USA beat Canada 2-0 in Gold Cup opener

After a poor showing against Spain last week, the entire U.S. starting lineup redeemed themselves with superlative play against Canada last night. Granted, it was Canada — a team that’s only reached the World Cup once in 1986. But it was an encouraging start for the Americans in a tournament that’s worth more than just bragging rights. The winner will represent CONCACAF in the 2013 World Cup warm-up tourney, the Confederations Cup.

Next up: USA plays Panama on Saturday (8pm Eastern / Fox Soccer) followed by Guadeloupe on June 14 (9pm Eastern / Fox Soccer).

USA still no match for elite soccer, loses 4-0 to Spain

Granted, Spain is the best team in the world. But they made team USA look like a high school squad, effortlessly weaving through our pathetic 4-4-2 yesterday.

After an average performance last year, we certainly aren’t getting any better this year. After the game, Tim Howard said, ”If we win the Gold Cup in a couple of weeks, nobody will remember this.”

Yes, winning Gold Cup will take the sting out. But it’s obvious USA are still no match for elite soccer powers like Spain.

Next up: USA play Canada to open the Gold Cup on June 7, 8 pm Easter (Fox Soccer Channel)

U.S. still winless after three attempts this year; will try again in June

For any who excuse the team for not having won a game this year because they’ve only played in “friendly” exhibitions, please explain why elite teams win most of their friendlies. In other words, if we want to be an elite team (aka win a World Cup), we should start demanding more wins, friendly or otherwise.

That said, the U.S. will have a tough time getting their first win of the year from their next game. They play Spain on June 4 at Gillette Stadium (4:30pm Eastern, ESPN). After that, it’s on to the lovable Gold Cup, where they meet Canada (June 7), Panama (June 11), and Guadeloupe (June 14) in the opening round.

So far this year, the U.S. have drawn with Argentina and Chile while losing to Paraguay at home. Slightly worse than we finished last year.

Are we getting worse? Despite win over South Africa, U.S. soccer finish year at .500

Say what you will about the U.S. soccer team, but they played worse this year than they did last year—never mind the last minute 1-0 win over South Africa today.

This year, the national team underachieved at 5-5-4 to finish with a .500 winning percentage. Last year, the team managed a respectable 13-8-3 to finish over .600—about where they typically are on the world stage. I realize the competition was stiffer this year, but not by much. Not enough to justify the .100+ drop in productivity.

As a testament to this year’s slide, today’s game was rife with stale coaching, porous defense, and overall insipid attacking. The U.S. team managed to play with heart a couple of times this year, most notably during World Cup games against Algeria and Slovakia. But it’s obvious the team played with no pride or purpose whatsoever during the second half of the year.

More depressing: the two youngsters who assisted and scored today’s goal—a creative Mikkel Diskerud to speedy finisher Juan Agudelo—are still eligible to play for other national teams, given their dual citizenship status.

In other words, we’re still young. We can’t buy a good coach. We have few prospects. And we play like the world expects us to: not very good.

Oh, well. There’s always next year, right? Right!!??

Klinsmann contract in “direct conflict” with U.S. Soccer CEO?

Reputable soccer columnist Grant Wahl suspects Klinsmann’s denied wishes for greater head coaching control were in “direct conflict” with the job description of U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn.

“If Klinsmann wanted the final say, in writing, over choosing the U.S.’ opponents and venues for games,” writes Wahl, “that would have put him in direct conflict with Flynn, who’s in charge of the federation’s business side as the de facto CEO, and who relies on friendlies as a significant revenue source. Flynn, a former executive with Anheuser-Busch, is U.S. Soccer’s highest-paid official, having earned $646,066 in the most recent federation tax statement (more than coach Bradley).

“It’s also possible that U.S. Soccer felt giving Klinsmann the final say in writing over some decisions in Flynn’s purview — including the selection of U.S. opponents and venues — would be impossible given the language in the federation’s current contracts, which include big-money deals with Nike and ESPN.”

