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BRENT LATHAM - Monday, July 27, 2009
It was ugly. It was sad. It was downright disgusting.

So, unfortunately, a summary of lessons for the Americans from what might have been an otherwise relatively positive Gold Cup has to begin with the most forgettable moment of the tournament, the humiliating drubbing at the hands of Mexico in the final.

For three mid-summer weeks, it seemed like Coach Bradley might really have something brewing with his group of upstart MLSers. Unfortunately, in about thirty minutes on Sunday afternoon, with a five goal barrage that ended with the American team completely giving up, Mexico proved it all to be an illusion.

To be fair, this group of Americans did well to make it as far as the final. But the manner in which the team collapsed against its fiercest rival would not have been dignified for Grenada or Guadeloupe, much less the giants of the region.

If the first goal by way of the penalty spot was a backbreaker, the four that followed were farcical, even for a Sunday afternoon recreational league. The Mexicans waltzed in unimpeded and took aim at Troy Perkins' goal time and time again, as the American defense meandered about nonchalantly thirty yards up the field.

So sickening a spectacle it was for American fans that it will be hard to accept the nonchalance of some of the American contingent after the game. Acceptance of defeat might have been understandable had the Americans fallen with dignity, but this group did no such thing, to the point that it can be questioned if any of the principal culprits – including the entire back line - should ever wear the US crest again.

But it's easy to blame the players. The bottom line is that this team was a disaster waiting to happen. The breakdown of what led to this sorry day began not at halftime on Sunday, but last month, with the roster selection process.

While Bob Bradley began the tournament with a handful of decent players, and what looked like a relatively solid team, he ended the Gold Cup with a makeshift squad that could be considered a fourth or even fifth string team. The team fielded against Mexico was devoid of any creative offensive threat in the middle, and missing even the semblance of a decent player in a few spots on the field - right back and holding midfield to name the two most glaring deficiencies.

That it turned out this way can be chalked up to two things: fear of club teams in both Europe and MLS, and downright poor planning.

We already know a host of players weren't available after the Confederations Cup because of preseason European commitments, and that is fair enough. But others who could have helped were ignored in favor of players who could be described as mediocre at best, but nevertheless ended up being called upon to play significant roles in crucial stages of the tournament.

To aggravate the questionable selection errors, the US failed to take advantage of an expanded and overly generous thirty man roster, which CONCACAF permitted it after the trip to the Confederations Cup. Bradley responded by adding seven players from that Confederations Cup roster, but then used only one of them – Benny Feilhaber for about thirty minutes in the second game - even as the roster shrank to the bare minimum in the final round of the tournament.

Defenders of the USSF will now argue that the point of the Gold Cup was to take a look at some young players, but that doesn't explain how sending Jay Heaps and Logan Pause out to get torched against many of Mexico's regulars helps anything in the long run.

If the Americans were going to experiment with unproven players, why not make them young, new elements that may have a shot at helping one day? Calling in Sam Cronin, for example, made sense for that reason. But why waste extra roster spots on over the hill veterans, or worse, players based in Europe that can't even make it to the US for the tournament?

If the departure of the core of the team came as a surprise the situation might be forgivable, but Coach Bradley says he knew he would lose many of his European contingent mid-tournament. If that was indeed the case, how to explain the lack of a replacement creative midfielder or withdrawn forward when Freddy Adu left the team? And how is it possible that once Steve Cherundolo packed his bags, Heaps was the best remaining option at right back?

Seriously, it may be nice to see Heaps get a cap, but how will that benefit the US in the long run? Is this guy really in the mix for a roster spot going forward? It would have made much more sense to put someone like Marvell Wynne on the roster, and call him in for the last round. Wynne could have used the international experience of playing Mexico in a final.

The same goes for Sasha Klejstan, who would have benefited from the confidence built by playing against this level of competition. Diddo for Ricardo Clark in the place of Pause.

Clark and Klejstan were both on that expanded roster, but never called in. Which brings us back to our earlier point. There are explanations for all of this, just not good ones. Clark and Wynne were left out to avoid depleting their MLS teams, after having them in South Africa for a long time, and with Brian Ching and Stuart Holden from Houston, and Sam Cronin from Toronto already on the US roster.

But a national humiliation that won't soon be forgotten is far too high a price to pay for pleasing a couple of MLS teams.

A 5-0 loss is a disgrace at any level, with any team. All games that the national team plays, on any level, without exception, need to be taken seriously.

When club and country conflict, that should really just be too bad for the club team, especially if that team plays in MLS, which refuses to adjust its schedule to the realities of international soccer.

Still, with a deep and intriguing pool full of players that really need a test at this level, and huge roster, there was plenty of wiggle room to get this right and still come out with a competitive team, at least for the final. This is the second time the US has been in this sort predicament under Bradley, the 2007 Copa America being the first.

Hopefully the lesson will have been clearer this time, to the tune of 5-0.
doc
Tuesday July 28, 2009 7:15 pm
one of the only writers in america to call out bradley. maybe the only american writer who gets it. with players like zizzo, whitbread, white, jemal johnson, szetela and wynne should have been on the field but pause arnaud beckerman and heaps, bradley just doesnt get it but he will get a free pass to the world cup. sad
yard
Tuesday July 28, 2009 4:43 pm
This just begs the question, what is the point of the Gold Cup being played every year? Play this thing once every four years and it may become a meaningful tournament that the federations involved will care about.
Tiger
Tuesday July 28, 2009 1:03 pm
Previous writers are on the mark as for the need of the MLS to adapt its schedule to the realities of international football, as well as the need for the USA to make all best efforts to field its best players and teams for any and all FIFA sanctioned competitions.

