The past few days have been consumed by sobbing, recovering, boycotting Stella Artois and Belgian waffles (just kidding, both of those are delicious), collecting my thoughts, and more sobbing. So proud of this team, and this country. There wasn’t a thing in the world that Tim Howard couldn’t save on Tuesday afternoon. The Titanic. Georgio Chiellini. Blockbuster. Ned Stark. You name it, Howard could have save it. At the end of the game, his effort wasn’t enough. His 16 save effort was one of the best games by a goalkeeper in the history of the World Cup. However, you can’t let a team like Belgium get 18 shots on net and expect to win. Want to blame Chris Wondolowski for their exit from the World Cup? That’s fine, but consider that miss karma for giving a skilled team like Belgium so many chances. The U.S. could have won, but Belgium should have won. Like I said in my USA-Ghana mini-cap, “the World Cup is all about capitalizing on your chances.” Forget your possession numbers or passing numbers, because they don’t mean jack squat at the end of the game if you have less goals than your opponent.
The U.S. could have showed up at the World Cup and made it boring, but it was far from that. Every game that the U.S. played had a storyline to it, and that is something to be happy about. With a heavy heart, here are my final thoughts on the fallout of the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 2014 World Cup.
Let’s start off with scapegoat number one in the minds of many fans (not mine). Everyone wants to blame Michael Bradley for the lack of attack, but I’m here to pour water on that flame. Let me start off by saying that none of this will take back his turnover that led to Portugal’s game-tying goal, but you should not be using that turnover as the sole reason to start your #BenchBradley campaign.
Michael Bradley thrives on the field when he plays a holding midfield role. His best traits are his passing and vision. Many times in our four games, Bradley was called upon to hold the ball while waiting for his teammates to get up the field. Teams targeted Bradley, and he was often double-teamed as soon as he gained possession, and he was rushed in to making decisions. Many times, Zusi and Bedoya were not caught up in the play to give Bradley a viable passing option. So with that in mind, you’re probably wondering why Bradley was given the role of attacking midfielder. Plain and simple, he was our best option. Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones lack the traits required to play the attacking midfield role for 90 minutes. Maybe now you’re asking why Mix Diskerud wasn’t given a chance in favor of Jones or Beckerman, and moving Bradley back to a holding midfield role. Honestly, I have no idea why Diskerud wasn’t thrown in to the mix. Bradley played every single minute at the World Cup, covering more distance than any other player through the Round of 16, but never showed consistent signs that he needed rest.
Probably the biggest factor in Bradley’s World Cup performance, which is going to sound like a cop-out, is Jozy Altidore’s hamstring injury. After the Ghana game, Jurgen Klinsmann realized that Jermaine Jones could not work on the left wing. He drifts too far central far too often. He changed his formation from the 4-4-2 diamond to a 4-5-1, with Clint Dempsey as the lone striker. By putting one more player behind Bradley, that often gave him one less option to distribute to on the attack. His only option above him was Dempsey, who himself was playing out of position. Plain and simple, Michael Bradley was set up for failure as the attacking midfielder, although he was our best option in that position.
As annoying as the Landon Donovan talk got prior to the World Cup, ESPN prevented that thought from escaping our minds by letting him provide analysis throughout this summer’s World Cup. Donovan may have kissed his chances of ever suiting up again for the USMNT goodbye after his comments that he said that he was hoping the U.S. played poorly during their pre-World Cup tour. I’m over the Donovan controversy. This isn’t 2010. Klinsmann picked this team to give us the best chance of making it far in the 2014 World Cup. It’s not about picking the 23 best players; it’s about picking the 23 right players.
Looking back at our 2014 World Cup campaign, I have one minor dispute against Klinsmann’s final selection: he should have chosen a Jozy-esque player to include on the roster as insurance. Sure, you cannot predict injuries. That is a fact, but think of why Timmy Chandler was selected: an insurance policy in case DaMarcus Beasley got injured. Jozy was the only striker on the team that excels with his back to goal. Though it would have been controversial to select out-of-form Eddie Johnson or youngster Terrance Boyd over Wondolowski, I feel that it was necessary.
