Monday, June 2, 2008

The State of US Soccer

Anyone watching the US team's 2-0 loss to England this week probably had the same sick feeling some of us had during the 1998 World Cup - that the US team looks (and is) not even second rate.

Frankly the US was quite lucky not to fall 4-0 last week in London as the home team spent the last 20 minutes toying with our team the way a cat plays with a mouse it has caught (before eating it). They managed to snuff out the two most dangerous US players (Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey) and sliced through the US defense all too easily and showed US fans why Oguchi Onyewu was not offered a contract at New Castle after his cameo tour of the Toon (and to think he passed up a three year deal at Marseilles).

Gooch holds his own in Belgium but he is still too easily turned by the game's best. In international matches, he goes to ground for the tackle when he stay with his man and he always seems one sloppy foul away from ejection. Word has it that FC Cologne coach Christoph Daum is looking at Gooch now that they are being promoted to the First Bundesliga and Gooch should take any deal they offer. Daum is a good coach (who gave Frankie Hejduk his first chance at Leverkusen) and is just the type to help Onyewu work out the kinks in his game.

Enough picking on Gooch, the team as a whole looked off kilter and stroked the ball around like they were playing Barbados, not England. Instead of purposeful quick traps, touches, and runs, they looked like a team warming up before practice, not one trying to crack one of the best back lines in the world. They did manage to get the ball forward a few times to the target forward but he seldom found anyone to spray the ball to. And did anyone see Michael Bradley running with the ball at his feet (something a Donovan-less team would need)?

Lest anyone think the early US possession was a sign of strength, don't fool yourself. England coach Fabio Capello approached the match like a butcher who checks out the meat, bones, and gristle before taking out his tools and going to work. He let his team absorb and observe what the US brought to the table and once they found out what they needed to know --that the midfield is anemic, the strikers unsupported, and back line often hung out to dry-- his team methodically sliced off what they wanted. Terry and Gerard's strikes were textbook perfect and England's barrage of the US goal in the second half was painful to watch.

The USA were outclassed - pure and simple. The loss so many key players since 2004-6 has left a huge unfilled gap in the US lineup. We don't have any predatory, self-sacrificing strikers like Brian McBride, no one as technical and tough as Claudio Reyna or John O'Brien, and few speedy and versatile defenders like Tony Sanneh. Looking back even further, we lack players with the skills, swagger, and moxie of Eric Wynalda or John Harkes who refused to be awed by their competition.

Against England it seemed the only one still carrying the torch from those days is Frankie Hejduk who proved once again his enduring value to the Stars and Stripes. Also, Steve Cherundolo gave his all in marking Gerrard while Eddie Lewis played well to his strengths and showed why he deserves to be in the lineup.

I shudder to think what awaits this team when they play Spain on Wednesday, a team with a good chance to win the upcoming Euro 2008. Seeing the trouble the US team had with the English midfield, I can only imagine how they do against the faster, craftier Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, and Iniesta, not to mention Liverpool hitman Fernando Torres.

No comments: