Team USA 2010 World Cup Outlook
by Robert Ferringo - 5/25/2010
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Generally I have gotten three responses over the last few weeks while trying to talk to people about the United States’ prospects at this year’s World Cup:
“Yeah, I just hope we don’t get embarrassed.”
“Who cares? We suck. And soccer sucks.”
“The World Cup is this summer?”
There are numerous questions surrounding the United States national soccer team as it gears up for a trip to the World Cup in South Africa this June. There are health concerns, roster questions, and an overall feeling of anxiety in the U.S. soccer community about how our side can hold up in the world’s greatest sporting event.
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But one thing assured is that the expectations four our squad is somewhere between apathy, detachment, and nervous excitement. And in relation to the lofty goals placed upon our 2006 World Cup team, which entered that tournament ranked No. 5 in the World, I feel like expectations for our current national team are relatively low heading into this year’s Cup.
But let me be one of the first to go out on a limb and say that our team not only should advance into the Knockout Round, but that I believe we are one of the more underrated teams in the field and a squad that could be set up for a deep run in the later stages of this competition. My feelings about this summer’s tournament: confidence and excitement.
The United States is presently a 50-to-1 long shot for World Cup futures odds. I think those odds are selling our team short, but I also am not fool enough to think that we have a chance in hell of earning the trophy. We don’t. But while the top teams like Brazil, Germany and England gauge achievement in this tourney based on titles, our team can be a rousing success without having to win it all. A deep run, competitive games, and an overall strong showing would do plenty to re-establish the United States as an up-and-coming and potential power in the world’s dominant sport.
I like to take more of a macro view of our national program, rather than get hung up on individual players and matchups. Because if anything, soccer is a game of cohesion and flow more than it is individual stars. And before we can look ahead to this year’s path and prospect for the Yanks I think we first need to look back at the 2006 World Cup. While many people have labeled that experience as a disappointment I feel like a deeper look at our actual performance reveals that it wasn’t nearly as bad as it seemed.
In 2006 Group C was labeled the infamous “World Cup Group of Death”. However, I remember thinking, “What are these people looking at?” The United States’ Group E was twice as difficult as any other grouping in the field. And had our team been positioned in any of five of the other seven groups I believe they would have advanced to the Knockout Stage.
Heading into the tournament Group E was comprised of the United States (ranked No. 5 in the world), the Czech Republic (No. 2 in the world), Italy (the eventual champions) and Ghana (the African champions). No other group could even come close to that, and we still nearly advanced.
Our first game was against the Czech Republic and was played in their neighborhood. What some people forget is that the Czechs were, by the odds, the No. 3 favorite at the tournament’s outset to win the World Cup trophy. The Czechs came out and played like one of the best teams in the world and steamrolled an overmatched American squad, 3-0.
However, the United States regrouped quickly in their next match against Italy, the eventual champions. The Italians ended up playing Australia, Ukraine, Germany, and France. And outside of the French in the title game we gave the Italians by far their toughest match, going toe-to-toe with the best team in the world in a 1-1 draw.
And in reality there is little doubt in my mind that the United States should have won that game. Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi took an early red card for a flagrant elbow, giving the United States momentum and an early 11-vs.-10 advantage. But then the U.S. was a victim of one of the worst calls in the entire tournament: the awful red card given to defender Pablo Mastroeni in the 45th minute. The game was tied 1-1 at the time and now our man advantage and our momentum were blunted.
To make things worse, two minutes into the second half Eddie Pope got his second yellow card – meaning an ejection – for another extraordinarily questionable tackle in which he was the first to the ball. That forced us to play the eventual champions 10 vs. 9 for the second half and we still more than held our own. In fact, the United States scored what would have been the game-winning goal only to have it disallowed by a ticky-tack offside call (I’ve seen much worse not called).
So that was an underrated performance by our side. And salvaging a tie meant that we still had a chance to advance to the Knockout Round with a Czech loss and a win over Ghana.
The American team again had its hopes dashed by terrible officiating. The U.S. lost 2-1 to the African champions. But the winning goal came in the first half after what was THE worst call of the tournament, a penalty shot awarded after a pathetic foul was called (it was an obvious flop, and not a good one) on defender Oguchi Onyewu in the box. Ghana converted the PK and held on in the second half to advance.
A lot of people looked at our performance as an utter disappointment from a team ranked No. 5 and expected to do some damage. After all, we had advanced to the Elite Eight in the 2002 World Cup and this was supposed to be our breakout performance. However, if you really look into what happened it was really a matter of one really tough draw, one really bad game, and two or three really terrible calls. Our team had a lot of talent but was not good enough to dig itself out of those holes. But that is The Beautiful Game – sometimes things break your way, and sometimes they don’t, and the margin of error is nil.
