Soccer growing in US, but national team still has issues

American support for their U.S. World Cup soccer team was at a fever pitch as it entered the round of 16s against Belgium. Record numbers had ventured to Brazil to support their team. This U.S. World Cup team had captured the attention of sports fans in America like never before.

They were playing out of the grouping which had been dubbed the “group of death” and had managed to defeat Ghana – a thorn in their side for years – in their opening game, knocking America out of contention in its last two meetings. This time the Americans emerged victorious.

They had built up a lead on Portugal and were looking to come away with a victory when Portugal evened the score with under 30 seconds remaining. They went on to drop their final game in their grouping to the powerhouse from Germany, but managed to keep it to a 1-0 game with them and advance from there into the round of 16s by virtue of allowing fewer goals to be scored against them than Portugal had.

America had gained the reputation of a tough, scrappy team at this point, and viewing parties were being held coast to coast with more than 28,000 fans pouring into Soldier Field to watch their match with Belgium on the JumboTron.

The support was awesome, but when you examined the actual games a little closer, some very glaring problems were quite evident.

After coach Jurgen Klinsmann left America’s all-time leading scorer and captain, Landon Donovan, off of the team, the pressure to score fell squarely on Jozy Altidore, who was knocked out of play early in their first game with a severe hamstring injury. Now, producing goals fell on the shoulders of Clint Dempsey, who came through strong early, and those of very young untested American players like Julian Green.

The sad truth is, the American midfield suffered terribly from lack of ball control and could not maintain possession of the ball, making it very difficult to sustain any real potent offensive attack. The time of possession in their sole win against Ghana was heavily in Ghana’s favor.

Team USA was outshot 10 to 1 by Belgium in regulation play. It had little success in breaking Belgium’s relentless pressure, forcing American goalie Tim Howard to have one of the most spectacular games in recent Cup history, making incredible saves to keep his team in the game.

Against Germany, the picture for the USA was even uglier. The U.S. was outshot 13 to 4 by the Germans, completed 278 passes while the Germans had 651, and the most telling statistic is that Germany possessed the ball 64 percent of the time to America’s 36 percent. Simply, you cannot win games with these type of statistics.

Obviously, what the Americans lacked in ability to control play and keep pressure on their opponents, they did their best to make up for with scrappy, physical play, constant hustle, tough defense and strong goaltending. It simply wasn’t enough to compete with some of the world’s better teams.

This is a very similar problem to what they suffered four years ago in Cup play, a midfield unable to control play. Major League Soccer play was to help overcome this problem, but I believe the problem to be more cultural.

A Brazilian fan stated that the key components to living were oxygen and soccer, and not necessarily in that order. To many of these countries where children have a ball at their feet from the time they can walk, soccer is not just a sport, it truly is their driving passion.

There have been referees stoned and beheaded in Brazil over soccer games, and players have been killed for giving up a last minute goal. As out of perspective and demented as this is, it is their culture and way of life. Hopefully our passion in the USA will continue to grow for the sport, but not in this misguided, gruesome sense because contrary to the popular T-shirts seen, soccer is not life.

Women’s goalie in trouble

An American women’s national soccer team star has been making headlines recently, but not in a positive way.

U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo has made the news again for pleading not guilty to two counts of fourth degree domestic violence in a Washington Court, where she was accused of assaulting her sister and 17-year-old nephew at their suburban home in Seattle. According to police reports, Solo came to her sister’s home and got into a fist fight with her nephew.

When the boy’s mother tried to break up the confrontation, Solo reportedly punched her in the face. Solo has entered a plea of not guilty.

Solo needs to face one definitive truth, as a star athlete and public figure she will be held to a higher public standard of conduct which she must uphold. It comes with the territory. She has apologized to her fans by social media for her domestic violence arrest and posted her apology on her Facebook page and on her official Twitter account.

Solo’s stellar career has included two gold medals, and in her last appearance for the USA in June, she recorded her 71st career shutout in goal. Hopefully all this can be resolved before the Women’s 2015 World Cup in Canada. Solo’s only recent comments were that she looked forward to getting back on the field where she belongs.