled 1990 Cameroon and 2002 Senegal as the third African team to make it to the quarterfinals of a World Cup.
What’s more, I expect them to defeat Uruguay and make it to the semifinals. Uruguay, while they’re very good, didn’t particularly impress in beating South Korea 2-1. For much of the second half, they seemed on the verge of conceding a game-winning goal to the Koreans – but they didn’t, and Suarez’s wonder goal late in the day saved them. If Ghana plays against Uruguay like they did against the U.S., they will beat them.
Which brings me to the Americans.
[shakes head even more emphatically]
Let me be clear, like President Obama: the U.S. will likely never have as fortuitous a road to the semifinals of a World Cup as we did this year. We were playing Ghana, it’s true, and Ghana had beaten us in 2006. But it’s Ghana we’re talking about here.
Not Germany. Not Brazil. Not Spain. Not Argentina.
I know that a lot of folks are approaching this loss by saying, “well, at least we got out of the group stage. Yay, us!” I’m going to disagree with that assessment. This is a disappointing result.
I first started following soccer when I was 11 years old. I read a book about the old NASL San Jose Earthquakes, and it featured several players from the Premier League team Tottenham Hotspurs. Ever since, I’ve been a Spurs fan; like the English team that got annihilated by Germany today, Spurs had their glory years in the ’60s, and have been living off those laurels since.
I got hooked on US Soccer in 1990, when they qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. From the vantage point of two decades, it’s hard to describe to someone who just started following the US Soccer team just how abysmal the state of soccer was just two decades ago.
There was no MLS. You were lucky to catch a soccer game on TV, and if you did, it was likely at 3 AM, when the only competition was Ronco products. To the degree that American players played in Europe, they tended to play for second-rank clubs.
So, when they went to Italy for the Cup, their rank inexperience showed. They got whipped soundly, finishing last in their group. And 1994 wasn’t much better – although they made it out of their group, the U.S. needed the most tragic own goal in soccer history in order to advance*.
Here’s the thing: it’s not 1990 or 1994 anymore, and we should quit treating the US Soccer team like it is.
I think that expectation, as much as anything else, is holding US Soccer back. Look at the group we were in – not only did we win the group, we outscored England, supposedly the class of the group. Meanwhile, we have a domestic league that, while still second-class, serves as a professional destination for American players looking to ply their trade and develop further.
It’s time, I think, to heighten our expectations. I’m no longer satisfied, as a fan of US Soccer, to just make it out of the group. That, at a minimum, should be the expectation going forward.
This goes beyond a coach, or a game, or even a World Cup. It goes to how the game is organized in the United States. America is the *only* country where soccer is a suburban, middle-to-upper-class sport. Everywhere else, soccer occupies the place that basketball holds here – it’s an inner city sport in Argentina, in Brazil, in Germany…everywhere.
The two biggest deficiencies the American team has are lack of defensive skill and lack of offensive firepower. Yes, I said that we outscored Germany, but what’s notable is that we expect our midfielders, especially Landon Donovan & Clint Dempsey, to score. That’s actually not normal for soccer – normally, you have your midfielders control the run of play and set the table for the strikers – in our case, Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley.
Guess which names *weren’t* called out at this World Cup?
The same thing goes for the defensive back line. I’m going to throw out a number here. How minutes did the U.S. lead in the Cup, out of 390 played?
We gave up the earliest and second earliest goals of the World Cup – 4 minutes in against England, 5 minutes in against Ghana. We were down 2-0 against Slovenia, before coming back to tie.
The two deficiencies go together. If you’re giving up goals early, you place way too much pressure on your offense (already deficient) to produce goals. And if you lack finishing power, you can’t take advantage of scoring opportunities when they present themselves.
As awesome as that moment was against Algeria, that’s all it was: a moment. And it’s a moment that shouldn’t even have taken place, because we whiffed on about 17 different chances to score against Algeria, and another 12 against Ghana.
Who knows how many players we’re missing out on because US Soccer doesn’t have inner city programs? Soccer is quite likely the cheapest sport to play. If they can play soccer in Brazilian favelas, then they can play soccer in Bed-Stuy.
I’ve ragged on Bill Simmons for his misunderstanding of sports, but he has a point – can you imagine Allen Iverson playing soccer at forward, with his nose for the basket? Can you imagine someone like Shane Battier, with his intelligence, playing defense?
It was those two deficiencies that were on brutal display yesterday against Ghana. We got caught napping on defense…which led to us playing from behind again…which meant we forced too many chances. It was Ghana, but it was also England, and it was Slovenia. There’s only one of those teams that we should’ve been trailing, and you know which one it is. Hint: it’s where the game was born.
This is ridiculous. I’ll close here, but to me, at least, it’s time to clean house. People are speculating about coach Bob Bradley’s tenure, but that’s missing the point. The house-cleaning has to go higher. US Soccer has a reputation for being cheap, so it’s laughable for them to say, “We’re going to win the World Cup by X year”. Seriously – the next time you hear a US Soccer official say that, you should laugh in their face, and mock them for the chumps they are.
If you want to win, you have to spend, for the most part. Until US Soccer decides to do that, I can’t take them seriously. It’s time to give the US Soccer team a US Soccer Federation worthy of their skill, effort, and dedication.
*Most tragic because it resulted in the murder of Andres Escobar, the Colombian national team captain who scored the own goal. If you haven’t seen the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “The Two Escobars”, you’re missing out.