Monday, June 12, 2006

As bad as it has ever gotten: The USA and the World Cup

I consider myself an avid follower of the US Men's National Team. No, I don't follow the team around like Sams Army, but I have watched just about every meaningful game for our national team since we qualified for the 1990 World Cup, the first of five consecutive qualifications. In 1990 we were rightly considered an inferior soccer nation by the world press and expectations were low. Qualifying itself was a major accomplishment after 40 years in the wilderness and the American public had no idea that the USA were even participating in Italia 90. We lost all 3 games in 1990, but did gain valuable experience and Football savvy that would serve us well in the upcoming years. After advancing to the second round in the 1994 World Cup and making the semifinals of Copa America in 1995, expectations were high in 1998. As most know France 1998 was a disaster, but we rebounded with a quarterfinal run in 2002, and quite frankly we were unlucky to not make the semifinals.

Against that backdrop Soccer has become more mainstream than ever. the Sports media, long contemptuous of Soccer began paying attention after the magical run in 2002 and this 2006 World Cup would be the first with the American media and public fully engaged. This interest probably lasted five grand minutes. As somebody who watched the 1990 and 1998 American teams who were run off the pitch by superior quality and skill I am embarrassed to say that given the talent and expectations, Monday's match easily ranks as the worst US World Cup performance of the modern era.

In 1990, we took a bunch of college kids to play against three European sides filled with world class players. Our guys scrapped and fought but lost 3 straight games. However a foundation was laid for 1994, when as the host nation we advanced to the knock out stage. In 1998, we opened versus Germany and played the superior Germans toe to toe for 36 minutes until a flukish goal snuck by defender Mike Burns. We began the 2nd half by controlling play for about 15 minutes. A diving save by Oliver Kahn on a Frankie Hedjuk header thwarted an excellent chance. We lost 2-0, but we scrapped and fought for all 90 minutes. We didn't win a game in 1998, but on a team racked with internal dissention, and what was essentially a lame duck coach, several players continued to scrap and fight against the odds. These players helped to form the core of the 2002 team that did US Soccer so proud. Monday, despite having equal talent with the Czech's and a #5 world ranking, the majority of our players simply quit on the match when the going got bad. They didn't fight hard for 50-50 balls, and the energy level was subpar to say the least. Soccer has become more mainstream here in the USA, and several of our players seem to basking in the glow of the media attention and the magazine covers, and they forgot what brought American soccer this far- discipline, organization and mental toughness.

Monday's performance was a total disgrace. Our midfield was disorganized and the effort level was completely lacking. Particularly distressing was the play of both DeMarcus Beasley who was nothing short of awful, playing out of position on the right side and Steve Cherundolo who missed the 2002 World Cup with injury and looked completely lost in his belated cup debut. Landon Donovan who has been anoited America's first great international player hardly got any meaningful touches on the ball, and Kasey Keller simply proved that Bruce Arena made the right decision by starting Brad Friedel four years ago. It's not that Keller is a bad goalkeeper, but he doesn't seem to be vocal enough to keep his backline organized. Friedel was a screamer but with the sloppy man marking and loose defending that characterized Monday's match, his leadership was sorely missed. Eddie Lewis also proved that while he is an excellent crosser of the ball off of his left foot, he cannot play on the back line, period. Bruce Arena needs to call upon Carlos Bocanegra to take his place in the next match. Brian McBride is worker in the box, but if he gets inadequate service from the midfield he is totally useless. With such poor midfield play we need to look to Eddie Johnson to create chances from up front in the next match, and perhaps start clint Dempsey on the right side of midfield.

The United States will not advance to the knock out stages of this World Cup. After 2002, that may seem like regression, but if the team can show some toughness and character in these next two matches, perhaps this World Cup can continue as a building block for the future. After all Landon Donovan has two maybe three World Cups left in him.


A whiny Yank goes down said...

What a hoot to wake up and find this on the Yank site. We tried to warn you that a world cup in europe against european teams with european based players cannot possibly go your way. but you didn't listen, tisk, tisk.

Zizou 06 said...

Yeah, and the last time it went your way was.....ummm.....1966? I wasn't even born yet!

Hat Trick Peter Crouch said...

You can anaylze the tactics and effort all you want but the simple truth is that the USA is not good enough to play Football at this level on the European continent. Sure they do fine when the cup is in Asia or the USA itself but in Europe your players all of whom play on smaller clubs or in lower divisions don't have the skill nor the quality to keep up.

Zizou 06 said...

Hat trick, I don't agree, yet I do agree.

I think that our best players either play in Europe or have played in Europe at one time. Some of them have even played for top notch teams.

Still, I think that too many of our players are in the MLS. I do not think that the MLS is a top league by any standard. I think it is more a league of Central Americans (who to me haven't really shown anything on the international stage, except Costa Rica), has-beens and newcomers.

