Op-Ed: Has 2006 Fallout Warped 2010 Expectations

This is an op-ed by frequent contributor Jay Bell

 

2006 was not pretty...

 

In 2006 U.S. Soccer fans did not know what to believe. The team had just disappointed in another World Cup on European soil after going into the tournament highly ranked. Following the tournament the team was in flux. Bruce Arena left the team, multiple players retired, and others were fading fast.

In came Bob Bradley.

He was not hired as the permanent manager at the time, but he was completely rebuilding the U.S. Men’s National Team whether we knew it or not.  Bradley had to deal with losing a leader in each area of the field.

Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, and Eddie Pope all voluntarily ended their international careers, retiring at ages at 33, 32, and 32 respectively. The blow was softened most at goalkeeper where Tim Howard had been waiting in the wings to take over for Kasey Keller who did not retire.

The U.S. lost all of its leaders. That may not have been much of an issue had the rest of the team looked like it was ready to step up.

Many of the players on the 2006 World Cup roster were headed downward in their careers. Josh Wolff attempted to sign for Derby County following the World Cup, but was denied a work permit. He then signed with TSV 1860 in Munich of the 2nd Bundesliga in December, going on to score only 2 goals in 34 matches. Wolff was joined by Gregg Berhalter who dropped down from Energie Cottbus in the Bundesliga. At 29, both Pablo Mastoeni and Ben Olsen were fading, though both made a few more appearances. An injury in 2006 and subsequent poor form took Bobby Convey out of the national team picture.  At age 32, Eddie Lewis was losing to younger competition on the left side of the field. Chris Albright has dropped off the map since the 2006 World Cup.

 

What have you gone Jo(hn) O'Brien-oh...

 

The worst exit was that of John O’Brien. Many felt that that O’Brien was the most talented U.S. Soccer player ever. Chronic injury issues claimed his career at a young age though. Fans still lament what could have been had McBride, Mathis, Donovan, Beasley, Reyna, and O’Brien all peaked mentally and physically at the same time, but that’s another story.

Bob Bradley was left to try and build from what was left on that roster. Landon Donovan was not a star player in Germany and fans wondered if he would ever become the star they wanted him to be. Bradley was left with some strength in the back. Tim Howard was on a career upswing with Everton, while Cherundolo, Onyewu, and Bocanegra provided stability in defense. Clint Dempsey, Damarcus Beasley, and Eddie Johnson appeared to be dynamic attacking options for the future.

Overall, Bradley was left with nine experienced players to build around. The previous eight mentioned, along with Brian Ching, would become the foundation of the team based on ability and experience. The squad lacked depth and had a gaping hole in central midfield. Bradley set out to solve those two issues.

Pablo Mastroeni, Kyle Beckerman, Ricardo Clark, Brian Carroll, Benny Feilhaber, Michael Bradley, Ben Olsen, Jesse Marsch, and Maurice Edu were all given the chance to impress in central midfield in 2007. Bradley went on to cap 92 players during the three and half years through the World Cup. He experimented with players and formations at a time when the U.S. did not know what it was. Experimentation was imminent and necessary. Bradley worked out the kinks quickly as his newly built U.S. squad was able to defeat Mexico to win the CONACACAF Gold Cup in the summer of 2007.

Fast forward 4 years.

 

2010 Braintrust...

 

The U.S. is coming off of a more successful World Cup run and Bob Bradley has been re-hired for another four years. No player has retired. His star players were star players in South Africa. Two players that fans thought would fade fast are Cherundolo and Bocanegra. ‘Dolo is currently captaining the third place team in the Bundesliga and ‘Los is a staple in the lineup of the second place team in France. The only players playing themselves out of contention are Jonathan Spector and Robbie Findley. Jay Demerit is searching for a team, Hahnemann is considering retired internationally, and Damarcus Beasley may be squeezed out because of competition.

 

Jones

 

In 2007 Bob had nine players to build around. In 2010 he already has a core of no less than 17 players.

There is no uncertainty of who the new players will be either. Jermaine Jones’ arrival and Stuart Holden’s ascension have immediately impacted this team. Bradley had to wait until June 2007 to figure out who the new impact players would be for the Gold Cup.

Not only does Bob not have to find new starters nor find 14 more players to go on the roster, but there is already competition for the final spots. That is the result of capping 92 players. He has also brought in Alejandro Bedoya, Omar Gonzalez, and (TSG favorite) Eric Lichaj who will compete for a place on the Gold Cup roster.

There is also no gaping hole on the team. After 2006, the U.S. had no young, experienced players at CM. Bradley had to find them, cap them, and give them the experience. The only comparable situation on this team is the lack of production with forwards. Still, Altidore, Johnson, Findley, Buddle, Gomez, (hopefully) Davies, and others still have the experience and ability that was absent from the CM position in the fall of 2006.

