Column: U.S. National Soccer Team Not Living Up to Hype, Expectations
By Derek Garcia '13, Staff Writer
I remember how a few issues ago I promised to write about the original type of football - fútbol. Or to be more technical about it and care for the sympathies of my American audience, soccer. also known as: the beautiful game; also known as: the sport where they kick a ball around 90 minutes; also known as: the sport of unnecessary diving; also known as: what went down this summer at the “World Cup.”

I kid, I kid. I don’t want to alienate my few and loyal readers (I’ve counted nine so far…) with unnecessary generalizing about American perceptions of soccer. As a matter of fact, I first learned to call the game soccer rather than football in English, and I regularly use the former when talking about the sport. However, I will make one admission. Even if you don’t watch or know a lot about soccer, do not listen to what they (the Establishment) say about the United States National Soccer Team. They are talented, but they are not the best team in the world. I am so confident of this that I venture to say that most of what comes out of the sports media hailing the national team is unwarranted and bloated praise. The team is just not that good.

Granted, they did beat Spain. They even gave Brazil a run for their money in the 2009 Confederations Cup. But that was two years ago, and it still seems that everyone is running off that competition. Oh, and let’s not forget the epic battle between the U.S. and England this summer. Oh, I remember how the boys in blue scratched their way to a hard-fought tie. Yes, all completely due to a horrendous error by Rob Green, the English goalie. I could have stopped that shot. You could have stopped that shot. But the professional for some reason or another could not. In that game, England had eight shots on goal compared to the US’s four. It was theirs to lose and both teams ended up with a tie. However, I will give credit where its due and say that Tim Howard was the reason the US didn’t lose 4-1 to England. Also, the U.S. was robbed against Slovenia and Landon Donovan proved he was capable of performing on the world stage.

Which brings me to what occurred two weeks ago. You see, in contrast to what has been said by many, the US did not play a hard fought and good game with Argentina. No. Simply put, they sucked.

That might be hyperbole. They sucked through the first half and sucked less in the second. For those who saw the game, Argentina controlled the ball for long stretches during both halves and continually kept the ball on the American half of the field. Lionel Messi was playing games with the U.S. defenders. The only reason Messi didn’t score five goals, contrary to what some of the coverage of the game would have you believe, was not because of the impeccable American resolve or the grit of the American defenders and strikers to salvage a game-tying goal; it was because of Tim Howard.

If the defense was that good, then Argentina wouldn’t have had so many chances to put the ball in the net, nor set up shop on the American side of the field. If the strikers were that good up front, then they could have scored more goals and strung together a few more plays to challenge the Argentine defense. Agudelo’s lone goal came not from a complicated string of passes, but the dumb luck and fortunate positioning resulting from a free kick that was badly mishandled by the Argentine goalkeeper. The U.S. did not play well and was saved (pun very much intended) by the skills of Tim Howard. As a matter of fact, he was the probably the only player that Saturday night who deserved to be praised and be put in the same company as Messi, who couldn’t break through the goalie’s padded hands. Just a few days later, the United States lost against Paraguay, which had just lost to Mexico 3-1.

Simple as it may sound, I cannot consider the United States National Team an elite soccer force until they consistently win, not tie, against able and worthy opponents like Argentina. It is these inconsistencies against stronger teams that push me to consider that first-place finish in their group during the World Cup an aberration — one which came on the part of a team which was clearly not ready for the world stage. After their quarterfinal loss against Ghana in the World Cup, the U.S. has only beaten South Africa (1-0) and has tied four times, with one loss coming against Paraguay. After so much hype after the World Cup, it’s a surprise to consider how unimpressive the team has been since July.

I’m surprised that many commentators consider them good enough to hang with the juggernauts of international soccer, when the facts show otherwise: the U.S. ranked 19th out of 208 nations, has not been able to close out games and pull out wins against lower-, medium- and top-ranked teams like, Poland (71), Columbia (50), Chile (14), Argentina (4) and Paraguay (24) — South Africa is ranked 46th.

If the United States is able to beat Spain this summer, their next opponent, and make a dent in the CONCACAF Gold Cup (they’ll still have to deal with Mexico and El Chicharito) then maybe I’ll consider them having turned a corner. Until then, their 19th-ranked position is unwarranted along with any praise that comes out of these ties and losses.

Issue 21, Submitted 2011-04-09 01:23:19