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Land of the Lawst

It's been nearly 14 hours since Mexico defeated the U.S. 4-2 in the 2011 Gold Cup final at Azetca Junior, the Rose Bowl. In that time all that keeps replaying in my mind is an orange-glad Tim Howard flopping on the grass like a fish out of water, Gio Dos Santos chipping an inch-perfect 99-of-100 shot into the upper 90, followed by Howard punching the grass in a show of unchecked emotional agony.

Yep, it came to that.

Howard's emotional angst summed it up beautifully, tragically. He realized instantly the magnitude of what just happened.

What better sums up where the two nations are at the moment?

This, friends, was the worst nightmare scenario for the U.S. at the Gold Cup unfurling in sunny Pasadena. All the ingridents added up to a humbling, depressing, soul-searching defeat for the U.S. -- one even the most ardent USSF lacky would have a difficult time finding a silver lining, aside from cashing their slice of the revenue from CONCACAF selling 93,000 tickets. You can't spin a positive when U.S. Soccer Czar Sunil Gulati is on the podium having to hand out awards to the Mexican players while keeping a straight face, while 92,000, flag-waving Mexican fans cheer them on.

You almost couldn't script this:

* In the first five matches the U.S. didn't overly impress, but the team circled the wagons and found itself in the final against its eternal rival.
* Somehow, lo-and-behold, despite constant Mexican offensive pressure, the U.S. had scored twice in the first 25 minutes against the action.
* Jonathan Bornstein comes in for the first time all tournament, less than 15 minutes into the game.
* Freddy Adu, STARTS, plays well and the U.S. still gets beat by two goals.
* Dos Santos' once-in-a-lifetime chip -- the golazo of dreams -- clinches the game.
* Chicharito doesn't even score, despite being the focus of the broadcast and cameramen.
* Final insult: Despite being played in California, it was a home game for El Tri -- the most popular barnstormers in America, as it were.

So add up that bitch's brew and you have El Tri positioned as the swaggering kings of CONCACAF -- again. The U.S. misses out on the 2013 Confederations Cup, meaning between today and June 13, 2014 the team will arguably play two relevant games -- home-and-away with Mexico in the final CONCACAF Hexagonal. (As bad as it might seem for the U.S., it's still going to qualify for Brazil, right? Right?)

But hey, at least Adu played, no?

In the only game that mattered -- something we all knew coming into the Gold Cup -- the U.S. came up on the wrong side of a 4-2 equation. When you're as advanced as the U.S. is in terms of the rest of the CONCACAF landscape, there is only one grading system: pass/fail. Against Mexico, the U.S. failed. The loss pushes Bob Bradley's record in Cup finals to 1-3, including coughing up a 2-0 lead in the 2009 Confederations Cup to Brazil.

For the sake of fairness, it needs to be said: Mexico is good. Potentially scary good(*) with it's young, rising attacking core of Chicharito, Dos Santo, Andres Guardado, Pablo Barrera -- all 24 or younger. That's not even mentioning Arsenal's Carlos Vela, who's a bit overrated anyhow.

(*) Are Mexico a bit of a bully team, though? Away from Azteca or in America with 50,000 fans are they as good?

Mexico was down 2-0, with the legend of "Dos a cero" firmly in place. It didn't even take halftime before El Tri was even, almost ripping a page directly from Bob Bradley's rah-rah, backs-against-the-well comeback playbook at the 2010 World Cup. Seriously, up 2-0 on goals from Michael Bradley off a corner and a nifty one-two combo from Clint Dempsey to Landon Donovan did any U.S. fan feel safe?

Especially with Bornstein in the mix? Not to pick on Bornstein -- because anyone who's watched the U.S. in the last five years knows trouble simply seems to find him. He's not good, despite a capable showing at the World Cup. There's simply bad mojo, for better or worse, when he's on the field ... unless you're from Honduras.