The U.S.’s post-2010 World Cup squad has a foundation, chemistry, and continuity that was non-existent at the beginning of 2007. Many are still expecting the same kind of total experimentation in 2010. There is no need. Barring injuries we probably already know 19 players who will be named to the 23-man Gold Cup roster. At this point Bradley just needs to find the formation and player positioning that maximizes the team’s ability. He’s already tinkered against Brazil, Poland, and Colombia.

2006 and 2010 were both extremes. The 2006 team was stripped of its leaders and its depth. The 2010 team returns both. It’s just not rational to expect the integration of 15 new young players into a team that not only has its foundation, but also its depth.

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22 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sean on 2010/10/15 at 9:28 AM

    Excellent post.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Shane on 2010/10/15 at 9:28 AM

    pretty good read. Here is my solid 11..

    Howard
    Dolo – Gooch – Boca – Lichaj (<- I like him)
    Bradley – Jones
    Holden – Duece – Donovan
    Altidore

    I thought the 4-2-3-1 looked good going forward against Poland, Defensivley it needs some work though..

    Reply

    • The most difficult part at this point is how to maximize the effectiveness of 10 of those players. Bradley has to decide if he wants Edu at CB, try 3 CMs again, have Goodson at CB, or Bornstein/Lichaj at LB.

      The other night though, Holden did not look like the same RM he was last October. He doesn’t seem to want to play wide now. He may be tried at the spot where you have Dempsey listed, but it would be a new role for Holden.

      Reply

    • Posted by tnnelson on 2010/10/15 at 5:21 PM

      i love it. thats my favorite position, just with holden and donovan and dempsey switching mid-game according to how they and coach bradley feel is necessary

      Reply

      • If Holden shows the ability to play behind a lone striker on the left, then those 3 will be absolutely lethal going forward, because as you said they will be able to move about during the game and no one will be able to contain all 3 at a time. Sometimes teams would try to contain Donovan and Dempsey, and then no one else would step up. Bradley did on a few occasions, but stopping those two really held back the US attack at times.

        Now if someone tries to contain Donovan and Dempsey Bob now has Holden and Jones to go along with Michael to drive the attack.

        Reply

  3. Posted by KMac on 2010/10/15 at 10:31 AM

    This analysis is strategically, tactically, and technically one of the best summaries of the last 4+ years of the USMNT. Amazing work Mr Bell.
    KMac

    Reply

  4. Posted by justin on 2010/10/15 at 10:51 AM

    a few things.
    I like this article, however it would be interesting to know what the turn around for the UNMT was from 2002-2006 because I feel like that is more comparable to what we are going through now in this new cycle. From 2002-2006 we had 11 returning players (not including keepers). So from looking at that angle you could say that we had a pretty good core of players to build around. And I will give us 8 locks (nonkeepers) for returning in 2014: donovan, dempsey, bradley, holden, altidore, onweyu, goodson, and edu, with an average age also of 29 (even slighly higher than the 02-06 squad) and if we add germany jones (i can’t believe he was called this) the average age goes up to 29.5.

    Now can we say the field playing returners from 02 to 06 which included Pope, McBride, Manstroeni, Donovan, Renya, O’Brian and Lewis were less talented than the ones will be returning in 2014?

    What I am trying to say is that USA need to do more than just hold form and build around a core we need to ADD talent and creativity to the squad or else we will be in danger of a 2006 let down.

    One positive thought: # of MLS players on USMT at each world cup. In 2002: 11; 2006: 11; 2010: 4; 2014: >4
    Conclusion: we will be better in 2014 than we were in 2006. GO USA

    Reply

    • Posted by dth on 2010/10/15 at 5:59 PM

      I think it’s a mistake (not just you, but this article too) to count on Donovan and Dempsey too heavily. Both of them will be 32+ during the 2014 World Cup, and while both of them might play, it’s safe to say at least one of them will be much less effective.

      The U.S. desperately needs to produce creative players and goalscorers to fill that impending void. In that sense I agree with most people (their backwards-looking diagnosis of the team from 2006-10 as lacking creativity or goalscoring is misplaced: the team in the Hex, the Confed Cup, and the World Cup was good at scoring goals and not-so-good at keeping goals out.)

      Reply

      • Posted by mbw on 2010/10/15 at 9:44 PM

        I guess that’s the point right? The big problem in ’06 as I understand it was that a couple of very important players started to fall off sharply right around the time of the World Cup. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which the US runs through the Gold Cup in 2011, rocks watered-down CONCACAF qualifying, and then ends up over-reliant on 30-35 year-olds in Brazil.

