With the 2010 World Cup now behind us, it is now time for the United States Soccer Federation to take a good hard look at the American program, and it’s progress over the past four year cycle. Basically, this is a job report for Bob Bradley, and a way of taking a look at what I think must change, be it with Bob Bradley or a new coach.
Arguably, this has been the best four-year World Cup cycle in American soccer history.
Under the guidance of Bob Bradley, the United States has:
-Qualified for the World Cup Round of 16 in for the third time in the modern era.
-Won their World Cup group (which included England)
-Qualified top of the CONCACAF hexagonal (Take that, Mexico)
-Been the runner-up in the FIFA Confederations Cup, losing to Brazil 3-2 after taking a 2-0 lead (I call this being Hornby-ed. If you know why, comment below and you will be my new best friend).
-Won a Gold Cup, and been a Runner-up in the other with what can best be described as a ‘C’ team.
With regard to results:
In competitive fixtures, the USMNT has gone: 27W, 5D, 11L
-The competitive losses have been to: Ghana, Costa Rica, Italy, Brazil (2), Mexico (2), Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Paraguay, and Colombia.
-Only one loss (5-0 to Mexico at the 2009 Gold Cup) was on home soil.
-Five of these losses (Mexico at the GC2009, Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia at the Copa America 2007, and Trinidad and Tobago during the WC2010 qualification) were with significantly weakened US teams.
So now the question must be asked, where does the United States go from here? How do we become a better team? What changes are needed to give us a chance to go deep in the 2014 World Cup?
1. The United States must treat every competitive fixture as if it were a World Cup match.
Take a look above at our losses. Seriously, take a look. Every one of those must be taken as a cruel and bitter pill to swallow. The USMNT must always be trying to win when playing in a competitive match. That five of our eleven losses came with a weakened lineup says one thing to me: to as great an extent as club selection allows, the United States must stop playing a weakened lineup. Don’t enter tourneys we cannot play a full international lineup in. That is why we have friendlies. The United States must treat matches seriously, and they must be expected to win every competitive match. Nobody gives a shit about losing 2-1 to the Netherlands, but it’s a pretty sad fact that we lost to Trinidad and Tobago this cycle in a competitive match, even though we were already through at that point.
2. Americans need to tactically revamp, and stop this Route One boom-ball bullshit and actually start to out-possess teams.
A lot of criticisms have been pressed about the United States and their ability on defense. I think this is way overblown, due to one tactical flaw. Americans think of themselves as this great underdog, who has absolutely no chance against any significant team. This leads to the Bolton-esque Route One style of football, where you simply lob long balls into the box and hope that the long ball finds someone like, say Brian McBride….Jozy Altidore, and that they can put the ball in the net.
The truth is, this simply doesn’t work, and with a team that has the absolutely kickass midfield led by Captain Michael Bradley in 2014, it’s a stupid tactic. The US can be deadly on the counterstrike, (see Donovan’s second goal against Brazil in 2009 CC, Donovan’s goal against Algeria), but when they are facing a settled team, they cannot break them down through possession. Instead, they just try to go over the top, and lose the ball in the process. This was painfully obvious against Ghana, and is one of the key reasons the United States loses big games. Whoever our coach is, he needs to teach is players to hold onto the damn ball, and to slowly break down weaker teams through solid passing, and use our biggest advantage (our midfield), to help us open up shots. This will take pressure off our defense, and will put less stress on our strikers, who will be given free reign to move around and get open, rather than forcing them to try to bring down long balls.
It may sound simple, but the United States needs to possess more of the ball if they expect to beat bigger and better teams. We have the class in midfield to do it, the question is: do we have the coaching and the confidence to pull it off?
3. The United States needs to make referees like them.
Sunil Gulati, I’m looking at you. I am all for fair play, but just watching the World Cup makes me ask questions about who was paying whom. Need to make sure we are at least protecting ourselves from that. In addition, the silly red cards finally stopped at the World Cup. The United States needs to emphasize to its players that these red cards become self-fulfilling prophecies—referees hedge towards red rather than yellow when Americans are involved, because the Yanks have a checkered history of rash challenges. They are also quick with yellows, as Eddie Pope would tell you somberly.
4. We need a Coach who actively engages the media, and who actively engages the fan base
I like BB. I really do. But if he has a weakness, it is in his dealings with the media and the fans. He is just…boring, and he is the type of person who makes soccer boring to the average fan. Have you ever enjoyed or watched a Bob Bradley press conference? Has he ever done anything interesting? Now, I am not suggesting that we hire Maradona (as several idiotic sports writers have), but I do believe that whoever is our manager for the 2014 cycle must actively engage the media and the fans, as they can play a critical component
5. Forget the Bid.
The US will win a World Cup bid in the late 2020s, say 2026, and will win the World Cup on home soil then. If we host in ’18 or ’22, it’ll be just a shade too early, in my opinion. All of the focusing on the Bid is simply taking away focus from the need to develop soccer in the United States, to access talent pools that exist but have been maddeningly untapped, and the need to push MLS to new heights by adding roster spots and by giving guys like Omar Gonzalez and Michael Stephens (both of whom I think will be big time US internationals someday) their start. My predictions: England in 2018, Dubai in 2022.
So that’s my five keys to success. Sorry for not writing in so long, I love all of you.
And, to join in with the rest of the staff who are piecemealing a squad together for Brazil, here is my starting XI for 2014. (4-2-3-1, again, this is if I was coaching, not my prediction)
Spector – Gonzalez- Onyewu – (Young left back tbd)
Bradley – Edu
Holden- Donovan – Dempsey
Sean McElroy is a staff writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or found on Twitter at @fulhamerican.