On 26 May 2010, FIFA released their latest rankings. San Marino was ranked 202nd, and behind them were Anguilla, Montserrat, American Samoa, and Central African Republic, with Papua New Guinea coming last in the list of the 207 ranked international soccer teams.
America came 14th.
Impressive? Not in the slightest!
In 2002 Team USA made it to the last eight of the World Cup; in April 2006, their FIFA ranking was fourth in the world; and in 2009 the team reached its first FIFA international final at the Confederations Cup, beating reigning European champions Spain on their way to a narrow defeat in the final against Brazil.
This is not a country of also-rans, this is a country from soccer's top table.
This is a country ranked higher than the Uruguayan team that held France to a goalless draw. This is a country ranked 33 places higher than the Korean team that tore Greece apart. And this is the team ranked the eleventh best in the world.
That means that Team USA is not in South Africa for the ride, they are there expected to reach the last 16, and possibly even the quarter finals. So what's keeping them from doing so
Having watched the reaction to the match versus England, you'd be forgiven for thinking the American public had watched the world's 100th ranked team pull off a shock result against the world's best, but was this the case?
On paper there is actually very little between these two sides. In fact, from July 2005 until June 2006, Team USA were ranked higher! But was that what we saw on June 12, when the two sides met in their first match of this year's World Cup?
In that match, England had 57 percent of the possession, compared with the United States' 43 percent. England had 18 shots at goal, compared with the United States 12. England had eight corner kicks compared with the United States four. And so it goes on; crosses, territorial advantage, passing accuracy, in every single department in a match between these two, supposedly near equal ranking teams, England came out ahead with one exception, which saw the United States making five saves in comparison to England's three.
And this was reason to celebrate?
Where is the winning mentality?
England was poor. They had a central striker who couldn't score goals. Their holding midfielder was injured. Their left sided midfielder left after 30 minutes, unable to cope with the pace of the game because he was still recovering from illness.
In the center of defense their captain had already gone home through injury, and his replacement was also forced to retire at the halfway mark due to an injury of his own. And yet they out-thought, and outfought, Team USA in every area of the field. They were able to run down the flanks at will, unobstructed, to lash in cross after cross after cross, which were, fortunately for Tim Howard, all to often misplaced and wasted. If they connected, or the gulf would have been even more obvious.
And apart from one effort from Jozy Altidore that was turned onto the post, there was almost no response. It took a complete and utter howler from Robert Green in goal for England to let Team USA back in to the match.
Where was the fight, where was the spirit, where was the tactical acumen, and organization? Absent without leave, that's where!
What happened after that blunder, with England on the back foot, and with a goalkeeper, whose confidence was shot to pieces?
Team USA sat back, weak and neutered, rather than looking for the knockout punch. Where were the shots flying in from all angles, to capitalize on the shift in momentum?
Is this something to celebrate?
This brings me to the title of this piece. The next match is on Friday, against Slovenia, and America really needs to win this match if they want to progress; and holding out for a second Robert Green moment won't be enough to ensure that.
So how can Team USA cure what ails them?
Team USA needs to be more organized. They need to stop allowing teams to get behind them and to dictate the game. They need to stop allowing themselves to be out-thought, and above all else, they need to find their winning mentality, their spirit, and their fight.
They have to embrace the fact that they are now a big team on a big stage, capable of taking on the best and going toe to toe with them.
Look at Brazil. The masters of the beautiful game.
It's easy to look at their star studded history: Verde-Amarela, Zito, Garrincha, Pelé, Jairzinho, Tostão, Rivelino, Sócrates, Zico, Falcão, Romário, Bebeto, and Jorginho. The names just roll off the tongue, a conveyor belt of talent, of superstars, of footballing genius. Look beyond their beauty, and what do you see?
You see a ruthless footballing monster, with a killer instinct, that lives to score goals.
No one is safe. When the Esquadrão de Ouro pours forward they know they are capable of anything
Brazil eats, drinks, and lives football.
Team USA needs to drink from the cup of self-belief. They need to stop looking at themselves as though they belong next to Papua New Guinea in the rankings, and start believing that they belong where they are.
They need to stop celebrating poor draws, and defeats, and to start embracing victory. They need to find the warrior inside, and that's what will cure that which ails America.
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