Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What Exactly Is The State of U.S. Soccer?

With the United States men's national team in the midst of the Gold Cup and the women's team preparing for their World Cup which begins in Germany later this month, I've been thinking about where were are as a soccer nation and whether things are improving or not.

The men have not looked particularly good so far despite making it to the final after beating Panama 1-0 in the semis. The best news is probably that the U.S. was not in the same bracket as Mexico and will only have to play Los Tricolores once, in the final. Panama had beaten the U.S. 2-1 in group play in this tournament so the semi-final win was a measure of redemption or revenge for a team that had never before lost in group play in the Gold Cup.

The way that Mexico is playing, however, second may be the best that the U.S. can hope for in this Gold Cup. Given the way the Americans both won the Gold Cup in 2007 and finished first in CONCACAF qualifying leading to the 2010 World Cup, that concession is disturbing.

Clint Dempsey celebrates his goal against Jamaica.
Mexico looks like the younger, more innovative squad right now as the Yanks struggle to assimilate new players into the established backbone of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Steve Cherundolo, and Tim Howard. Heck, even Freddie Adu (remember him?) played a role in the only goal against Panama in the semis. 

While the men have time to sort things out before the rigors of World Cup qualifying, the U.S. women enter their World Cup next week far from the role of clear favorites that they once enjoyed. Although the women's team is currently ranked first in the world, and won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, they have endured a string of inconsistent results in the past year.

After dominating World Cup qualifying for the past decade, the U.S. women lost to Mexico in the CONCACAF tournament semifinal  and had to beat Italy in a two-legged play-in to even reach the World Cup. They followed that up with a series of matches earlier this year, again with some inconsistent results.

Germany seems the odds-on favorite to win the WWC, as the host and after winning the last two (the U.S. finished third in both). Brazil and the U.S. lead the second tier of contenders, with Canada, Japan, and Sweden possibilities as well.

While the U.S. women are led by an experienced group including Abby Wambach and captain Christie Rampone, there are a number of younger players on the roster that could see significant playing time and perhaps tilt the scales in the Yanks' favor. Forwards Amy Rodriguez and Alex Morgan in particular may help inject some speed and youth into an attack that has seemed relatively predictable against well-organized defenses.

There certainly isn't the hype and anticipation for this team that surrounded the 1999 edition, even before Brandi Chastain took off her shirt.

The most famous picture in women's soccer history.

There was a time, even after the men's World Cup was held in the U.S. in 1994 and MLS started in 1996, when there seemed to be as much interest, or more, in the women's national team than the men. Whether because of the retirement of magnetic personalities and players like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Christine Lilly, or the disappointing finishes in recent tournaments that seem attributable in part to too many coaching changes or questionable coaching decisions on the national team, the women no longer enjoy much of the spotlight here.

The hope is that Wambach and company can restore a little of that luster this summer in Germany. After all, there's only one national team from the U.S. (and North America, for that matter) that has won a World Cup.

No comments:

Post a Comment