Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, and Alejandro Bedoya at the Gold Cup.
The recent performance at the Gold Cup left some wondering whether the US soccer resurgence is over. Perhaps halftime in the Confederation’s Cup Final was the high water mark.
The US had a 2-0 lead against perennial powerhouse Brazil and seemed on the edge of capturing their first major trophy, but we all know it was not to be.
A three-goal explosion from Brazil, a disappointing performance against Ghana at the World Cup and a big loss to Mexico has left a lot of questions in the air for the USMNT.
Yet I do not believe that team USA has peaked; in fact, I think the only way is up. The foundation has been laid for future US success at the World Cup.
Let's take a look a look why…
Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle versus Algeria at the 2010 World Cup.
Jozy Altidore (21), Maurice Edu (24), Michael Bradley (23), Jonathon Spector (25), Jose Francisco Torres (23) and Benny Feilhaber (26) all participated in the World Cup and will be younger than 30 come 2014.
Tim Howard will be 36, which is still well within a goalkeeper’s prime. Just ask 40-year-old Edwin van der Sar and former US keeper Brad Friedel, who just turned 40 and is the current holder of the Premier League’s consecutive appearances record. Unless his form severely dips, he will be a strong veteran force between the pipes in Brazil.
The US tandem of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will be 31 and 32, respectively. This is a slightly questionable age for midfielders, but both will probably return. Dempsey will be the stronger of the two because he relies less on speed then Donovan.
It is also highly possible that Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson and Jermaine Jones will return. They will all be on the wrong side of 30, but their mostly defensive roles will allow them to play longer than their attacking colleagues
Despite a disappointing performance during his first two gold cup games, Tim Ream is only 23 and in his second season as a professional. He had a very strong rookie season in the MLS for the Red Bull and is currently partnered with Mexican International and former Barcelona man Rafa Marquez.
Eighteen-year-old Juan Agudelo, who also plays for the Red Bull, looks like the real deal. His on ball skills are impressive, and he seems to have the goal scoring touch. He has scored timely goals against South Africa, Argentina and for his club against the Seattle Sounders. His goal against DC United (above) has also drawn comparisons to teammate Thierry Henry. For a team who has failed to score a goal from the striker position at the last two World Cups, Agudelo could be the answer.
Eric Lichaj had a bad final, but was solid during the majority of the Gold Cup. At 22, he is a definite US defensive prospect. He made 16 appearances on loan for lower league side Leeds United, a former top division powerhouse, as well as five appearances at his home club Aston Villa. This included a game against Tottenham, where Lichaj preformed well containing Gareth Bale.
The former 14-year-old prodigy Freddy Adu, now 22, seems to have come full circle. He looked extremely impressive versus Mexico and was one of the teams few bright spots in the Gold Cup final. He has finally learned to watch his time on the ball and use his skill sparingly. As a result, he’s moving the ball on before a second defender can come and take it off him. He did an admirable job hiding behind the striker and acting as the team’s playmaker, a role he could reprise in Brazil.
Sacha Kljestian (25) and Alejandro Bedoya (24) also played well in the USMNT’s stacked midfield during the Gold Cup and could easily be part of the 2014 World Cup Roster.
We can also hope for 21-year-old German born Nuremburg Right Back Timothy Chandler’s return. He asked not to be called for this year’s Gold Cup squad, citing nagging injuries and a desire to prepare himself for his first full professional season. Though he may want to test his German National Team prospects, considering he is not yet tied to play for the US.
The team can also look to recent USMNT call-ups defenders Omar Gonzalez (22, LA Galaxy), Norwegian born midfielder Mikkel Diskerud (20, Stabæk), forward Teal Bunbury (21, Sporting KC), Togo born Gale Agbossoumonde (19, Djurgården) and midfielder Brek Shea (21, FC Dallas).
New Expansion Francise Portland Timbers supporters club the Timbers Army
The MLS is continuing to grow and develop as a league. Although it’s not comparable to the big European Leagues, it still serves an important purpose. It pulls American youths to the sport and serves as a place to develop American talent. Without the MLS, there would be no Landon Donovan.
Donovan signed with Bayern Leverkusen as a teenager after an impressive performance at a youth tournament in Europe. He was never really able to break into the first team and only made seven appearances for the club. Donovan instead moved on loan to the MLS, playing for the San Jose Earthquakes from 2001 to 2004, and then signing permanently with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005.
MLS teams had a reason to play Donovan because he was a potential American star. Bayern Leverkusen is a German team, so Donovan was just another prospect. If Donovan was German, the club would probably given him more chances.
The development of the MLS means that USMNT prospects have a place to play and develop. The continued improvement of the league is ensuring that this experience is of value to the National Team.
The MLS has also served as a launching pad for US Internationals Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Sacha Kljestian and Freddy Adu. These players used the MLS to develop and display their skills to larger European teams.
It has also served as a place for potential national team members to return when their careers have stalled in Europe, as Landon Donovan, Charlie Davies and Benny Feilhaber have done.
