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No Collective Understanding
MIAMI (BASN) – In my years of following the U.S. National Team I’ve experienced joy, frustration, disappointment, exhilaration, pride and sometimes anger.
Never have I felt embarrassed.
But that’s how I felt after watching the US’ performance against Brazil in the Confederations Cup. This is worse than the loss to Iran in the 1998 World Cup. As I write this the US is still technically alive in the Confed Cup and I realize that we haven’t even played Mexico in Azteca yet but this feels like rock bottom. As of right now, this is not a Top 15 program.
Team USA simply doesn’t get it.
No, not just the players. Fans. Coaches. Pundits, like myself.
U.S. Soccer simply doesn’t get it right now.
See, it’s easy to lay this on the players. They are the ones who have been going out there day after day and playing substandard football since about this time last year. The 2002 World Cup success seems as distant as my high school days.The 2007 Gold Cup seem like a decade ago.
Since then there hasn’t been much to hang our collective hats on and say, “See, this program is going somewhere.”
But it goes beyond them. See, I am so over hearing this talk about hard work and determination. About getting “stuck in” and how we don’t need more athletic players who can do fancy things with the ball. I’m so tired of hearing about false positive results like squeaking by Cuba and claiming historic points on the road against Guatemala.
Do we get it yet? Do we get that EVERYONE plays hard at the top level of the game? Do we get that EVERYONE is determined to win and to make their mark in the world of international football?
Do we understand that it takes players who have enough skill and confidence on the ball to not give it away any time they get under pressure (or even not under pressure such as on a short corner kick), especially against real teams like England, Spain, Italy, Brazil or away to Costa Rica and Mexico?
Do we understand that even when under pressure defensively that top teams like Brazil clear it to teammates instead of simply hoofing it because they are able to keep their composure?
Do we get it yet that against a sound resolute defense like Italy skill and the ability to unbalance a defender, not for the sake of doing a trick, but to create a defensive breakdown is what wins games at this level?
Skill and creativity (similar to what we saw on Brazil’s third goal) are not surplus to requirements but is something rather basic amongst top professionals. We can’t seem to break anyone down with ball at our feet and then wonder why we can’t make an impression against the top sides.
We bristle when it’s suggested that Americans can’t play this game yet how often does American player do something with the ball to make you get out your seat and shout “OLE!”? Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane gets it. As he said a year or so ago when England failed to qualify for Euro2008, “You have to have the heart and passion but that only gets you so far…”
Do we get it yet that there is no reason for a player with the ball at their feet on a counter attack, no matter how talented, should be able to outrace players from our country that has produced so many world class athletes? Do we see it now?
Do we now understand that players have to be put into a position where they can succeed? Isn’t it becoming clear that looping a ball into the air and expecting a 19 year old kid to bring it down and hold it amongst 3 defenders, hoping someone comes to help him is neither a good use of the ball or his skill?
Did anyone else notice that he created a penalty when the ball was played to him ON THE GROUND and then was able to size up his defender? Do we see now that playing players out of position who aren’t getting time at their clubs or giving someone their first World Cup Qualifying start in the 2nd toughest stadium in CONCACAF because he plays on turf isn’t going putting your team in a position to win?
When possession is necessary or you need a midfield spark is keeping players like Jose Torres and Freddy Adu on the bench really giving your team the spark it needs?
Do the leaders of this team now know they need to inspire their team? Do fringe players realize they have to step up when they’re presented opportunities? Do players realize that the US does not get calls?
No, neither of the cards shown to Ricardo Clark and Sacha Kljestan should have been red but that doesn’t excuse putting yourself in a position where you can be penalized as such. Have we learned this yet? Have we figured out that we need a purpose on offense, that forcing passes, failing to switch the field to maintain possession simply puts the team on the back foot?Do we in the media now realize that we may have shirked our responsibility in demanding better results? Are we afraid to call out players and coaches as it’s done in other sports here and other footballing nations because we fear being shut out of the small soccer media circle?
I’m not suggesting coaching witch hunts but by putting polyurethane on substandard CONCACAF performances or excusing embarrassing displays because they were just friendlies did we fail to put the decision makers on notice that this run of results dating back to last year simply wasn’t acceptable?
Do we get it yet?
I want to believe that we do now. I want to believe that we’ve taken the collective experiences of last year’s friendlies, the ho hum results against sorry teams in qualifying, the inconsistent play of the Hex and the harsh reality check dealt to us in this Cup and will collectively raise this program to levels. NOBDOY that we play from now until the end of our run at the World Cup is fearing us right now and that has to change. It’s important that we understand that now.
I hope we win the Gold Cup but for this Grown Man, the road to recovery begins in an unlikely place, Estadio Azteca. How the US performs there will give us an idea as to whether we’ve reached the understanding necessary to make this a team to be reckoned with in South Africa next year or more of what we’ve been seeing for the past year. We’re less than a year away from the Big Show but right now, we lack the collective understanding of what it takes to perform on that stage.
“You get it now, do ya?”-Timothy Delahunt, The Departed