Watching the U.S. National team in the Confederations Cup this year, I began to wonder when we will compete with the big boys of soccer year in and year out. The question is why are we not a top team year in and year out. Notice I said a top team, not the best team.
First let me say that as far as population, the United States is the third most populated country in the world. Meaning we have more people living in this country than in the countries that are known for soccer. I am not saying that having a large population should make the U.S. good at soccer. I am saying that we should have more chances of having good players.
The luck of the draw has to go the United States’ way at some point, having over 300 million people living in the country. Also, since the early 1990’s there has been an explosion of youth soccer players. The number of Soccer players has expanded enormously, from about 100,000 players in 1974 to over a million in the 90’s to over 3.2 million today.
So we should have good players playing the game. The question is; where are those players at now? Why can we not field a competitive team in international competition? We have had nearly twenty years to train good soccer players.
Not that we have not had good years during international competition. The U.S. has not been able to build on any of the good years we have had thus far. Look at 1994, the U.S. makes it to the round of 16 only to finish last in the 1998 World Cup. Same thing in 2002, the U.S. makes the round of 16 and lays an egg in 2006.
Now before all the soccer fans think I am crazy let me add this. The U.S. invented the game of basketball a little over a hundred years ago. While we have dominated for the most part international competition the rest of the world has caught up.
The U.S. still has the best basketball players in the world but, the rest of the world is getting closer as far as the level of talent goes. In baseball we have already been passed by other countries. So, why have we lagged behind in the world’s most popular game?
After the last two games the U.S. has played against Egypt and Spain there is hope that soccer is turning the corner. Maybe now the U.S. has the talent to compete on an international level. That is on a yearly basis, unlike past times of playing well then being unable to carry over year to year.
In the final game of group B play; there totaled a six goal swing. First the U.S. winning 3-0 over Egypt to get half what they needed. Then some help from Brazil who won 3-0 over Italy to advance in the tournament.
Then waiting on the U.S. was Spain, a team that had not lost since November 2006. A team with a 15 match unbeaten streak, that had not allowed a goal in this tournament so far.
The U.S. was able to get an early 1-0 lead off a goal by Jozy Altidore 25 minutes in to the game. Spain puts massive amounts of pressure on the U.S. defense; yet Goalie Tim Howard played great in net and did not give up any cheap goals.
The U.S. was able to get a second goal by Clint Dempsey 73 minutes into the game to take a 2-0 lead. With that lead the U.S. was able to upset the number one ranked team in the world. Landon Donovan, who is much maligned in the media showed, fire and played well. Exactly what we want to see from Donovan while playing for the national team each time he comes out.
The U.S. will play either South Africa or Brazil in the final of the Confederation Cup. If they play South Africa they must win. Otherwise it will be another step back after a step forward.
If the U.S. plays Brazil they must show up. I am not saying they have to win but they cannot be run off the pitch either. They cannot lose 3-0 again. They have to show they can play with the best teams in the world.
The U.S. has a history of playing well then falling on their face. To be one of the best teams in the world they have to play like they have in the last two games all the time. If they can beat or keep the best teams in the world close they will only grow interest in the game in the U.S. and build team confidence.
Also, the officials must begin to give the U.S. respect and not keep handing out red cards to U.S. players. In four games they have received two red cards. The officials aside, the U.S. must be consistent every year.
No more playing well in a World Cup and then laying an egg in the next one. If they cannot build on this into the 2010 World Cup and beyond U.S. soccer will always be looked down upon. The U.S. has the talent, now they have to live up to it.