New Soccer Glory Days for U.S?
(Above: One of the greatest goals ever by the U.S., vs. Algeria, 2010, South Africa -- involving four epic players -- Howard, Donovan, Altidore and Dempsey.)
The American men’s soccer team will play Wales on Monday in the World Cup, which comes around every four years.
(The four-year gap is part of the charm of soccer, although the assorted reprobates who run world soccer hallucinate about a more frequent World Cup.)
For the fast-growing multitude of Americans who love and understand soccer, the common wisdom used to be that as more young American prospects gravitated to the fast leagues of Europe, the U.S. national team would become a powerhouse.
But right now, I’m not sure about 2022.
As a witness to the great goal by Paul Caligiuri in Trinidad in 1989 that put the U.S. in the 1990 World Cup to the bravo defense by goalkeeper Tim Howard in the gallant loss to powerful Belgium in 2014, I saw a quarter century of mostly progress.
National soccer teams are essentially all-star teams, recalled from clubs that provide large salaries and top-level experience. The best players are called up to the national squads, trying to shrug off jet lag and over-exertion in brutal club schedules. (Think of world soccer as an incessant giant hamster wheel.)
The evidence of the past two years of qualifying matches is that the young American male players have been banged up in club play, and when put together they do not display enough stamina, cohesion and smarts.
This was evident in the qualifying tournament for the 2018 World Cup, when all that American effort and money and talent came to a screaming halt. After six straight qualifications in the main World Cup, the U.S. was reduced to a raggle-taggle group of boy soldiers, sent into battle over their heads against regional opponents, ultimately pounding the scruffy turf in frustration after the loss in Trinidad.
(Stuff happens. Italy – the Azzurri – four-time champions – will not be in Qatar, much to the mortification of the Italian tifosi including me.)
The Americans did get through this time, but with a revolving roster of flashes and hopefuls, riddled by injuries, without a scintilla of consistency during the qualifying. Canada had a better cohesive team during qualifying.
I don’t necessarily think any of this is the fault of Gregg Berhalter, the American coach, a fit and modern lifer who was almost a hero in the 2002 World Cup, except that a German defender managed to drop his arm in position to stop Berhalter’s up-close shot.
Berhalter knows the game but he is banking on players who should be nearing the peak of their careers, like Christian Pulisic, who has not been getting enough time, on a fast Chelsea team.
This accumulation of injuries and benchings and transfers lead to my conclusion that the best days of American soccer just might be – I hate to say this -- In the past.
This nostalgia may sound familiar to New Yorkers, in particular -- Mets fans talking about Ron Swoboda’s catch in 1969 or Mookie Wilson’s glorious little dribbler in 1986, or Jets’ fans living off legends of Broadway Joe Namath winning the third Super Bowl back in, for goodness’ sakes, Super Bowl III in 1969.
Soccer glory days include the goal by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian national in looser eligibility times, helping the U.S. beat England – England! – in the 1950 World Cup.
Then, after nine straight absences from the World Cup, the U.S. began a string of success, starting with a thumping shot by Caligiuri, one of the first Americans to get experience in Europe. But from 1989 through 2014, there were glorious moments.
1990, Italy - The U.S. played two stinkers, but in Rome, they almost beat Italy, except that Peter Vermes’ shot plunked off the Italian keeper’s posterior.
1994, USA – The Yanks qualified for the shootout round, but Tab Ramos had his eye socket fractured by a cheap-shot elbow, during a loss to Brazil.
1998, France– A total stinker, from coach to players. Don’t ask.
2002, South Korea – In the shootout round, the Yanks took apart Mexico -- dos a cero, now a legendary score in that rivalry – engineered by Manager Bruce Arena and wily midfielder Claudio Reyna.
2006, Germany -- Blood and three red cards and one of the best games ever by keeper Kasey Keller, in a draw with Italy.
