An unthinkable reality: An English take on the USA’s World Cup failure

The USA aren’t going to the World Cup.

I didn’t think I’d ever have to write that sentence. I can’t believe I’m doing so now.

When the final whistle blew in Trinidad on Tuesday night, it was 3AM here in the UK. I didn’t sit through 90 torturous minutes, as the reality of the USA’s World Cup failure slowly sank in. Instead, I woke up to a melting pot of despair. The USA had lost. Panama and Honduras won.

The United States’ failure to qualify for the World Cup isn’t just devastating on a nation level, it’s global. The World Cup will be a worse tournament without the USA. It will be a worse tournament without the likes of Ghana, Chile and the Netherlands too. But the USA’s absence hurts more.

They’ve reached the Round of 16 in back-to-back tournaments. Their passion both on the field and in the stands has been fantastic to see. But most importantly, they’ve been improving.

Soccer is a big deal in the USA now. Sure, it could still get even bigger. But the fact is, people have started to fall in love with the game. The biggest reason for the surge in support is probably because of how well they battled at the 2014 World Cup. They might have gone out to Belgium, but they won a lot of people’s hearts over that day.

But those hearts were all broken with Tuesday’s result in Trinidad.

Embed from Getty ImagesThe USA have been to seven successive World Cup’s. They’ve not missed the tournament since 1986. To put it into perspective, England have missed a World Cup more recently than the USMNT, as the Three Lions failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

There is a real sense of entitlement when it comes to World Cup qualification here in England. Many fans don’t even watch many of the qualifiers. They just expect to see England at the main event. And yes, for the past 20 years, qualifying has been easy for the Three Lions. They’ve only lost four of their last 56 World Cup qualifiers.

That’s as many as the USA lost in this year’s Hexagonal alone.

But qualification for the USA should be a straightforward task too. The quality of teams across the CONCACAF region is improving, but the USA should not be finishing behind the likes of Panama and Honduras. There is no excuse for that, regardless of who is the head coach and who’s in charge of the United States Soccer Federation.

Tuesday night’s defeat to Trinidad will surely go down as the most embarrassing and heartbreaking night in US Soccer history. It sure feels like that now, and I’m sure it will still feel like that for a long time.

Taylor Twellman summed up the emotion of USA fans on ESPN after the game. He was incensed and rightly so.

But this must now act as the catalyst for change for the USA. A lot of fingers are being pointed. There are a lot of places to look for where things have gone wrong over the past couple of years. But there is no greater time to bring about large-scale changes than when staring at a reality like the USA is right now.

A new coach will surely be needed. Some players will have played their last game for the USMNT. Others will now step forward. Changes will be made as to how the USA scouts players, how it develops them. It will take time. But the USA now has time. They will not play a competitive game again now until the 2019 Gold Cup.

I might not be American, but I believe in US Soccer. I believe in MLS. And I believe that the USA’s World Cup failure will be the catalyst for change, the catalyst for a brighter future. Things can only improve from here…

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Getting Stuck In: The Great American Hype Machine

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into The Great American Hype Machine as the nation waits for a world class player to emerge…

I was used to waiting. It’s part of the deal when you interview celebrities. This time, in 2004,  I was waiting to interview a soccer prodigy.  He was supposed to call at 10am. It reached 1pm. I called the Nike representative that set up the interview and asked if she could call him. She rang back an hour later and said he would be calling me in ten minutes. Two more hours went by. I called the Nike rep back again. She apologized and said he was busy playing an intense game of FIFA with friends during some downtime. He finally called at 5pm and didn’t even apologize for making a grown man wait.

You see, Freddy Adu has been making everyone wait his entire professional career. He has shown glimpses of magic with US youth teams but he has been an utter dud everywhere else he has gone. He has played for 13 teams in eight countries over a 12-year career so far. But is it all his fault? He has to take some of the blame for sinking faster than the Titanic. Some say bad attitude, bad practice habits, laziness, no commitment to defence are among some of his problems. My buddy Eric and I theorize about why he continues to move from club-to club and we just assume that he does something behind the scenes to piss off his managers. Some would just say he sucks. But some blame the ‘Great American Hype Machine’.