International friendlies, not international competitions, are the proper forum for experimenting with potential candidates for the national side.

Additionally, in order to become the world class power the USA is well capable of being, we need a true world class elite coaching staff and manager of talent.

There are any number of amply qualified Brazilian, German, Dutch, and other candidates currently available.

If no changes are made before the 2010 WC, the USA team will likely not achieve anywhere near its true and full potential.

Whenever he is available, Guus Hiddink would make an exceptionally good choice, as would Johan Cruijff.
gman
Tuesday July 28, 2009 10:17 am
Sante brings up a great suggestion considering that the US run in the Confed Cup means that we are stuck with Bob until next summer. Bring in a Carlos Queiroz type(maybe he's not the best example since he already left US soccer standing at the altar a long time ago). Someone who can help Bradley manage this team. If he is short on tactics, he's come up even shorter managing the program as a whole.

Brent - I agree with you on many points in this article, but if we are able to win in Azteca then this will all be forgotten. This US team was playing above its head and peaked with the Honduras win. Sunday was embarrassing but not that big a deal in the long run.

Also, funny how opinionated you are in this Yanks Abroad forum yet when you wrote for ESPN Soccernet for the Confed Cup, you were slightly vanilla. Bring a little more edge next time you write for them, please.
Sante
Tuesday July 28, 2009 9:32 am
Remember the Alamo

I was at the stadium wearing my US colors on Sunday. What was really appalling was that American supporters were outnumbered at least 4 to 1. That’s 60,000 to 15,000. Where were you? Maybe if the young group of players had been cheered on, the result would not have been so bad. Remember the score at half time was 0 – 0, and if Roby Roberts had scored things might have been different including me not being around to tell about it.

As far as Bradley is concerned, after to losses to Italy and Brazil in the first round of the Confederations Cup I was done with him but, given the opportunity (the win over Egypt and Italy getting trounced by Brazil) he rebounded with the greatest moment in American soccer, the win over Spain. The bottom line is his time to learn is running out. If I were the USSF I would consider adding a consigliore with Worldcup coaching experience to his staff.
fred
Tuesday July 28, 2009 9:19 am
Get over it already. It was just a run out for some potential players. It doesn't really count for anything. Sure, he could have chosen some other players, but the mere reality that a team of this caliber made it to the final was surprising to many. We know now that there is some depth and these guys have a little experience they would not have had otherwise. Nobody likes losing like that, but that's life.
phil
Tuesday July 28, 2009 12:50 am
word up, brent. word up!
Nolan
Tuesday July 28, 2009 12:17 am
Coach Bradley has done a good job for his abilities, and for that we thank him. Now.........HE MUST BE REPLACED!
His poor player pool management, his worse game management, his unrelenting, unbending, blind will to play his favorite players again and again and again after they have shown absolutely nothing on the field time after time (Ching, Altidore, Johnson) all leads us to bid him a sad but VERY necessary goodbye.
JTC
Monday July 27, 2009 11:03 pm
While I still have major questions about some of the guys on the roster, one thing that everyone is overlooking is that Bradley seems to have his "23 Tickets To South Africa" already punched, and he wanted to use this tournament to see if anyone could step into one of the final camps to provide competition for a spot. I don't think he or the USSF was looking at 2014 or the next Gold Cup or anything other than 2010.

Is this incredibly short-sighted? Yes. Is there more than a possibility that a player who was heretofore "unknown" (which is to say not an automatic call-up or starter) could have used this tournament to impress Bradley and then go on to help the US in 2010? Absolutely. But, in picking guys like Heaps (and I'm not defending him -- he was ghastly), I think the US was saying, "we know who's going to SA, but is there anyone we've overlooked in case of injury?"

This, of course, tells us more than we want to know about Bradley and the USSF, because it equates age with experience and presumes that supposed "defensive liabilities" (Adu, Cooper) cannot help the team in any way, but it at least gives us the framework to correctly criticize the people who make decisions regarding USMNT personnel. Bradley achieved his goal; it just so happens that his objective was a stupid one.

(P.S. -- I read a lot of these boards, and you can't have it both ways with Eddie Johnson. Everyone wanted to leave him for dead, and now he plays a couple of productive balls in pre-season with Fulham and he's supposed to get a call-up? Come on ... )
dikranovich
Monday July 27, 2009 9:32 pm
please people, does anyone actually think this gold cup final result is going to mean anything at all, if the usa goes into azteca next month and rolls mexico. or just wins. this result as far as im concerned is going to leave mexico over confident. coach bradley likes to test his team and he deserves a lot of credit. he could have called in altidore and maybe he should have.

how many people would have liked to have seen eddie johnson on this team? when you see what he is doing with fulham, EJ would have been a real danger man for usa. everybody wanted to see marvell wynne on the roster, but he is not the type of guy you bring in for just one game, he needs to be in there for the whole event.

im glad coach went for the win with the team he had. imagine if usa had beaten mexico with this forth string team, that would have hurt mexico for a long time. as it is, lets see what happens august 12th. i dont think jay heaps is going to be playing right back, and its going to be a player from ac milan in the middle, not norway. and junior will be looking to lift his daddy back up.
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