By Ryan Smith
Watching the USA bow out of the 2010 world cup was bitter and painful, especially after the relatively easy path to a semi-final match that generated, as compared to the rest of the 2nd round teams. Team USA had strengths in this World Cup that it could play off and use to propel themselves into the later stages of the tournament. As a supporter of USA soccer, I can’t be alone in feeling that the sting and the hurt which was caused by the thought that realistically instead of Uruguay vs. Holland, it could have been USA vs. Holland! The talent, the endurance, and most especially the belief were all instilled into this particular cast of American soccer players, and there isn’t a sole alive that could convince me that the 2010 Team USA locker room wasn’t having realistic dreams of making the semi-finals. The three teams that potentially stood in the way of a historic semi-final birth were: Ghana, Uruguay, and South Korea. Um…not exactly the scariest or most intimidating group, at least as far as soccer teams’ goes. Throw the USA in that group and it’s probably a 25% chance for each of those teams to make it to the semi-final. Well, Uruguay prevailed over the others and found themselves matched up with Holland, who did impress me with their over all talent level, craft, and commitment to the game plan. Uruguay on the other hand, was a bit underwhelming, and they could have won that game if a few bounces go their way at the right time. Other than Diego Forlan, who is on a level that no current American player is at right now, honestly the rest of that Uruguay team could have been filled with American players just temporarily wearing the Uruguay jersey. Which leads to the question, what is the state of American soccer, and what can fans expect in the following four years leading up to the next world cup? To put it bluntly, does America have a quality and realistic chance of winning a world cup?
The Uruguayans, who prevailed from America’s quarter bracket, put up one heck of a fight, but to look at talent levels in the semi-final match and it was obviously a distinct advantage in favor of Holland. Holland has big, quick, and intelligent players at every position on the field, and looking back throughout history, one will find that most teams that reach the finals have these advantageous characteristics. With the wealth of resources available, American soccer has the capabilities of forming such a unique and distinguished team.
Holland’s first goal came from their left back, which sat coyly just outside the edge of the penalty box and fired a blistering shot into the upper right hand side of the net. Does the USA squad have a guy that can produce that kind of magic?
Maybe…Does anyone remember Demarcus Beasley? He’s been forgotten of late, but there is soccer talent in his athletic body, and if given the chance to learn the customary jobs of a left back, four years from now he certainly can pose the intelligent and athletic threat from the defense that Team USA has been lacking. There are other options at the position, but Demarcus’s built is the kind that a championship caliber team wants out of their left back.
It’s not only Beasley; there is plenty of quality amongst the Americans that can fill out a frightening roster by 2014. Landon Donovan has found his home roaming the wings and four years from now he should be at his apex as a player. Then there is Clint Dempsey, a man with such an advanced understanding of the nuances of a soccer game, that one can find a role for him at nearly any position starting from the midfield and up. I still think he would be a great central midfield player in the mold of Italy’s Pirlo, but he could also occupy a wing spot or a striker position. Clint is a beast, basically.
One thing that is a glaring weakness in the 2010 USA roster is the lack of finishing ability at the striker position. Uruguay’s star striker, Diego Forlan, dazzled with his precise and accurate strikes. This really isn’t even a debate because it should be evident to anyone that watched USA’s games, but the team doesn’t have anywhere close to the quality needed in terms of putting the ball in the net. By the time 2014 rolls around, hopefully a handful of Americans will have gained this ball striking precision in front of net, but right now, the options look slim. Jozy Altidore could get there if he put in the effort, and Clint Dempsey can definitely get there, but other than those two forwards, what else can American fans point at to calm their anxiety. The only solution I seem to be getting in my head is that the USA soccer Federation put an enormous emphasis on this phase of development in the youth ranks. Hire someone from Holland, France, Brazil, etc…One of the prominent soccer nations and have that guy come in and teach our kids the subtleties of scoring. This might sound stupid and one would think that this option has already been exhausted, but if you watched the Holland vs. Uruguay game, and saw some of the Dutch’s attack, you might be inclined to think that there has to be something more than what the USA is teaching its kids. While the ball would roll up to one of Holland’s attacking players, that player didn’t automatically take a touch for himself and than look up to try and make a play. There were four or five Dutch players that if the ball came to them, they already knew where another two or three of their other teammates were and could make a play by a single touch, without lifting the head, or even sometimes, they just let the ball keep rolling because they knew one of their players was in a better spot than themselves for making a FINISHING play. This subtlety just doesn’t seem to be instilled into most of the American players, and there must be a way to teach this kind of craft.
Although America isn’t ready for the finals quite yet, I think we can definitely see that the talent level on a whole is steadily increasing. At the World Cup this year when the USA went down a goal or two, I wasn’t nearly as scared as I might have been four or eight years ago. There was something inside me, encouraging me to think that there was enough skill on our side to produce some magical moments and create some goals, and that’s how it went. Even on the bench, I knew that we had multiple guys that could step in competently and help make a serious push towards the opposition’s net. The amount of talented American soccer players is growing and this is a positive, hopefully we can raise that talent level just to the next notch, and we might be looking at a Team USA going to Brazil to win the World Cup!