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Yes, we Americans are guilty of cranking up the Hype Machine to epic levels. We are always waiting for our Messi, our Ronaldo, our Pele – but we just get Adu. When Adu signed a pro contract with MLS side DC United at the age of 14 (debatable), we were all swept up in the Hype Machine with no idea he would be spat out 12 years later. Before he ever kicked a ball professionally, Nike gave him huge money and soft drink company Sierra Mist created a cool ad that debuted during Adu’s first pro game. It featured him with Pele on a soccer field competing for the last bottle of Sierra Mist. The ad sprouted from the American soccer intelligentsia saying Freddy Adu was the “next Pele” (Hype Machine at its worst). Even Pele bought in: “His left foot is fantastic. It’s like Mozart. God gave Freddy the gift to play soccer. If he is prepared mentally and physically, nobody will stop him.” Pele may have been an all-time soccer talent, but he’s not an all-time talent evaluator.

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Adu is only 26 (debatable) and mentally and physically he seems shot. Many think his career has finally come to an end because he now plays for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL, a division below MLS. He shows glimpses of being a decent player but when I found this headline the other day I wondered if Freddy was doing ok: “Freddie Adu has gone from ‘next Pele’ to vacuum cleaner salesman on Twitter”.

This brings us to the next great product of the Great American Hype Machine: Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. There is surely no way this kid will be the next Adu, right? Yes, the Machine has churned out hope-to-nope players like Julian Green and Juan Agudelo, and may take down Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood, but I think (and I hope) Pulisic is different. Here’s a few reasons why:

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  • He is 17 (not 14) and is being groomed with smarts by one of the best clubs for developing talent in Europe.
  • Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp loved him when he was Dortmund’s manager and saw him excel with their youth academy and destroy fools with the US U17 squad (20 goals in 34 appearances).
  • He is humble, respectful, hard working and technically sound (rare for an American player).
  • He is strong for his size, doesn’t back down from anyone (see his work against some of the strongest players in Germany).
  • He feels American. With all due respect to Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and the other German-Americans on the US squad, he is from Hershey, Pennsylvania so he feels authentic.
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When Pulisic became the youngest player to score two goals in the Bundesliga this past spring, I went bonkers. It convinced me that he was for real. No fugazi. Legit. Not just a good American player but considered a great European prospect. I mean, when a headline like this appears in the Daily Mail, I believe the hype: “Liverpool face competition from Real Madrid and Manchester City in pursuit of Borussia Dortmund whizzkid Christian Pulisic.”

Are you kidding me? Pulisic wearing the kit of my beloved Liverpool? An American, dancing around the midfield to You’ll Never Walk Alone on one of those special European nights at Anfield? I just hope the Hype Machine leaves him alone. Because if he does come down with a bad case of Adu-itis, I don’t know how much more waiting I can take.

A look at what the US Open Cup means as MLS sides change focus

By Drew Farmer – Twitter: @CalcioFarmer

The Major League Soccer season took a backseat to domestic cup matches this week in the USA. Ten MLS teams took to the field on Tuesday night in the fourth round of US Open Cup action, with seven more playing on Wednesday.

Although no real upsets were recorded Tuesday night, three MLS teams were pushed by lower league sides to extra-time or penalties.

In a match that pitted eternal rivals, Portland and Seattle, in an all-MLS fixture; the Timbers knocked out the defending champions in extra-time. All in all, an exciting night of domestic cup action. Wednesday night should be just as good, with the juiciest fixture seeing New York City FC battle New York Cosmos.

Don’t miss: Sounders end game with 7 players as Portland beat reigning champion in US Open Cup thriller

And while the general US soccer fan may not quite understand the idea behind watching lower league opposition play the USA’s top-flight teams in a cup tournament, there were some positives the Open Cup may increase in popularity.

Sporting KC welcomed 19,298 fans to Sporting Park to see the 2012 cup winners defeat St. Louis FC. With Sporting’s stadium now located on the Kansas side of the border, this can’t be called an intra-Missouri rival. But the game still held enough significance amongst fans to see them turnout in droves.

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For those that say US soccer doesn’t have any history, the Open Cup is a perfect example that they are wrong. The tournament began in 1913/14 and was based on English football’s FA Cup competition. Due to the high immigrant populations in the northeast of the country and the creation of soccer teams influenced by their homelands, the trophy resided its first seven years in that region. As a matter of fact, three teams traded the cup amongst themselves during that time: Brooklyn Field Club, Bethlehem Steel and Fall River Rovers.

It wasn’t until the 1919/20 Open Cup that the trophy found a home away from the east coast. That season, Ben Millers of St. Louis won the tournament, bringing the cup to the Gateway city.

Like numerous soccer teams and even semi-professional baseball teams of the time, Ben Millers received its name as a company team. Ben Millers, a local hat company, was the sponsors of the club.

While soccer has hit peaks and valleys in the US over the years, the tournament lived in obscurity for much of its history. The North American Soccer League, which seemingly had no interest in being a traditional soccer league, chose to ignore the domestic cup. Until the advent of MLS, “professional” teams in the US didn’t participate regularly.