        The US currently has: (1) a group of older folks who are close to world-class on their best days and pretty darn good the rest of the time (Donovan, Dempsey, Jones, Cherundolo); (2) a group of younger players poised to become major contributors in top leagues (Holden, Bradley, Edu?, Lichaj?); (3) a group of very young, notably talented players who might or might not become major UMNT contributors (Lletget, Boss, Opara, Mix, Mwanga?, and Jozy, who obviously has already made some important contributions to the national team but hasn’t yet achieved any club success at all); (4) a group of high quality MLS/Mexican League players who are/will probably become role players on the USMNT (JB, Torres, Gomez, Gonzalez, Ream, Buddle, . . . .). Feilhaber and Bedoya are probably between group 4 and group 2; Gooch and Bocanegra haven’t quite made it to group 1.

        The point is that success past 2011 depends on the progress of players in all of these groups. Will one or two of the older players remain in good shape? Will one of the players from group 2 move to group 1? Will someone from group 3 break out as a star ca. 2012-2013? Will players in group 4 move to Europe and get time? Etc.

        Reply

        • mbw I think you’re spot on.

          The 2006 team relied almost entirely on the group of McBride, Reyna, Pope, and Keller. The 2010 team did not even rely entirely on the younger quartet of Donovan, Dempsey, Onyewu, and Howard. They’re not going to rely on them even more in 4 years.

          Worst case scenario (term used lightly because these are very good players) the US will have Donovan (32), Dempsey (32), Jones (32), Onyewu (32), Goodson (32), and Howard (34) as important players in Brazil. However, the 2006 team consisted not only of the eldest, most important quartet of veterans, but also a lot of aging players like Lewis, Berhalter, Albright, Mastroeni, and Wolff. O’Brien and Olsen were also there when injuries dictated that they probably shouldn’t have been.

          Its fine to have to have that group of older, more experienced players leading the way. Look at Italy in 2006 and the Netherlands in 2010. Hopefully that next level of 25-29 will be better in 2014 than it was in 2006.

          Reply

        • Posted by Kevin on 2010/10/17 at 2:00 PM

          I would argue that being the 3rd choice striker for villareal is huge club success for a 20-21 year old. The players that clubs like villareal keep on their squad that are young are people that they think can produce in the future. They’re not quite up to par with the rest of the squad, but simply because the starters are very good at what they do. These clubs wish to develop the young players within their club. it’s kind of wierd to explain, but think of Bojan, Pedro and others who have been in the same position. Expecting Altidore to be starting for Villareal is like expecting him to be as good as Messi. He was good enough to start for a relegated EPL team.

          Reply

      • The point of this specific piece was to talk about the immiediate future. Notice Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson were included in the group that Bob Bradley began building with. Neither went to the World Cup and neither was ever considered to be one of the Best XI during the entire cycle.

        Bradley has a very important tournament coming up next summer and needs to prepare for it right now. He is much more prepared for that tournament right now than he was by June in 2007. Winning the Gold Cup and going to the Confederations Cup will go a long way in developing the next group who would presumably take over for Donovan and Dempsey.

        Experimenting in the fall of 2011 or the summer of 2012 will be a lot more appropriate in regards to 2014 World Cup preparation.

        Reply

  5. Posted by dude on 2010/10/15 at 11:42 AM

    I know that this article was not supposed to be an article about Bob Bradley, but I find it interesting how positive the first two years were for Bob. My only issue was he stopped trying to develop the team offense, possession, and decided that the only way the team could play was to sit back and hope that the defense could take it. In essence, he decided what he was going to field two years in, and only fate could alter the lineup.

    While I do think the players we have lend some optimism to the picture, I’m afraid that the shock and energy of a new coach could have done this squad a world of good (the sloppy play in the last two friendlies and against Brazil seems to me a product of stagnation as much as it is timing).

    Reply

  6. Posted by Dinho on 2010/10/15 at 4:08 PM

    Nice post. One disagreement, two (potential) holes:

    1. Left back – I sincerely hope that Lichaj is the answer because Bornstein simply lacks the quality and Boca lacks the pace.

    2. Forward – I am fearful that we are putting all of our eggs in Altidore’s basket and Jozy just isn’t enough (yet).

    Otherwise, I think we have a GREAT core of midfielders, one of the best keepers in the world and decent center backs. Go USA! :)

    Reply

    • With left back, it is the same problem that it has always been. The difference is that in 2010, Bornstein is coming off of a good World Cup and is making what should be a beneficial club move in the winter; Bocanegra is still capable of performing well on the international stage, just not in the barnstorming, overlapping, ferocious style that fans want. Left back is still a weakness, but not near as weak as when Bradley took over.

      At forward, again, there are experienced players already there. In 2007, there was a complete and total absence of quality, experienced CMs. Mastroeni was the only one. In 2010, Buddle, Gomez, Altidore, and Johnson at least provide options. So he doesn’t NEED two inexperienced 20 year olds to step up like he needed Bradley, Clark, and Feilhaber to in 2007.

