EDGAR ZUNIGA - Sunday, June 14, 2009
As expected, the US went into the "Monster's Cave" and got whooped like a government mule. Now, I've never seen such a thing, but it must be a very ugly thing to behold, because that's the worst the US has played in a long time.
Yeah, they lost in Saprissa 3-0 in the final hexagonal of qualifying for World Cup 2006, but, the US had already clinched their spot in the World Cup so they fielded a bunch of scrubs for that one, and Costa Rica was desperate for a win to get them to Germany.
This time, there was no excuse.
The US came into Saprissa and, from the first whistle, looked like a bunch of scolded dogs, running around with their tails between their legs. Realistically, the final score should have been 6-1. And wouldn't that have been a feather in Bob Bradley's cap?
Following the script, we saw the US return home to scratch out a gutsy win over a strong Honduran team that could have easily put the score out of reach early on. While the US should be patted on the back for pulling off that momentous comeback, a team that wants to challenge the world's elite shouldn't be sweating matches against teams viewed as minnows on the global scale.
And this is where we have to take a step back and look at the current state of the US Men's National Team.
Since Paul Caligiuri scored, arguably, the most important goal in US Soccer history, back in 1989, to send the US to Italia '90, the US National Team has become exponentially better. Some say Team USA peaked in '02. Others argue that Team USA was the victim of the Group of Death in '06.
But, let's look at the team today.
Despite success in CONCACAF, the US hasn't lived up to expectations outside the region and is far removed from FIFA's elite. Not only has Bob been unable to extract the maximum potential out of his current crop of players, the US National Team pool has proven to be actually quite shallow…wading pool shallow.
Just look at what ill-timed injuries to Maurice Edu and Frankie Hejduk did to the defense.
Team USA is an injury to Landon Donovan away from disaster.
Meanwhile, Bob just stands there and blinks. He's not even getting a slap on the wrist.
Here, in the US, our soccer coaches aren't subject to the same standards, expectations and pressure as in other nations. The US Soccer Federation seems content that whoever's in charge does enough to get the team to the World Cup and maintain dominance in the little ghetto we call CONCACAF.
To the US, just getting to the World Cup is a huge deal.
To Brazil, Germany, Italy and Argentina, not getting to the final is seen as a catastrophe.
After the 2-2 draw in El Salvador, Bob should have been on the hot seat. After the failure in Costa Rica, he could have been shown his walking papers. But US Soccer doesn't run things that way.
Pressure? What pressure?
With all its resources, the US National Team should be aspiring for world domination. However, recent results serve as evidence to the erosion beneath the façade; the entire program actually seems to be in regression, or, at the very least, plateaued.
You don't agree?
Does anyone seriously think that the US has a legitimate shot at finishing in one of the top two spots of their group in the upcoming Confederations Cup? Italy and Brazil are as heavy as heavyweights get. And, back-to-back African champions Egypt aren't about to roll over for the CONCACAF giants.
US Soccer wants to measure itself against the world's best—prove that it can be a World Cup contender. Barring at least one monumental upset, the US will find that it's barely nipping at their heels.
What happened to that tough-as-nails, can-do attitude from the '02 team? After that amazing performance, everyone announced that the "sleeping giant" had finally woken…only for it to stretch its arms, blink a bit, then roll over and go back to sleep.
Not only is the US far from expectations, the current team is beneath the '02 squad.
Quick: name one US field player that can truly be deemed as world-class.
You'd think that after '02, one of those young players would have developed into a world-class player. DaMarcus Beasley? Nope. Clint Mathis? Try again. Landon Donovan? Not really.
Maybe, one day, Jozy Altidore will reach that point. However, he has been almost invisible in the recent matches against Costa Rica and Honduras. Will his existence even be acknowledged against Italy, Brazil or Egypt?
Is it too much to ask the US to do well in the Confederations Cup, or should we just be content for this opportunity at a dress rehearsal for next year's World Cup?
US Soccer fans should demand more. They deserve more.
You want to say that your team can compete with the world's best and you want that team to at least put forth that effort. But, more often that not, you get Europeans or South Americans snickering in your face and pooh-poohing our team.
The worst part is that the grip the US has on CONCACAF is a tenuous one at best.
Hopefully, the matches against Costa Rica and Honduras will slap some life into the National Team and revive that gritty attitude that has propelled the team to victories over stronger foes. With the upcoming Confederation Cup matches against Italy and Brazil, the US will have an opportunity to inject some confidence into a faltering program.
Even if they lose, if they could at least show some grit and determination, it will be enough to rekindle that fighting spirit.
Nevertheless, someone has to light a fire under Bob to produce better results from his players. Maybe he lacks the ambition or vision to take this team to a higher ground. Then, the question begs to be asked: Will US Soccer turn to a coach with serious international experience?
Jurgen Klinsmann recently joined the ranks of the unemployed. Maybe the suits at US Soccer are considering making him another pitch to take the reins of the National Team. That could be a way of letting Bob know that he needs to step up the ante or get the axe.
With a very busy summer, the US players will be spending a lot of time together. If they can't gel during this time, then it's obvious that a change needs to be made, or the US will suffer the same fate as Mexico, which slept on its laurels, fell on its face and is now choking a on a huge slice of dirt cake.