We are currently in the middle of the Gold Cup, the premier international tournament for the North and Central America region (CONCACAF) of the soccer world. Earlier this week, the US defeated Canada 2-0 in the opening game of the competition, but despite the victory, I couldn’t help but wonder if US Soccer has really lived up to the promise the program once showed.
It was the summer of 2002, and fans of the US Mens National team, were living a dream. For many of us, we had been waiting years to finally see our country take its place among the world’s great footballing nations. The sport we loved, and which was largely and frustratingly ignored by the ignorant sports media, was at long last the headline news. Our boys defeated a star-studded Portugal side, as well as Mexico, our greatest rivals. We made it all the way to the quarterfinals against powerhouse Germany, surprising much of the world in the process. And if it weren’t for a blatant handball, missed by the referee, we may have gone even further.
Despite the defeat, it was a glorious moment indeed. And what truly softened the sorrow of an unfortunate loss was the promise that this successful tournament, the moment we all thought would be when the sleeping giant finally awoke, was only the beginning. But nearly a decade later, it seems the giant was only flipping over to find the cool side of the pillow.
Sadly, the US team has not progressed the way we all hoped, and to some degree even assumed, it would. The promise in 2002 was felt throughout the American soccer community. Major League Soccer was stable and producing players who were making significant contributions to the national team, players like Landon Donovan, Eddie Pope and Clint Mathis. And we had our fair share of talented players playing and succeeding in Europe’s top leagues, such as Claudio Reyna, Brad Friedel and John O’Brien. And we assumed more and more would soon make their way across the pond to play atop the soccer world.
But instead of taking that next step, it can be argued that US Soccer’s top team has regressed somewhat. The game against Canada, while always nice to win, was not the stuff of a burgeoning soccer giant. In the nine years since the 2002 World Cup, the United States has failed to produce even one good striker or center-back worthy of strong national side. And assuming we reach the 2014 World Cup, we will be relying on a 32 year old Donovan and a 31 year old Clint Dempsey to form the attack, while hoping that Tim Ream and Timmy Chandler both become world-class defenders.
Take a look down the squad list and you will not see many players who will be hitting their prime in 2014. Yes, there are a few. And that is more than could be said 25 years ago. But is there really enough to become what we all hope US Soccer would become after the 2002 team retired? Or is this what we can expect from now on? Only time will tell if 2010 was the high-water mark for quite some time.
By Dave McBride