The USA men's football team recently beat Spain, the No. 1 ranked team in the world and, yesterday, gave the No. 4 ranked team in the world, Brazil, a serious run for its money; leading 2-0 for the first 50 minutes of a 90 minute contest before finally succumbing to intense Brazilian pressure and losing.
Final Score: Brazil 3 USA 2.
The 'Net is awash with commentators trying to denigrate this team's accomplishments.
Mostly its just typical anti-American hate, but some of it is semi-intelligent criticism that, at least, is focusing on the game and not on American foreign policy blunders or other historic political mistakes by long dead Americans. (Welcome to World Cup Football, baby.)
"The USA was lucky. Spain and Brazil weren't trying hard. The Confederation Cup doesn't matter.", they say.
In short, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, Team USA don't get no respect.
I have been a World Cup football fan since 1990, when my German girlfriend and I decided on a whim to drive from Frankfurt to Rome for the 1990 World Cup. We had no tickets and we had no hotel reservations but we drove to Italy in her Volkswagen Golf and had an absolute blast.
We watched the matches from pubs and I was hooked. Germany won that year and I have been a World Cup fan ever since.
I still don't consider myself a "soccer fan". I don't care about the LA Galaxy or the English Premier League or the MLS or any of it.
But, the World Cup? I'm an addict. Great athletes, drama, sports, politics, history, war, peace, drinking, half naked Brazilian women, what's not to love?
So, here are my comments on the USA's incredible run to the Finals in the Confederation Cup this past week.
The USA is currently ranked 14th out 202 FIFA nations. That's about right, in my opinion.
Arguably, they could rise past Paraguay (13) and Turkey (12) or drop to around 26th behind Mexico (25). There are some good teams between 10 and 25 and the USA is one of those teams. It should be noted that NONE of the teams in this tier are considered serious threats to win the World Cup next summer but there is always one team (Cameroon in 1990, for example.) that makes a deep run despite the expectations or rankings.
Is the US Team Top 10? Probably not. Despite their upset of Spain (1) in the Confederation Cup, Portugal and France are currently ranked at 10 and 11 and the USA should not be considered higher than them at this time. If they beat a team like France or Portugal in the World Cup, they could (and should) move into the Top 10.
That said, the USA is a hard working, gritty team with lots of heart. They don't have the one "superstar" player yet (though Landon Donovan's play against Brazil yesterday was stellar). However, they have a good, solid team that, when playing together, is a force to be reckoned with.
I'm not sure other top 10 teams like England, Croatia, or Russia would want to play them next summer. They will never fully dominate play or lead in time of possession against a team like Brazil or Spain, but they can strike quickly on counter attacks and they play great defense.
Plus, the US is known for our goaltenders. Tim Howard for the men and Hope Solo for the women are two of the best in the world. (My Dutch friend says its because Americans aren't afraid to stick their noses where they don't belong...gotta love the political undercurrent of this game!)
Germany (3) would roll over them but I think Germany is going to win the whole thing next summer...easily.
My point is, on the one hand, people say that rankings don't matter. On the other hand, if you say the US is as good as Russia or Croatia, they say "But Russia and Croatia are the 8th and 9th ranked teams in the world!"
Or they say the Confederation Cup doesn't matter. (The hundreds of Brazilian fans dancing in the streets of San Francisco yesterday might disagree).
Or they say the USA was just lucky (Which sport doesn't involve some luck?)
Or they say Spain and Brazil didn't try very hard and the USA snuck up on them. Of course, it was an upset. No-one, including the players on Team USA, was claiming that the USA wasn't the underdog.
So, what does it take to get respect? I dont know but here are some thoughts.
If winning the World Cup is the only thing that matters, then there are many teams in the world who are simply "capable of getting results" just like the USA and should not be considered "elite". The current #1 and #2 ranked teams in the world, Spain and Holland, are included in this category.
Obviously, this isn't the case. Spain and Holland are considered elite teams, as they should be.
If winning the World Cup is the true measure, then consider this:
Only seven nations have ever won World Cups since it began in 1930, some more than once (Uruguay, Italy, Germany, England, France, Argentina, and Brazil).
That leaves 195 FIFA nations who have never won, including top ranked teams such as Spain (1), Holland (2), Croatia (8), Russia (9) Portugal (11), Greece (12) Paraguay (13), and the USA (14).
If beating the best team in Africa and the best team in Europe and leading the best team in South America 2-0 for 50 minutes doesn't get you any respect, what does?