Extreme Makeover Home Edition: U.S. Soccer Still Needs Change
I didn't bother.
I didn't feel like it. I delved into the realm of full-on fandom. I didn't feel like doing much else, because, for once, it felt like the right thing to do.
Easiest group ever. Best team to date. It was a simple decision.
I simply didn't want to write anything regarding the team or its performance after each game. I felt like it would be in my best interest to just absorb what happened, analyze, spit, piss, moan, and move on to the next one.
The next one suddenly became the last one. Carlos Bocanegra got beat, Jay DeMerit was caught trailing and a wondrous strike crashed Twitter, stormed the beaches of Facebook and sunk the dreams of 300 million.
The cardiac kids didn't have another resuscitation left in them. Four years after enduring World Cup qualifiers, injuries, and absurd calls, it was like more than a jab to the gut.
It was more like an Ali haymaker to the chest. No air left to breathe, collapsed on the apartment floor of my friends, my hands on my head, I knew it was over. I left it all on the pitch.
The scraggy, whitish-blue carpet was my pitch and all I could do was look down for a good 15 minutes to wonder.
Thoughts overran my mind. What would the next four years be like? What will I be like in four years? Will I even be around to see the United States take the field in Brazil come 2014?
Therein lies the sharp cruelty of soccer. It is the cruelest form of irony and beauty intertwined. Americans ask why the World Cup is once every four years and as I sat there on my knees, in a heap of self-pity, I answered their quandaries.
This is why.
Having poured the time and energy into it, following a team through the years into the World Cup is akin to having a relationship—you fight with it, you can't stand it, yet it elates you at times. Brightens the days that seemingly cannot and would not see any light.
That being said, sometimes, a relationship needs its own fair share of plastic surgery, or even the pulling of the proverbial plug.
For a team that was dubbed as the most-talented in the history of the United States Soccer Federation, it's hard to put the kind of perspective it needs into the right fray at this moment.
You have to look at it from a sort of existential standpoint.
What was accomplished? An advancement out of the group stages is an accomplishment, but in retrospect, it's fairly all moral at this point. Moral victories are few and far between in terms of real accolades.
Will the U.S. ever be good enough to be a consistent Round of 16 squad? Or stretching it a bit farther, quarter or semifinals?
As of this moment, the answer is an irrefutable no.
No doubt the team grabbed the eyes of an entire country after Landon Donovan buried a stoppage-time winner against the Algerians to advance.
But at this point, is it that big of a moment? How can we see that as any sort of positive movement if it all came crashing and burning on its way down against the Ghanaians?
The Americans were their own worst enemy throughout the entire tournament, going through inordinate amount of mental lapses in matches that take four years to get to. Matches that some unqualified countries would do whatever it takes to be in.
This team was no doubt talented and had the chance to make some transcendent noise, yet there are no excuses on the stage of the World Cup. You bring it all for a month straight, consistently, and see where it takes you.
Bob Bradley's team had the guts, without question, to fight back from its own ceremonial brain farts, but in the end that snake will continue to squeeze the breath right out of you.
A great question would be: will the U.S. ever get there?
Is the youth development systems in place for the best and brightest athletes of the nation take a continual liking in the sport of soccer and continue on to dream to play for the flag?
Ridiculous high school coaching, college scholarships and topsy-turvy club teams are only a part of why the future of United States soccer continues to be cloudy.
Bradley no doubt did a respectable job in getting his team to the World Cup and advancing out of the group stages, but one can only wonder if the repetitive nature of good, but not great will ever be flipped on its back?
For as much growth as American soccer has seen in the last couple decades, the Americans have won four—count 'em—four matches since the 1990 World Cup.
A more than gracious top-15 FIFA world ranking shows that the U.S. apparently are really good against teams it knows and sees on a consistent basis (Mexico, Central American teams), but after that, it's a nightmare portfolio.
Landon Donovan scintillated and captured hearts. He did. He proved that he is the best soccer player in the history of the Stars & Stripes.
After Donovan, there's Clint Dempsey who is at times mercurial on the international level. There's Tim Howard, who is arguably a top-5 goalkeeper in the world, yet had a disappointing tournament.
Michael Bradley, the coach's son, is a promising midfielder, but needs a partner-in-crime.
It's easy to pinpoint players and say "next time." Or "next Cup."
Fact of the matter is, the world's best players range from 20-to-25. The prime of soccer careers start around 18. The U.S. have players that are pushing 30 and the laurels resting on youngsters that play on an inconsistent basis on club teams that aren't all that successful.
My good friend told me he wasn't too worried because in four years our "young stars" will be on the up-and-ready.
I asked who.
His response: "You know, like Stuart Holden, Jose Torres, Jozy (Altidore)..."
In four years, Holden will be 28, Torres 26 and Altidore 24. And these are guys that aren't even stars on the club level.
There are a myriad of problems and issues that need to be addressed on a full-fledged campaign by USSF President Sunil Gulati.
I'm not saying Jurgen Klinsmann is the answer. I'm saying Bradley should be commended for getting U.S. soccer back on the map after Bruce Arena's nuclear fallout, but to be frank, the federation needs something new.
Come 2014, we could be seeing something completely different and an exciting, pace-filled team that knows how finish and defend the best players in the world. Or we could continue to see a team that surrenders inexplicable goals early on.
And as much as Bradley had his hands on the reign of the bandwagon, his decision to start Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley will (and should) forever haunt a manager that had arguably the easiest road to the semifinals of the World Cup imaginable.
In four years, Landon Donovan could be done with soccer. Ditto for Dempsey. Who knows. Soccer is a crazy sport that leaves no prisoners when it turns folks to the depths of despair.
In four years, we may or may not be in Brazil sporting brand new, spiffy Nike-sponsored jerseys and Nike-based commercials.
In four years, Bob Bradley may be leading Chivas USA to a third straight MLS Cup title.
In four years, we could have the next generation of American soccer players that take the sport by storm and change the style of the nation's game forever.
In four years, I can only hope I don't find myself on some whitish-blue carpet on my knees with my hands on my head, wondering what might have been.
Even more so, I hope the Stars & Stripes aren't doing the exact same thing.
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