Written by Daniel Valenzuela – Pictures courtesy of AP Photo
This week the US U-23 side was painfully eliminated from the Olympic Qualifying Tournament by El Salvador in an exciting 3-3 draw on Monday night. Although the US was the favorite to win the tournament, Canada and El Salvador exposed the US’s many weaknesses.
In itself, the loss doesn’t mean much. But when coupled with the US’s failure to earn a spot in the Confederations Cup and failure to qualify for the U20 World Cup, US soccer fans can’t be blamed for feeling a bit uneasy about the development of the program.
Believe it or not, this is a sign of progress. Despite some lackluster results and frustrating performances by the US national team at all levels, a new chapter in US soccer is emerging. The U23 squad highlighted a few of the positive developments in US soccer.
In particular, the U23 squad attempted to do things the right way by playing the ball on the ground, attacking with numbers, and scoring goals in the run play. Moreover, players with talent are not only getting a longer look but seem to be more abundant than ever before.
In the big picture, the US is transitioning into the next level the soccer hierarchy. There was a time when the US could pull a majority of its better players for any international match. That is no longer the case. Players like Jozy Altidore, Alfredo Morales, Timothy Chandler, and Daniel Williams were all age eligible for U-23 squad but could not attend because of club commitments. Similarly, Joshua Gatt was recalled by his club team after being called into camp. The same was true of the U20 squad that was eliminated from the U20 World Cup Qualifiers. In the end, fans are left to wonder, “what if these players were available?”
As frustrating as it might be, it means that we are starting to have the same problems as some of the bigger teams in the world, i.e., Brazil, England, Argentina, Spain, Germany, etc. Who regularly field youth sides without the best players in that age group. Needless to say, that is the only similarity we have to those countries at this stage of US soccer’s development. Considering that the US didn’t have all the best players in the age group, the team was still full of professionals. That, in itself, is a sign of progress.
In some, for too many years the US has rallied behind result oriented soccer. Winning games was more important than playing the game properly. Nonetheless, the flaw of that manner of thinking is clearly evident as the US has failed to win anything of any real significance. The new system will take time to learn, but in the end the US will be playing a style that isn’t designed to win games, but to win trophies.