Why the US will fail to advance at this World Cup along with some other expected disappointments

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.

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35 thoughts on “Why the US will fail to advance at this World Cup along with some other expected disappointments

  1. I am also concerned about the defense. Hopefully the players that we throw out there will rise to the occasion on Saturday. I remember back in 2002 that I thought we were dead in the water with a back line of Sanneh, Agoos, Pope/Beerholder and Heydude. Bruce made adjustments and it worked out fine. It’s too late to develop new players now. I chose to hope for the best ( while reserving the right to scream and yell at them on Saturday)

  2. “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I worry too much.”

    No, you’re correct in your comments on the US team: defense is of key importance at the World Cup and, unless things improve in the next few days, we’re in big trouble.

    I don’t think that anyone from England who watched our match against Australia is saying, “Wow, look at all of the weapons that they have.” I think they were happy to see how a completely incompetent Australian offense was so difficult for our defenders to keep track of.

  3. This is the most sensible analysis of the US team’s expected performance I have read. Based on all available evidence, it looks like we will give up 2-3 goals against good squads. It would take something extraordinary for anything different to happen. Is Bob Bradley capable of orchestrating something extraordinary?

  4. Honestly I also think we are weak in the back. On another note though I don’t think the USA – England match should be build up as much as it is… In reality our boys will most likely lose to the English (however much that pains me to say) or optimistically muster a draw, and since I believe England will already be going through on top of the group whether with points or goal differential, the USA – Slovenia game will and is much more important than the USA – England game as I believe the USA and Slovenia will be battling for that second slot in group C.

    Just saying, we should be more focused on winning against Slovenia and Algeria than putting all our efforts into playing just England as if that was the group decider.

    I’d honestly be a little upset if/when we play england and things don’t go our way and suddenly we have to face Algeria and Slovenia and our players are crushed from so much publicity buildup after a dissappointing loss, and suddenly there is a loss of interest in the MNT from much of the bandwagon american fans in this country. Next thing you know we are playing these two other Group C matches with low moral and lack of confidence, and that can absolutely crush a team. And the scary thing about this little scenerio I just listed, is that it REALLY can happen! Not saying it will or that I want it to, but that as American fans we must remember that this group contains more than just two teams (USA – England) it contains 4 teams: the other two of which qualified from their respective regions.

    Sure England vs. USA is probably the trickiest match for the USA, but is it the key to success for the USA team at this world cup? I doubt it…

  5. Great, albeit sobering, read Aaron.

    The most disconcerting regression to me is that of DeMerit. He was an absolute beast in the CC, particularly against Spain.

    However, i had to check myself on more than one occasion in watching the last 2 games to reassure that it was actually Demerit playing so poorly at CB.

    He seems to have lost his timing. Agression and pluckiness still intact, but it always seems to be reactionary as opposed to a proactive snuffing of some opposing threat.

    One CB in bad form can MAYBE be concelaed if everyone back there is playing well. But Gooch is going through a difficult moment, and frankly I think it was wishful thinking to assume a player who hasn’t done anything for club when healthy, is going to step into the firing line after fullfledged albeit injury forced inactility, and still perform at an acceptable level. And let’s be honest – I love the cat, but he’s an above average CB at his best.

    Bocanegra will be manning one of the CB spots before all is said and done.

    Still think they beat England for some reason.

  6. While I agree with the assessment of the US’ defense, I think there’s too many “intangible” left to convincingly say, the US won’t advance. However, if the US doesn’t advance, your reasoning is likely the cause.

    Intangible #1: It’s the World Cup and ANYTHING can happen. Anything such as an errand red-card ejection or a ref awarding a bogus Penalty Kick that changes the course of the game.

    Intangible #2: Here’s the obvious one… teams playing at altitude. Several players mentioned how the altitude affected their play recently, and those teams that set up camp along the beaches will feel their lungs a bit more as they push late into matches.

    Intangible #3: Hype. And this is the big one for the US. Clearly, all three opponents view their match-up against England as the toughest test. It’s on their minds and they will be thinking of it, answering questions about it, and commenting on it until it’s over. Fortunately, the US gets to deal with this match up first. This is important for two reasons.

    1. In 2006, the highlight match-up for the US was Italy, and I’m sure that part of the reason they laid an egg against the Czechs was because they were “thinking ahead.” Compare that to 2002, when the US faced Portugal’s “Golden Generation” 1st. Portugal certainly wasn’t in the right frame of mind to face the ’98 World Cup’s last place team, but it also helped that the US could focus on them right away. So, Slovania and Algeria will likely have “England” on their minds when they face one another and, for Slovania, the US. It’s just enough of a distraction to make a good team a little bit weaker.

