Sunday, June 27, 2010

US World Cup Dreams Shattered

The United States men's national team won its group in the World Cup for the first time since 1930.

They received a favorable match-up to reach the semifinals, beginning with a chance for revenge against Ghana in the Round of Sixteen. It was the Black Stars who eliminated the US in the group stage four years ago.

The team had not lost a match and had momentum following Landon Donovan's stoppage time goal against Algeria to send them through.

So why did the Yanks' run end prematurely?

The first major reason lies with coach Bob Bradley's decision-making for the starting lineup.

After sitting out against Algeria for two yellow cards, Robbie Findley was granted a start once again. But why? Findley has zero international goals and can't finish around the net. Edson Buddle and Hercules Gomez were better options to go along with Jozy Altidore up top, since both had proven they could score in the friendlies leading up to the tournament.

And why was Benny Feilhaber not a fixture in the starting lineup? He proved to be the most creative midfielder as a substitute in each game and instantly sparked the team's offense. Feilhaber drastically affected the second half against Ghana and created opportunities to equalize and take the lead. Plus, that move would allow Clint Dempsey to play up top with Altidore and have two proven goal scorers.

As much as Feilhaber deserved to start, that's how much Ricardo Clark did not. Clark plays a defensive midfield position and was at fault for the two earliest goals allowed in this tournament. He failed to mark Steven Gerrard in the opening match against England. Then against Ghana on Saturday, he lost the possession which led to the goal by Kevin Prince Boateng. Clark responded by picking up a yellow card just two minutes later. Also, Maurice Edu proved to be a much better option in the previous two matches. He was solid defensively and more of a scoring threat (Had a goal disallowed against Slovenia).

Even though the squad was slightly mismanaged by Bradley, there's another obvious reason the United States failed to advance: the players are just not that good.

Many Americans became soccer fans during the 2009 Confederations Cup, in which the US defeated the world's top-ranked team at the time, Spain, 2-0 to reach the final of a FIFA tournament for the first time. The Yanks then took a 2-0 lead into halftime against the current No. 1 team, Brazil, before allowing three second-half goals in an epic meltdown.

The US team showed moderate success by competing with the top two teams, but what's rarely talked about is how they lost three out of five matches at that Confederations Cup. That included a 3-1 loss to Italy and 3-0 loss to Brazil in group play. Then in the final, Brazil was denied a goal on a Kak√° header that clearly made it over the line, which would have made it a 4-2 loss.

The US does have a few world-class players in Donovan, Dempsey, and goalkeeper Tim Howard, but others have proven little on the world stage.

So while the loss was heart-breaking since the path to the semis was favorable, it's not that surprising. As repeatedly mentioned by ESPN soccer analyst Alexi Lalas, the US plays better as the underdog. The Yanks were the clear favorite against Ghana, nearly 20 positions ahead in the FIFA world rankings, yet came up short.

So while the US men's national team is good, it has proven once again that it isn't ready to join the elite.

3 comments:

  1. My son is so disappointed! He's excited for next weekend, though, when his cousins will arrive from across the country to watch the World Cup with thier aunt.

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  2. I was so distraught. It's easier to accept when it's against a better team but we blew a golden opportunity. My allegiance now swings to Spain and Argentina. You should look up highlights of Lionel Messi of Argentina on Youtube. He's the best player in the world. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. You obviously know a lot more about The World Cup than I do! Very informative post.

    I have an award for you over on my blog, if you want to stop by to collect it. :)

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