Earlier I looked at some hype victims and possible darkhorses for 2010. Today, I turn focus to the team that I think will disappoint most at this World Cup, including the United States.
Category III – The big disappointments
Germany. Yup, the country that one can “never overlook at any major tournament” looks in fine position to fall early in the World Cup knockout phase. I think this Germany squad (and especially its attack) has been caught a bit in transition, with the injury to Michael Ballack leaving Germany too reliant on “not quite ready for primetime” talent like Ozil and Kroos while its older talent like Klose and Gomez don’t intimidate quite as much as they used to. It’s very possible that by the time Euro 2012 rolls around Kroos and Ozil have Germany rolling again towards another major trophy, but 2010 is a bit too soon for them I think. I think they’ll struggle to score, get muscled around (something the Germans are really fearing right now) and stumble their way to the quarterfinals (only because the USA and England can’t possibly beat them) before falling to Argentina.
Australia. This team wasn’t originally on this list, but after watching them lose 3-1 in a friendly against the United States, I’m prepared to say this stinks to high heaven. Where was the team that came one repugnant dive away from beating Italy? This Australia team looks hopeless in attack beyond merely pounding the ball in the general direction of Tim Cahill. And don’t get me started on their defense other than to say that Craig Moore, he of the great FC Unattached, seems set to play a prominent role. This is the Craig Moore who struggled to find his way in to a Newcastle defense that featured Titus Bramble as a regular (and oh so hilarious) starter. I like Mark Schwarzer as the next guy, but not even he can get this team anywhere near the knockout round.
USA. Well, here it is, the USA. After all the sturm and drang of hiring Bradley, after the Gold Cups, and after the slog of qualifying, and the Davies and Onyewu injuries, here we are at last. You’ve surely noticed, I’ve put the US in the disappointment category. Here’s why. I simply cannot see a team with this bad of defense surviving the group phase. Honestly, when I look at the USA-England match, I see our aim as merely to limit damage rather than that of winning or even drawing. Quite simply, the US relies far too much on Tim Howard to rescue a consistently mediocre US defense from their constant, nearly inevitable errors. With the US’ one decently reliable defender (Onyewu) not looking all that fit after his knee injury, the US is left a defense that I’m confident nearly every team in this tournament could score 2-3 goals against over 90 minutes.
For years, all we’ve heard about in American soccer is how we never have and never will produce any skillful attacking talents in this country. Yet, either through consequence or irony, I see most of our talent residing on the attacking side of the field. Donovan’s talent in attack dwarfs that of any of our defenders’ talent in defense and that includes even a fit Onyewu. Looking to the future, I can even sort of see where American’s next great attacking talent might come from in names like Torres, Adu, Renken, Gyau, and hopefully Najar. I don’t see where the next great American defender is going to come from and I certainly don’t see it yet out of this group going to South Africa.
Unbelievably for a Bob Bradley-coached team, the United States will have to look proactively “outscore” its opponents rather than rely on defense and then look to hit on the break or on set pieces. Because of that, I see the US losing both to England and Slovenia and bombing out of this World Cup in the first round. I can see US beating Algeria, but that’s about it. I hate to be “this guy” playing down our hopes of both beating England and/or advancing, but hey, this is what I see.
That said, is it impossible for the US to advance? No, thanks to the draw, it’s possible. That’s entirely true. But until this team can figure out a way to shut out even mediocre teams like Australia or most CONCACAF teams, then I cannot help but think it’s asking too much for the US to advance knowing that they’ll probably need to score three goals minimum to win the games against England and Slovenia.
On team selection day, everyone obsessed on Ching, Findley, Buddle, et al up front but really, we should have been terrified at what we’re looking at in back.
- Onyewu – Hurt and his confidence appears to be suffering
- DeMerit – Slow and seems to get lost in the penalty area sometimes.
- Bocanegra – Was never terribly quick and prone to the occasional ill-advised charge upfield
- Spector – Looked dreadful against Turkey and at 6-ft, not imposing enough in the center of defense especially against England and Slovenia
- Bornstein – He’s disappointing almost every single time he pulls on a US jersey. More than any other player on the field, his presence on the field immediately instills doom in the hearts of US fans everywhere.
- Goodson – Better than decent player but completely inexperienced at this level. Has never even appeared in a UEFA/Europa Cup match during time in Norway.
- Cherundolo – The only guy in this group who does not immediately give me heart palpitations when a ball goes in his direction. Have worries whether he’ll be able to keep up with England’s wingers.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I worry too much. A few years aback, I would’ve thought Chad Marshall and Freddy Adu would be bedrocks of this US squad. I like to think that more than most columnists, I’m willing to admit when I’ve gotten wrong. But I have a pretty good sense about these things and I think the US, because of its defense, is at best, a half-decent team. Can half-decent teams get out of the group phase? Sure, we see that happen a lot. Can half-decent teams whose main problem is that they surrender lots of goals get to the second round? Not normally, and that’s why I see the US winning once and losing twice en route to a first round exit.
As for the question of what happens to the sport after the US disappoints for the second straight time at World Cup is a subject for a different piece for a different time.
Later this week, I’ll be back with my list of the actual contenders to win the 2010 World Cup.