Saturday Bornstein was the piece of soft filet mignon, while the Mexican attackers were the knife at the carving station, repeatedly slice-and-dicing him.

Steve Cherundolo's injury forced Bradley's hand. Compounding issues, since the U.S. had to beat Guadeloupe in the final Group game after losing to Panama, Bradley played the starters and didn't get either Bornstein or Jonathan Spector a chance to play in the tournament. Granted, neither are world beaters, but throwing them into game action for the first time since May isn't going to yield the best results.

Bradley, to his credit, usually gets in-game substitutions right. This failed spectacularly. It wasn't just playing Bornstein, but moving Lichaj from left back to right to change two positions at once, when Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson aren't exactly fleet of foot to begin with. Long story short, the U.S. can field a pretty good starting XI, but depth is an issue -- hell finding starters at forward or wide positions is a borderline ongoing crisis for the Stars and Stripes.

To say Bradley's decision to play Bornstein was the only reason the U.S. lost is foolish and short-sighted. Mexico was penetrating the U.S. defense with regularity before Cherundolo limped off, with Chicharito given two chances on a platter.

No, the greater issue -- one I worried about midway through the tournament -- why does Mexico play with such attacking verve, when the U.S. basically had to rely on the heroics of Donovan, Dempsey, Adu (later) or set pieces? Down two goals Mexico didn't panic and went at the U.S.'s sieve-like backline with the fervor of a Great White chasing down a wounded seal.

Mexico, in the midst of 2010 World Cup qualification, faced some major soul searching when it nearly missed out on South Africa. Their federation made the bold move, fired Sven Goran-Eriksson and moved forward. Now with Chepo de la Torre in charge, Mexico rediscovered its swagger and seems to have a very bright future, which now includes the 2013 Confederations Cup.

There's stagnation and then there's an hesitance to embrace new ideas and change. Mexico, also eliminated in the Round of 16 at the last World Cup, seems to have gone forward. The U.S. thanks to Asamoah Gyan's extra time strike seems to be spinning its wheels from top-to-bottom.

Maybe why that's why this loss didn't sit well.

There's nothing worse than getting your hopes up (early 2-0 lead) only to have it ripped out, rubbed out, thrown in the gutter, flushed down the sewer in embarrassing fashion an hour later. Couple that with having to face facts that Mexico's talent is flat out better than what the U.S. has to offer and it's a tough pill to swallow.

Again, this was the worst nightmare for the U.S.: losing to Mexico with the money on the line, but losing in spectacularly soul-crushing fashion.

There was one objective for this Gold Cup: Beat Mexico, get to the Confederations Cup.

Call it another swing and a miss.

With any hope, enough people take notice at this and don't try to justify it, or worse -- sweep it under the rug.

Random Thoughts:

* Thank goodness for Clint Dempsey. Glad there is at least one player on the current U.S. National Team little kids watching the game can aspire to play like. Any coincidence he didn't come up in the established USSF feeder system, with grinds out creativity like a cigarette into an ashtray. If only that shot off his left foot was an inch or two lower.

* Of course that inch when to Dos Santos, who's goal had soccer pundits mentioning Ronaldinho's (remember him) name in a positive light for the first time in years.

* Chicharito's best play of the game? Not touching Guardado's equalizer on the goal line when he would have been ruled offside. Just a brilliant footballing brain on him. Nice pass to split the U.S. defense to set up Barrera, too. Hope Jozy Altidore was taking notes on how to be effective as a striker without scoring.

* Bradley the Elder probably made the right call with Juan Agudelo on the bench, starting Adu and moving Donovan and Dempsey (interchanging) forward. Shame Stuart Holden was reduced to commentator on FSC. He's not the missing link, but there is clearly a place screaming out for the Bolton player in either a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 midfield spot. Get healthy, Stu.

