USA Soccer Team…Still Rebuilding

OK, so the US men managed to earn back a bit of respect in a 1-0 losing effort to Spain but huge holes remain if the team hopes to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, let alone get out of the first round.

It was nice to see coach Bob Bradley rolling the dice and giving the start to Freddy Adu who managed to be the only player to give the Spanish any problems up front. Eddie Johnson proved again that he is not a finisher while the rest of the team looked pretty average (save for a decent defensive effort by Carlos Bocanegra) and they still lack in depth in all positions except at goalkeeper. Sure, the presence of Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan, and pulling McBride out of retirement would have helped but this still only shows that the US men’s team is a deep as a soapdish. The USA without Donovan is too often like AS Roma without Francesco Totti – the others seem lost without one dominant player consistently calling for the ball. Also, the lack of an instinctive, predatory striker means our opponents can mark just a bit softer in the middle and keep their defensive shape much easier.

The technically superior Spanish side never really appeared troubled by their visitors as they played a conservative style to keep possession, prevent injuries, and test a few combinations before their first Euro 2008 match. Xavi’s sublime run through the lead-footed US defense to score the winning goal was not just a testament to the Barcelona star’s skills, but to how unorganized the US defense really is (and how much we miss players like Eddie Pope).

Despite the lofty goals of Project 2010 and the various efforts to produce larger numbers of quality players, it seems that the best we can hope for now is to restock the level and depth of quality we had over the past 10 years because increasing quality or depth appears to be a bridge too far. Maybe its because the US Soccer Federation (USSF) reached its goals, only to find that the rest of the world had moved on. Maybe its because American players, after years of coming up through highly structured programs, have had their killer instinct coached out of them – something you would never say about our basketball players. And maybe (just maybe) it is because the seeds the USSF planted won’t bear fruit until 2014 or 2018. Such long-term projects are always at risk of failing to reach expectations but I’d rather have the USSF aiming for such high goals rather than aiming for mediocrity and succeeding.

Regardless of how today’s match against Argentina goes, I’ve got to give the USSF credit for scheduling matches against such tough opponents (England, Spain, and Argentina) so the players and coaches can see how much work remains.

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