Friday, June 23, 2006

US crashes out under heavy expectations

To no surprise the vaunted US soccer squad crashed out of the World Cup after a 2-1 loss to Ghana. For some of us this was not unexpected having seen the group they were slotted in. Unlike some pundits (Balboa and Wynalda) who months ago were waxing the virtues of the US team, how they would reach the 1/4 finals and maybe further, how they had built on their success 4 years ago, etc etc etc.

The cruel aspect of world cup football, is that 4 years is a very long time. Teams change. Situations change. Players get older (look at Zidane). Before we look at this year's version of Team America, we should revisit where the irrational exhuberance came from, World Cup 2002:

  • The United States caught Portugal flat footed the first 20 minutes of their opening game, scoreing 3 quick goals. Portugal finally woke up and remembered why they were a "favorite" and scored 2 second half goals, still losing 3-2.
  • Against Korea, the US scored first only to see Korea come back and tie the game. Both teams looked equal.
  • Against Poland, who had been eliminated already, the Americans got thrashed 3-1, looking very unworthy on the pitch. Had Korea not scored a late winner against Portugal the US would have been heading home.
  • Round of 16 - The US got the perfect draw - Mexico. The one team they play and know how to beat, and to their credit they do so 2-0
  • 1/4 finals - US runs into the eventual runner ups - Germany. By far not a top German team they lose 1-0 with some controversy
So a good run by Team USA (MUCH MUCH better than Les Bleus), but look who else had good runs that tournament - South Korea, Senegal and Turkey, not exactly world beating teams. Every tournament has a team that comes out and makes a deep run - 1998 Croatia semi finals, 1994 Bulgaria and Sweden semi finals, 1990 Ireland and Cameroon, 1986 Belgium, and so forth. But where are these nations in the world of futball? They are all solid but have not repeated their success on a regular basis on the world stage. The pundits that foresaw an American 1/2 this year were caught up in the irrational exhuberance that sometimes takes over those that do not study history. With a #5 ranking in FIFA, a blown call 4 years earlier that many believe would have given the US a chance to beat Germany, the US was destined for a deep run.

Too bad Arena refused to change his system, players that the team was built on (donovan, beasley) have never stepped it up in big situations, and they had a tough group. This led to the realistic last place finish by the americans.

  • Arena - played players out of postion...not the only manager making that mistake of hubris (see domenech and erickson). But he is to blame for selection (no twellman?) and for his system as well as can your team come out that flat for the first game of the world cup? Also, he is afraid to use his subs...needing a goal he only brings on Johnson at the 60th minute?
  • Donovan - the more I hear about how great he is the more I wonder what people are talking about. He limped back from the Bundesliga, and decided to opt for the laid back life in california and the MLS, this shows on the highest level of competition. He is hyped up by the american press but he is shown for what he is on the world stage - a decent player with much growing to do. Case in point, again Ghana he turns on his defender on the left side of the 18yard box, rather than going to goal he cuts back towards the gaggle of players on top of the box, then on a free kick he balloons it over the goal...terrible
  • Reyna - hard worker, probably the face of US soccer, but might have played on tournament too many, especially when he had no support from those he was suppose to...
  • Beasley - being played out of position, but did not impressed irregardless
The US will now have to rebuild, they have targetted 2010 as a year to win the cup. I think that might be too much of a reach...then again it was already a reach in 1998 when they first professed this goal.

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