* Another conundrum for the U.S. as currently instituted. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley make a perfectly good midfield tandem, say 85 percent of the time: think of them like a backcourt on a Mid-Major NCAA hoops team. Neither was especially effective vs. Mexico, with Bradley reduced to chasing Dos Santos et al down from long stretches away in the midfield. Problem is, against the elite of the world, the pair's passing limitations are exposed, as U.S. struggles with possession. As long as Bradley the Elder remains the coach, he can't be married to these two as automatic starters. (Worth mentioning, three games in six days for these two is asking a lot. Why Maurice Edu didn't play a role? Beats me.)

* So much for the great Tim Ream experiment, eh? That's a joke. He was dreadful vs. Panama, but it's too soon to cut him out of the National Team picture. If Goodson and Bocanegra is the central defensive pairing heading into 2014, the U.S. has issues. Devil's Advocate: how many high-level, pressurized spots with any possible new American defenders get to audition against between now and then?

* The U.S. entered this tournament with three players listed as "Strikers." None of those three started the Gold Cup Final. Agudelo did come on in the 62nd minute. Marinate on that.

* Not sure what the future holds for Adu, but he made the most of his opportunities. He's in the rotation, at the very least.

* Is Tim Howard one of the best 10 goalies in the world? Probably not, but 99 percent of the time he's an asset for the U.S. He keeps the team in games and rarely costs them on a soft goal. Saturday he was beaten twice on semi-saveable balls. He was straight up fooled by the wicked spin Barrera put on his second goal, which made it 3-2. The Dos Santos play? His defense didn't help him, but Howard defined the term, "at sea" there.

* Sure, people are going to call for Bradley the Elder's head. That's probably not happening so long as Gulati remains pulling all the strings of U.S. Soccer, though this loss isn't going to sit well with the American public, which actually seemed to care about the Gold Cup Final. Problem is, with a new coach, who wants the job -- it doesn't pay great? The talent pool isn't super, either.

The bigger issue, by the time there is the next USSF President Election, can we get somebody to oppose Gulati, who's just as despotic as Sepp Blatter. In fact, Gulati's got his fingers in more pies that he probably should, serving as President of the USSF and the New England Revolution. Kind of a conflict of interest, sitting in Robert Kraft's pocket, isn't it?

* It's a bit of apples-to-oranges, but after a string of coming up short in tournaments, the U.S. Women National Team hired a foreign coach, Pia Sundhage and the world didn't end. Obviously the Women's World Cup is this month, so we'll see if it was a smart move. I'll say this, waiting at around 2:45 a.m. to see how "Sportscenter" presented the Gold Cup highlights, there was an interview with Sundhage and in those two minutes got me more excited than five-plus years of Bradley. (Unfair, since personality isn't a be-all, end-all, but it's worth pointing out.)

* Maybe a loaded question, or a thought for a boring summer day, but does the U.S. have a "style" of play to fall back on? With most of the core players of this team scattered across Europe in different places, it's difficult to build a common mentality.

* The actual Gold Cup itself is the RC Cola of international soccer trophies. Lame.

* If anything, this game probably re-energized the U.S./Mexico rivalry, since the balanced has shifted firmly South of the Border. I actually liked Sacha Kljestan going in hard with a dirty slide tackle late in the game. At least it shows a little vim and vigor.

* No, JP Dellacamera, reaching the Gold Cup final if you're the U.S. in the year 2011 isn't "quite an accomplishment."

* Worth saying, thoroughly enjoyed watching most of the Gold Cup on Univision -- even if it seems the station's entire mission statement is to use the Mexican National Team to sell crappy lite beer. Looking forward to the Copa America.

* Oh right, Mr. Gulati, why is the U.S. never invited to play in that tournament?

Final thought:

There always seems to be a Murphy's Law black cloud hovering over the U.S. National Team, or U.S. Soccer in general. When something can go wrong, it does go wrong.

Up 2-0, the U.S. simply didn't know what to do and eventually capitulated to the rampant Mexican attack.

