The three biggest US Soccer disappointments of my lifetime
I’m not writing this post as a Bruce Arena bashing. I grew up a DC United fan and what he did for the club in the early days is beyond words, but the fact remains that he was the manager of the US Men’s National Team for 2 of the 3 most disappointing USMNT events that I can remember.
3. 2006 World Cup in Germany
USA loses to Ghana and Czech Republic, draw eventual World Cup Champions Italy to finish dead last in their group without a win. Coached by none other than Bruce himself, the team featured a young Landon Donovan who was voted as the 2002 World Cup best young player, Kasey Keller in goal during his prime, Captain America Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey before he went to Fulham, and Brian McBride who was in London for 2 seasons already.
Here’s how the US lined up against Italy:
USA: 18-Kasey Keller; 6-Steve Cherundolo, 23-Eddie Pope, 22-Oguchi Onyewu, 3-Carlos Bocanegra; 4-Pablo Mastroeni, 8-Clint Dempsey (17-DaMarcus Beasley, 62), 10-Claudio Reyna (capt), 15-Bobby Convey (13-Jimmy Conrad, 52), 21-Landon Donovan; 20-Brian McBride
It was a tough group, but starting the tournament with a 3-0 loss to a Czech Republic side which featured Pavel Nedved, who won a Ballon D’Or in 2003 and was voted to three consecutive UEFA Teams of the Year in 2003, 2004, and 2005, partnered with Tomas Rosicky, who scored a belter from distance for the Czech’s second goal:
Meant the US started the tournament with work to do. A 1-1 draw with Italy despite being down to NINE men was seen as a success, but the following 2-1 loss to Ghana (Dempsey with the goal, but Appiah with the winning penalty) saw the US crash out of the tournament. 4 years later in South Africa, with Deuce finding his way in Europe and Landon continuing his winning ways, the US was able to come out of a group with England, Slovenia, and Algeria.
2. 1998 World Cup in France
In 1998, under head coach Steve Sampson, the United States were drawn into a favorable group which included Germany, Yugoslavia, and Iran. Sampson’s squad fell to Germany in the opening match 2-0, with Jurgen Klinnsman among the goal scorers for Ze Germans. Sampson was questioned by many when he decided to line up in a 3-6-1 formation against a German side which was #3 in FIFA World Rankings, including the following players as his Starting XI:
John Harkes was 31 at the time and was looked at as one of our best players, captaining DC United to MLS Cups in 1996 and 1997, but he was surprisingly left off of the 1998 World Cup roster when Sampson announced his squad.
What was also curious was the surprise inclusion of David Regis into the squad, seeing as he had only become eligible to play for the USMNT in May of 1998. When the US dropped the first game against Germany, many assumed they would rebound against Iran and Yugoslavia.
But in what many believe to be the most politically-fueled soccer match in recent history, the United States LOST TO IRAN by a score of 2-1. Iran was ranked 37th in FIFA World Rankings, and many believed the Yanks would have no problem getting their first win despite all of the political storylines leading into the game.
The United States went on to lose their third match vs Yugoslavia 1-0, and Sampson was fired before eventually taking over as LA Galaxy manager in 2004 after managing Costa Rica.
Number One: Failure to Qualify for 2018 World Cup
Whether Sunil Gulati, the players, Jurgen Klinnsman, or Bruce Arena is to blame for the Red White and Blue failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago, the fact remains that we just didn’t get it done.
Listening to Tim Howard’s post-game interview talking about T&T manager Dennis Lawrence, who was an assistant at Everton under Roberto Martinez, the USA shot-stopper does seem to suggest that the United States was possibly out-managed on this particular occasion, with the United States not doing a good enough job trying to break down the Trini defense.
Trinidad & Tobago dropped 10 and sometimes 11 behind the ball, stayed compact, and when they got the ball they were able to exploit the lack of width that Arena’s preferred 4-4-2 diamond left open.
The first own goal from Omar Gonzalez was kind of a fluke, but then when he went sliding in and almost giving up a penalty a few minutes later, the United States were lucky that the scoreline wasn’t worse.
Playing a 4-4-2 diamond with two players at the 8 who seem more comfortable out wide in Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola, along with Michael Bradley’s sub-par performance defensively, did not help the United States’ chances, and it becomes clearly obvious that USA Soccer is in desperate need of a 6 who can protect the back line in the near future.
Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones were serviceable through the years at the position, but with so many players like Dempsey, Jones, Beckerman, Howard, Beasley, and others coming to the ends of their careers, one position that we have practically no depth at currently is in the middle of the field at 6 or 8. Hopefully that will change before 2022 World Cup Qualifying, which is a frustrating FIVE YEARS AWAY.
We’ve waited since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil which saw the United States finish in second place in a difficult group made up of Germany, Portugal, and Ghana, only to be knocked out by Belgium but holding our own. We were all hoping that US Soccer was progressing, and could one day possibly challenge for a World Cup, but the fact remains that…. even though we are still making progress, it’s not like the rest of the world is sitting on their thumbs not getting any better.
In the above two examples, the following World Cup was a success for the United States. Hopefully this epic failure will see some changes made, and we can field a team that we can all be proud of as a country moving forward.