Since the arrival of MLS teams, only one season has seen a lower league side take the cup. That year, 1999, the Rochester Rhinos defeated Colorado Rapids in front of an estimated 4,555.

Rochester Rhinos lift the 1999 US Open Cup (Photo: TheCup.us)

Rochester Rhinos lift the 1999 US Open Cup (Photo: TheCup.us)

What is the draw of the Open Cup? Of course, there is the opportunity to see a semi-professional team take on MLS quality stars. In addition, like England’s FA Cup, the big stars may very well be out of their elements; playing on a soccer pitch typically used by universities, high schools or for training. Which is the equivalent of seeing an arena rock band like the Foo Fighters in a small dingy club.

This season could be the coming out party of the US Open Cup into the American soccer mainstream. The game is currently on a high, continually rising; and the appeal is there for the American fan. Meanwhile, the cup’s uniqueness could endear it to American sports.

With teams taking it seriously, lower league soccer clubs popping up all over the country and record MLS crowds, there’s no reason the cup can’t become an even bigger prize than it already is seen as.

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The US Open Cup has already endured 102 years since its inception in 1913. It has battled disinterest and low attendance, but now after all these years, a new set of fans and teams have found its appeal.

Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @Calciofarmer. Drew Farmer is a Manchester, England-based journalist/blogger that has writes for MLSGB and World Soccer Talk. Drew has also been read on Forza Italian Football and Soccerly. Originally from southwest Missouri, Drew covers Italy’s Serie A, English football and USA soccer.

International Preview and Prediction: USA vs Mexico

Competition: International friendly – United States vs. Mexico

Venue: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas – Wednesday, April 15 – 20:30 ET (01:30 BST)

Match Odds: USA 13/10 – Draw 11/5 – Mexico 7/4

Match Preview

The US Men’s National Team are back in action on Wednesday night after just two weeks as they take on fierce rivals Mexico less than 150 miles from the border in San Antonio, Texas.

Jurgen Klinsmann‘s side put in their best performance for a long time in their last game against Switzerland two weeks ago as they earned a solid 1-1 draw against the 12th-ranked side.

The latest FIFA rankings saw the USA move up five places to 27th, while Mexico went up three places to 18th and Wednesday’s nights game should be another fiery one, even though it will be played outside of a designated international window.

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That means that both sides will be without several key players as the majority of European-based stars will not make the trip across to play the game.

Mexico have not beaten the USA in their last five meetings but they have been in fine form since the World Cup, winning six of eight games and have won their last two games 1-0.

The USMNT have only won two of nine games since the World Cup last summer and although things weren’t looking too promising, the 1-1 draw with Switzerland last time out will fill fans with optimism heading into this one.

Klinsmann continues to experiment with his squad and has called up 14 MLS players for this one, with DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green the only players travelling over from Europe with Tottenham and Hamburg respectively.

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Four members of the squad play their football in Liga MX and that will add some more spice to what should be another thrilling encounter.

Their latest meeting ended 2-2 in Arizona last April as Michael Bradley and Chris Wondolowski both netted the goals.

The two USMNT veterans are both in the squad again this time and will hope to continue to guide the younger players through.

Team News

Klinsmann has only called up nine players from last summer’s World Cup as he continues to experiment, but he will likely field his strongest lineup as victory in this one is important. Michael Bradley played in the No. 10 role against Switzerland and could continue there, while Gyasi Zardes could partner Juan Agudelo in attack as Jozy Altidore is suspended. Agudelo has received his first call up in over a year and will want to make his mark.

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Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera has called up a relatively inexperienced side for the game but striker, Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres will hope to impress. The 22-year-old forward will join up with the Houston Dynamo in the summer and he will be pushing for a start in the absence of Javier Hernandez.

Key Points

USA’s last five: L/L/W/L/D

Mexico’s last five: W/W/L/W/W

Key Stat: Mexico have not beaten the USA in five attempts and their last win came during the Gold Cup in June 2011.

Key Player: Michael Bradley – The Toronto FC midfielder is the most experienced on the USA roster and is likely to captain the team once again. He has four goals against Mexico to date and will want to add to that.

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Score Prediction

USA 2-1 Mexico – If the USMNT can build on their performance against Switzerland they will be in a strong position to win this. Their recent record against Mexico is good and with the game on home turf, Klinsmann will hope to seal an important win as the Gold Cup draws closer.

USMNT end five game winless streak with 2-0 victory over Panama

The rot has been stopped. Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Men’s National Team ended a five-game winless streak with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Panama on Sunday.

