RUSTENBURG - The United States knocked on
the door of football's elite at this World Cup but a lack of top
quality talent left them heading home after the second round and
with a need to find some new faces for the next four year push.
Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Ghana will have dampened some of
the new found enthusiasm for the game in the United States but
it was hardly a shock and it illustrated the limitations of
coach Bob Bradley's squad.
The U.S. showed, throughout the tournament, that they are a
team full of heart and with a truly impressive determination.
But they also showed that they lack the key ingredients
needed to be a genuine contender for a place in the last four -
their work rate is not matched by creativity and their graft
lacks the compliment of finesse.
It remains to be seen whether the U.S. Soccer Federation
decides to stick with Bradley, who did an admirable job in
extracting the maximum possible out of a squad of modest
The only question mark over Bradley's work with this team
over the past four years is how he found it so impossible to get
the defence to stop conceding damaging early goals.
Six out of 10 times in qualification, the U.S went behind
but still finished top in CONCACAF.
In South Africa they have conceded the two fastest goals in
the tournament - against England and Ghana - and they trailed
2-0 to Slovenia.
Given the age of the U.S defence it will be a very different
back four at Brazil in 2014.
Whether it is Bradley or another coach who has the job of
beginning the next four year cycle, there is clearly a need for
some young talent to emerge in all positions and lift the team
to the next level.
Some of that required quality is close at hand - midfielder
Stuart Holden made just one fleeting substitute appearance in
the tournament but his flair is exactly what is required.
Striker Charlie Davies, a real find during qualification,
was sadly absent after suffering multiple injuries in a car
crash in October and the U.S missed his pace and eye for goal.
Davies and Holden are both 24 and so should be hitting their
peak at the next World Cup in Brazil while the interesting
midfielder Jose Torres, who had just 45 minutes of play here, is
two years younger.
Landon Donovan will still only be 32 when the tournament in
Brazil begins but by then the U.S will have hoped to have found,
from somewhere, another player or two like him - capable of
scoring regularly at this level and providing the moments of
unexpected ingenuity that make the difference.
To unearth that talent, clubs and scouts may well need to
increasingly look outside of the traditional college sources and
seek out players in the lower divisions and players from some of
the football-mad ethnic communities.
Torres, a Texan-Mexican and Jozy Altidore, the son of
Haitian immigrants, are perhaps clues to where the U.S might
start to find players with greater natural flair.
There are of course, young players already in Major League
Soccer who could emerge at club level and the growing stature of
that competition can only help the national team find solutions.
It is hard to imagine the United States's gradual rise up
the global rankings hitting reverse, but to make the next step
up, they need to add speed, technique and flair to the solidity
they showed in this tournament.
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