    2. The US has a tendency to play up to top competition. Historically speaking, in 1994, the US’ played it’s best match against Brazil, and if there was one fewer assaults on Tab Ramos, they may have upset the eventual Champions. [1998’s team was broken before it started]. In 2002, the US’ best performance came against Germany and was a handball on the goal line away from tying it. Of course, we had already shocked Portugal and reminded Mexico that we “remembered the Alamo” by handing them a “2-0” ticket home. In 2006, the US fought Italy till it bled and became the only team to earn a point against the [diving] champions.

    So, if we lose against the Brits, I think you’re right, we won’t advance. However, if we take on the English like we have against other top competition in the World Cups, then we have a good shot of making it out of the group.

  7. A very well written, thought-out piece. I sincerely hope that you have to come back here in three weeks and eat crow about your prediction for the USA.

    I get that we’re not a god team defensively, but don’t you think we’d at least have a chance to run-and-gun against Slovenia? I think Howard can steal the England game for us and get us a draw, but to say that we’re not good enough to draw, let alone beat, Slovenia seems a stretch.

    Come on, man. Have a little faith. Other than that, solid work, as always.

  8. If Honduras does not put on a good showing, I will be furious – since Gooch and (indirectly) Davies were lost just for a meaningless game against Costa Rica.

    I’m planning on being furious.

  9. This is what I’m expecting, too. After the US gives up too many goals (say, 4-2), they’ll be looking at the next two matches for points. We fans became complacent that our defense would always be solid, and injuries have been chipping away at our stunning lack of depth.

    Then again, England is the top seed, so it isn’t that far-fetched — that the other 3 teams are fighting for 2nd place.

  10. I’m going to say it 100 times this week. “This will be Landon Donovan’s World Cup!” He’s in his prime, at 27 he probably won’t be the featured player for the US in 4 years. So this is it. He needs to have a dominant tournament, not just a good one. I think he’s ready. This is what will see us through to at least the round of 8.

    Yes the D worries me and more than that we have no destroyer in Mike Bradley. The hallmark of the modern D is the midfield destroyer, Gattuso, for the US it was Mastroeni. It’s not Rico Clark, could have been Jermaine Jones. Maurice Edu, anyone?

  11. What you’re forgetting, Aaron, is that Slovenia simply doesn’t score goals. I like our chances of breaking down their conservative, defense-minded game better than Algeria’s zany, attack-minded schemes. Still, I think we should at least get 4 points from the two. I’ve already written off England as a loss, but 4 points should get us out of this group. We lucked out in the draw. And in the Round of 16, we’ll most likely either get Ghana without Essien – a team we only lost to because of a bogus penalty call – or Germany without Ballack – a team we should have beaten 8 years ago WITH Ballack, had a bogus no-call been called.

    I’m not completely confident that we’ll even get out of the group either, but I think anything short of that is a disappointment. However, if we fail to advance, I guess that would mean no more BB, so there is a silver lining.

    And hopefully we’ll get the next Nevin Subotic, we could really use him now!

  12. Very interesting comments, TCompton. The “looking ahead” factor is probably a bigger deal than most people realize; I played hockey for 13 years, and always found this to be true when one of the top teams was up next on the schedule and we were playing a minnow. Granted, the Czech Republic are no minnow, but they aren’t quite on Italy’s level, either. If we were playing Slovenia first, I think we’d be having a lot of trouble this time out.

  13. All this yammering about our back line. Have you looked at England’s back line lately?

    Ferdinand: crocked (replaced by Dawson and his zero caps)
    King: crocked
    Terry: overrated
    Glen Johnson: *snicker*

    Add in that the only English “holding midfielder” worthy of the title, Hargreaves, is crocked.

    Also add in their excuses for a goalkeeper.

    Somehow I don’t see a 4-0 England win happening, like my expat friends seem to think.

  14. we lose to slovenia, they have a ridiculous group of forwards, but play conservative, with the way our defense plays, they can easily set up some counter attacks, ala the czech republic, i am reminded of the 65 yard jaunt by the one czech player back in 06 that resulted in a goal, think that times 2 or 3

    england, maybe we beat ’em, i think a draw, and a solid 3 versus algeria, so four points and pain, or just 3? like in 02, this will depend on the results of other games and the last matchday (can’t believe portugal shot themselves)

  15. I stopped reading after you said Gomez was older talent. He is 24. You’re just venting all the worst things that could happen to the US.

  16. Another consideration is that the U.S. will want to atone for its poor showing in Germany four years ago. They had a good Confederations Cup last year and will want to show that finishing 2nd and beating Spain along the way was no fluke.

    Then again, Lady Luck has been with us in alternating World Cups. An own-goal by Colombia allowed us to get to the elimination round in 1994. A South Korean win, rather than a draw with Portugal in 2002 meant a 2nd place finish, despite a big loss to Poland in our final group game.

