Coming into the 2010 World Cup, area USA soccer fans had a good feeling and the highest of expectations for their country's team.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley and veteran superstar Landon Donovan had expressed their own high expectations and a very positive outlook for this year's team, going as far as to say they felt they possessed the ability to play with any team in the Cup field. Area sports bars, where conversation is usually reserved for the NBA, NFL or MLB was now abuzz with talk of the USA soccer team.
The American team fueled this fire by winning its bracket in the Cup in a very exciting fashion. Donovan's last-minute heroics against Algeria, when he put a rebound goal into the upper deck of the net, helped the USA capture Group C. This gave excitement to all local soccer faithful as the U.S. looked as though it had come of age by overcoming perennial Cup powerhouse England in its bracket.
Large USA soccer events were held at local athletic clubs like The Summit, where a celebration of USA soccer was held in which the U.S. game against Algeria was open to the public. Fans were invited to come in and watch the game on an 82-inch screen, and the event included free food, prize giveaways, soccer skill challenges and official USA team jerseys. Area soccer players, coaches and fans took part in the gala event.
The hoopla over American success, however, was short-lived when the U.S. was knocked out by Ghana (giving the U.S. back-to-back losses to Ghana in World Cup play). The game was heartbreaking in a number of ways as America lost the match 3 minutes into extra time when Ghana's Asamoah Guyan outran two would-be U.S. defenders to the goal and fired a beautiful shot to the far post past U.S. goalie Tim Howard. America's biggest fear had been realized.
The U.S. defensive strength, which had been questioned, was exploited and beaten. After the game, even Bradley conceded soccer skill still belongs to the rest of the world. Part of the reason for this can be seen by matching the U.S. and Ghana lineups. Ghana had seven players aged 21 or under. U.S. striker Jozie Altidore was the only American player under the age of 21.
Soccer at the Cup level is a very young man's game. America played an incredible second half with fortitude and heart and did have opportunities, but never capitalized on any of them. As in the preliminary games leading up to the Cup, they struggled to keep up defensively especially as time wore on. Donovan punched in the penalty kick for USA and scored three goals in the course of Cup play, putting him near the top of all scoring leaders. Team USA's failure to consistently mark teams defensively proved to be the team's undoing. The issue of youth is one that Bradley admitted must also be addressed.
There are, however, a number of issues about the World Cup itself that tend to drive Americans away from embracing the sport. One is the fact that fans are left very flat after an hour and a half of intense play and often end up with a 0-0 or 1-1 tie. All games in bracket play are left at a tie. After the amount of effort and action in a game, no one enjoys seeing the vast number of ties that occurred during World Cup play.
A system needs to be devised that will allow the game to become more offensive oriented. The simple fact is people enjoy seeing scoring that results in a win, and it doesn't happen enough. This may mean reworking or altering the current offside rule to open up the offense.
Another disconcerting fact is that fans really never know exactly how much time is left in the game. Only the referee keeps the exact amount of time left in a game, which takes into account all injury-related time. Fans miss the excitement of knowing exactly how much time is truly left on a game clock.
Furthermore, many of the calls by what is touted to be the world's greatest referees were absolutely horrendous. Played over and over again by the networks in slow motion to analyze the calls, it was quite evident that the referees had blown at least two game-altering calls for the Americans. The calls also appeared very arbitrary. What was a foul in the first 10 minutes of the game was not called in the last 10 minutes of the game. These types of calls and their timing have brought World Cup referees under scrutiny once again.
The way many teams ruin excellent competitive games is by taking falls and intentional dives to kill time and beg for referee calls and yellow cards against the opponents. The Brazilian team was a strong example of this kind of play. They are an excellent team, but in at least three instances Brazilian players took intentional dives and ate up injury time when replays revealed that no one had touched the player. Americans enjoy nothing more than a good contact sport, and when this kind of low-level fakery occurs it turns off fans on the game itself and makes soccer players in general look soft and weak. This type of play must be controlled and eventually eliminated by referees before Americans will latch on to a love of the game.
America's capturing of its bracket is noteworthy, and advancing to the final 16 was a big step. Unfortunately, it was not enough to draw more fans in the U.S. to the allure of the game. Americans won't be drawn to a game where the best team that can be put forward from our country cannot compete on a level with the rest of the world. Americans are competitive and will never settle for second best.
It's time that the hierarchy that runs U.S. soccer come to realize this fact. Some rules need to be tweaked to generate more action and scoring in games to provide the excitement Americans want. If none of this takes place, the game will continue to belong primarily to Europe and South America.