In the aftermath of that World Cup “failure” there was basically a recession of interest in the national team. They dropped to No. 31 in the FIFA rankings at the end of 2006 and bounced between there and No. 20 in the world between 2006 and the middle of 2008. They have had a shaky qualifying and they have been downright awful since July of last year.
However, this same United State squad nearly won the Confederations Cup in Johannesburg last summer. They became the first team in 32 games to beat Spain, which was ranked No. 1 in the world at the time, and they completely dominated the No. 2 team in the world, Brazil, en route to a 2-0 halftime lead in the championship game. Brazil came roaring back and won 3-2 in that game but, again, Team USA showed that it has the potential to play with the best teams on the planet.
So in the last eight years the United States has advanced to the final eight of the 2002 World Cup, they have surged to No. 5 in the world rankings, they have played the 2006 World Cup champions to a 1-1 tie despite being man-down most of the game, they beat the No. 1 team in the world in a major tournament, and they nearly knocked off Brazil.
Of course, the U.S. has also lost to Morocco, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago during that time and has been consistently overmatched against top Euro clubs like Germany, England, Netherlands and Sweden. So “erratic” is certainly a word that you can shackle our squad with.
But over the past two decades a pattern has emerged for our side in the World Cup. In 1994 we had a breakout national performance as the host nation. We scored what at the time was one of our program’s biggest upsets, beating Columbia, advanced to the Knockout Stage and put up a game effort before losing, 1-0, to Brazil. In 1998 we were an epic failure, going 0-3 and quietly departing. But in 2002 we bounced back with a strong effort and advanced to the quarterfinals. That was followed by another “disappointment” in 2006.
So if form holds (good effort, poor effort, good effort, poor effort) then we should be poised for a bounce back performance.
Which brings us to the present.
I think that the United States is set up to make a run in the 2010 World Cup. Our side hasn’t performed well over the last eight months, hasn’t had a healthy team in a long time, and isn’t heading to South Africa with any momentum. But looking at the draw I can say with confidence that this team will make it into the Knockout Round.
The United States opens with England, a traditional European power and the No. 8 team in the world. The United States is just 2-7 against the English since World War II and they haven’t beaten The Three Lions since 1993 (0-3 since). But England is also traditionally a slow starter in major tournaments, winning just twice in the last 10 major tournaments (World Cup and Euro Championship) that they have played in over the last quarter century.
The United States is a major underdog heading into that match at +715 to win and at +1.0, +125 on the spread. If they somehow win that game or can at least forge a draw they will assure themselves a spot on the next round.
But even if the U.S. falters in its opener they still would control their own destiny in the tournament. Slovenia is just happy to be in the World Cup and is rated No. 23 despite qualifying as a massive underdog. They are a tricky team and one that I don’t expect to be overwhelmed. But they are nothing that our side shouldn’t handle in an absolute must-win game (especially if Slovenia beats Algeria) if we lose to England.
After that the United States closes with Algeria. Algeria is ranked No. 31 in the world and is another upset winner in qualifying. The Desert Foxes play in the Africa Cup of Nations and should have a strong following in South Africa.
The United States would like to earn a point in their first match with England. But the most important thing in that match is to stay healthy and not get blown out. Next, the U.S. has to be pulling for Algeria to beat Slovenia in their matchup. The main reason is that Slovenia plays England in its third game. And if the English already have the group sealed up they will likely rest their starters and give a half-effort in that game. The United States doesn’t want to be in a position where it beats the Slovenians but still needs an English effort to satisfy points or goal differential.
And you can’t undervalue our experience in last year’s Confederations Cup. Not only was it great experience for our team, and not only did we again prove that we can play with the best in the world, but having success in the very stadiums that we’ll be playing in this summer is an excellent mental advantage. Also, games in South Africa will be played at altitude. And having already won in those conditions our players should have less of a learning curve on the pitch.
The United States isn’t going to win the 2010 World Cup. And at this point in our program’s history that shouldn’t be the level of expectations that we have for our team. It’s a goal, but it’s not the determinant of success of failure this summer. I think that the U.S. can and will advance into the second stage of this tournament. And that would be an achievement.
Where they go from there (unfortunately our nemesis, Germany, will likely be waiting) is anyone’s guess. But I’m looking forward to the tournament and looking forward to our side to channel its inner Hulk Hogan and make us proud to be Real Americans.
Robert Ferringo will be releasing rated selections on the 2010 World Cup this summer. Robert is one of the most exciting handicappers in the industry and guarantees a profit through the entirety of the tournament. For more information, check out his Insider’s Page here.
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