First-half goals from Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey saw the USA record their first win since a 1-0 friendly victory against the Czech Republic back in September.

Panama were far from threatening but it’s important that the USMNT got a win under their belt and the second clean-sheet in seven since the World Cup will also please Klinsmann.

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The 3-5-2 system we saw deployed in the first-half against Chile last time out was not tried again as the German coach opted to start with a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Jermaine Jones played in defence again but he looked a lot better than he did against the Chileans and that is a project that is certain to continue through 2015.

Michael Bradley started in a deeper midfield role and controlled the game well. He opened the scoring with a ridiculously good corner that looped over LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and into the net.

Michael Bradley’s goal against Panama (via US Soccer on YouTube):

Gyasi Zardes made his first start for the USMNT and impressed throughout as the Galaxy forward thrived at StubHub Center in the USA shirt.

Zardes played a key role in the second goal of the game as he burst into the middle of the field before threading a perfect ball to Clint Dempsey. The Seattle Sounders forward then rounded Penedo before slotting the ball into an empty net.

Clint Dempsey’s goal against Panama (via US Soccer on YouTube):

Players will now return to their clubs as the new Major League Soccer season gets underway in less than a month.

One concern to take from the game is that DeAndre Yedlin limped off and headed straight down the tunnel. Spurs fans will hope that it is nothing serious as the pacey fullback has yet to make his debut for the Premier League club since completing his move in January.

The next time we see the USMNT in action will be at the end of March as Klinsmann’s side take on Denmark and Switzerland in a pair of tricky fixtures.

What did you make of the USMNT’s performance against Panama on Sunday?

US Soccer receives another boost as Gedion Zelalem commits to USMNT

Young Arsenal star Gedion Zelalem is set to further brighten the future of US soccer by playing for the US Men’s National Team after gaining US citizenship today.

The 17-year-old was born in Germany and has already played for them at youth levels but now looks set to dedicate his international future to the USMNT.

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann must have had a major influence in his decision and he will be the latest German-born American to play for the USA if FIFA allow him to do so.

Zelalem is one of Arsenal’s brightest prospects and has already played for the Gunners in the Champions League and FA Cup.

He moved to Arsenal in 2013 after spending seven years in America and Arsene Wenger believes he is the sort of player that the USMNT missed during the World Cup in the summer.

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“He is a player with a good eye and good technique and is very agile,” Wenger told Sports Illustrated in July.

“He has the ambition to find the ball on the field. So he’s the kind of player who could be of use to the United States. He’s in some ways the type of player the US was missing in the World Cup.”

With his US citizenship in place it is expected that Zelalem will be eligible to play for the USA in the imminent future but until FIFA approve it, he could still pledge his future to Germany or Ethiopia.

How important is it that Gedion Zelalem could be playing for the USMNT in the future?

Sporting Kansas City bolster attack with addition of Krisztian Nemeth

Sporting Kansas City have continued to rebuild their squad ahead of the 2015 MLS season by adding Hungarian international forward Krisztian Nemeth.

The news comes one day after the club re-signed star striker Dom Dwyer to a long-term contract and Peter Vermes is delighted to have another attacking option in place for next season.

“Krisztian [Nemeth] is a player who has extensive experience playing in a 4-3-3 system,” Vermes said.

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“He also fits well in the overall model of play for Sporting Kansas City and we look forward to his adaptation.”

Nemeth is a vastly experienced player having played in Hungary, England, Greece and most recently the Netherlands, but at 25, he has a long career ahead of him.

He joined Liverpool as an 18-year-old in 2007 and although he never played a competitive first-team game with the Reds, he was a star in the Premier League Reserve League – ending his first year as top scorer in the division.

He trained with the likes of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Robbie Keane while at Anfield and he can’t wait to experience the new challenge of soccer in the US.

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“I am very excited to be joining Sporting Kansas City,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to join the club and MLS. Peter [Vermes] is a great coach and I look forward to working with him and the team.”

Nemeth has been without a club since leaving Eredivisie side Roda JC Kerkrade in July. He scored eight goals and recorded six assists in 24 games during the 2013-14 campaign and will hope to make a real impact with Sporting Kansas City in 2015.

Is Krisztian Nemeth a good signing for Sporting Kansas City?

Sporting Kansas City reward star striker Dom Dwyer with new contract

Dom Dwyer has signed a contract extension with Sporting Kansas City ahead of the 2015 MLS season in what is a major resigning for the club.

The 24-year-old Englishman netted 22 goals in 33 regular season appearances this year and was a constant threat for opposition defences.

