The COPA America group stage has ended for the United States Men’s National team. They finished top of the group with 6 points culminating in an impressive 4-0 win over Costa Rica and a fine display of defending with a 1-0 win over Paraguay.
However, the United States fell to Columbia 2-0 in their opening match. In that game, they looked slow, lost and out of control. It was obviously disappointing for a team that has so much potential and expectations to compete with the world’s elite teams.
The term “underdog” has certainly been mentioned whenever the US go up against “supposedly” superior teams like Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Why “underdog” though? Why are the USA always pegged as the inferior side against these elite teams? For a country that ranks number 1 in overall athletic prowess, a national team that is full of experience and youth and a squad led by the engineering of German Jurgen Klinsmann, it’s hard to see why they would ever be considered “underdogs”.
The term “underachiever” would be much more appropriate. Each and every major tournament, the USA is expected to compete. They are expected to get out of the group and make a deep run into the knockout rounds.
They have done that in the 2014 World Cup. The “group of death” was what the US had to fight through. And they did so by going up against Ghana, Germany and Portugal. They beat Ghana, and were unlucky to not beat Portugal and Germany as well.
They were expected to get out of the group and they did just that.
If the expectations are there, then that, by definition, is not the concept of an underdog. So if they are not considered underdogs, but rather underachievers, then why?
That is the mystery of USA soccer and one that the country has been trying to solve since the sport started gaining more and more popularity in the last decade or so. It’s very difficult to pinpoint one particular reason as to why the USA cannot make it over that hump, and finally make the transition from competitor, to elite competitor.
Much can be said about the popularity of the sport of soccer here in the USA. With so many different sports with so much more financial opportunities, kids decide to focus on the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL. With so much competition for the country’s athletes, and with so little financial opportunity in comparison with the country’s “Big 4”, soccer is still struggling to take hold in the USA.
The youth system needs be focused on heavily if the sport is to continue on upwards in the future. Countries like Spain, Germany and England are dedicated to cultivating talent at a very young age and nurturing that talent towards maturity.
However, it is making tremendous strides in recent years with the expansion of the MLS, the spread of soccer on TV, and now the COPA America being held here in the US.
More centrally to the team itself, it could be that the US lacks that big game player that the other “elite” countries possess. The names of Messi, Suarez, Neymar all come to mind when you think of a player that can take a game over, turn it on its head, and elicit a fear factor towards the opponent.
The closest that the US have to that was Landon Donovan and currently, Clint Dempsey respectively. It’s not that those players are lacking talent, its just that they don’t boast the level of fear that Messi or Neymar have for Argentina and Brazil.
But they don’t need to have that type of player. Not yet at least. The USA is comprised more of a collective unit. Players with enough skill to make them the top players in their country. They have experience with both American and european play styles and combine with experience and youth to form a solid team. This is the best generation of American players within the national team.
Again, why does the US seem to lack that final drive though? Is it a lack of depth, or are they missing that go to, “fear factor” player? Is it the coach that many have lauded as not the right for the US system.
Most likely, a combination of the 3 factors. But despite the flaws, the USA are always there in contention to the elite teams. They are always expected to win, to take this country to the next level of competitiveness. THat is the expectation of the country itself, to be the best, and no less for US soccer will suffice.
With the COPA America being held on US soil, now is the best time for this collective unit to break out and start beating the elite teams. They have the players necessary to do so. Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Deandre Yedlin and many more all have european experience. They have all played the best before. They have the home field advantage. There are no more excuses from here on out.
Thursday in Seattle will be the chance for the US to take the next step as the quarterfinals get underway. Whether it be Brazil, Ecuador or Peru, the US should and need to win. “Let’s go for it” Jurgen Klinsmann was quoted as saying when asked about the USA’s chances of progressing in the knockout round.
Whether we are viewed as the underdogs or underachievers, Klinsmann is right. The USA have to go for it. They have to be aggressive, creative and they need to attack. They have to be free of fear and unleash the potential that this squad has. Which is quite a bit.
The USA has proven it can compete with the world’s best, now it’s time to start winning against them.
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