The U.S. appears in a backslide from where it was in 2010, with the same questions lingers about an aging defense, an ineffective possession midfield and a glaring -- almost comical -- lack of viable international strikers.

Long story short, Clint Dempsey, never get hurt and try not to get any older while you're at it. You're our only hope.

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12 Responses to “Land of the Lawst”

  1. # Blogger HBO2003

    I think a lot of soccer fans forgot or newbies just didn't know that Mexico was a top six team at the World Cup. They were playing as well as anyone, they just ran into Argentina who is as good as anyone in the world now. Besides goalie( Bradley's header was perfectly placed, yet it should have been saved), they are strong everywhere else. At least three decent outside backs, three solid CBs ( one sitting out cause of steriods), two solid defense mids, and four phenomenal attacking players. They are definitely one of the most fun to watch international teams out there. - A lot of that is due to Pablo Ramirez -. Realistically Mexico was going to have to lay a huge egg not to win this tournament and they had too much talent up top to do so. American fans should have known this day was coming...these guys won the u-17 WC and that doesn't happen by accident.

    The two main goals of the year after the World Cup Gold Cup are to grab a ticket to the Confed and really scout the roster.

    Missing-Three main pieces going forward were missing from the roster. Guzan wasn't going to get any mins so its not that bad he went on his honeymoon. He does need to get a lot of time over the next year so that he can really push Howard during qualifying. Holden would have been nice to see them use an offensive mid, but Bradley did that anyway. The key to this roster moving forward is Chandler. Call up Jim Grey, rent the Greenwich Boys and Girls Club, because we need him to take his talents to South Beach and not Deutschland.

    Goalie- Again, I'd love for Guzan to at least pressure Howard. Howard might even be hitting his prime the way Friedel did at that age.

    Outside backs- Lichaj at LB might be the most important thing to come out of this tournament. If Chandler comes, the outside backs may be the strongest part of the roster in the next fourteen months. Not that it would have mattered, but at the time I was saying like a lot of you I'm sure, " you put in Spector because A) he's better than Bornstein, B) you only make one change to the defense not two."

    Center backs- This is the biggest hole of the roster. Gio and Chic were tearing through the center before Cherundalo got hurt and they decided to pick on Bornstein. Bocanegra(because of tired legs) probably has asked to give up his international jersey but I'm not sure Bob will let him. The biggest problem is lack of athleticism(speed) in the middle. What I would have done at halftime and what they must do going forward is play Edu there even if he doesn't at Rangers. Athleticism is more important against Mexico than positioning or distribution. They must develop at least two new CB options in the next sixteen months.

    Defensive mids- I agree with everything Mike said about Bradley and Jones this tournament. Again I'd move Edu back, therefore the only way I'd change one of them is if somehow Holden gets used there.

    Outside Mids- Great progress. The USMNT went from having only two options (CD and LD) to four-five. Bedoya and Adu... and then you use Holden again as possibly an outside player. If a true striker drops out of the heavens in the next twelve months ( no one on this roster is a true striker) then Landon and Dempsey can stay outside and this position is even deeper.

    Forward- The best striker for the USMNT is still Dempsey moving up in the last 20 mins of a game. I think he has scorred 6-7 goals since the Confed Cup by moving up in the 70th for whichever bum forward that started. Some depth at withdrawn forward was developed by Bob this tournament.

    Coach- I think he did all he could do with the current talent pool. Once the news broke that he had no control of the Chandler situation, he picked a very interesting roster and played guys who he needed to take a look at. Took a long hard look at Kljestan to find out what I already knew, that he can be the 7th-8th option in the midfield but never higher.

    Again, thanks to Univision and Mexico's attacking players for a fun Gold Cup.  