MLS Academy Product Juan Agudelo
The MLS created its Youth Academy program in 2007 to allow MLS teams to develop local youth players from their early teens onwards. These players are then allowed to enter their clubs first team squads without passing through the MLS Draft.
The program means that the best young players will no longer rely on amateur coaches or face traveling overseas for professional coaching. Until the MLS established its program only the IMG Academy served as a professional training program for prospective US National Team players in the United States.
The program ensures that more youth players will be exposed to professional coaching at younger ages. Juan Agudelo is the first member of a MLS Youth Academy to reach the US National Team, but he will not be the last.
Increased exposure to professional coaching will lead to more refined players, who will be better prepared to compete on an international level. These players will begin to appear in the next few years in the lead up to 2014.
Stuart Holden chases Wayne Rooney in the Premier League
The US National team already features players who have competed in the top leagues in Europe and this trend will continue. Potential 2014 starters Tim Howard (Everton), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), and Stuart Holden (Bolton) are all established starters in the Premier League.
Maurice Edu (Rangers) and Sacha Kljestian (Anderlecht) play for major clubs in Scotland and Belgium respectively.
Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Germany), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04, Germany), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting CP, Portugal), and Jonathon Spector (unattached) all face uncertain futures with their clubs. However, their abilities and experience in Europe’s top leagues will most likely ensure their continued success overseas.
Jozy Altidore (Villarreal, Spain), Freddy Adu (Benfica, Portugal), and Erik Lichaj (Aston Villa, England) are all prospects for major European Clubs, who will probably break into the starting ranks by 2014.
Beyond these players you can also expect to see more American’s move from the MLS to major European clubs, increasing the National Teams experience in top flight European football.
The USMNT will also continue to attract the world’s top teams to the US for matches, as they have recently bringing in Brazil, Argentina, and Spain. This experience ensures that despite their failure to qualify for the 2013 Confederation’s Cup, the USMNT will still have experience playing the worlds best.
Socceroos playing Japan in the AFC Asian Cup Final.
Lets face it, the rest of the world is catching up to the European and South American powers. Now you might wonder what positive effect this could have for the US, but once you understand how the World Cup Groups are drawn it becomes more obvious.
Pot 1 is the powerhouse pot. In this pot you get the host and the highest ranked qualifiers. Pot 2-4 is everyone else. Each group has one member from each pot.
Since 1998, when the World Cup expanded to 32 teams Pot 1 has almost exclusively consisted of European and South American teams The only non-host to be drawn in pot 1 was Mexico in 2006.
A big part of the reason European and South American teams dominate pot 1 is the European Championship and Copa América, which give European and South American Teams an opportunity to improve their world rankings by piling on World Ranking points, which are linked to how well ranked your opposition is.
A major reason for Australia’s move from the OFC to AFC after the 2006 World Cup was the difficulty in organizing top games outside of established competitions. It’s a lot like the BCS, Australia couldn’t play top teams because the top teams wouldn’t schedule them. This means that a lot of World Ranking points are earned from games against continental opponents, not intercontinental friendlies.
As a result, only 4 of today’s top 25 teams aren’t from Europe or South America and not one of those teams is ranked high enough to make pot 1.
Pot 1’s big advantage is that you don’t have to face anyone from pot 1. Of the 21 teams who have won their first two games, allowing players to rest for their third group game, only 5 were outside pot 1.
Half of all semifinalists, runners up, and champions since 1998 won their first two group games at the World Cup and that is a big reason why 12 of 16 semifinalists and every runner up and champion has been a member of pot 1.
Yet the better the rest of the world gets, the less the pot 1 advantage becomes. The rise of Asia, Africa, and CONCACAF in the next world cup will make Pot 1 teams play all 3 games instead of winning 2 and resting. This lack of rest in the group stage will make the tournament more open giving the US a better chance in elimination games
Travel is so important at the World Cup. Of the 19 World Cup champions, 8 have been playing in their home country and most significantly only one has been playing with more then +/- 2 hour time difference from their home countries.
I often travel between Australia and the United States and I can tell you that the time difference is brutal on you physically and the bigger the change the harder it is to adapt. It takes weeks to adapt to big time zone changes and that is what European, Asian, and African teams will have to do in Brazil.
Brazil, who is the only team who has won outside a +/- 2 hour difference from their home time zone, has many players in Europe who must travel back and forth. Similarly, all Asian, North American, and South American teams are stacked full of travelers, who play in European Leagues. These players are used to time changes and have practice resetting their internal clocks.
It is also significantly harder to go west then east, which is why east coast teams always struggle on the west coast, while west coast teams don’t do that badly on the east coast.
In Brazil, European teams playing 8:30 pm games will feel more like the game is starting at 11:30 pm, which wears on you throughout the game. By comparison team USA’s travel will make games feel a couple of hours earlier, which hardly effects preparation or performance.
This “home time-zone” advantage will be a big boost and unseen 12th man against European competition. I’m predicting many upsets in Brazil, which will allow the US a path to the semifinals.
I know what I'm saying is a little bit out there, but its all to start the conversation. Don't be afraid to leave your comments below.