The United States World Cup run is over and there’s a lot to be sad about, but also a lot to be happy about. The USMNT was not better than Belgium, not even close. Any chance they had of winning the game would have had to come through grit, determination, and a whole lot of luck. For most of the game they showed all those qualities, albeit the luck was only happening on the defensive end of the ball. In the end, the absurd talent of Belgium was just too much and the USMNT could not pull off the upset.
In order to understand the chasm of quality between the United States and Belgium it is important to look at the plethora of talented players Belgium has at its disposal. Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Everton, and Porto are just some of the teams on which the bench players of Belgium played for. The starters were the fifth highest paid among all teams behind the top four which are Spain, Germany, Brazil, and Argentina. They had Romelu Lukaku coming off the bench in injury time who is a forward for Chelsea. To put that in comparison, the USMNT forward who came off the bench was Chris Wondolowski, a 32 year old who plays for the San Jose Earthquakes and was just now playing in his first World Cup. Up until, and during, the World Cup the USMNT have had an argument over who their two center backs would be. Belgium has so many quality center backs that they had to stick two of them as outside fullbacks (They were not happy to be moved outside). Eden Hazard was coming off a season where he had just won PFA Young Player of the Year award while our best winger is 32 and was left at home (Landon Donovan). This Belgium team is an incredibly talented team with an embarrassment of riches. There is a reason they were picked as a dark horse to win the tournament. Unfortunately for the US and the rest of the world, they will probably be one of the favorites to win the 2018 World cup considering they are the second-youngest team in the year’s World Cup. Not only are they talented, but also they will just keep getting better.
There is nothing wrong with losing to a vastly superior team. Every US soccer fan should be proud of the players that wore the Red, White, and Blue. The USMNT was not even supposed to escape their group so it was a great achievement to even get to the knockout round. However, in order to progress as a footballing nation the USMNT must consistently go further in the knockout round. In order to do that, there must be changes. The style of play is the first thing that needs to be changed. Jurgen Klinsmann came into the job promising attacking and attractive football. To say he failed would be too nearsighted. Most of players on this World Cup roster could not have engaged in that game plan against more technically superior teams because their touch and vision is not as developed as the players on a Germany, Belgium, or Colombia. Most times, however, the US played too tentatively. The defense was rock solid at times but frequently the midfield and defense would cough up the ball at inopportune times. It seemed as if the US just wanted to get rid of the ball and were too afraid to commit and lose the ball. Therefore, there was a severe lack of possession, which inevitably increased the pressure on the US defense and helped opposing teams find their rhythm. During the tournament the US was second in worst of time of possession.
To be a good team you do not have to dominate possession like Spain does. Some teams actually prefer less possession so they can hit their opponents on the counter-attack. This was not what the US was doing. Their lack of possession was due to lack of composure on the ball and an overtly defensive strategy. That needs to change next World Cup. If the USMNT wants to grow and become a world power it needs to be able to dictate play. Sitting back and hoping to rebuff you opposition’s attacks and then sneak a goal in, will not be a long-term path to success. The brief flashes of brilliance the US showed when down a goal and being forced to play more open, gives hope that if the national team gets the talent and hone their technical abilities then the US can start to become a team that will not need to park the bus in order to try and steal points. Continue reading “The Future Is Bright For US Soccer (Belgium Post-Mortem)”