Take for example Freddy Adu. I think that it is great for him to get his start in the MLS, but as soon as he turns 18 (maybe even 17), he really needs to start looking at his European options. I think that the MLS should be more of a starting point than a career. I think the path that DeMarcus Beasley has taken is a great example of what should be done.

Still, saying all of that, I think this team has more internation club experience than another team since the MLS has been formed.

Sams Army said...

I totally disagree with you. This team is worlds better than 1998. In 1998 we were playing an a crazy 3-6-1 formation and had a coach who had no business coaching in a World Cup. Steve Sampson was little more than a USA College coach that didn't have the neccesary experience to coach on an international level.

Yesterday was a fluke. We outplayed the Czechs but got unlucky on 3 defensive breakdowns. We controlled possesion and created chances. Has Claudio Reyna's ball hit the woodwork and bounced in instead of away we would have had a draw at worst. Sure the effort was subpar but it was demoralizing to go down a goal so early. The only lineup change I would make is replacing McBride with Johnson and flipping the sides of the field Beasley and Convey play on.

Tim L said...

My advice to you as a non-soccer fan. Enjoy the quality of top teams like Brazil and France and just be thankful the USA seems to always qualify now. I have watched several games this week and USA were easily the worst team I've seen. Again, I normally don't follow soccer and watch only every four years but this US team which has gotten so much press was a total dud. Based on what I have seen even from smaller nations like Togo, Ivory Coast and Trinidad, the USA is a complete joke in this year's cup.

Xavier said...

Several observations based on yesterday's (lack of) effort:

- This performance plain and simple falls on the coaches. Bruce Arena did not give the midfielders the freedom to attack with deep runs and clogged the midfield with too many players. With Reyna and Donovan coming back for the ball and the Czechs wisely pushing Convey and Beasley inside, not enough space was created to organize a sustained attack.

- DeMarcus Beasley has an attitude problem. He's upset at how he's being used and rightfully so. but instead of embracing the change in role, much like John Harkes prior to the 1998 World Cup his sulking and lack of effort is affecting the entire team.

- Brian McBride as noted above is totally useless with poor service from midfield. Yet the USA needs his height and size. My suggestion is to pull McBride into a withdrawm attacking role and place Eddie Johnson up top in the striker position to make deep dangerous runs against the Italians.

- Eddie Lewis cannot play on the back line. Replace him with Carlos Bocanegra

These adjustments should make the USA more competitive against Italy. But the USA needs to be beyond competitive. They need points and need to salvage some respect in the football world. That requires effort and organization something that was lacking yesterday.

Federico said...

I would not allow Beasley to see the field the entire World Cup. If the USA are going to get back into this finals they need to do it with players who want to be there and embrace the responsibilities the coaches give them.

As far as Landon Donovan is concerned, he looked timid and scared. Sure the USA needs him on the pitch, but he continues to take long spells of not being involved in the matches.

Put Eddie Johnson in the game. What good is your most dangerous players, perhaps your only truly dangerous player on the bench?

Federico said...

Kasey Keller criticized by Arena. Could we see Tim Howard??????

From the MLS Site:

Keller, whose poor goal kick let to the Czechs' first goal, also was in Arena's doghouse.

"We win the ball off a free kick," Arena said. "Kasey for whatever reason, puts it up the field, where we have nobody. The ball comes right back at us. We're out of shape after pulling out for the set piece. They get the ball to
Koller and finishes for a goal and we were totally out of shape after that "

Rafael said...

The performance by the United States yesterday was a total disgrace. For a side normally so scrappy and so attack minded, one must wonder if the entire team had the stomach flu, or if everyone was together in throwing the game. Landon Donovan was awful, for such a talented player he needs to either step up in the next game and be relegated to a status where he will continue to be ridiculed by European fans.

I have read this website for several days but did not register. I read with some interest as the Europeans on the website attacked Donovan for being weak. Those critics were totally correct based on yesterday's game.

Anonymous said...

I would bench the entire team!

Colin said...

Mates I don't envy your position. Chances are that your over matched, over hyped team will just fold the tent and make plans to go home.

Zizou 06 said...

I kind of agree Colin. While the teams with all the hype have underpreformed, the 'nothing to lose' teams have done very well.

Hat Trick Peter Crouch said...

Sad. Very Sad.


Hernandez said...

The effort was totally lacking and the usa has serious questions to answer. i do not think they can keep the same lineup. they need to press and attack more.

Hat Trick Peter Crouch said...

Hernandez, USA incapble of pressing more or attacking more. They are a weak side. Go back to watching Baseball or American Rugby or whatever else you guys watch. Tiger versus Phil or whatever.

Zizou 06 said...

Hat trick, you are just jealous because soccer is the only sport England can do.

Oh, and hooliganism. It isn't a sport, but you guys have perfected it to be one.