Thursday, June 22, 2006

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Part 1: World Cup Prepartation

The strongest US Men’s National Team in years goes to Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup and is eliminated in the first round. They lose 3-0 to the Czech Republic; draw 1-1 with Italy; and lose 2-1 to Ghana. One point from three matches, when 4 would have booked a second round spot. How do we fix what we all saw in Germany?

Part of the road to recovery will be to look back at what has been going on, realizing what the problems are and making steps to move forward from the problems that are identified. This will include looking at the US team’s preparation for the World Cup, their pool building process, and Major League Soccer. In examining these three areas, I hope to offer some ideas and suggestions for better development. Suggestions that can be used by those who in charge could begin to implement this year, in hopes that when the coach of the 2010 USA World Cup team says that this is the strongest National Team ever, he can really say that.

The United States National Team found out that it had qualified for the 2006 World Cup when it defeated CONCACAF rival Mexico on September 3rd, 2005. That was the very last meaningful match that the United States National Team played until it took the field against Poland in the beginning of March of 2006. After that match, the next time the USA actually fielded its first team squad against anyone, was against the Czech Republic.

The USA took a very interesting approach to their build up for the World Cup. They held a training camp for the out of season MLS players in January, and played several matches against teams that either fielded B-Side squads (Norway), or against teams that were under the level that the USA was at (Canada). FIFA did create something of a very stupid situation for international coaches and set aside only one international match date between the World Cup Draw and the start of the World Cup, which was the day that the USA played Poland in Germany. I hope that if given more international days where clubs were required to release players, the USA would have attempted to play its first team against quality opponents.

In May, the USA had a send off series for the USA. They played three matches in three different US cities against nations from three different regions. They lost their first match against the best of the three teams, Morocco. They then defeated Venezuela and Latvia. The USA played three non-World Cup qualified teams and one of those did not even remotely mimic the style of any of their opponents. Was this as good a build up as we could have provided for our players?

While the USA was playing non-World Cup sides in the fan friendly confines of the USA, the other nations that have advanced to the second round of the World Cup were already mostly in Europe playing against nations that had also qualified or those nations that played similar styles to their first round opponents. Mexico played France and the Netherlands in Europe; Italy played the Ukraine and Switzerland; Spain played Croatia and Russia. Mexico, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain have all advanced to the second round. Switzerland, France, and the Ukraine have real chances at advancing from their groups. We played Morocco, Venezuela and Latvia.

What we need to start doing is challenging our players more. Get those who have been called into the 23 man roster into situations that challenge them. Make those situations uncomfortable and maybe even hostile, test them. Sure CONCACAF qualifying in Costa Rica and Mexico City can be hostile (watch out for the flying batteries and bags of urine) but when you get the 23 guys together, you want them to be ready for anything. My suggestion for the 2010 World Cup, assuming that we qualify, would be to not have the USA play their prep matches in the US, or if they do, only one match of four. Here is a hypothetical situation, as an example of how I would have them get ready.

The USA qualifies, and is grouped in Group C which looks like this –
- France
- Ecuador
- Portugal

As the World Cup is being held in South Africa in 2010, this is almost neutral ground for these teams, much like Korea/Japan was in 2002. We hold training camp in Cary, North Carolina again, giving them 10 or so days of fitness work, just like this year. We hold our first prep match in Washington, DC at Fed Ex Field against Columbia. Two days later the US moves its preparations to Europe, where it plays a match against Spain in Madrid (or better yet in Barcelona, so both teams can be booed). They then play a warm up match against Italy in Rome or Milan. After one week in Europe, they move on to South Africa where they play a warm up match with Argentina.

If they were to do a similar type of warm up, the USA players would be playing matches against quality opponents that will be similar in playing styles to their first round opponents as well as giving the guys the chance to really test their teamwork against sides that have qualified or should have qualified for South Africa. It should never matter in these matches if we win. I think that might have been an under laying motive for inviting the three teams that the USA played this time. They should play against quality opponents and ones that give the USA a taste of the style that they will have to deal with in matches that three points is really the only option. Had the USA played Angola in a meaningful match before the 2006 World Cup, I think that they would been able to had a better handle on Ghana.

If the US Soccer federation took a similar type of pre-World Cup preparation approach to the 2010 World Cup, I think it would prepare the US players better for the tournament.

Part 2: Preparing the Player Pool. Thats tomorrow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

right on - bro!

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spain, Italy, Argentinia? Huh? What makes you belive that they will play the USA.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

After our performance this World Cup, I would have to agree with you on that question. However, if they do end up needing practice matches and we agree to make it so they do not have to travel far for them, meaning in Spain or Italy, the match up should be actractive to them. Also, this was a hypothetical situation, take it as just that.

10:33 PM  

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