In 1998, U.S. Soccer launched a $50 million dollar program that sought to develop the United States into a legitimate contender for the World Cup. The program, called Project 2010, was built upon a study called The Q-Report written by Portugese football manager Carlos Queiroz. In it, Quieroz outlined a national player development system that he and U.S. Soccer believed could turn the USA into a World Cup contender by 2010. In the years following the release of the report and the adoption of Project 2010, some changes were made to U.S. Soccer and to the culture of the sport in here in America– the launch of a youth academy in Bradenton, FL (at IMG Academies) and a youth development program run by adidas and Major League Soccer (MLS) called “Generation adidas”, both of which have helped to train and scout young American players. That said, on The US Men’s National Team (USMNT), where the fruits of Project 2010 were promised, marginal improvement has left us with a national team that features a handful of excellent players and more questions than answers, primarily due to a lack of depth all over the pitch.
One of the great frustrations of most American football fans is that, quite frankly, the level of play in this country comes down to a lack of footballing intelligence and footballing DNA at almost every level of the sport. While our best players can compete at an international level, we do not produce enough players who excel at individual positions to compete with the best in the world. We do not have a nation of great coaches and trainers who can develop young players from an early age with tactical and positional awareness or technical ability and competitive game experience. And while the USA produces some of the world’s greatest athletes in a variety of sports, the economics of the game in this country tends to drive our best and brightest into American football, baseball and basketball; we follow the money and the glory which, justifiably, is found in other sports. Still, you can’t help but think time and again what our best possible team might look like, with Lebron James and Adrian Peterson as strikers, Tom Brady running the midfield with Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant and Randy Moss on the wings, Ray Lewis in defense– you get the idea. This is not an apologia; we have some terrific players and athletes on the USMNT. But when you start looking down the rosters of other nations, places where almost every great athlete is driven to football, you notice the gap between their depth and class and the more problematic USA lineup.
The Golden Boy: Say What You Want About Him, But Landon Donovan Is The USA’s Best Chance For Success in 2010
The economics of the sport has another ugly side; youth football in America, the kind that finds talented young players and gets them into the development system, is primarily defined by class, an expensive “club” sport that requires a huge financial and time commitment from players and their families outside of the organized “school” structure of most American sports. To put it another way, unlike High School football, baseball and basketball, almost no one scouts at High School soccer games. Instead, they scout state and regional “travel” teams, private all-star teams that travel around the region and the nation playing one another, almost always at the player’s expense. There are very few rags to riches stories in American soccer– almost all of the players who come up through the system have been able to afford the extravagant costs of the development system from an early age. While some players from other nations grow up on the streets or in the ghettos, coming from modest circumstances, in America, it’s pretty much a rich kid’s game. A few exceptions notwithstanding (i.e. Clint Dempsey), soccer is a middle-class sport at worst; if you want to be seen and play against the best, it is a sport primarily for the privileged few.
Clint Dempsey Scores in 2006: Can He Bring Glory Home in 2010?
Against this backdrop, U.S. Soccer is at a crossroads. Over the course of the last twelve years, we have had one terrific World Cup (Quarter Finalists in 2002) one absolute dog (knocked out in the Group Stage in 2006), terrific success in CONCACAF, our qualifying Region (still need a win in Mexico, though!) and last summer, after fluking our way out of the Group Stage, we beat #1 ranked Spain and were up 2-0 against Brazil until the Brazilians came storming back to win 3-2 in the final of the Confederations Cup. We have some big wins under our belts and we have drawn begrudging respect, no longer dismissed as a nation that knows nothing of football. That said, for all of the glory of a big win here and there, we remain a 66-1 long shots to bring home the World Cup. While Project 2010 has not put this country in a position to be considered legitimate contenders, U.S. Soccer remains an unaccountable organization, an old boys network that feeds off of perennial indifference to the sport as a way of refusing change, refusing to bring the game to the people, and remaining an organization unable to make the USA a football savvy nation. The road to being an 66-1 long shot is paved with a lot of bullshit words, plans, announcements and big ideas, all of it cemented with an absolute inability by the leadership U.S. Soccer to compete for the best and brightest minds in the game to transform football in America. While the USA may go on to a have great tournament, and here’s hoping, I wonder who will be held accountable for the failures of Project 2010, what new faces will emerge from outside the established system to shake things up and once again reinvent U.S. Soccer. Regardless of the outcome of this World Cup, the odds never lie; 66-1 tells me the Team USA needs a lot of changes if we plan on meeting our any of the goals we set for the game in this country.
And yet, I still adore this team.
Under Pressure: Goalkeeper Tim Howard Must Be Great To Give Team USA A Fighting Chance
Under the leadership of Coach Bob Bradley, The USMNT is training at Princeton University (see?!?) for the World Cup; 30 players in camp will be pared down to 23 over the course of two warm up matches against the Czech Republic (May 25 on ESPN) and Turkey (May 29 on ESPN2) before the team heads to South Africa for a final tune up against Australia (June 5 on ESPN2). The USA opens the World Cup against mighty England on June 12, a match that the entire footballing world has been looking forward to since Charlize Theron announced the Draw for Group C on December 1, 2009. The USA and England have only met once in the World Cup, a 1-0 win for the USA in 1950 that is widely considered one of the greatest upsets in our footballing history.
1950: USA 1, England 0
The USMNT follows that match with a game against a dangerous Slovenian team before playing a tough, experienced Algerian side who may be playing for their footballing lives at that point. Don’t let the ridiculous FIFA rankings fool you– there are no easy games for the USA at the World Cup and if we want to make it to the second round (and, if we finish second in the Group, a probable match against Germany), this team needs to stay healthy and play its best football for 270 minutes (plus added time… *ha*). But a look at the roster reveals some real dilemmas for Coach Bradley, and these problems could end up dashing US hopes early on; if defense wins championships (see Italy in World Cup 2006), the USA may be in trouble…
Up Next: A Position By Position Analysis Of Team USA