2010, South Africa – Maybe the best single play ever in the U.S, modern era: Needing a goal to get past wily Algeria, the U.S. launched a desperate fast break, by some of the greatest players ever to represent the U.S. – keeper Tim Howard pitching out to Landon Donovan who dribbled and release a Maradona-esque pass to Jozy Altidore who centered the ball to Clint Dempsey, who banged a shot to the keeper, who deflected the shot to Donovan, who put in the rebound and set off the raucous dogpile on the field.
2014--- Tim Howard nearly beat Germany and Belgium, two of the best teams in the world.
However, in 2018, the Yanks were clueless in the qualifying round, and happy talk commenced about the future.
With all due respect, nobody on this team has done anything on the scope of a couple of dozen American stars of the golden quarter century, like Cobi Jones or Brian McBride or Eddie Pope, just to drop a few more stalwarts.
One strength of the glory years was goalkeeping, a position dependent on athletic prowess, size and wingspan. Tony Meola had baseball offers, Kasey Keller had the fluid swagger of a shortstop or a tennis champ, Brad Friedel had an open offer to walk on to the great UCLA basketball squads, and Tim Howard was a known dunker in high school hoops in New Jersey. This year’s trio does not remind me of any of them.
The field players are full of brilliance – but more potential than current. Pulisic carves up regional foes in qualifying but has been shunted in the best league in the world. Gio Reyna, injured much of this past season, has the most exquisite moves on the squad, a bit flashier than his dad, Claudio, who held the glory generation together. Another son-of is Tim Weah, whose father is George Weah, the greatest Liberian player, who never got to the World Cup, now the president of Liberia.
Two top midfielders are Weston McKennie (Juventus, Italy) and Tyler Adams (Leeds, England). I enjoy watching Antonee Robinson (Fulham, England) a left back who was born and raised in Everton, England, and knows how to romp downfield. I also like Walker Zimmerman, from Major League Soccer, as a tall, rugged enforcer in the back.
Two more names -- Brenden Aaronsen, a midfielder from Leeds, arms flying like a human windmill, a born disrupter, and in the midfield, and Kellyn Acosta, a veteran midfielder from the MLS, with a feel for unobtrusive aggression.
Many players on the current American squad have more potential than the median of past U.S. World Cup squads. But as for the demands of this quadrennial spectacle, the most popular sports event in the world, this team has not done anything, yet.
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FOOTNOTE FROM THE GREAT ROGER BENNETT, OF "MEN IN BLAZERS:"
One quick note: There is a lot of discussion about how we should not worry about this tournament because our squad is designed to peak in 2026. I want to go on the record and say just how much I hate that. World Cups come every four years. They are all too rare to waste. This is not an NFL team where you control draft picks, player development, and salary cap room. World Football is unpredictable. Injuries and form are uncontrollable. The World Cup is a gift. All of us are only gifted a handful of them in our lives. You go hard. You go now. Or you go home. Never write one off. Make memories while you can. Take nothing for granted. Savor every bloody second.
(ALWAYS LISTEN TO ROGER--GV)
11/17/2022 04:00:39 pm
Hi George: Thanks for the newest update to your book, Eight World Cups. It was your writing from your first in Spain (1982 - 40 years ago!!) that hooked me forever on the beautiful game, It will be sad without Italy, once again - and I'm also sad about Qatar in so many ways. Uruguay has embraced sustainability as a country so they are my "dark horse" pick to win the cup (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/05/magazine/uruguay-renewable-energy.html). England would be nice for me too. Re: USA - I agree we haven't impressed. I hope they surprise many - they're in a tough group. I'm excited for the World Cup and my work productivity will decline. Happy Thanksgiving - Michael
11/17/2022 04:13:04 pm
While the current group of players is arguably the most talented in US history, it will be tough for them to equal or exceed the success of Bruce Arena's 2002 WC team. No less an authority than Franz Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup for Germany as both player and coach, told me the day after Germany eliminated the USA that the Americans deserved to win and Germany only got through because of an error by the referee. Good luck to the Americans in Qatar. You never know how it will go until the final whistle blows. But this really does look like a group whose peak might come in 2026, when they will qualify automatically and play at home.