  2. # OpenID notting

    For what it's worth, most of the online soccer people are frustrated with Sundhage, due to:

    - rigid adherence to the 4-4-2
    - frighteningly predictable substitutions
    - insistence on playing two central midfielders who are more redundant than complementary
    - playing a CB out of position at LB
    - leaving the best attacking option on the bench for 2/3 of the game

    So... be careful what you wish for. (It's like US Soccer only has one plan for team building.)  

  3. # Blogger kevin n.

    "but does the U.S. have a "style" of play to fall back on?"

    Defend and counter. Get 10 guys behind the ball, don't pressure to far up the pitch, wait for a mistake, bust ass forward and see what happens.

    It's not what any of us want out of our National team but it's what every player brought up in the USSF is taught from the time they were 8.  

  4. # Blogger moinllieon

    More on Kevin N.'s comment: The defend and counter is very effective in CONCACAF, where a majority of the teams play a possession and short passing style. But most of CONCACAF lack the physicality and stamina to keep up with the superior US conditioning. This has allowed the US to easily shoot to the top of the federation, but growth beyond could be difficult without some serious evaluation.

    And let's not forget the importance of set pieces for the US attack. EVERY US goal (that's not a gift from the opposing keeper) in the last 2 World Cups have been on the break or through set pieces.

    All in all, it's a fancy way of saying the English style. When I see the USMNT, I see the traditional/stereotypical English style.  

  5. # Blogger 30f

    I know that we are all ready to rip the Elder for his Boogaloo Bornstein substitution (me included) but he made a lot more good calls than bad in the Pointy Cup. The problem wasn't and isn't the coach. At some point the USSF needs to change the coach, but that won't 'solve' the problem any more than when the Dodgers eventually ditch Mattingly for somebody else.

    Maybe I am weird, but I don't see the lack of a 'US playing style' as a negative. How many nations DO have one? Spain does. Brazil keeps changing theirs, now that the muscular Dunga approach is out of favor. Same for the Dutch - are they Total Football or are they DeJong the Destroyer? Players make playing styles. Right now, ours can't.

    The USMNT made the final - but look at who and how they played. The team that split the points with Panama was not going to beat this Mexico squad - no matter how the line-up was configured. This squad of players kind of is what it is - the problem isn't the coaching it is the development. As others have noted the Mexican attacking talent is better and younger than what the denim and stripes has right now. What coach can fix that?

    The USMNT has had a lot of success (especially in CONCACAF) by being fitter and more organized than the competition. With the rise of Donovan and Dempsey we also had some talent as well, and we easily outpaced everyone in our region except Mexico. Despite a very shallow talent pool the USMNT succeeded. Effort and fitness was the right strategy for then, but the future path of success beyond Haiti and Honduras is all about the players on the field.

    In this most recent Pointy Cup final, the US jumped out to an early lead that was kind of lucky. Mexico was dominating the play and the chances - but we countered with a couple of goals. That is lucky. You play on the counter to get a handful of chances in a whole game - we managed to get two almost right away, and we converted on them (three if you count the header off the post). I don't see the rest of the game as the USMNT 'falling apart' as much as the game continued as it had, and the better team, Mexico, was able to press their advantage and the US never got quite as lucky again. Elder has said he was trying to press the advantage and get a third goal - a ballsy move from outta the sweats.

    Playing Adu seems prescient. LEE-hi is a man for the future. Would have loved to see Chandler and Omar in defense this time around. Stu's Hair will come back and ...

    We'll be closer to Mexico? We'll be 'thiss much' better than Mexico? Hard to see any massive leaps forward on the horizon. I'm all for a new coach, but nobody is gonna make the US a WC semi-finalist without a lot of talent upgrades all over the field AND a ton more depth.  

  6. # Blogger macarthur31

    +1 to 30f.

    I'm not all krazy for Klinsy, but he's right about how this country develops talent: it's pay to play. It's bass-ackward. Clint Dempsey is an awesome American soccer story, but we'll find Sasquatch before we'll hear of another tough kid pulling himself up by his shinguards in Nah-gah-doh-chaise, Texas. Soccernomics suggests that with 300 million people and our sporting culture, that demographics alone means we'll win a Jules Rimet eventually.

