World Cup 2014: The Future of U.S. Soccer, Part IV—The Big Picture
This is the finale in a four-part series looking at the future of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team. Click to read Part I—Defense, Part II—Midfield, or Part III—Forwards. You can also read more of the author’s work at World Football Daily, Man Cave Sports, or Hammy End.
It’s done, then.
All positions, all the big names—and a few not-so-big ones—covered fully and exhaustively. Sure, there may be some omissions (apologies, Steven Lenhart), but for the most part, the future of U.S. Soccer lies somewhere in the text of the first three parts of this series.
So, why a fourth?
Two reasons: First, as we all know, there is a whole lot more to a team than the fielded players; Second, such a lengthy and prolix breakdown requires a bit of summarizing at the end.
Let’s get on with it then, shall we?
Before the World Cup, many would have said that winning Group C and advancing to the knockout rounds would have been more than enough for the United States Soccer Federation to extend Bob Bradley’s contract an additional four years.
But the style in which Bradley’s boys exited the Cup coupled oddly with the fact that Bradley’s name is popping up in European club circles may be enough to keep the USSF from re-signing their coach for another cycle.
It’s funny that the same performance at this World Cup both disappointed USSF president Sunil Gulati and impressed European clubs. The disappointment can be seen in the fact that the U.S., in winning their group, put themselves in a prime position to advance to the semifinals, only to lose to a Ghana side that seemed beatable. Many have blamed Bradley’s tactical decisions, namely starting Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley, for the loss.
The impressive part of Bradley’s performance was his ability to make in-game decisions that were necessary to salvaging results. When Clark was clearly struggling against Ghana, he was subbed off at just 30 minutes for Maurice Edu, who had looked impressive in previous appearances. His halftime substitution of Benny Feilhaber for Herculez Gomez pushed the U.S. into a 4-3-3, a formation which dominated an aggressive Ghanaian defense.
Many U.S. fans, the author of this article included, would wonder why Bradley didn’t make these decisions before the U.S. fell into a one-goal deficit—a phenomena that seemed to happen in the first few minutes of every game, save Algeria (thank you, crossbar).
Still, despite some disappointing decisions which Bradley correctly bit the bullet on, it’s hard to argue against his results from the entirety of his run at the top of the USMNT. First in CONCACAF qualifying, a Gold Cup title in 2007, a second-place finish at the 2009 Confederations Cup, and a gutsy showing in South Africa could be enough to renew his contract.
But I believe, firmly, that the USSF should look elsewhere for the next four years. I’m not the standard Bradley Basher who hates his tactics and personnel decisions, but I do disagree with many of his decisions. That aside, coaches rarely do well on their second go-round—just ask Bruce Arena. A fresh injection of tactical ingenuity and perspective would do the entire national side a great deal of good.
Before I move on to the candidates, I have to express appreciation for Bradley’s work as head coach of the USMNT. The players clearly loved him, and while many didn’t see eye to eye with his decisions all the time, he seemed to get the best out of players just when it was needed most.
Now, on to the candidates. There are only two men in my mind for the job: Jurgen Klinsmann and Peter Nowak. Klinsmann was the candidate of choice last time the job was open, but contract negotiations fell through. Four years later, we’re back where we started. Can we lure such a big name coach to our second-tier footballing nation?
I think we can. Klinsmann has always expressed interest in U.S. Soccer and the backward philosophy that has driven it for so long. He knows the system well, having lived in America for several years now, and he knows the players, both young and old. Klinsmann is the type of manager who could step in and change the way the USSF runs things—for the better.
The two downfalls to Klinsmann are his demands and his tactics. The same reason we failed to land him in 2006 may come to fruition again—control. Klinsmann wants the power to change the pyramid of the USSF, and Gulati isn’t keen on handing the keys over. In addition, Klinsmann is not a tactical genius by any means. He’s much more of a player manager, and the USMNT might need someone more tactically astute moving forward.
In that case, though Klinsmann remains my first choice, it might be best to go after Nowak. Nowak has worked in the USSF system for years, having assisted Bradley during his first years as head coach. Now with the Philadelphia Union, Nowak could be lured away for the right price, and his inclination to the 4-3-3 and its off-shoots could be the right tactical move for the U.S.
Still, is Nowak that much of an improvement on Bradley? I’m not sure yet, but remember in the context of this debate that no foreign manager has ever won a World Cup.
I’d still lean toward Klinsmann. There’s a first time for everything, right?
Gold Cup Starters
I don’t think we’ll see many changes for next summer’s Gold Cup.
This is the same lineup that featured in the second half against Ghana. It’s a 4-3-3 in base, but Donovan and Dempsey will have free roam to drop into the midfield, operating on a string. Bradley and Feilhaber will be more forward thinking, while Edu is more defensive-minded.
Stuart Holden should see time in the midfield in place of Feilhaber, as should Jose Francisco Torres. Jermaine Jones could be a factor in the midfield as well, perhaps even replacing Maurice Edu for a short term.
Charlie Davies could see time up top if healthy, and with Jay DeMerit’s club future in question, Chad Marshall or Clarence Goodson could start in his place at the back.
Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra should enjoy strong seasons at their clubs and retain their starting fullback spots.
Tim Howard is a lock in goal.
Predicted finish: Champions
Confederations Cup Starters
Should the U.S. win the 2011 Gold Cup, their birth in the 2013 Confederations Cup could see several changes in personnel.
Much of this depends on health and form during qualification, but based on current observations, this is the strongest side the U.S. could put forth in three years.
The shape begins to look more like a 4-2-3-1, the hot formation in international football. It’s easily compacted for defensive unity or spread out for offensive continuity. It can be tentative or aggressive, and for the U.S., it puts players in their strongest areas.
The back sees a lot of change. Marshall is my current pick to be the next center back beside Gooch, but Tim Ream, Omar Gonzales, and Gale Agbossoumonde could all be factors, as could Spector. Jonathan Bornstein may be favored over Edgar Castillo, but I like Castillo’s skill going forward. Spector, if not in the center, starts on the right.
Bradley and Edu are back in their holding roles, with Edu likeliest to hold the deepest position. Donovan moves to a more central role but still has free roam—he, Dempsey, and Holden are virtually interchangeable.
Altidore remains a lone forward, with a hopefully-nationalized Danny Mwanga and healthy Davies pushing for minutes as well.
Did I mention Howard in net?
Predicted finish: Third place
World Cup Starters
Assuming World Cup 2014 qualification for the article’s sake, I don’t see much change from the 2013 side.
The biggest change is the inclusion of Agbossoumonde in the starting eleven. He’ll only be 22, but he’s already showing the ability to be a world class center back with his performances in the U-20 side.
The midfield sees no change, but Torres will still be fighting for time, as could Sebastian Lletget. Another product of the U-20s, he’s impressing scouts at West Ham as one of their best youth academy prospects since Joe Cole. Just 17 years old now, he may not have matured enough physically to crack the first XI by 2014, but all bets are off when it comes to the kind of talent he’s got.
Altidore holds on to his forward position, but any combination of Mwanga, Davies, or, dare I say—Freddy Adu—could challenge for time as well.
Howard will be better than ever.
Predicted finish: Third place
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