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U.S. Soccer: Endemic Delusions That Perpetuate Mediocrity

We documented U.S. soccer’s hostility toward a critical journalist. We mentioned their campaign of misinformation.  This matters because most in the United States are not well grounded in soccer. They’re undiscerning about information. This results in delusions that ramp up hype and subsequent revenue, but eliminate accountability.

Progress.  To the public, U.S. Soccer’s summer was golden.  The USMNT upset Spain 2-0, and took a 2-0 lead into halftime against Brazil.  Not to crap on those accomplishments, they deserve praise, but we should view the summer comprehensively.

The USMNT had a 7-6-1 record in the summer of 2009, not so shimmering.  Discounting the Gold Cup – because the 5-0 loss to Mexico was a B-team learning experience – the team had a 3-5 record, more leaden than golden.

Against big-time opposition (Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Italy), the USMNT was 1-5.  They outscored those teams 5-3 in the first half.  They were outscored 13-1 in the second, when teams adjusted tactically.

The USMNT is neither challenging in a World Cup, nor progressing toward doing so.  The U.S. has 10 points from six qualifying matches in the final round, outscoring opponents 11-8.  Through six matches in 2006, the U.S. had 15 points, outscoring them 12-3.

Over the last ten years, the U.S. has built a national soccer academy, developed a stable if unspectacular professional league and has more players blazing trails abroad.  Despite these outside improvements, the national team is stagnant.  In 1998, emerging from the group was the target.  It’s the same in 2010.

The super-accurate FIFA rankings may place the U.S. 11th in the world, but they would not qualify for a World Cup in Europe or South America.

Landon the Legend.  Alexi Lalas claimed last week in Bristol that Landon Donovan was one of the top-20 soccer players in the world, logic that would make him an automatic inclusion into any club’s first team.  Demonstrably false.  Only jingoists agreed, but even needing to argue this shows how seriously U.S. Soccer fans are deluded.

Donovan has the talent to do great things.  That does not make him great.

Players prove themselves daily at club level.  Donovan is a nonentity.  He’s great in MLS, but against poor defenders making $35,000 per year.  He disappointed all three times he went to the Bundesliga, perhaps the third or fourth best league in the world, amassing 13 total appearances and no goals.

Donovan plays well, at times, for the USMNT, but most games are against pitiful CONCACAF opposition.  He’s the national team’s all-time leading scorer with 41 goals.  Twenty of them were against second-tier CONCACAF opposition.  Another 14 came in friendlies.  He had a great World Cup in 2002.  He was arguably the tournament’s worst player in 2006.

Donovan is good.  He is talented.  But he’s not the force his U-17 career projected him to be.  He’s not the savior.

What about Bob? Since he makes no pretense of aesthetics, judge Bob Bradley on results.  This U.S. team is six points behind the 2006 team under Bruce Arena at this stage of World Cup qualifying.  Beating Spain was awesome.  It took a miracle to reach them because the team started so woefully, in a tournament everyone else treated as a friendly.  Don’t forget the boys getting rick-rolled in the 2007 Copa America.

Judge Bob Bradley on his tactics.  He is a solid, stable coach, suitable for MLS.  He’s no mastermind.  Being outscored 13-1 in the second half by good teams, suggests he has serious troubles adapting during a game.  That happens too consistently to be a coincidence.

Even before matches Bradley can be baffling.  No one has offered a satisfactory justification for starting Cherundolo and Ching over Spector and Altidore at Azteca.  Experience is only helpful when it’s good experience.  The atmosphere was irrelevant.  That team was castrated before it left the dressing room.

If the U.S. has problems with possession in midfield, why has Torres become persona non grata in the U.S. setup?  Why does his son Michael Bradley, no matter how poorly he’s playing, only leave the field by red card?  Why is Landon Donovan placed in a conventional role reliant on him tracking back to defend?  Why did the U.S. go one goal up and stop playing with 81 minutes remaining?  Questions that are unasked and unanswered.

Bradley tries to cultivate a Belichickian mystique.  Everything is in-house.  They’re so sophisticated you could not possibly understand.  You have to earn that.  For Bill Belichick, it works.  He wins.  He shows his intelligence.  Bradley has done neither.

Bob Bradley is not leading this team to glory.  He’s not progressing them to a place where they can compete.  Why is he there? The question is not whether Bradley has done enough to be fired.  It’s whether he’s done enough to keep his job.

These are only a few of the issues.

U.S. Soccer is not held accountable.  When they lose, the coverage simply disappears.  There is no incentive to improve.  No reason to burst free from a protective and insular bubble.  We don’t need English-style insanity, but one “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing” chant by Sam’s Army on national television would work wonders.

Soccer will do well in this country.  But, unless U.S. Soccer and MLS improve, it won’t be the American brand of it.

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