First, I want to congratulate the great nation of Ghana, the continent of Africa and their soccer, erm, football fans on their victory today, especially the performance of GK Richard Kingson, who I think had a career game when the Black Stars needed it most. It was certainly a well-played game and deserved win. And certainly Ghana should take pride that they are 2-0 against the USA, both games in the World Cup, and both games eliminating the USA from the tournament.
Next I want to explain my title. When I used the word “weak” I mean the results of the USA fixtures, not the effort of the players (well, most of them) or the heart and determination they showed for the ninety minutes (and then some) in all their games. But overall, the USA just seemed to be the second best team on the field rather than the best. They never could get a complete ninety minutes in this World Cup, something that the USA also struggled with in qualifying at times as well.
But in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the USA did what they have always done, struggled. They give up early goals, they have defensive breakdowns, they fail to finish well earned chances on goal. It happened in the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. It most certainly happened in 2006 in Germany. It happened in the 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Despite the success in some of those tournaments, the USA’s overall play has been subpar. I mentioned all of this before the game started, but the USA tends to struggle in major FIFA tournaments, especially in the group stages. Yet in 2010, the talking heads were lauding the USA as international giants. They’re in a weak group. They’re in a weak bracket. The semifinals are a real possibility. Garbage. The way the USA has played in this tournament they would get spanked by Uruguay and not even Tim Howard could stop all the shots Uruguay would get on his goal.
Let it be known, that Bob Bradley had possibly his worst game as head coach/manager today, as shown in his substitution of Ricardo Clark after just thirty minutes for Maurice Edu. Robbie Findley’s questionable starting position resulted in nothing in his three starts but a handful of un-memorable moments of attack, his 35th minute effort today needed to put home. Findley lasted until just halftime, when he was lifted for Benny Feilhaber, who immediately had more impact in his first thirty minutes that either of those two players combined in the World Cup.
All that aside, the USA put several players on this squad that had a major impact during the warm-up campaign. Edson Buddle had two total appearances as a substitute for a total of 45 minutes. In those 45 minutes he recorded two shots, one on goal. In three starts, Robbie Findley recorded zero shots according to the game logs on ESPN’s World Cup page. The only good thing Findley did was get a horrendous yellow card for an “intentional handball” against Slovenia to DQ himself from the game against Algeria. Herculez Gomez started that Algeria game, but was subbed off after a solid first half, but his two sub appearances weren’t as strong as his warm-up games. Jose Torres only got 45 minutes against Slovenia before being subbed off at the half, and he’s one of the best set piece guys the USA has. Benny Feilhaber probably should have been starting at center midfield with Michael Bradley, but he was also relegated to the bench for most of the World Cup. But clearly the American’s best lineup was never on the field that is for sure.
But you know what really is killing this USA team…expectations. Yes, that is a pun from those ESPN commercials. The USA had expectations to make it out of the group easily, they didn’t. They were given expectations to reach the semi-finals before even taking the field before the match with Ghana. They were handed expectations that they were not ready for. It happened in 2006 after a surprising 2002 quarterfinals run and led to a poor 2006 tournament. It happened this year after the USA reached the Confederations Cup final against Brazil, when the USA hardly deserved to make the game against Spain anyway, and led to a forgettable 2010 preformance overall in my opinion. They deserved to tie England, although how they did it remains questionable, the barely deserved a point against Slovenia and certainly were the better attacking side against Algeria before Donovan’s 91st minute heroics. But you can hardly say the USA deserved to win Group C with those results.
But the individual performances were tremendous. Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard all had spectacular tournaments, even if Howard wants that first Ghana goal back. Michael Bradley will be an impact player in the midfield for years to come. Jozy Altidore will hopefully use this experience to propel his career. I thought everyone associated with the USA defense had generally solid games with the exception of the first five minutes.
Somewhere I think the USA needs to be in the underdog role that they flourish in so much. They feed on the general disrespect that they usually get from the international powers who laugh at CONCACAF like Duke laughs at their low-major, 15-seed opponent every March. They feed on the lack of attention their sport gets in between World Cups (the Olympics don’t count, it’s a U-23 tournament). But somehow the face of US Soccer is changing. The rest of the world is noticing, these guys are pretty good, when they play for a whole ninety minutes (see USA 2-0 Spain, June 24, 2009, Confederations Cup). Even the domestic fans took notice that his year the USA had a chance to make a splash. That maybe this was the year the rest of the world realized that the USA is no longer a team just happy to make the knockout stage, but instead a team that should be considered a threat to win the World Cup. That just maybe, this was the year that soccer could take off in the United States.
But overall, this was a year that I expected the USA to take that next step. To play a complete tournament. To play three complete ninety minute games in the group phase. To get to the knockout stages and compete with whomever they are paired with for ninety minutes. Those were my expectations for the USA in the 2010 World Cup. Regardless of results, I needed to see the USA show up from the first whistle and compete until they were eliminated. And in my opinion, the USA did not do that. Even with all the heart this team showed, it needs to be shown at the start of the game, not after five minutes when you're picking the ball out of your own net. But all that aside, the USA showed the world flashes of the brilliance that has them ranked as one of the world's best.
Sadly it was not meant to be in this World Cup 2010 in South Africa. But perhaps the seeds are set for 2014 in Brazil. Because I have seen what this US team can do and most of them will be back in four years. I have seen them dominate Slovenia and Ghana for stretches of almost thirty minutes. I have seen them relentlessly attack Algeria for over ninety minutes. I have seen them comeback against three teams in this World Cup, never quitting, never giving up and leaving everything on the field.
I firmly believe that the United States has one of the best sixteen teams in the world. I don’t need a World Cup to prove that to me. But I need the USA to take that next step in a World Cup, to prove to the world that they are a top international team. To prove to the fans at home that we can play with the best in the world and you should watch us year round, not just every four years. And to prove to themselves, that they the players deserve to be there, regardless of who they qualify against, or how low the rest of the world thinks about our domestic league (MLS) or even how little our fans care but for every four years.
Because when the USA takes that step, perhaps 2014 in Brazil, or maybe in 2018 as hosts potentially, the world will take notice. Because the most of the World will be looking up at us in the world rankings, the standings, and perhaps even the podium. That day will come, and it will come soon I think.
But today is not that day. Not yet. Today the United States says goodbye to the World Cup, save for one final mission that American fans must complete.
Rooting against England tomorrow morning. And only because France is already out.