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.

Defense is our team’s biggest liability

If you hear a passing remark at the World Cup this summer from someone saying the U.S. has no offense, smack ‘em on the head for me. Then point ‘em to this proven analysis, in which a really smart dude ranks the U.S. as a top 10 scoring team in the world (9th to be exact). Believe it.

No, our team’s real worry is our defense. Our back line. Our onion bag stoppers. Even if everyone is healthy (I’m looking at you “Gooch” and DeMerit), our defense is still the weakest link. In fact, the only player I expect to start on defense is team captain Carlos Bocanegra.

When in form and recovered from injury, Oguchi Onyewu is a no brainer alongside Boca. But Gooch still seems rusty. And it could take a few more weeks before he’s match fit. Unfortunately for the U.S. team, we don’t have a few more weeks. The tournament starts in nine days.

As for the full back opposite of Boca, I normally favor the taller Jonathon Spector over the smaller Steve Cherundolo. I think I still do, but I’ll let coach Bradley pick the starter. I wouldn’t be bothered one way or the other, really.

As for center backs, I think the young, hungry, and capable Clarence Goodson should get the start. Without out a doubt. He’s a bit of a liability, but what healthy veteran on our defense isn’t? What’s more, Goodson has more fire when compared to the alternatives. And I think he’s more of a playmaker than DeMerit.

In the case Gooch still isn’t fit to start the opener on June 12 against England, I’d be okay pairing DeMerit with Goodson in the center. But I think I’d be more excited to see Goodson paired with Boca (normally a full back) in the center, then position Cherundolo and Spector on the sides.

The one saving grace when considering our disadvantaged back line is our last straw: goalie Tim Howard. He’s probably a top 5 goalie in the world. Definitely a top 10 one. So if he plays above himself this summer, any mistakes on defense could be offset by his mastery. And we’ll still get our top 10 offense in to score goals (crosses fingers).

Go USA!

Team USA: Memorize these jersey numbers before June 12

U.S. Soccer has cataloged and numbered the 23 Americans playing in the World Cup this summer. They are as follows (projected starting 11 in bold):

1 Tim Howard
2 Jonathan Spector
3 Carlos Bocanegra
4 Michael Bradley
5 Oguchi Onyewu
6 Steve Cherundolo
7 DaMarcus Beasley
8 Clint Dempsey
9 Herculez Gomez
10 Landon Donovan
11 Stuart Holden
12 Jonathan Bornstein
13 Ricardo Clark
14 Edson Buddle
15 Jay DeMerit
16 Jose Torres
17 Jozy Altidore
18 Brad Guzan
19 Maurice Edu
20 Robbie Findley
21 Clarence Goodson
22 Benny Feilhaber
23 Marcus Hahnemann