Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 11, my two “home” teams, the United States and Sweden, will enter the battle for the championship in the women’s soccer World Cup in France. My hope is that not only will they both advance out of Group F but that they will later meet in the finals, for the American women’s fourth World Cup title, or for Sweden’s first, after two third place finishes.
But, meanwhile, let me, with your indulgence, of course, add some thoughts to my previous blog post, where I expressed the view that the future of U.S. men’s soccer, after a dreadful loss by the U.S. men’s team against Jamaica, 0-1, was to be found among the young Americans playing in the U-20 World Cup in Poland.
I stand by that statement, although the U.S. U-20 team then lost to Ecuador in the quarterfinals, 1-2, and is out of the tournament. The young Americans lost to a stronger team, but they could have won – it was close – and they continued to show courage and imagination, and continued to battle, until the end.
None of this was seen in the second dreadful performance by the U.S. men’s team as it was preparing for the Gold Cup, starting on June 18, losing to Venezuela, 0-3, after another listless, but also mistake-filled, performance. Coach Gregg Berhalter had slightly changed the team’s formation against Venezuela, but, still, with only one striker at the top, a lonely Gyasi Zardes in the first half and a somewhat more involved Jozy Altidore in the second half. The team’s offense was toothless, and the team, as a whole had no speed and no energy.
A team is always a reflection of its coach – just look at Jürgen Klopp running up and down on the sidelines during the matches, and his Liverpool with its relentless energy, enthusiasm, and readiness to battle. Berhalter’s team has none of this. He says he has a plan, but what? Up to now, it seems more of the same, a tinkering with formations and the strategy of cautious and defensive soccer, where the two center backs strangely have most of the ball, passing it back and forth, back and forth before, maybe, advancing — boring; slow; unimaginative –no one dared.
Is that American soccer? Is that what we have been waiting for since the calamity of the Klinsmann/Arena era? America’s soccer fans do not have much patience for this waiting game. So without success in the coming Gold Cup, a victory, or, at a minimum, a loss in the finals after a tournament of fun, energetic, courageous, and imaginative soccer, Berhalter’s job might not be safe, although he has only had it for half a year.
Or, maybe, we simply have to realize, and settle for, that this is the state of U.S. men’s soccer today. This is how good, or bad, it is, and we can only put our hopes in the next generation and enjoy the U.S. women in their quest for another world title.