There is about one indisputable fact when it comes to the US Men’s national team: we are not where we want to be when it comes to competing against the world powers. There are very few people who are happy and proud of a round of 16 exit to a Michel Essien-les Ghana. We expect and believe we deserve the best in this country, and that is not going to change.
On the other hand, what none of us can agree on is what exactly is wrong with our country’s national team and how do we get them to the next level.
There are a million different views on this simple predicament. Some of the more popular ones I have heard: flawed talent recognition system in the youth ranks, we make our youth players pay to play, country’s best athletes play other sports, poorly ran professional league, lack of playmakers, style is too direct, and expectations are too high. These are off the top of my head, but we can go on and on and on.
Disclaimer: I am merely a fan like you, the loyal reader of InsideThe18. I have been around the game probably as long as you and probably have similar skills on the field. Let’s come to the conclusion that neither of us have all the answers and we’re in this together. Ok, great!
Before we look at the success, or lack there of, of the US team, let’s look at the two teams in the World Cup Final that squared off this past July. Spain and Holland, while having illustrious pasts, had as many World Cup medals as my U11 Boys team did before that fateful day: 0. However, both teams have a recognizable style.
The Dutch mastered the Total Football philosophy in the 1970’s, based around the concept of free flowing, creative football. Under this philosophy, any player on the pitch can find themselves in an attacking or defending role, and it requires all 10 outfield players to be extraordinary both technically and tactically. While this philosophy wasn’t taken into action 100% (and especially not in the final), its principles are taught in the biggest and best academies the Dutch have to offer.
Spain recently has adopted a brilliant style of its own, based on the model FC Barcelona has made so popular and exciting to watch. In this system, roaming movement and positional interchange are vital, with sharp, incisive 1 and 2 touch passing sequences highlighting undoubtedly the most attractive football to watch currently in the world.
The point is, these two nations have a style of play which is taught to players in the youth ranks all the way up to the national team. The techniques and tactics don’t change: 1 system, 1 formation, 1 set of tactics. Learn it and master it. Other countries who have had similar success are the same. When you think of Brazil, Germany, and Argentina, there is a certain style of football you envision these countries to play.
Now, question: What style does the US play in? What do you envision when someone says “American soccer”?
Therein lies, what I believe, to be the biggest problem with our country’s national team and youth ranks. The differing style, formation, and tactics which we expect our players to play in is overwhelming.
America, as you all know, is a country made up of immigrants. This cultural background is what makes our country great. However, it is our diversity that is our biggest strength, and also our biggest weakness here when it comes to soccer.
We have a huge number of coaches from South America, Central America, and all over Europe that are mentoring and teaching our youth. Each of these coaches have there own philosophy about what is important to coach and how it should be coached. In the end, we don’t have any consistency with how we train our players.
Take a quick look at the starting 11 that Spain played in the World Cup Final. 7 of those players play for Barcelona, and many were taught in their formative years at the Barcelona Academy. 3 of the 4 remaining players play for Real Madrid. Super sub Cesc Fabregas was trained in the Barcelona Academy as a youth. There is continuity in that squad. Those players play together or against each other year round, know their strengths, know their weaknesses. They play like a finely tuned automobile, with each part doing its job.
In the US, our coaches can’t even decide on the role of what our arguably best player, Landon Donovan, should play. Should he play as a 2nd striker and play in a more advanced area, trying to score goals? Should he play wide on the right and look to run at players and put in crosses? Should he drop into a more central area, where he can be more of a playmaker? We can’t figure it out. Is there any question of where Xavi should play for Spain? Or David Villa? Absolutely not!
Now let’s look at the starting 11 Bob Bradley decided on to play England in our World Cup opening match. No two players play on the same club team. They play in a total of 7 different leagues across the world. Each one of these players assuredly was coached in different ways growing up, in different facilities, with different accents, in essentially different worlds. Oguchi Oneywu, Carlos Bocanegra, Ricardo Clark, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey: the faces couldn’t look any different. We are a country made up of immigrants from all over the world, resulting in our wonderfully diverse culture.
Great for America, not great for American soccer.
Written By: TD
Tweet us your thoughts @InsideThe18
With the upcoming friendly staged against Argentina, it is time for InsideThe18 to make some predections about how USMNT Coach Bob Bradley plans to shut down World Player of the Year Leo Messi. The Barcelona star leads La Liga (ok officially tied with Real Madrid’s C. Ronaldo) in goals (27), and has thrived with a proper center forward in David Villa to spearhead the Barcelona attack and to maximize his inward drives from a wide berth.
Moving towards the center of the pitch from wide areas seems to be Messi’s most deadly skill and many critics have wondered why he has yet to replicate the same feets while wearing his Argentina National shirt. New Argentina head coach Sergio Batista will hope to utilize the US friendly as an experiment towards this goal.
However, it will be up to Bobby B to establish a strong midfield and back four to counter Messi’s runs. I look to see a 2 man defensive midfield deployed, consisting of newcomer Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu (with Bradley, JR. missing out due to decreased playing time while on loan at Aston Villa). Both are seeing regular playing time for at the club level, and should sit in tightly infront of the back four to maintain order in the event of Messi drifting central. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey should expect to start in their respective wide midfield births and it will be a combination Jozy Altidore/Juan Agudelo/Edson Buddle/Mikkel Diskeruud leading the line. Because of Stuart Holden’s Absence, I would hope to see Diskeruud’s inclusion slightly behind or ahead of Altidore (who seems the safer selection ahead of the wildcard Agudelo).