11/17/2022 04:32:48 pm
It never turns out like you expect, but a reasonable scenario would be for USA to draw vs. Wales and to defeat Iran and hope for anomalies elsewhere in the group. E.g., Wales also draws with Iran and does not upset England; or goal differential. However, stranger things have happened. 1 -1 draw with England in 2010.
11/17/2022 05:05:12 pm
11/17/2022 05:11:46 pm
Altenir, sad tale, Brazil equalled Soccer to me for years as I’m sure it did for you and Brazilians. I went all the way to New Jersey to see Pele.
11/17/2022 05:20:41 pm
11/17/2022 09:10:19 pm
Altenir, there are many possible reasons to allow politics to affect our rooting interests in the Word Cup.
11/17/2022 05:43:57 pm
Valid comments. The strongest team should usually win, but is often not the case. Team motivation and inner strengths is often difficult to evaluate.
11/18/2022 06:01:21 am
Dear Andy: Thanks for your explanations. The love for the sport supplants many things; however, some others are untouchables. In the 1970 World Cup, when Brazil won the third championship, the military dictatorship used this moment of people's happiness to intensify the repression against freedom. Since then, we've been on alert.
11/18/2022 09:10:00 am
11/18/2022 10:13:15 am
Bruce in Ontario:
11/18/2022 11:34:14 am
11/18/2022 09:17:27 am
To all: great layered responses to the issue of rooting.
11/18/2022 11:39:20 am
11/18/2022 11:41:03 am
Spot on opinion from the wonderful Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle: https://www.sfchronicle.com/sports/annkillion/article/Qatar-World-Cup-is-insane-evil-and-corrupt-so-17593341.php
11/18/2022 11:51:43 am
Also not bad: https://www.theguardian.com/football/ng-interactive/2022/nov/18/david-squires-on-qatar-2022-world-cup-were-really-doing-this-then-are-we?fbclid=IwAR0d7wm6NxGgrzSsHwTbNu3c9cXKJKAMjo_mopljhzy-bG-o8t4L1zHfqZM
11/18/2022 01:16:22 pm
John, thanks for the two links. I could not open the Killion column (firewall, I guess)....she's a pal from 1998 WC in France....has a good mind and strong opinions, among the fading breed of sports columnists. The Squires cartoon is strong -- but then again, so are the mortality figures for migrant workers in Qatar. Time to re-up my subscription. I rely on the Guardian for football around the calendar and particularly now in the World Cup! (Barney Ronay, etc.) GV
11/19/2022 11:51:48 am
Infantino had his big pre-WC press conference today and just made it worse. He's actually starting to sound a little like Trump, This WC could be his undoing. Apparently he's already been informed by Germany that they will not support his re-election next year. But in one-country, one-vote FIFA-land it may not be that important if enough African and CONCACAF countries vote for him. The old Havelange and Blatter formula...
Edwin W. Martin Jr
11/19/2022 12:09:39 pm
GV, John, after reading NYT this am, reminding us of Quatar-gate, I had to take an anti-acid.
11/18/2022 11:53:09 am
11/18/2022 01:38:57 pm
Edwin W. Martin Jr
11/18/2022 04:20:46 pm
I hear you John-Jean, I played HS soccer at Southside and Baldwin in 1948-49. We had a fan, I think. I was a stringer for Newsday covering soccer at these schools from time to time. Bob Zellner, sports editor.
11/19/2022 09:01:12 am
I came to soccer late in 1948 at age 14. Since I had never even seen a game and knew nothing about the sport, I was advised to be a goalkeeper. I had a 10 year career and always watch games from the perspective of the goalkeeper.
11/19/2022 12:27:29 pm
edwin w,,,,silly suggestion. everybody knows january is the ideal time to host the world cup in nunavut/iqaluit,
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.