OK, that chant can stop now. First, the anger and frustration. Let’s start with the obvious. The World Cup is not the Gold Cup and with the U.S. in desperate need of an attacking option in their round of 16 match with Belgium, Jurgen Klinsmann left himself scant options well before boarding the plane for Brazil.
Jozy Altidore was probably 50 percent, Aron Johannsson did not perform well in relief of Altidore in the U.S.’s first group stage match against Ghana. All that was left was wonder-poacher Chris Wondolowski of San Jose Earthquake and 2013 Gold Cup fame.
Now, scapegoating is cheap and easy when it comes to a demoralizing result in a sporting contest.
We’ve all failed, and probably on way smaller stages than a match with a worldwide audience, so to lay the U.S.’s loss at the feet of a 31-year old striker who had a penchant for scoring goals for his country (five goals at the 2013 Gold Cup) seems harsh.
Still, Wondo’s miss in the dying embers of regulation against Belgium is hard to stomach:
So was Clint Dempsey’s in extra time. Images you’d like to photoshop in your mind. Change the aspect ratio and therefore the outcome. A comeback from 2-nil down in extra time would have been exhilarating. But such is football. Such is life.
— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) July 1, 2014
Yeah, what he said.
In the end, it must be said that Klinsmann mismanaged his World Cup team selection and his use of Wondolowski—a man clearly overmatched by the weight of the moment—against Belgium was unfortunate.
Only the Italians know how to win a World Cup without dominant strikers and Klinsmann’s decision to not bring Landon Donovan (or some other dude like Julian Green) to the party proved to be fateful.
Once the USA hype machine gets going, bad things usually happen. So while it’s great that more Americans finally gave soccer a chance this World Cup, the borderline jingoism was starting to get annoying.
The grapes are always a bit sour after a defeat like this, but there is hope that the U.S. will be further along in four years time when the Cup moves to Mother Russia. Klinsmann may have his shortcomings but his blueprint is in place, and he helped create a furor around his team by exceeding global expectations.
Klinsmann’s insistence that his players play at top clubs in Europe (or elsewhere) in order to compete on the world stage holds gallons of water. In the defining match of the Cup for Team USA, most of his MLS-based players looked a step behind or ineffective.
Sadly this applies to Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle), Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) and even Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) who played admirably all tournament long but was outchallenged by Romelu Lukaku, allowing him to play the ball in for Kevin De Bruyne’s goal and was beaten again on Lukaku’s decisive second goal in extra time.
Bashing MLS is also convenient, but you can’t necessarily blame American players for wanting to play in their domestic league, even if it is cut-rate by world standards.
However, this is the mentality that needs to change in the American soccer mind if the nation ever wants to really compete for a World Cup title. The MLS is not there yet and probably will never be a top league. It is a destination for aging European and South American stars and a decent breeding ground for young American talent, but it can’t hold a match to the EPL, La Liga or the Bundesliga.
America’s best players must play against the best in the world at the club level. If they don’t, Team USA will never ascend past the quarterfinal of a World Cup (the U.S. managed this feat in 2002).
The World Cup cycle always seems longest immediately after your favorite team gets sent home. The next stage in American soccer fandom will be to watch the rest of the tournament and marvel at the teams that are still in it.
While the U.S. outlasted sides like England, Italy and Spain, the party is over for now. It’s time to simply enjoy the rest of the World Cup ride and hope it’s a longer one for your national side in four years’ time.