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Not about what but how: the US, Italy, England, Spain & Portugal exits

Jul 2, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT

Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US AP

Those combing this site for opinions, answers and empathy early this morning found this strong piece from Richard Farley, which reflects on the progress of the United States soccer program after Tuesday’s World Cup ouster at the hands of Belgium in extra time.

Furthering that…

I received a Twitter reply today that charged Jurgen Klinsmann and the US team with failure, claiming that anything short of the quarterfinals is looked at as a joke performance by the world at-large.

Keeping in mind all of Richard’s points — quality of opposition, style of play, injuries, player depth — was the U.S. performance more impressive than every team that failed to make the knockout rounds? Was it worse than every team that continues onward?

In the latter case, the argument is fairly easy, but let’s rephrase the former query: Are you considering the U.S. tournament more of a success than Italy, England, Portugal and Spain?

Of course you are. But before another self high-five, consider style and what it means.

[ MORE: Analyzing Jurgen Klinsmann’s first World Cup with U.S. ]

[ MORE: Three things we learned in U.S. loss to Belgium ]

It’s hard-to-fathom whilst wallowing in the wake of a loss, but pretend Chris Wondolowski does manage to beat Thibaut Courtois and the Yanks move onto the quarterfinals. It doesn’t change Belgium’s dominance of the game, or the U.S. frittering away possession in the midfield. No one’s walking away claiming the Yanks were the better team, just that they had the better goalkeeper.

And by that logic, few would be tabbing the U.S. as favorite in a full-strength, neutral-site friendly played tomorrow against Italy, Spain, Portugal or England. That’s why these small signs of progress — committed defending, moments of dominant attack — against top competition are far more important to the growth of US Soccer than a single win or draw.

Look, beating Ghana and drawing Portugal are accomplishments, but the way the Americans controlled long stretches against Cristiano Ronaldo‘s team is far more impressive than the points earned.

So let’s pull back the other four nations in question to join the United States. Italy can make some claims about a cheap red card but ultimately it was simply a disappointing attack to go with its traditional strong defense. Spain looked uninspired and sated, but ultimately is already a favorite to win its group at the next World Cup.

source: AP

Portugal and England, on the other hand, have some concerns. The former showed little outside of an injured Cristiano Ronaldo and needed gifts from Geoff Cameron and Fatau Dauda to earn any points. England looked lost outside of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Gary Cahill, and drew send-off games against Honduras and Ecuador to run its recent record to 0W-3D-2L.

An English friend was telling me how no American player outside of Clint Dempsey or Tim Howard would play for the England team. Maybe not, but gone are the days when American starters wouldn’t make the bench for the Three Lions.

So where does the US team rank? Even if you consider the Yanks behind Portugal and England in addition to Spain and Italy, the fact of the matter is that the United States is actually in the discussion. The back-to-back Round of 16 performances aren’t viewing like the ‘miracle’ quarterfinal run of 2002, rather explained with a “The Yanks have shown they’re capable if they play to their potential.”

The States remain a rising force in soccer: not there yet, but coming. And it’s no longer silly to imagine that the US could be a team favored against Portugal, England or another European power in a full-strength, meaningful, neutral-site game at the next World Cup.

  1. godsholytrousers - Jul 2, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    While the US is looking forward to integrating new talent and getting better than they’ve ever been, the other countries mentioned are trying to find ways to recapture faded glory. Each has its own peculiar vagaries to overcome.

  2. canis216 - Jul 2, 2014 at 4:51 PM

    I’m being petty no doubt, but your English friend “forgot” that either of Michael Bradley (off his game as he was) or Jermaine Jones would have a decent argument over Jordan Henderson. Nor was Glen Johnson clearly better than Fabian Johnson. If the English were more talented than the USMNT, the margin was pretty small. Arguably Tim Howard is so much better than Joe Hart as to erase the margin altogether.

  3. pjbowmaster - Jul 2, 2014 at 11:33 PM

    Is your friend referring to the England team that has NEVER beaten the USA in an official FIFA match? English players are overrated!

    • drewvt6 - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:43 AM

      I’m not going to go down the whole US players are better than English players path, but I will follow you down the English players are overrated one. They have a very isolated, xenophobic press and fan base. We probably watch more football from more leagues than does the average English fan. I’d say its similar to the way Red Sox and Yankees fans are with their teams. They know everything about their home team, very little about visit teams other than “Player X was with the Yankees from 1999-2004”. EVERY Brit announcer has to talk about a players 2 day stint with an EPL or SPL team rather than their years of excellence in France, Germany, Italy, Spain. They simply don’t know those leagues.

  4. dkalev - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:42 AM

    Not to knock off the accomplishments of the us men’s team, however I believe that they were given many breaks… An injured cr7, overrated Portugal team missing two defensive and two offensive starters… Playing ghanas team after shuffling off the bench, and still escaping in the dying moments with one goal… Lets be honest, Germany was toying with us. They wanted to win, but not by much… You could tell they were holding back, heck I’m sure the first goal was an accident… Belgium was the first, unaltered team they had to face, and fared quite poorly at it, getting completely dominated through and through… Us soccer has come far, but it is nowhere near the elitist standards both fans here and FIFA tends to put it at… And all this coming from a usmnt fan, just can’t wait till the day they can actually be heavy contenders for the WC

  5. simonkulberg - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:31 AM

    It is obvious that the USA could become the dominant nation in soccer just based on size and population. The more soccer can eat into youth recruitment at the expense of the dominant three, four sports the better the US will do.
    Obviously the same could be said about China and India in some ways, but you get the idea. My tip would be to plant lots and lots of lawns with goals on them in the inner cities so poor kids can grow up playing football.

  6. elgallo2001 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    The Euro teams are all very snobby, but believe me, they may act cocky but they don’t take lightly having to play the U.S in these big tournaments. What the US lacks for in big names they make up for with incredible resilience and determination. It’s very indicative of our culture as a whole.

  7. dkalev - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    Won’t happen, there’s no money in soccer here because mls is considered second tier because no superstars… We need to have soccer institutions and youth programs for mls and ussl and nsl leagues, to have kids training their whole lives in systems … Mls has to grow… Mls won’t grow until it gets a lot of interest and through that money, which won’t happen until the US wins a World Cup, which won’t happen until the mls improves… It’s a cycle.
    Inner city kids look up to people like Lebron James and Cam newton, not Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan… Like I said, way more money to be had in NBA/nfl/mls and even nhl than in mls…

  8. charliej11 - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Your English friend is an idiot…then you agree with him.

    The US is a better team. End of story. They are close, but end of story. It will not reverse anytime soon, if ever, either.

    It wasn’t a shock they couldn’t win their weaker group. The only shock was how much better Costa Rica was.

    They would not win the Hex. Not a chance. We would. Mexico playing well would be right there.

    • Nicholas Mendola - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:19 PM

      I said maybe not. That’s far from agreeing. Maybe not.

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