Final thoughts on U.S. campaign

June, 28, 2010

The post-mortems of the USA's World Cup campaign are continuing. Here's what comes to my mind when I think about the national team's efforts in South Africa:

The boys in Brazil

Of the U.S. side that started against Ghana in 2006, just four were in the lineup on Saturday. Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra will both be 35 by the time the next World Cup kicks off and thus unlikely to still be in national team uniform. However, Clint Dempsey, who will be 31, and Landon Donovan, 32, should still be around to offer veteran savvy.

Which other Rustenburg starters will be in Brazil? Tim Howard will be 35 and could still be in goal. Michael Bradley will remain a fixture in the first XI, as could Jozy Altidore, especially if he can add goals to his game. Jonathan Bornstein has age on his side, too, although he also needs to be more consistent.

Thus, there are plenty of spots for the next generation to make their own by 2014. The likes of Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Torres, Stuart Holden and Jonathan Spector should all be back for their second World Cup and, beyond that nucleus, the USA's pool features many players not yet in their mid-20s.

Meanwhile, it is logical to think that some as-yet-unknown youngsters will also emerge in the coming years. Hopefully, among them will be an out-and-out goal scorer, a penetrating winger and a world-class central defender.

What about Bob?

Meanwhile, who will be in charge of those donning the red, white and blue in four years? Bob Bradley's contract with U.S. Soccer expires at the end of the year, and it remains to be seen if he will be offered a new one. There will certainly be calls for a new face, similar to those that echoed in 2006 when many fans asked for a big name with European experience to be put in charge.

Bradley's World Cup performance offered ammunition to his supporters and detractors. During games, his tactics and decision-making were, generally, very good. Of course, they had to be for, more often than not, they were made in response to lackluster starts by teams he picked.

Perhaps Bradley, who prepares for matches meticulously, outthought himself at times. Video analysis and scouting is all well and good, but sometimes gut instinct can be a guide, too. The U.S. boss was at his best when reacting quickly to what was happening right in front of him.

Capital punishment

Coming as it did just four days after the U.S. had clinched a spot in South Africa, October's match against Costa Rica in Washington, D.C., was meant to be a celebration. Instead, it was overshadowed by a pair of events, the effects of which are still being felt eight months later, thousands of miles away.

First, on the night before the game, Charlie Davies was involved in a car accident, suffering serious injuries that would keep the breakout star of the national team in 2009 out of the World Cup. Fans at RFK Stadium, who paid tribute to Davies, were then rocked by the sight of Oguchi Onyewu leaving the field on a stretcher with knee ligament damage.

While Davies watched the World Cup on television, Onyewu did make the squad for South Africa, but his performances showed he is still striving for full fitness. One wonders what impact both men could have made if they had been fully fit.

Refereeing hell

It wouldn't be a World Cup without the U.S. being on the rough end of a key decision from a referee. To a list that includes Hugh Dallas from 2002 and Jorge Larrionda and Markus Merk four years later, you can now add Koman Coulibaly after his decision to disallow Edu's "goal" against Slovenia.

As fans crave a better display from their national team in 2014, they should also hope for its luck to change with the man in the middle.

Look back in anger

Once all the head-scratching and hand-wringing dies down, the prevailing feeling for U.S. players, coaches and fans, when they reflect on the 2010 World Cup, will be one of regret. Ghana, though talented, was beatable. It would have been a tougher nut to crack, but Uruguay could have been seen off, too. That would have set up a semifinal, probably against Brazil.

The USA was good, but it could have been great. Maybe next time...



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