US Has Great Success Building Into The World Cup
Part Of Shane Stay’s Four Year Review From The 2016 Copa America
By Shane Stay
As this Four Year Review rolls on, the US took on Paraguay for the last game in their group. A good result was needed to advance into the playoff round, and that’s where things got interesting. Previously, the US lost to Colombia, 0-2. Then the US defeated Costa Rica, 4-0. On the night of the third game, Colombia, the number three team in the world, lost to Costa Rica, causing them to get second in the group.
Against Paraguay, the US won 1-0 despite playing down a man. Dempsey scored the goal, Yedlin received two yellow cards, Brooks had a great defensive game and the team as a whole came together to hold off the Paraguayan attacks. With the win, the US moved onto play in the quarterfinal against Ecuador, which was held in the loud setting of Seattle. With home field advantage, the US was showing the tournament they were one of the top teams there.
This generation of US players has benefited from the creation of the MLS in 1995. All of the players from the generation before 1995 were good athletes and players, but they lacked the experience provided by an outdoor league. While fielding competitive teams, they couldn’t get beyond a certain level. Practically everyone in the world looked down on the American soccer program, which affected the team’s performance. Furthermore, the players back then were good defenders, as they are today.
While defenders like Brooks played well, I still believe the team needed to take a chance with more skillful defenders on the offensive side of the ball. This would push the team forward with long term success, which comes from a sound groundwork of creative possession that has gotten better over the years.
Paraguay had a good team going into the game. Traditionally, they’ve been competitive, but they’ve never stood out as a major threat in a tournament like this, or the World Cup. At this point in the tournament Brazil, who has been a leader in the game since the 1950s and who was expected to win their group, was sent home because of not getting through the playoff round. Though it wasn’t a huge surprise that the US won their group, with Brazil gone, the feeling was that anything could happen.
The US stood up to the challenge of playing in the quarterfinal against Ecuador, in Seattle. It could be said that home field advantage was playing a significant role in the success of the team during the tournament, considering what a terrible year they had in 2015. However, was the team playing well? Were they getting results? Did they advance in a large tournament? Yes, yes and yes.
The bigger issue here is how to get the team past that certain point. The team can get better with adjustments. Change the culture of play in defense, by developing more offensive-minded defenders who control possession in a skillful way, and you will have a better team which will have consistent success.
To push us over the top, like Sylvester Stallone from his underrated “Citizen Kane of an arm wrestling movie,” it’s about creative possession from the defense. The team needs to adjust the defense to get into the deeper rounds of the World Cup. They look good now, but this team can’t win the World Cup. They’ll turn some heads, like in 2010, but they won’t push it to the limit. We need more “skateboarders,” such as Neymar’s debut game for Brazil in 2010 against the US. No one had ever heard of him, in the US anyway. He was about 17 or 18. During the national anthem the camera panned over this kid, with a mohawk, looking like a puny, skinny, scrawny little punk-rock skateboarder. At that moment, in line with Pato (who’s gotten a bad rap), Gonso (who’s been looked over) and Robinho, most people realized he was going to be a good player. And for his debut, Neymar scored a goal and dribbled with confidence as a veteran would. (Gonso, also in his debut game for Brazil, played phenomenally, casually leading the attack with beautiful passes.) That’s what the US needs: more scrawny, skateboard punks who can really dribble. Why did Brazil exit the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Copa America so disgracefully? They didn’t have the classic creative dribblers and playmakers that they’re known for. They need to get back to what they do well, and the US needs to get into what Brazil should return to.
After losing the first game to Colombia, the US made great strides getting into the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America. A little surprised, yes and no. It turns out that Paraguay and Costa Rica weren’t as good as people thought, and the US got out of the group. Yet, considering home field advantage, particularly in the quarterfinal with Ecuador in Seattle, it made sense. The argument I’m putting together for the future of the team is that making the semifinals for this tournament “isn’t there yet,” considering the US made the semi’s in this tournament in 1995. Also, Brazil didn’t advance out of their group, which was really weird. Another surprise was Mexico, who was thought to be one of the best teams in the tournament, losing 7-0 to Chile.
From the outset, the US and Argentina were looking to be interesting. Yet again, with home field advantage there was a glimmer of hope that the US men could find a victory in Houston and leave Texas for the championship match. But Argentina proved that South American competition is a world away from the leaders of CONCACAF. In the end, the US lost 4-0, playing the number one team in the world. The majority of US analysts constantly serve as a reminder as to how we Americans approach the game: It’s like an executive boardroom, ala Glengarry Glen Ross, with high expectations and unrealistic goals. “Did you score a goal?” “No.” “Well, you didn’t do your job. We have to replace you.”
The key issue is that we are not supplying the players with the right approach to “scoring goals.” There’s no use in expecting them to score if the approach is wrong, particularly against an opponent like Argentina, who was doing everything we needed to be doing (which is not asking too much, which is the paradox). Dribbling must be a priority. The two-man game within crowded areas on the field must be a priority. When Argentina possesses the ball in the middle of the field, with artistic short passing and dribbling, it becomes clear why they have more quality scoring chances. That’s where all the scoring begins.
The question for the future is simple. Can the USMNT figure it out by the next World Cup? It’s possible. There’s still a lot of time to wait and see.
Shane Stay is the author of Why American Soccer Isn’t There Yet, Meyer & Meyer 2014.
Shane Stay is a former professional soccer player, writer, comedian, producer and founder of Leaf Dressing. In 2008, Stay bottled Leaf Dressing, co-authored a print book, published a magazine story, worked clubs as a comedian, played restaurateur and received a Masters of Arts. Stay has a Bachelor of Arts from Sonoma State University and a Master of Arts from Southern Illinois University.
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