In light of having our team stuck in another “what if” scenario, Wahl says of Bradley’s ill-received rehiring: “The hard-working coach who led the U.S. to the second round of World Cup 2010 finally signed another four-year contract, but it wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence for him that U.S. Soccer went after Klinsmann again. Then again, Bradley expressed his interest in other jobs (Aston Villa and Fulham), so perhaps the U.S. job wasn’t his first choice, either. Considering no other candidates have come up for the U.S. position, other than Klinsmann and Bradley, it may be that Bradley was Gulati’s first choice among candidates who were actually willing to sign on the dotted line.

“In the end, Bradley is the U.S. coach, even if it may be a marriage of convenience. But you can be certain there will be pressure on Bradley to lead the U.S. to the Gold Cup title in 2011.”

U.S. Soccer settled for Bradley (again) because they didn’t want to give a better coach full control

Or so says Juergen Klinsmann, who claims to have had “positive conversations” with U.S. Soccer for “three or four” weeks before the deal fell through due to control issues.

After reaching an alleged agreement with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to “have 100 percent control of the team,” Klinsmann says U.S. Soccer wouldn’t “commit” in writing to the terms. “Verbally, we agreed that I should have a hundred percent control of [the team],” he told Sasha Victornine (via SBI). “Unfortunately, they couldn’t commit to that and at that point I said, ‘Well, I can’t get the job done because I have to have the last say as a head coach for my entire staff, for all the players issues, for everything that happens with the team.’

“That was basically the end of our talks, and then they agreed to continue with Bob as the head coach,” concluded Klinsmann. “We didn’t get it to a positive ending because we couldn’t put into writing what we agreed to verbally.”

The botched deal marks the second time in four years that U.S. Soccer passed on Klinsmann in favor of former interim head coach Bob Bradley. For those out of the loop, German-born but California-residing Klinsmann was a top goal-scorer at World Cup. In 2006, he led the German National Team to a third-place finish.

U.S. Soccer has long been criticized for its suspect behavior. In his 2006 book Soccer in a Football World, author David Wangerin chronicled the Federation’s 100 year history, calling it “clandestine.”

U.S. Soccer to conduct performance review of coach Bradley this week

U.S. coach Bob Bradley will meet with U.S. Soccer officials this week to talk about his future with the national team, reports ESPN. The meeting with president Sunil Gulati isn’t necessarily to extend or fire the coach, the report says, but “simply to discuss the future.”

After the U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup in the sweet 16 this summer, Gulati felt the team “was capable of more” and described its performance as “mixed results.”

I say off with his head. Bradley’s that it. Not because I don’t think he’s capable. But because I think we need a fresh approach to take us to the semi-finals again. And because I think a head coach should play strikers that actually score goals (aka Edson Buddle).

We love you Donovan, but losing Saturday would be a failure

“It’s not a failure if we don’t win Saturday,” Landon Donovan told reporters yesterday, referring to the team’s upcoming match against Ghana. “But there’s such a massive opportunity to do something so much more special. I really want to emphasize that to everybody, and make sure we understand that.”

Landon, let’s have a little heart to heart, you and I. You’re awesome. You’re the greatest American soccer player ever. Everybody loves you. But you’re wrong.

Losing to Ghana is failure. A top 16 finish at the World Cup, although respectable, is failure. Especially having finished in the top eight previously, not to mention third place 80 years ago.

Maybe you’re just being modest, like before. But don’t be. You beat Ghana on Saturday, and you’ll be a Uruguay or South Korea away from the semi-finals of the freakin’ World Cup.

Put differently, if you can’t get through the most winnable section of the bracket (as this is), you fail. Simple as that.

Win or lose, however, we’ll be cheering for you. You can do it!

Thank you, Robert Green. USA tie England 1-1

The United States didn’t deserve to tie England 1-1 today in their opening game of the World Cup. But they did, thanks to two goalies: English keeper Robert Green for giving us one (pictured). And American keeper Tim Howard (the man of the match) for saving a half dozen others.

“The record will show it was a tie, but it was hardly that,” wrote the Associated Press. Indeed, out defense looked porous in the first half, and our midfield couldn’t connect a pass to save its life in the second. In addition to Howard, only Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, and Steve Cherundolo looked particularly strong.

