How is it we keep improving? I think the idea is, taken as a whole, we keep improving? I suppose it’s assumed we’re including the whole history of the United States soccer team. Since 1950 it took forty years for us to return to the World Cup, thanks to a little genius from a UCLA alumni. Since 1990 our big moment was defeating CONCACAF foe, Mexico, sending us to the quarterfinal match, eventually losing to Germany, in 2002. 2006 was forgettable, 2010 had a spark, and in 2014 we finally beat Ghana (who was responsible for American misery in 2006 & 2010). So we made the round of 16 – big deal. We were outplayed in every game. Our tactic was to sit back, counter, and hope for the best. Ergh. This isn’t improving, this is avoiding the problem. Following the tournament some of the consensus was that Americans needed to improve “technique” and “possession.” Where was Stuart Holden, Freddy Adu, Jose Torres, Bobby Convey (maybe), and Brek Shea? Bench the two center backs, replace them with Bradley and Jones, start Yedlin and place Zusi at the other outside back. The biggest problem with American soccer, which will never be fixed, apparently, is the two center backs. They have no offensive skill whatsoever, awareness or willingness to want the ball back. If you take Bradley and Jones – mediocre central midfielders – and place them back as the two defensive midfielders they will excel with their current midfield skills. So therefore, offensively, they will control the game better than our defenders of the past; they’ll want the ball at their feet; they’ll make better passes; they’ll control possession – and defensively they’ll be able to stand their own. As a defensive back you need to be over six feet tall – in most cases, notwithstanding Cannavaro and few others – so you can clear out crosses with the head. So there you go: problem solved. This is the fix for 2014.
We have creative playmakers. A lot of them get lost in the shuffle to make an MLS team. Just because you’re not in the MLS doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. There’s only a few spots available and the coaching instincts tend to pick players with more of the traditional American athletic look; the guy that passes the immediate eye test; big bruts that will crush through a wall. Had they been raised in the U.S., I’m venturing to guess, with 100% certainty based on a 36% rate of failure that Iniesta and Xavi would’ve been overlooked by the MLS. They’re not wall crushers. When we think of a good player we think of guys that will attack the green grass and run on it hard like Jozy Altidore. They run hard. They kick hard; that’s what we consider soccer talent. They have to take over the game with some sort of brut force to catch our eye. Then we think if we can put all these brut forces on the field together we can’t lose. Not how it works. It’d be nice to have a bunch of brut forces, but, they have to have the psyche, the know-how, the instincts, the patience, the soccer IQ of a possession-oriented team. Many coaches say they’d prefer technical talent over pure speed with no technical talent. Technique and IQ make up for a lot of pure speed. The ideal players are ones that have the technique, IQ and a sub-4.8 forty, with a sub-11 hundred yard time.
But for generations to come, the names will change and the problem will remain the same. If we can recognize the importance of turning central defensive midfielders (or, practically speaking, any kind of center midfielder) into central backs America will definitely improve. If we can recognize the importance of taking forwards – like Roy Lassiter – and turning them into outside defenders, with instructions to attack, America will improve drastically, and, without a doubt, win the whole damn thing.