    However, as long as we keep preaching kick and run at the lowest levels, it ain't gonna happen. I'm intrigued to see what effect Claudio Reyna will have as the national "Technical Director" -- I hope that's he's trying to change the system.

    One of the savvier things that the Fed has done has been their efforts at ID'ing all of the kids around the world with US citizenship and trying to recruit them with playing time and (Nike) marketing muscle. It's damning, however, that it seems like those 300 or so kids will probably be better prepared than the waves of kids coming up AYSO.

    So, I'm done with the Bradley haters. Do you want change, for change's sake? That's fair -- but I don't think it's right to throw the guy under the bus. Dude is a smart guy, with quirks. Much like running for president, it takes a special kind of crazy to want to be a National Team Manager: it's the equivalent of being assigned to manage the All-Star game all the time, except the stakes are crazy high. At the end of the day, he makes more good calls than bad ones. And he's got the respect of his lockerroom (or at least with Clint Rolex.)

    I do believe we're on the verge of better things -- and that's not because of Coach Bradley. The next gen kids like Aguo, Bunbury, Mixx, Agboss -- they're getting better opportunities to develop than the Dempsey/Donovan generation had. And American kids will get more looks from the Euro-leagues thanks to the efforts.

    In the meantime, it's time to thank the vets for their service and let's play the kids.  

  7. # Anonymous drewdat

    We're seeing the player pool more or less through Bradley's eyes, though. Since he names the rosters and XI's, some guys get more opportunities and some guys get fewer (for better or worse).

    Since we've essentially had the same coach for 10 years plus, maybe the tendency is to assume that there are no scoring forwards with US citizenship or no CBs under 30 worth a damn (OK, that's probably a stretch). But perhaps another manager could have gotten more out of the problem positions or found out of favor players that could do the job. Blame the setup, absolutely, but at the same time, wouldn't it be at least momentarily diverting to see someone else have a go?

    It's been referenced recently, but Mexico was struggling mightily under Sven and have turned things around almost completely (Gold Cup victories only earn you so much respect, sorry). Perhaps the "golden generation" simply wasn't ready until recently, but that can't be 100% of the difference.

    I guess it all comes back to the "disappointment" at the World Cup result. If you look at the club careers of our outfield players, by and large none scream success. Until we have players reaching the heights of club football, is it realistic to expect the national team to do any better?

    Players who have been quite influential for the US side have bounced around and/or sat on the sidelines overseas (pre-injury Onyewu, Feilhaber in second division Denmark, Jozy, Baby Bradley). Perhaps the biggest revelation of the Gold Cup, Eric Lichaj, receives mixed reviews with fans of Aston Villa, who were quite close to becoming entangled in the relegation madness at season's end. The standards aren't the same, and yet somehow it still feels that we underachieve at times.  

  8. # Anonymous DoubleB

    @moinllieon: Agreed about the "English style" of US soccer. Isn't wonderful to imitate the most overrated soccer nation on the planet? Look to the Hemisphere men.

    @30f: Love your commentary as it is usually spot on. The issues do go far deeper than Bradley. I think it was JP on TV talking about the sides having equal technical talent and I thought he must be smoking something on air.

    @macarthur31: I'm a lot more pessimistic than you. I feel Tim Howard saves this team on a regular basis--when he's not great, Saturday night is the result. I think the defense is going to get a lot worse before it gets better and the core of the team is clearly aging. I expect we'll qualify because there just isn't anyone else out there in CONCACAF (seriously, what happened to Costa Rica? They beat us 3-0 down there in the Hex and then it's like they walked into the Pacific Ocean and never came back.)