    Even in last year’s Confederations Cup, not only did we have to beat Egypt by a big scoreline, we had to rely on Brazil to do the same to Italy on the same day. Both events happened, and that gave us our shot at Spain. Yes, our lineup will be vastly different this time around due to injuries of players who were instrumental in last year’s success.

    I agree with you Aaron–our defense could well be under duress for most of this World Cup, and we could see some 4-3 or 3-2 games. Then again, for as suspect as our back line looked against Turkey and Australia, we outscored them 3-0 in the second half of those games.

    1950 is so far away, but it’s the only other time we’ve faced England in a World Cup. I think we can compete with them, and with some fortuitous bounces of the ball, we can lay down a marker with a “brow-raising” upset. If not, and it turns out to be a loss resembling the one we had against the Czechs four years ago, I can only hope our team psychology isn’t so damaged that they can’t rally against Slovenia and Algeria.

  17. This is the same defense people on here were calling STUDS less that a year ago, now after a bad spell in some friendlies ”two of which we won” the sky’s falling, yeah O.K, whatever.

  18. A lot of what you’re saying here is valid, and I would echo how a previous comment put it that if we fail to advance you’ve probably explained why. But a couple points that needed to be added to the analysis to make it well-rounded:
    * As mentioned, Slovenia’s scoring (and Algeria’s too). Slovenia’s 20 goals in 12 qualifiers (including the playoff against Russia) doesn’t sound too bad (USA had 19 in 10), but they had what by European standards was a cupcake of a group, and 8 of those were against San Marino. 12 in 10 doesn’t really sound like someone who gets out of a group, and they probably wouldn’t have if anyone good had been in it.

    * Michael Bradley (and possibly a second D-mid). The D-mid is often more defensively positioned than even the fullbacks, and when the going gets tough for the US, Bradley is like another central defender. He’s not a mature enough player to be fugheddaboudit consistent, but going back to that Netherlands game, even they had trouble bringing it through the middle and after about 20 minutes preferred to attack from the flanks (where they unfortunately found John Bornstein).

    Which brings me to the points you made that I take some issue with:
    * What you say about Bornstein is true, but I don’t think he sees the field.
    * I don’t agree that Boca is all that prone to the ‘ill-advised charge up field’ in the first place (at least not comparatively), but watching him recently I really think his instructions are clear, and he’ll be a pretty ‘stay at home’ back this time around.

    Also, the fact that we’re seeing Boca at LB tells us something. . . which is, I think, that Bradley expects Onyewu to have more than a 4-inch vertical by game-time. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that’s true–looks like he’s betting the tourney on it.

    Make no mistake, the US will let in goals this World Cup, but if the phrase ‘I’m confident nearly every team in this tournament could score 2-3 goals against over 90 minutes’ is to be taken to mean you think we’ll be giving up 4 over the last two, I’m going to take the under on that bet.

  19. Good call. I’d rather read a fanboy’s column that believes the US will win 6-0, with Onyewu scoring a brace and Rooney seeing red in the 1st minute.

  20. Unlike the NFL, in the WC, defense gets you there but offense wins it. I’ve been reviewing the previous WC finalists and with few exceptions they have all had a hot scorer or genius midfielder but not necessarily a suffocating defense. So if our goalscorers are motivated, hot and getting their chances then we could go far this time around.

  21. I was criticizing Gomez less for his age, and more for being a dreadful finisher on the big stage such as at the World Cup and European Championships. Perhaps I should’ve said experience rather than age. But, take a look at who his international goals have come against. Switzerland (3g, in 2 matches)
    San Marino (2g)
    Austria (1g)
    UAE (4g in one game)
    South Africa (1g)
    Hungary (1g)
    And only the two goals against the might of San Marino came in qualifiers. All the other goals were in friendlies.

  22. Even if I believed your comments about Gomez, which I do not, the notion of Germany being “muscled around” by anybody, much less Australia or an Essien-less Ghana, is just f-ing ludicrous. Who is going to out-muscle Germany, exactly? Norway didn’t qualify. Vidic runs like an oil tanker. I just don’t see it.

    Your comments about the USA ring true enough to make me nervous. We’ll see come Saturday, I guess.

  23. Well, the concerns about Germany’s physicality were valid enough to warrant mention by the Guardian podcast’s Rafa Honigstein a few weeks back…

  24. You know, everyone was all “Our defense is terrible!” for the first couple of games in the CC, and then all of the sudden, our defense was seriously dominant vs Egypt and Spain. What I’m saying here is: Calm down guys, and have a little faith.

  25. Aaron,

    I’m glad you picked the U.S. not to advance, because there’s simply never been a time when I’ve walked away from anything you’ve written thinking you were even remotely in the ballpark of being right about anything.

    Thanks for giving us the green light to advance!

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