Something that has gotten lost in the roster-talk: Stuart Holden. Stu could have seriously helped this team if not for his knee injury back in March that resulted in him missing 6-9 months. Food for thought, perhaps.
All the hype over Klinsmann’s fitness tests during camp may have been a failed effort. The fact of the matter is that you’re not going to whip these players in to shape a month before the World Cup. Klinsmann’s fitness tests were not the reason for the distance covered by Bradley, Beckerman, and Jones. At the same time, you can’t blame Klinsmann for all of the hamstring injuries. These players had four years to get whipped in to shape.
ESPN & Ratings
The World Cup was received so well stateside. ESPN’s coverage was phenomenal. For the most part, their announcing crew was great. The World Cup Tonight crew was superb, and Men in Blazers deserve a standing ovation for their always-entertaining coverage. The WatchESPN app crashed during the Germany and Belgium games, which is not a slight against ESPN’s app. I just don’t think anyone within the soccer world was expecting that type of reception. The Belgium game was played at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, and still had a higher rating than all but two (Rose Bowl and National Championship) college football games last season. It was also the highest ever rating for a World Cup game on ESPN.
- Regardless of whether or not people want to admit it, soccer is getting big in America. There’s no way around it. The ratings speak for themselves. Did you see the pictures of watch parties? Don’t confuse the popularity of soccer and the popularity of MLS. There’s a clear difference.
- The American Outlaws. I’ve heard supporters overseas say that they wish their team had the amount of support that the American Outlaws gave the U.S. You could hear it on every broadcast. Players have admitted that their noise is what lifted them up at times and made them feel like they were playing a home game.
- Stop questioning the “American-ness” of the dual internationals. This topic has been beaten to death. All five of the German-Americans had fathers that served in the U.S. military. John Brooks has a tattoo of the state of Illinois on his right elbow. Your “Captain America” Clint Dempsey didn’t even sing the national anthem before games, so why aren’t you questioning him? Knock it off.
- Lastly, can we put an end to the “we lost and somehow advanced” nonsense? If you switch the 3rd round games and 1st round games, then we win our final game, and advance because Germany throttles Portugal. Stop listening to captain of the geriatric unit Keith Olbermann, and stop giving the once-every-four-years-soccer-journalists so much attention.
Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse, because I’ve mentioned this over and over again, but Julian Green solidified it. All three guys that many questioned their appearance on the roster (Green, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Brooks) all had their moment. Brooks started it off with his game-winner against Ghana, followed by Yedlin’s brilliant play on Dempsey’s go-ahead goal in the Portugal game (and brilliant play throughout the rest of the tournament for that matter), and Julian Green’s goal off the volley against Belgium. Was Julian Green’s appearance a capitulation substitution? Perhaps, but in four years, everyone is going to remember the fact that Green scored – not that he came in to a 2-0 game during stoppage time of the first half of overtime. In the next four years, there’s going to be a ton of youth players coming through, and Klinsmann needs to know that he can trust those guys.
What does the future hold?
The support from Americans this World Cup was world class, but where do we go from here? Well, there are plenty of opportunities to follow the U.S. soccer program before Russia 2018. Want some action in the near future? The men’s team has a friendly against Czech Republic on Septermber 3rd, which I expect Klinsmann will give a lot of the young guys a chance to play. Next year is the Women’s World Cup (being held in Canada) and the Gold Cup. 2016 features the Olympics, which our U-23 team may play in, and the Copa America Centenario. 2017 will have World Cup qualifying, the Gold Cup, and we may play in the Confederations Cup. But why stop there? This support needs to flow over in to the MLS season. If you’ve never given it a chance, now is the time. Don’t watch it with the expectation of Premier League football, because you’ll be disappointed. The competitive balance is unrivaled by any of the “big 4” leagues around the world. Did you enjoy DeAndre Yedlin’s world class speed, or Michael Bradley’s over-the-top passes, or Clint Dempsey’s grit and determination? All of these are featured on a weekly basis in the MLS. Don’t just stop at the MLS. Support your local NASL, USL Pro, PDL, or NPSL team. Not sure who your local team is? Here is a map that will help you. Still not enough? Watch the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. The fact of the matter is that there is plenty of soccer out there. We control the growth of American soccer.