“I am ecstatic to commit my future to Kansas City,” Dwyer said.

“I want to thank the coaches and ownership for having faith in me. Also, a special thanks to the fans for all of their continued support.

“I am excited to get going again. Last year was a starting point for what is to come in the future, which is scoring a lot more goals, driving to win championships and enjoying myself on and off the field in a city with supporters to which I have grown to love and embrace.”

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Dwyer has scored 50 goals in all competitions for Kansas City since the start of 2013 and seems to improve with every game.

His six game-winning strikes in 2014 set a club record and he is now ranked ninth on the club’s all-time leading goalscorer list for MLS regular season goals.

Dwyer is thriving in America and he has set his sights on representing the US Men’s National Team in the next few years. He received his green card in 2012 and therefore could be seen playing for the USMNT by 2017.

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“It’s something I want to look forward to. It’s something I’m very excited about, and I’ve heard little rumors here and there, little conversations with my agent that there’s interest in the US camp. That would be amazing if my phone was to ever ring for that,” Dwyer said.

“Obviously, it’s a good thing to be in the league for, and I also think the league’s going places as well. It’s a place to be.”

How important is Dom Dwyer to Sporting Kansas City?

The reasons why 2014 was the most entertaining MLS season for nine years

Fans of the game don’t need to be told how entertaining the most recent Major League Soccer campaign was in terms of the tension, adrenaline, jubilation and despair that it created.

Having been through the emotional roller coaster of supporting your club through a season, most will now be at peace with how their team performed in 2014 – whether they are pleased or disappointed is another question entirely.

In terms of entertainment value, MLS has come up trumps once again as the 2014 season saw 924 goals hitting the back of the net – the most ever scored in a regular season.

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Since 2012, MLS has seen more matches being played over the course of the season due to more teams being in the league and format adjustments, so it would be easy to say that the only reason we’ve seen the most goals is because there are more games.

While that is true, it’s important to bear in mind that 2014 managed to produce the highest average goals-per-game ratio since 2005 and that the standard of play in the league is now far higher than nine years ago.

MLS, year by year:

mls season stats

A closer look at the numbers will also tell you that the 2014 season saw the highest average attendance in the history of Major League Soccer.

The average attendance is up by 554 on last season and is 341 higher than the previous record of 18,807 that we saw in 2012.

With New York City and Orlando City joining in 2015, it’s clear for all to see the growth of MLS and if ever there was proof needed that the league was on the rise, then the attendance figures for this year just about confirm that fact.

Is Major League Soccer becoming one of the biggest leagues in the world?

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Otis Earle ahead of MLS Player Combine

Young English defender Otis Earle will be at the MLS Player Combine in early January, looking to impress scouts from all 20 Major League Soccer clubs ahead of the MLS SuperDraft on January 15.

The 22-year-old London native is the son of former Premier League player Robbie Earle who now does media work in America.

Otis Earle moved from Epsom College to California to play for UC Riverside and after impressing during his four seasons with the Highlanders, he is now close to making it as a professional in the fastest growing sports league in the world.

“I’m very excited for the MLS Combine. It’s a great opportunity to represent my school, as well as myself and I am looking forward to showing the various scouts and coaches what I can do,” he said.

“Football in the US is growing, there’s no doubt about that. So as a young player striving to get drafted, it’s a very exciting time.”

Otis Earle in action for UC Riverside (Photo by Gabriel L. Acosta)

Otis Earle in action for UC Riverside (Photo by Gabriel L. Acosta)

More and more English youngsters are moving to America to play soccer and the Earle belives the standard is almost as good as that in the UK now.

“The standard over here is very high. Extremely close to that seen in England. Especially in Southern California, where I’ve been playing. The game is played the right way, with a lot of technical players.

“I think the idea of scholarships and college sports are a great idea and something that the UK could possibly learn from.

If you don’t make it at a young age in the UK, there are no real options. Over here, you can still pursue your professional goals whilst attending a college and getting an education.”

The MLS SuperDraft see’s MLS clubs draft college players and other youngsters, and it is a great way for players such as Earle to get their chance to play in the rapidly growing world of Major League Soccer.

The left-back scored two goals and picked up four assists in 15 games for UC Riverside in 2014 and is certainly a player with the potential to be a star.

He will now be preparing for the MLS Player Combine in less than a month and Earle admits that he is ready for the next chapter of his career.

“I would love to get drafted. I feel like I’m ready to make the next step in my career and to challenge myself as both a person and a player.

It’s an exciting time but I need to just keep my head down, stay focused and hopefully things will work out.”