Assessing USMNT after Honduras – we are Gonzaga

I could not think of a better time to read this dumb column in the Guardian. It is a typical feel good column for their British readers: look at those superficial Americans they will never like a sport that has no cheerleaders and commercials, they will never get real football. How perfect is it that this column was published the same day the US qualified for the 6th straight world cup – among the longest consecutive streaks of any nation in the world.

It is no longer a question if soccer will arrive – it has. Wining in Honduras and clinching our sixth straight trip to the World Cup after failing to qualify for the previous nine, is just further proof.

This in my view is the most talented team the U.S. has ever had – it is not yet a better team than the one that emerged 02 and many of its players are still unproven – but it has more depth and quality, especially defensively. And it has emerged in a cycle that going into it most considered a rebuilding period. We are still a long way off from becoming a true elite soccer power, but the gap is closing and closing fast.

Kartik at MLS Talk after noting the greatness of the victory in Honduras worries that this will go to our heads and raise expectations for a program that he thinks suffers from many deficiencies and would likely criticize my take as too rosy. Does the U.S. team have flaws? Yes. And Sunil Gulati and US soccer can certainly do much to improve the game in the U.S. – but the fact that improvements can be made and weaknesses exist should not detract from the progress that has been remarkable. As someone who works in politics, saying the U.S. can win the world cup is a classic case of messing up the expectations game. But this isn’t politics – this is about marketing – and in that world any publicity is good.

So can this team win the world cup? Well could Greece win the European championships? Yes the U.S. can win it, while I wouldn’t bet on it, this is a squad that could pull out a result against any team in the world. The victory over Spain was labeled a fluky “miracle on grass” – but that demeans the performance. It was a shock and a huge upset, but it is not a miracle.

I think the right comparison is perhaps to an NCAA basketball team like Gonzaga. Gonzaga emerged from obscurity over the last 10 years – in 1999 they emerged from nowhere eventurally losing to UCONN in the elite 8 – to now be considered a serious basketball school. They have become a very consistent elite national program that gets national respect, but not much attention – few on the east coast give them much attention and they are not put in the same category nor do they tend to be as good as traditional powers from the big conferences: UNC, Duke, Kansas, UConn, UCLA (yes there is fluctuation but you get the point). Could Gonzaga win the NCAA tournament – it is certainly unlikely and would take quite a magical run, but it is not out of the question or a total fluke the way George Mason made the final four. A Gonzaga victory over UNC or UConn last year would have been an upset -but in no way a miracle. We are Gonzaga not George Mason – in 1994 we were George Mason.

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2 Responses

  1. […] The Decade American Soccer Arrived Posted on December 31, 2009 by Max Bergmann As the sun sets on the 00s, it is worth an initial look back on the decade that was and some thoughts on the decade that will be. While politically, economically, and socially this will be seen as one of the worst decades in memory, when it comes to soccer, this is the decade that American soccer finally arrived. 1. USMNT became a respected, even feared, international team. As the decade began playing the United States was seen internationally, as playing Trinidad or New Zealand. We were seen as a push over, a minnow of the soccer world. This lack of respect was vividly demonstrated in the BBC’s 30 min lead in program to the USA-Portugal 2002 world cup game, where Gary Linnekar and Alan Hansen never even talked about the US team. Now, following the confederations cup and more and more Americans playing abroad, there is a genuine respect for the US side coming from the vast majority of English commentators. We are no longer seen as a push over. Moreover, during this decade the US-Mexico rivalry reached another level, with the US overtaking Mexico as the Kings of CONCACAF, evidenced by winning in the 02 round of 16 in the World Cup, the 2 World Cup qualifications of the decade and the 07 Gold Cup, which sent the US to the Confederations Cup. This rivalry is shaping up as one of the best international soccer rivalries in the world. We are not world beaters yet, but we are among the stronger of the second tier of soccer nations. […]

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