Nearly everyone seems to be patting the United States Men’s National Soccer team on the back after their run to the knockout stage in South Africa. After their flop in Germany four year earlier this might seem the right thing to do.
The run to the round of 16 makes 2014 in Brazil much more important for U.S. soccer. But there seems to be two emerging trends for the U.S. National team.
These two trends seem to be linked and one might be just a complaint on my part. To get to the heart of these trends first we need to get into the way back machine and travel to 1990.
The United States had missed out on the World Cup for 40 years before their appearance in the 1990 World Cup final in Italy. The U.S. did not make much of a showing in their first World Cup since 1950.
In that 1950 World Cup in Brazil the Americans famously beat England 1-0 in what has been termed the “Miracle on Grass”. Most seem to forget that the victory over England did not even put the U.S. in the knockout stage as the finished last in their group after losing to Spain and Chile by lopsided scores.
There would be no miracles in Italy in the 90’ World Cup as the U.S. lost all three matches in group play. The U.S. would play well against host country Italy and Austria in group play, but would be blown out by Czechoslovakia.
Then came 1994, the U.S. would host the World Cup on home soil. In the group stage the U.S. would advance to the knockout stage for the first time since 1930.
Helping the U.S. advance in 1994 was an own goal by Andres Escobar of Columbia for a 2-1 United States win. The U.S. would be one of the best third place group teams and met Brazil on the 4th of July.
The Brazilians would win the game 1-0 eliminating the U.S. but an amazing run after years of little to no success brought huge attention to U.S. soccer. Many predicted that this would bring soccer to the forefront of American sports.
Let me digress for a moment to clarify some facts for soccer fans:
It has been greatly debated if soccer has come to the forefront of American sports. Yes, millions upon millions of kids play soccer in the United States every year.
No one is questioning that fact. Yes, people all over the country watch the World Cup every four years. Again no there is no arguing that people watch the World Cup every time the event comes around.
When it comes to watching the Major League Soccer at home on TV most Americans watch other programing or do other things. Many soccer fans love to talk about how the attendance of games is flourishing all over the United States.
Before you go crazy about how right you are, check out this site for the attendance figures after the 2009 season. Of the 15 teams in the MLS in 2009, only four teams had an increase in attendance from 2008.
Furthermore the attendance figures for 2009 overall are skewed since the Seattle Sounders were an expansion team that sold out their home games. This inflated the attendance figures and the league was actually worse in attendance in 2009 than the -2.6% it claims.
In fact without Seattle, MLS attendance would be down over 20% from the 2008 attendance. So far in 2010 the MLS is averaging about the same amount as 2009.
The 2009 average attendance was 16,037 and early into the 2010 season attendance is at 16,472. A slight increase but not the major increase, soccer fans would like for people to think.
Also MLS fans should not expect a major bump from the World Cup for two reasons. The first reason, for no bump in attendance is that most of the players on the U.S. roster play professionally in Europe.
Secondly, the NHL did not see an attendance jump after the U.S. Men’s Hockey team made the Gold Medal game in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Again without Seattle the MSL would be floundering as a league.
Now back to the point I was making about the U.S. national team:
After the 1994 run, came the debacle in France in 1998. Again the U.S. national team failed to win a game in group play.
In France the U.S. national team made more headlines for trashing hotel rooms than their play on the pitch. The Americas lost to Germany, Iran, and Yugoslavia. In fact the U.S. only scored one goal, by Brian McBride, in three group games.
So after the low expectations from the 1990 World Cup to the high expectations after the 1994, the U.S. flopped in 1998.
The horrible play by the USA, in the World Cup in France in 1998, setup low expectations again in the South Korea/Japan World Cup 2002. Again the U.S. rose above the expectations by reaching the knockout round.
In South Korea/Japan, the USA upset Portugal for a win and finished second to host nation South Korea in group play. In the round of 16 the U.S. would be eliminated by Germany.
So this setup high expectations for the U.S. National team in 2006, when the World Cup was held in Germany. The U.S. once again disappointed by not winning a group game.
In Germany the U.S. tied Italy before being knocked out by Ghana. The USA also lost to Czech Republic in group play as well.
Once again the poor showing in Germany setup low expectations for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The U.S. surprised once again by not only advancing from group play but winning their group for the first time since 1930.
In the knockout stage again the U.S. bowed out after losing to Ghana for the second straight World Cup in a row. This if you are following me means that the U.S. bombs in a World Cup and then makes a great run in a World Cup.
1990 Italy- Failed to win a group stage game
1994 USA- Reached the knockout stage
1998 France- Failed to win a group stage game
2002 South Korea/Japan- Reached the knockout stage
2006 Germany- Failed to win a group stage game
2010 South Africa- Reached the knockout stage
Do you see a pattern developing here?
If the fans, players, and people want to build the game of soccer in the United States, the national team has to become consistent in the World Cup. To be fair the U.S. has never played well in the World Cup when it is held in Europe.
Also I know all about the fathom calls that have cost the Americans matches in the World Cup. Anyone watching this World Cup would know that nearly every team has been hit by poor officiating at one point in this tournament.
FIFA and its brained washed followers refuse replay but that is another rant. The officiating in the World Cup has been so bad it has been questioned by nearly everyone.
Still the next World Cup is in South America and in their only other trip to Brazil in the World Cup in 1950; the U.S. did not advance out of the group stage. Every time the U.S. raises expectations in one World Cup they find a way to underachieve in the next world cup.
The 2010 World Cup run has brought millions of Americans to the sport of soccer but if the U.S. National team fails in 2014, it will be all for naught once again. It is good that U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati has said that he expects more and this World Cup team was not a success.
The most successful United States team since 1930 will not be the same team in Brazil in four years. Two of the three goal scores in the 2010 World Cup will be in the twilight of their career in 2014.
Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will 32 years old and 31 years old respectively and goal keep Tim Howard will be 35 years old by the time the next World Cup rolls around.
Other players in the World Cup Edson Buddle will be 33, Herculez Gomez will be 32, Oguchi Onyewu will be 32, and Captain Carlos Bocanegra will be 35 years old. The defense needs to be retooled with Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, and Steve Cherundolo all being in their mid-30’s by the time the USA gets to Brazil.
That is not to say that the future is not bright for the USA. The other goal scorer in South Africa, Michael Bradley, will be 25 years old in four years.
Young players like, Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley, along with Charlie Davies who missed this World Cup do to a car accident, will be back to try to final score a goal at the forward spot. In the midfield the U.S. has a very good group of young players.
Bradley, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Maurice Edu, and Jose Torres all should be entering their prime when the World Cup moves to Brazil. Jonathan Spector and Jonathan Bornstein should be back to help out the defense.
If Freddy Adu ever decides to live up to his eminence talent that made him the most talked about American soccer star in his teens, the U.S. should be in good shape. There are plenty of other good young players for the United States take to Brazil.
It will be up to Bob Bradley or whoever coaches the U.S. National team to make sure that the 2014 team builds on what the 2010 team did. Not take a step back like the 1998 and 2006 teams did.
If Bradley is not the answer as coach for the U.S. Men’s National team then all the money that can be gathered need to be thrown at Juergen Klinsmann. The former German coach is a proven success at the World Cup as both a coach and player.
No matter what happens the U.S. must become consistent at the World Cup. There will be no time more perfect than Brazil in 2014.