In the end, Team USA showed that despite an increase in the talent and skill of its roster, it still has a long way to go to compete on the world stage.
The individual skills of US players by and large are inferior to not only the very best players, but the rest of the world in general. This lack of skill is hidden when we play against the relatively week Caribbean and Central American teams during World Cup qualifying rounds. But when playing against sides that play disciplined, close defense, the individual weaknesses of the US team are exposed and exploited much to our detriment.
The 2-1 loss to Ghana is illustrative of both this lack of skill and the inferiority of our coaching. Most observers think that Bruce Arena was badly outcoached against the Czechs. And the curious lethargy of Team USA on offense during most of the tournament can be directly traced to his insistence on playing Brian McBride alone up top where he forces the mediocre striker to make plays all by himself while dropping his best skilled player, Landon Donovan, into a roaming midfielder role who then must depend on crisp, accurate entry passes that simply were not there the entire tournament. Known as a great motivator, Arena’s boys never had the sense of urgency that may have made them competitive in either the Czech or Ghana losses. It looked like they were playing at altitude so slow a foot they appeared.
Perhaps there is no US player who disappointed more than Donovan. He was invisible for long stretches. But the same could be said for Beasley and McBride as well. In Donovan’s case, so much was expected of him that one could fairly say that his effort and performance was far below world class standards. He has eschewed playing in Europe for the last few years. Now it would be an open question whether or not any decent European club would want him.
Nothing should be detracted from the play of Ghana. The Black Stars flew around the field playing with an energy and abandon that made the US side look for all the world like they were stuck in the mud by comparison. But their next opponent is Brazil, a match that should be entertaining but one where the Stars will be huge underdogs. By any stretch, the Ghanaians are the surprise of the tournament.
I will continue to write occasionally about the Cup over the next fortnight. And I plan on doing a report card this weekend, grading the individual American players and reflecting on the future of Team USA as well as soccer in America.