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Monday, June 12, 2006

Ugh-ly Americans

Or was it "Ugly Americans."

Czech Republic 3, U.S.A. 0.

Okay, so it was a tough draw. Second toughest grouping next to the group of death, playing the first game against one of the top 5 teams in the world and a team who some thought could go very far in this tournament.

Fair enough.

But what wasn't fair -- to the U.S. fans -- was the effort that the U.S. team gave today. The quote from Landon Donovan is priceless, that many guys just didn't show up ready to play to day. What an indictment! Of U.S.A. soccer, of coach Bruce Arena and of most of the guys on the team.

What were they waiting for? This wasn't an exhibition, a meaningless warm-up cap against a team like St. Lucia to get themselves ready for the World Cup. This was game 1 of the World Cup, a game that was supposed to be a coming out party for Team U.S.A., a team which had flown underneath the radar screen and had risen as high as #5 in the FIFA rankings. This game was supposed to show people that the U.S. had caught up a bit in world soccer, and that U.S. players could hold their own against some of the best teams in the world.

Didn't happen.

Not only was this game not a coming out party, it was a setback for U.S. soccer. Always touted as "the sport of the future" in the U.S., it's coming close to a joke that a colleague of mine told me at work the other day -- it always will be the sport of the future in the U.S. I had hoped it wasn't to be the case, but he may be right. If the U.S. team doesn't right its ship and play a whale of a game against Italy, how many kids, despite all of their travel teams, will want to be the next Landon Donovan?

Not many.

I applaud Claudio Reyna's effort and the gutty way he plays in the Premiership. As for Donovan, I can't understand why he considers the MLS the league of his choice when the world's best players play in Europe. To me, there's something wrong when your best player eschews the best competition in the world for playing at home in a league that most of the European stars would only consider as a way to ease into retirement when they're in their mid-to-late 30's. Betting your bank on Donovan over players who are playing in the top leagues in England, France and Spain (although there aren't that many of them) seems to be a risky proposition. You have to give props to midfielder Bobby Convey, who stuck it out in England after a miserable first year in the First Division (not to be confused with the top-drawer league, the Premiership) and helped lead his team to a spot in the Premiership next season.

But an Henry, Kaka, Figo, Nedved, Shrevchenko -- the U.S. players don't have one of those.

Oh, sure, it's easy to bash Donovan now, I realize, but I never bought into the hype. Yes, he's a gifted player, but the best Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Venezuelan baseball players aren't staying at home to ply their trade. They go to the United States, where the best baseball in the world is played. Sure, it's hard, there are cultural and language differences, but these athletes are competitors, and they want to play against the best competition.

Take a look at the U.S. roster. Brazil has a team laden with stars -- Dida, Kaka, Adriano, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho. Argentina has Crespo, Saviola and a whole host of others. France has Henry. England has Rooney. The Netherlands has Robben and van Nistelroy. Italy has Totti, Zambrano and many others. Portugal has Figo and Deco. Ivory Coast has Drogba. Many of the competing nations have outstanding players whom you've never heard of who are better than most of the U.S. players.

And they play against the best competition in the world -- in Europe.

Yes, U.S. soccer has gotten better over the past half-century. Yes, the U.S. has players playing overseas, some of whom are pretty good. Yes, the U.S. ran into a buzz saw in the opening game. But, no, the U.S. won't get better until it has the bulk of its roster playing in the top European leagues, and until it gives rise to an international star or two around whom the team can rally and who can take over a game and lead the team to victory.

The U.S. isn't there yet. And if today's game proved anything, it showed that the road to international excellence is a longer one than many thought just a day or two ago.


Blogger Jonathan said...

I wrote about this disappointment but took a different stance. After watching the replay last night I noticed one thing that wasn't evident on the radio broadcast, the size. We were bouncing off of these guys when they hit us. We are not physical enough to beat a top European team. An Asian team yes, African team probably, South American team sometimes, European team noway.

In terms of Landon Donovan I don't beleive that he can deal with the pressure that goes with being a top European player. In the US he is a big fish in a small pond in Europe he is a backup. Some athletes just can't deal with this.

9:13 PM  

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