It’s one of those questions that is inevitably talked about, but can never be answered.
All the soccer analysts and historians in the world could not possibly come up with a definitive answer, and yet that is why we talk about it.
It is the sheer incomprehensibility of the question that brings out the most animated responses. It is the question all USMNT fans want to know: Could the USMNT qualify for Euro 2012?
With such an ambiguous question on the table, there really is no other place to start but some cold hard facts. Here they are:
The USMNT is currently ranked 33rd in the world behind all qualified teams, except for host countries Ukraine and Poland.
Between players capped in the last two years, the USMNT features fourteen players that are currently in a Big Four League. This ranks them 10th of qualified nations above Czech Republic, Denmark Russia, Poland, Greece, Sweden and Ukraine.
The USMNT finished 2011 with a record of 6-8-3, the worst win-percentage of any of the teams that qualified for Euro 2012.
First off, I would like to say that every fact, while it may be completely true—must be taken with a grain of salt. Any educated global soccer fan should know by now that the FIFA rankings do little to actually accurately portray the International Football totem pole. Many of the USMNT games in 2011 were played without stars, such as Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan.
Nevertheless, they are there for you to see what the USMNT looks like relative to the other teams that qualified.
Now onto the big question: Does the USMNT have the talent to qualify for Euro 2012?
Certainly more and more Yanks have been pond-hopping to test out their talents against some of the world’s best the last couple of years. What once was an exclusive "Americans in Europe" club, has now become a popular trend to take note of.
Stars such as Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey and even Landon Donovan have established themselves as premier players on some competitive Premier League Teams over the last few years. In fact, if injuries were not a factor, the ideal USMNT Starting XI would probably be very competitive with the second-tier teams qualifying for Euro 2012.
Holden, Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, Jones and Shea is one strong lineup that could easily matchup against the front six from Denmark, Czech Republic or Republic of Ireland.
The inexperience on defense is where the problems would arise for the USMNT. Not only would the elite teams in the qualification process dominate a relatively uncertain back four, but the current defensive insecurity would be a complimentary offensive buffet for even the mediocre squads.
That being said, the USMNT would inevitably drop points against weaker teams that simply must be beaten if a nation has any chance at qualifying for the slim-bid tournament. Look at Belgium for proof; they dropped nine points to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Austria to miss out on the tournament all together.
The USMNT has the talent to earn good results against some of the world’s best, such as England, Spain and France—but the “chip on the shoulder” play style immediately disappears once the underdog role is removed and a weaker team is on the field. The energy in the USMNT seems to go MIA randomly in games. This detrimental characteristic is what caused the team’s defeats to Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Paraguay in 2011.
Also, the lengthiness of the qualifying campaign process would not be friendly to a USMNT squad, whose talent severely declines after the first-couple subs. Of course, we would all love to see the ideal USMNT front six listed above to play all 10 qualifying games, but the harsh reality that we all have experienced the last couple of years is that injuries happen.
A USMNT A-team could be a contender in the qualifying process. I am not so sure about a USMNT A- or B+ squad.
Finally, the USMNT is making a habit of low-scoring games. This means the goal differential of the USMNT would be highly unfavorable if a tiebreaker needed to be enforced. Even if the USMNT did beat some of the "Cupcake" teams in the group, history would hint that those victories would likely be no more than one goal wins—preventing the team from the confidence and GD rating it would desperately need in the final few fixtures.
If you are running low on time, this is the sentence you need to read: The average point total needed to qualify for next summer’s tournament (Among teams that played 10 games) was 24.2.
Could the USMNT earn 2.4 points per game for 10 games with this current defense, lack of identity and merely one player (Dempsey) scoring consistently in a Big four league?
Even that doesn’t seem like a miracle the Yanks could pull off.
The USA is certainly more talented on offense than a few of the teams qualified. But the inconsistent form, especially on defense of the Americans might have proven too deadly to their qualifying campaign.
One of the most important factors for a qualifying nation is its ability to defeat the teams that it should beat. That is a characteristic I cannot say the USMNT has shown the last couple of months. Of course, the USA could occasionally pull out good results against some of the premier teams in Europe, but its inability to take advantage of some of the easier fixtures would ultimately cease their Euro 2012 campaign before it even starts.
I’m an American and I love the USMNT, but I also can acknowledge that right now—qualifying for Europe’s most elite tournament would be a very difficult task.
But the fact that this question can never actually be answered keeps all of us USMNT fans optimistic and hopeful that maybe someday we can be more proud at where our nation stands in the world of soccer.
Until then, we sit and wait.