Friday, July 4, 2014

For US Soccer the House is Closing In

Ok now we’ve had a week to fully get over the US Men’s National Team’s loss exit from the world cup, once again in the round of 16. My initial reaction, like many fans was “man, that was sooo close, if that flick would have been just a little bit lower” and “if Dempsey could have just flicked that set-piece by the keeper”….on and on about what could have been. Then much like when my NFL team loses a big game a week or so passes and I’m able to watch Sports Center again, and I’m able to analyze things more clearly. Now that I’ve seemed to find my center and more importantly watch the quarter-final matches I realize our finish was just where we were supposed to be. We came into the World Cup with a very generous ranking of 12 and (partly due to scheduling) we were among 9 countries left standing. You don’t come into the NCAA Tournament ranked 25 and expect to reach the Final Four. Moreover when you watch the play of the remaining countries to immediately notice that the level of play is just one little notch higher. They’re just a little more technically sound, a tad bit more fundamental, and if you understand the game it may seem like a little bit, but when the stakes are raised it swells to the size of the Grand Canyon. Watching the Germans hold the ball and nurse a 1-0 lead that they obtained in the 11th minute and make that stand up against a French team that was easily more athletic, and never seem pressed makes that slim lead seem like a 21-3 NFL lead in the 4th quarter when you have a good running game. Or the Brazilians, who seem to have strikers that are a threat to score from anywhere on the pitch from just inside mid-field, just give them enough space to turn and face the goal or better yet, on a set piece where they can actually take some time to size up the goal, and they’re chances seem better than even money that it’s going in. Once again, we just don’t have that type of guy that can crack one from 10 yards outside the box if he gets space, and that is the difference. I know one can argue that Germany only beat us 1-0, and that we got out of the Group of Death, but when looked at objectively, at the end of the day we went 1-2-1 and but for not a really stupid foul by a Portuguese defender whom we’ve already lambasted in a prior post (ok Pepe) then Portugal doesn’t lose 0-4, might even fight back for a draw, let alone have such an egregious goal differential, and they not the US make it out of the group. Then how are we viewing our performance? People, the sad truth is on paper this will look like a decent run but at the end of the day we haven’t made any progress in 12 years, and suddenly the house has won back a lot of their money that we’ve been playing with since we hosted the Cup back in 1994. After hosting the tournament, the country was enamored with the game and it brought back fond memories of our failed soccer league of the 1970’s and the current MLS which was founded the year before the 94’ cup hoping to piggy back on the momentum, a very wise move which worked to perfection and the MLS parlayed the cup into a position that surpasses NASCAR and is on par with the NHL. However now we’ve given back most of those profits and are approaching break-even. MLS is strong in some cities, but has also had some franchises go BK and I would wager that most Americans couldn’t name 7 clubs in the MLS as opposed to almost every NFL, NBA, and MLB team. Come 2018 our chip count will be in the red in regards to the tolerance of the nation as this whole, “local boys make good” polish will long have worn off and we’re going to need to not only get out of the group stage, or through the round of 16, but seriously make the final four and perhaps the finals or the fervent fans that packed stadium viewing parties will quickly lose faith as this country does not have a tolerance for losing, let alone to countries who are the size of some our larger cities. Mark my words, this will take some work as it may seem like ONLY a goal here or a goal there and we’re through but to earn those extra goals will take years of training and I don’t know if our farm system is growing enough young talent to yield the returns necessary to make up that gap by 2018. The Euro powers like England, Italy, and Portugal will be even more hungry, and under more pressure so add those to the South American staples and it will make for a brutal field where they may be 3 “Group of Deaths” just to get into the round of 16. I’ll tell you, this may not be pretty and we had better start counting cards because the house has come back and there will be no running to the ATM in 2018.

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