The most frustrating experience with the World Cup is that it is really a four year tournament. Most teams sign a new head coach four years prior to the tournament, and immediately start evaluating potential players. Just to qualify for the World Cup takes another two years of games and plenty more player evaluations. The 2010 World Cup didn’t start for me on June 11, 2010. It was something that began way back in July of 2006. To see the United States crash out of the party like that wasn’t fun to watch, but seeing the support and buzz from the fans who rallied around this team that embodied the American spirit was incredible. After having a few days to let everything soak in, here are my final thoughts on the team:
1. The Bradleys are Better Than You Thought. When Bob Bradley was hired to coach the National Team, many felt we settled and basically went with a Bruce Arena lite, the former USA coach. It was perpetuated the idea that we’re still a small soccer country, unable to land a high profile coach to our side. Then there was the perpetual complaints from fans when Bob Bradley’s son, Michael, was basically an indispensable part of the team and seriously launched accusations that the only reason Michael was on the team was because of family ties. Both thoughts were wrong. They were wrong long before this tournament, but I’m glad both Bob & Michael proved their worth on this stage.
Bob Bradley did well in his four year tenure. He used more players than any other coach during the four year cycle, carefully scouting and evaluating new talent. He won the Gold Cup in 2007, which allowed USA to play in the Confederations Cup against top quality teams (Italy, Brazil, & Spain). USA finished first in qualifying and won Group C ahead of favorites England. Did he do enough for his contract to be renewed? Yes. Can he take USA farther than he already has? Hard to tell.
Which brings us to the coach’s son Michael. He was by far the most consistent player for the team for the entire tournament. His game tying goal against Slovenia was beautifully struck and is actually a lot harder to keep on frame that it looks. His work rate, tackles and composure on the ball held the midfield together and he played even to England’s Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, two renowned world class players. After the World Cup is over, Michael Bradley will be getting the biggest offer, from the biggest club among the U.S. team next to possibly Landon Donovan.
2. Landon Donovan is the Best US Player of All Time
It is baffling to me how a player who holds a country’s all time scoring and assists record can be branded as soft and weak. One of the biggest criticisms for him holding the scoring record? He takes all of the Yanks’ penalty kicks, thus padding his stats. But when USA won a penalty against Ghana, who did fans want to take the kick? Donovan of course. Why? That’s simple. He’s taken so many in his career and has dealt with the pressure before, so he should be trusted with it. This kind of logic is maddening but the way Donovan led and saved this team should end all debates regarding him. He is the best US player of all time period.
3. USA Still Lacks Strikers
Another World Cup, another tournament where U.S. strikers failed to find the back of the net. This has actually been a troubling trend since 2002 when it was looking obvious that outside of Brian McBride, the United States somehow lacked the ability to groom quality strikers at the international level.
Jozy Altidore certainly shows promise, but his growth has been minimal in the last two years and he continues to be dogged by his questionable work rate and willingness to train. Charlie Davies was undoubtedly the best striker USA had until his horrific car accident back in October. While he is miraculously back to full training with his French club, it remains to be seen whether he can make a full recovery and regain that deadly pace that made him such a menace.
And while there are some promising prospects from the U-20 and U-17 side, the inability for the U.S. soccer system to develop and groom their own forwards is certainly alarming. Until this issue is resolved, don’t expect USA to go any further than the Round of 16 at best. You just can’t advance without scoring goals.
4. Who will coach USA in Brazil 2014?
Jurgen Klinsmann continues to be a fan favorite. Even before the tournament started, fans were calling for Klinsmann to be next in line regardless of how the U.S. did. Guus Hiddink would have been a sexy choice too but Turkey picked him up very quickly. Personally, I think Klinsmann should take over for the next four years. I believe at this point, Bradley has done all that he can for USA. The goal for U.S. soccer was to become a powerhouse country that was always in contention to win the World Cup. While I think Bradley can get the Yanks to the second round every time, I don’t think he can turn us into that quality of a team that USA is aiming for… yet.
Bradley is seriously being considered to be the first American coach to take over an European club. I believe a 4-8 year coaching gig in Europe will elevate Bradley into an elite coach and maybe then he can takeover the reins for USA once more.
5. Who will play for USA in Brazil 2014?
Is there one more World Cup for Landon Donovan? He’ll be 32 by the time Brazil comes around and when it comes to field players, he may be well past his prime by that point just from the wear and tear of playing so many games. Here’s a quick look at who from this current team could still realistically figure for 2014 and their age by the start of the tournament:
Keepers: Tim Howard (35), Brad Guzan (29)
Fullbacks: Jonathan Bornstein (29), Clarence Goodson (32), Oguchi Onyewu (32), Jonathan Spector (28).
Midfielders: Michael Bradley (26), Clint Dempsey (31), Landon Donovan (32), Maurice Edu (28), Benny Feilhaber (29), Stuart Holden (28), Jose Torres (26).
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (24).
Obviously the U.S. backline will see the most change. I will not be surprised if only 2 (Bornstein and Spector) actually make it back to the team, making way for a promising crop of future fullbacks. And while the lack of World Cup experience could be a cause for concern, the new group (Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Ike Opara and Kevin Alston, as well as European-based Americans Gale Agbossoumonde and Eric Lichaj) will certainly make up for the lack of experience with better speed and athleticism (two elements that doomed the Yanks in this tournament).