    And in retrospect, how easy was the US path in the World Cup. Group B stunk: Only France and Italy saved England from being the flame-out of the tournament and England will probably have a road game against world soccer power Montenegro to determine part of their Euro 2012 fate. Algeria is on the verge of not qualifying for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. They also managed to tie Luxembourg in a friendly recently. And Slovenia is Slovenia--a borderline Euro 2012 team. And then after all that, the US drew Ghana. I can't imagine it's going to get any easier than that in 2014.  

  9. # Blogger 30f

    drewdat - Yes, Mexico turned it around after ditching Sven for someone not a felt puppet. Do you think that there is THAT much improperly used talent lying around in the US team? I think for a while there, Mexico was disorganized and they suffered from selection issues where some folks in the Mexican FA (or whatever it is called) didn't like the managers selecting guys playing club soccer outside of Mexico. That was an old school thought for them and with all their best attacking talent now OBVIOUSLY based on the other side of the Atlantic, it makes it way less controversial to leave Blanco off the team in favor of Chicharito or Barrera. In any event, they got rid of the weak coaches and the talent that was there got a chance to shine.

    Does that situation exist here with the USMNT? Are there American diamonds in the rough waiting to explode as world class goal scorers? Not, 'make the MLS All Star-olowski' scorers, but world freaking class??? I don't think so. Does anyone not feverishly typing on AO message boards think so?

    None of this is an argument for keeping the Elder. I'd love to see Younger have to fight for his spot - same for Lando and all the rest. Teams get stale under the same coaching after a while and the chance of not making the starting 11 might actually get Donovan to run at opposing defenders with the ball while he still has the quicks to actually pull that off. All of this seems very unlikely until AFTER 2014 in Brazil.

    The Usmnt is improving, but so is Mexico and Honduras and so on. It is not hard to imagine an African nation winning the WC before the US does.

    Bringing in foreign-ish players who can get US passports like Jones or Chandler is fine, but not a real solution. We need a higher paying job, not some change (or even a $50 bill) found in the sofa. That is a one time boost, the USMNT needs a new power source.

    Macarthur31's point about the US having the sporting culture the wealth and the population to succeed is a valid argument. 'Merikuns don't care about bike riding but Lance Armstrong won more of the biggest races in that sport that anyone (yes, he was on drugs, but if everyone else was as well, doesn't that still make him the winner?). My point is that everyone doesn't have to love Cycling in Nebraska for Armstrong to win the TDF.

    But cycling is VERY different from soccer in that cycling is ALL about fitness, training and technology. That is stuff that Americans excel at. I read that when LeMonde was winning back in the 80s (?), many of the French riders were still smoking the occasional cigarette and drinking wine after every day's ride. In that world, doing the things Americans do well well are enough to get you the win.

    In soccer there is more creativity and intangibles. That kind of creativity (at least soccer wise) is not easily developed in the US. Skills need to be developed against other skilled/creative people from a young age. It is the reverse of how many foreign basketball players come to the NBA with lots of skills but come across kind of robotic and un-aggressive. That must be how US players are perceived in Argentina and France.

    All of this is to say that the US seems to be hitting our 'American-ness ceiling.' Foreign coaches always praise the USMNT for our physical fitness and never say die attitude. Great, we have won the don't smoke and watch 'Hoosiers' race - there is no more ground to be made up there. Our team needs more flair, style and creativity. Deuce obviously has that and maybe Adu can re-discover that spark. Who else? Stu's hair is a maybe? That creativity and style can't be made over night. It can't be instilled in a 22 year old. I don't have the answer here, but it needs more that 'ditch Elder' or 'bring in a foreign coach' to solve that.  

  10. # Anonymous drewdat

    I feel like my expectations for the forward spot aren't even that high. WC2010 was a disaster and is the main frame of reference since there are so few meaningful games for the USMNT when it comes down to it.

