Archive for May, 2014

With all the talk from last week’s announcement of the US 23 man roster for Brazil a lot has been mentioned about a new era of US Soccer especially with the exclusion of Landon Donovan from the World Cup.  A question was even raised about how good the senior national team is now compared to 1998 and 2002.

Here are some stats I found about the level of soccer at the senior international level.  I’ve divided international soccer for the United States into four distinct periods…

The Forgotten Era (1930-1950)

  • World Cup Highlights: 3 wins – 0 draws – 4 losses (-9 Goal Differential); the obvious highlights are reaching the semifinals in 1930 after two shutout victories in the group stage before being eliminated by Argentina.  Another highlight has to be the victory over England in the 1950 WC Group Stage is considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of the tournament.
  • Olympic Highlights: 1 win – 0 draws – 3 losses (-12 Goal Differential)
  • National Highlights: The National Challenge Cup (now the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup) was created in the 1913-14 season and the American Soccer League was reinvented as the professional organization in the USA during this period.
  • Key Contributors: Bert Patenaude is credited with scoring all three goals in the 1930 victory over Paraguay, and thus holds the record of the first hat trick in World Cup history.

The Dark Ages (1954-1986)

It’s not that we lost soccer all-together during this period, but it was mostly imported from outside of the USA.  This was made very evident by the lack of success at an international level for the USA and Team America finishing in last place in the NASL during the 1983 season.

  • World Cup Highlights: None, didn’t qualify once during this period in history.
  • Olympic Highlights: 1 win – 3 draws – 7 losses (-25 Goal Differential)
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 6 wins – 4 draws – 2 losses (+4 Goal Differential)
  • National Highlights: The birth of the North American Soccer League in 1968 gave the USA it’s first viable and competitive professional league that lasted until 1984.  The Major Indoor Soccer League continued to carry the flag of professional soccer in the USA from 1978-1992.
  • Key Contributors: The New York Cosmos and owner Steve Ross fueled the game by bringing international superstars to the USA in the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Beckenbauer.

The Modern Reformation (1990-1998)

  • World Cup Highlights: 1 win – 1 draw – 8 losses (-11 Goal Differential); made the Round of 16 when they hosted the 1994 World Cup.
  • Olympic Highlights: Beginning in 1992 the Olympics became a competition for national U23 sides
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 16 wins – 2 draws – 3 losses (+20 Goal Differential); Won their first, and only championship during this period in 1991.
  • National Highlights: After the success of hosting the 1994 World Cup a new professional league was started in 1996, the MLS.
  • Key Contributors: Alan Rothenberg lead the US Soccer Federation as president from 1990-1998.  He was instrumental in hosting a successful 1994 World Cup and played a key role in the development of the MLS.  Bob Gansler also has to be noted for his ability to help lead the US MNT back to WC qualification during the 1990 campaign.

The National Awakening (2000-2011)

  • World Cup Highlights: 3 wins – 4 draws – 5 losses (-4 Goal Differential); 2002 was a breakthrough year for the US MNT when they defeated Portugal and Mexico to advance to the Quarterfinals before falling to Germany.
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup: 32 wins – 4 draws – 4 losses (+48 Goal Differential); this run includes four championships and two runner-up finishes.
  • National Highlights: The MLS continues to strengthen in attendance, financial stability, and TV ratings.  In 2009 the US MNT finished 2nd in the Confederations Cup, their first appearance in a FIFA Final.
  • Key Contributors: Sunil Gulati, current president of USSF, hired Bob Bradley who led the US MNT to the 2009 Confederations Cup Final.  Don Garber’s impact on the national development of soccer as the MLS Commissioner since 1999 also must be mentioned.

Since the “Modern Era” of US Soccer (usually deemed 1990-present) the level of play and the pool of the national team has increased.  The team has become more and more competitive in international competitions where we have a realistic expectation to win the Gold Cup every two years and finish on top of World Cup Qualification every four years.  Just 25 years ago we were shocked to qualify for the World Cup in a given cycle, and now the expectation is to compete.

I’m interested to see where the  next era is going to take us in this country, and it started with the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011.  He is ushering in a mentality that the United States should play a more attractive style of soccer and that it must be fostered down through all tiers of development in the country.  The philosophy and methodology of our coaching education has seen drastic changes in the past three years along with the development of the MLS and other leagues in the USA.  Another factor that I think will be a key to the dawn of this new era for us is television.  Never before have we seen networks make such a financial investment in the game of soccer for the USA, and the recent deal between Fox, ESPN, and Univision with Major League Soccer for eight years could make an amazing impact on the culture of our sport.

Exciting times.

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So the US MNT 23 man roster for the 2014 World Cup was announced yesterday afternoon and I’ve had a little bit of time to think it over.  I’ve seen the tweets and blog posts all stating their opinions on both sides of the debate.

Jurgen Klinsmann alone is the man who can give the clearest perspective, but that doesn’t stop the rest of us from chiming in with our two cents.  However, I believe we won’t understand or appreciate the full impact of this move (positive or negative) until July 31st, 2018.  One of two things will happen; either we will be praising Klinsmann for his foresight and genius that led the USA to one of their best WC finishes in the history of US Soccer, or we will crucify him for wasting away two WC cycles and wondering what could have been.

As any fan of the US MNT I am extremely disappointed in the squad that we are taking to Brazil, but as a coach I do understand (or at least I think I do) the long-term perspective Klinsmann is taking into this tournament and what he hopes to achieve in 2018.

No one can argue that this is a roster for the future with the likes of Julian Green, Mix Diskerud, Aron Johannsson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and DeAndre Yedlin included.  And in 2018 we might be singing Jurgen Klinsmann’s praises for bringing in the team of the future so they could get WC experience early on.  The potential for future success is evident in this roster and it’s exciting to think that we might be on the verge of a new generation of players who will make quality runs in Russia and Qatar because they had the foundation of participating in Brazil.

The competitor in me hates to see us sacrifice this World Cup, but the coach in me sees the value and wisdom in building for better things to come.

It’s also hard to imagine the US MNT having success on the field without the likes of Landon Donovan for a generation that was on their feet in 2002 and 2010 as he streaked down the field and scored five World Cup goals.  But sometimes we need to put our ambitions for immediate gratification on the shelf and trust in the foresight of a coach who wants bigger things for the USA than a win against Ghana and a draw against Portugal.

Here’s to an okay 2014; and a GREAT 2018!