What’s Next for U.S. Soccer

Since the World Cup concluded, various people have asked me , what’s next for Team America?  What do they do now?  When do they play again?

The short answer is tonight against Brazil in the Meadowlands.  The game is on ESPN2 at 7:00 CST.  This will be an exhibition, aka an international friendly, i.e. it doesn’t really count for anything.  There’s no trophy, no qualification for the next round.  Just the U.S. and Brazil and 60-70,000 fans (which is pretty damned impressive, but you sort of expect that with Brazil).  The visitors are bringing a squad of up-and-comers as well as a few holdovers from the World Cup, while the U.S. roster includes 15 World Cup veterans with a few new names.   These are our National Teams.  So this game does count.  Sort of.  Except Clint Dempsey couldn’t make it because he’s worn out and trying to get ready for the EPL, and Oguchi Onyewu won’t be there as he’s fighting for his spot with Milan.  And you don’t want to play the MLS guys too many minutes because they’re in the middle of the stretch run before the playoffs…

And thus we enter the complicated and sometimes frustrating but landscape of the U.S Men’s Soccer National Team.  Every four years the World Cup presents a daunting pinnacle, and everything else is preparation and primer.  You have your friendlies like tonight, an opportunity to call in players who’ve earned it with their club teams and integrate them with your veterans.  You have your second tier tournaments like the Gold Cop, the Confederations Cup, and the Olympics, which provide further opportunities.  Then, starting in 2012, the qualification for the next World Cup cycle will begin.  FIFA appoints ‘international dates’ on the calendar – periods in which the club teams must release their players for the various national teams, and then the friendlies are qualifiers occur then.  Bascially, the U.S. Team plays a couple of games every few months.  Sometimes they get a few days to prepare and train together sometimes not.  Then, every January, the U.S. calls in a bunch of MLS players and players from leagues with long winter breaks (think Scandinavia) for a three week training camp, from which a handful of potential contributors can emerge.

So for now, look out for a few more friendlies between now and next summer, when the Gold Cup (the Championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean) takes place.  The Gold Cup lasts about three weeks and we usually have our full-strength squad the year after the World Cup, because the Gold Cup qualifies you for the Confederations Cup…

More importantly, we want to know who the coach will be for the next cycle.  Conventional wisdom is that Bob Bradley’s time is nearly up.  Not that he did a poor job, but with international soccer you just don’t have the same guy in charge for that long.  So who will it be and what kind of style and system will he implement?  The next topic is the players.  Any coach will have his preferences, but you’re always looking at turnover in key spots on the field.  The U.S. starting backline will be too old in four years so you want to develop guys there.  The forwards have been inconsistent and often poor, so the search for a strike force continues.  Only the midfield and goalkeeper positions seems solid.

And how do you follow and predict who might get the call for Team America?  Grant Wahl provided this excellent piece a few weeks back…   Basically, you follow the game with an eye towards American players.  That means MLS, the Mexican League, and various Euro leagues.  You look for guys like Yura Movsissyian, who used to play for Salt Lake and is now banging in goals in Sweden.  Yura is supposedly on the path to citizenship and would like to play for Uncle Sam.  You follow Jose Torres, Herculez Gomez, and Marco Vidal – all of whom play for Pachuca in Mexico.  You watch Dempsey, Howard, and Holden in the EPL.  You wonder where Freddy Adu will pop up next.  The interwebs makes it much easier than you’d think…

It’s a journey.  It’s a little bit quirky.  But as the World Cup demonstrated to many, it’s worth the effort.

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