If the United States plan on beating Slovenia next week, they had better look a lot more uniform than they did today.

U.S. Soccer: “You need a lot of things to win a World Cup”

We interviewed Neil Buethe of U.S. Soccer this week, for his thoughts on this year’s World Cup campaign. Although the PR director remained more diplomatic in his comments than we’d like, he did address what the federation will consider a success this summer, what it takes to win the Cup, and where US Soccer hopes to be in the next 25 years, post South Africa. On with the interview…

Soccer Stud: Compared to previous World Cup campaigns, what did the federation focus on this cycle to ensure team success in South Africa?

Buethe: For every World Cup campaign the Federation does everything it can to provide the coaches and players with the best opportunity to succeed. It’s really difficult to compare the qualifying cycles because each one is unique and there are different situations that you need to deal with, not to mention different players and a different coaching staff. Saying that, this is the sixth straight World Cup the team will be participating in so there are definitely lessons we’ve learned and tips we’ve picked up along the way that we feel can help us now and in the future. We feel confident we’ve done as much as possible to put the team in a position to succeed this year.

Up to this point, what player development programs is US Soccer most proud of? What new programs are you planning (if any)?

We are always concentrating heavily on player development as we feel it’s one of – if not the – most important areas we need to improve as we move forward. It’s an ongoing process, one that we are always discussing, researching, studying and executing when we feel there’s a concept that can be successful in improving player development. The Development Academy is a good example of a program we’ve implemented that we believe will be a success, but we also know it’s not perfect so we’ll always trying to figure out how to make it better. Also, player development is a marathon, not a 100 meter sprint. We understand that and are concentrating on the long haul.

Although they start in soccer, many athletic hopefuls switch to other sports that offer more economic and fame incentives than soccer currently can in this country. From a recruiting and/or retention standpoint, what can the federation do to mitigate this occurrence? Might print advertisements that champion things like fewer injuries, less competition to turn pro, and greater opportunity to play abroad work when compared to other domestic sports?

As the game continues to grow in the United States and the development of players improves, there will be more opportunity for youth players to play professionally, whether that’s here in Major League Soccer on abroad. We don’t believe there’s on thing we can do that will move more kids into choosing soccer as the sport they will continue with as they get older, but we do believe over time we can provide a better environment for some of the best athletes to succeed in soccer and make it to the highest level.

Switching gears, how will US Soccer measure success at this summer’s World Cup?

We’ve always stated that our goal is to get out of our group and then go from there. Anything can happen in the single-elimination rounds. There are only a few teams that can legitimately state their goal is to win the World Cup and anything else is a disappointment. We’re probably not there yet, but that also doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can to give us the best opportunity to make a run to the final. We showed last year in the Confederations Cup that anything is possible, and the players and coaches are definitely taking that mindset into the World Cup.

In October, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati told the New York Times, “Why play unless you believe you can win?” I love that attitude. And yet it seems like many soccer enthusiasts in the country, even sportswriters, measure national team success as solely getting out of the group, as opposed to winning it all. That said, should we demand more from our national team at the World Cup and expect them to make the final every four years? Would this expectation accelerate our first World Cup victory?

Expecting any national team – even one as successful as Brazil – to get to the World Cup final is a tall order, probably one that in the end isn’t 100 percent fair. You need a lot of things to win a World Cup, let alone make it to the final. Having a talented team only gets you so far at this level as this is the highest level. You need a bit of luck, and injuries can always play a factor as well.

Every four years, soccer enthusiasts look to the World Cup as a turning point for the sport in America, seemingly hoping a single tournament can make their favorite sport the “next big thing.” Is this a fair expectation? If not, are there any identifiers of a legitimate tipping point for the sport in America?

The World Cup definitely brings more eyes to the game here in the United States, which is a great thing for the sport and can help it grow. There probably isn’t one tipping point, but a collection of many – some of which we’ve seen already – that will eventually contribute to soccer having more of an impact in the United States. We’ve seen the game grow immensely in the past 20 to 25 years and the goal is to continue to build on that growth for the next 25 years. If we are able to do that we are confident the sport can gain wider appeal and interest in the country.