    I guess Altidore and Agudelo looked serviceable in the Gold Cup, but then again, they looked. serviceable. in the Gold Cup. It's the epitome of low expectations when Altidore netting a couple against CONCACAF minnows (looking at you, Canada) registers as a career revival. I don't think there are any revelations to be had necessarily, but was the output at the WC the best we could have expected? I think there's a little room for improvement over the results of the last couple of WCs.

    I meant to include in the previous post that many of Mexico's key players from the Gold Cup victory aren't lighting up Europe, either (though admittedly it's more of the listless, malcontent failure to make impact than the uncertainty-and-self-doubt-infused American variety). Mexico's manager has them playing with confidence and flair in a setting where that alone is likely enough to return them as a dominant force. Jury's still out on how it translates vs. actual competition, but the early returns are good.

    Mexico is probably more of a close example than an applicable one, though. I don't think a new manager could be the savior, but I don't think the US are quite above "moral victories" either. As it stands, a flameout in Brazil seems pretty likely. Anything that can be done to change those odds, I'm in favor of, even if it's incremental at best.

    30f, I agree with you for the most part, though. The Tour de France analogy is great and spot on, and I think you're likely correct as far as the American approach having hit a wall. One would hope that increased exposure of the game in America through WC94, FIFA video games, Nike, TV and the like would possibly be able to drive us further in spite of the limitations, but that doesn't appear to be materializing (still early days for some of the influences, I guess).

    Anyways, Bradley would seem to be unimpeachably a part of that hard work approach. But at the same time, even if the powers that be were to make a change, what's the best that could be expected? A foreign coach shoehorned into the pre-existing setup and ethos? At the same (second) time, the act of firing a coach mid-cycle would seem to be outside the USSF's box on its face, indicative of perhaps a larger scale change in philosophies. Quandary if ever there was one.

    Isn't happening, though.  

  11. # Blogger moinllieon

    I think part of this is all relative to expectation. I actually think that when one objectively look at it, the USMNT is progressing slowly but surely. The problem is what happened in 2002 skewed everybody's expectation

    1990: Last in group, 23 out of 24.
    1994: Host, qualified to 2nd Rd as a 3rd place team with the help of Colombia's surreal collapse.
    1998: Last in group, 32 out of 32.
    2006: Last in Group.
    2010: First in Group, Round of 16.

    So what happened in 2002? Young, energetic team, new coach, new approach, but also quite lucky. Fluke goal in one goal win over Portugal, saved PK in draw with SK, then counting on SK to beat Portugal to advance, uncalled handball in the area for O'Brien against Mexico, etc. In every match, the breaks went US's way. Had it continued against Germany with that uncalled handball, who knows how lucky we'd consider that team?

    But if we consider 2002 as an abnormal outlier as opposed to the part of a normal progression, then I think it's pretty damn clear that the US has shown rather tangible progress. Keep in mind in 2010, the breaks that went for the US in 2002 seemed to have all went against the US and the USMNT still finished first in its group.  

  12. # Blogger macarthur31

    This weekend, ESPNClassic was re-airing "Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos" and that invited more perspective.

    Agreed to moinllieon's observation of "slow and steady progress" -- we had nothing going on in this country from 1950-1990. That's two or three generations of talent and fandom that was lost.

    Steve Ross was the only guy who could predict that there'd be a day where you'd have Fox Soccer Channel, and that ABC (ESPN) would be giving first class coverage to the World Cup. Outside of him (and Warner's zillions) there was no way that soccer was going to catch on in this country. (Akin to Stu Evers and Getty's Oil bucks keeping ESPN afloat during their first years)

    Back to the USMNT -- we're at a crossroads. We have the marketing/media machine in place. From my vantage point, we may be finding more and more players, but I'm not sure if we have an effective pipeline. Moreover, it seems like we can't "out hard work" our opponents, and we have to up our collective skill and flair -- again, that has to start at a younger age.

    Those problems seem to be beyond the Elder, but if you're Sunil, what do you do first?  

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