      Reply

  7. A well written, insightful, and interesting description – of what has been going on in a train on the wrong track.

    Whether it’s in time, or space, it’s important to broaden this conversation. Since the US game took off in popularity in the 1990s, We’ve been saddled with an artificial D1 league that’s insulated from market forces, supporters, and relegation. Over that span, MLS has failed to develop the players we need to push the envelope of international play. The jury is in.

    We’ve given them fifteen years get this right by coddling owners and allowing them to try and make a buck off of monopolizing out top flight game. It hasn’t worked. The league has dipped below WNBA in cable tv ratings, and average attendance records were set in year one. Only a herculean effort got us into the second round in ’10. Ghana has eliminated us two times – in a row.

    Here we sit, further from the 2002 World Cup, 1995 Copa America, 1994 World Cup, the 1950 miracle, and the 1930 semifinal appearance.

    Yes Sunil Gulati, American soccer history is longer than Pearl Jams. Soccer was the second most popular professional team sport in the 1920s to baseball. ASL players took us to the semis in the first World Cup. NASL- in 1980 – was averaging 10x more viewers than MLS gets today.

    A detailed study of coach and/or the tools at his disposal doesn’t do this topic enough justice. We’re on the wrong track. Bob Bradley, no matter how great a conductor he is, can’t change that.

    Reply

    • Posted by Russ on 2010/10/15 at 6:51 PM

      If you get your wish and MLS sheds single entity and adopts relegation, the league is gone in 2 years.

      MLS is a MASSIVE success story in professional sports. The NFL didn’t start to build/operate its own dedicated stadiums until when? The 80s? MLS has secured league wide infrastructure within its first two decades in an oversaturated sports market with respectable crowds of 16-20k/game. That is incredible.

      You look at 15 years and see failure. I look at 15 years and see a footballing nation that went from questionable to qualify to seeing a place in the round of 16 as a worst case scenario. To do that in the most competitive sport on the planet is nothing short of remarkable.

      No offense, but I’m glad you aren’t making high level decisions at Soccer House or MLS HQ.

      Reply

      • Oooooo SNAP!

        I knew who wrote that reply as soon as I read “artificial D1 league…” SoccerReform, you crazy devil you.

        I love argue with him, because there is nothing you can do to convince him that the MLS ain’t so bad.

        How ya been buddy? Catch at SuperLiga matches this year? lol…

        Reply

  8. Great history lesson. Here’s hoping history doesn’t repeat itself; I went to the WC in ’06′ and had my heart ripped out. Maybe it was the FIFA ranking. Maybe it was Alexi Lalas pumping up my expectations. I don’t know. But whatever it was, I was hoarse for days after the Chech Republic game.

    Bob, just don’t let ’06′ happen again, please.

    Reply

    • I think one player move should ease fears of a 2014 World Cup repeat of 2006: Brian Ching. During the cycle, Bradley was accused of having Brian Ching, Conor Casey, Eddie Lewis, Eddie Johnson, Danny Califf, Pablo Mastroeni, and Sacha Kljestan as “favorites.” None of those players went to the World Cup, cutting Brian Ching at the last second. Others like Hejduk, Keller, Wolff, etc. were eased out.

      Fans clamored for more attacking verve with certain players. Bradley called up Adu despite playing time, was giving Cooper more time before his injury, Davies became a mainstay in the starting lineup for 5 months, and he took Jose Torres to the World Cup.

      He capped 92 players. He benefitted from the 2007 Copa America and a meaningless 2009 Gold Cup, but as far as finding players he went above and beyond what most managers do. Bradley gets a lot of criticism about player decisions simply because he doesn’t play their favorite players. There are other more legitimate reasons to criticize Bradley.

      Reply

      • Posted by s44 on 2010/10/16 at 12:56 PM

        Bradley took the right people to South Africa… And then played the wrong ones in competition. He is who he is.

        Reply

        • Posted by Craig on 2010/10/16 at 5:30 PM

          I can’t say I wholeheartedly agree with this. Altidore had been our go to guy for a long time before the Finals and then last second had two in form strikers show up to push him while he was falling out of form. I think Bradley made a decision to play him with Findley running off of him for the locker room, personal integrity, and overall trust that the kid could do it. Unfortunately it didn’t happen and now we all look back and think, damn if only he swapped this one guy here or there. Everyone also screamed for Edu over Clark but who knows if that truly would have been the difference.

          BTW I support Altidore. He’s out of form, needs to be benched and re-prove himself before he should be considered THE go to striker for the United States of America, but I believe he will show his resilience. Seriously though, of the millions of soccer players in the US our best guy is really 20 yrs old, out of form, and without a qualified backup?? I think we’re looking at this wrong.

          Reply

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