A BRAVE NEW WORLD
Many readers of this site might be very impressed with how the US National Team performed in their recent friendly matches. I bet even some of you are wondering why the "interim" tag is still hanging on Bob Bradley.
A few of you are still gloating over the team's 2-0 victory against rivals Mexico. These results may be good news to some of you, but what did we learn about this team?
We learned yet again that the US National Team is the most dominant team in the CONCACAF region, bar none.
For all the praise that this team has received, most of us forget that these matches had no significance whatsoever. There was no cup at stake here. These matches did not qualify the US for a spot in a World Cup. So what did these matches show?
It showed that matches like these are getting very tiring. Yes, I agree that the US needs these matches in order to scout some potential players who could contribute to the National Team for years to come. Michael Bradley, Jay DeMerit and Frankie Simek did need to be looked at by the staff.
I also agree that friendly matches like these help to build team chemistry because when half of the guys are playing in MLS and the other half are playing in European leagues. There is no chance for these guys to get know each other and find out how they may link up on the field in matches.
But, this writer's concern has to do with the quality of the opponents in these matches. Of course, teams like Guatemala, Ecuador and Mexico are good opponents, and this article is not being written to insult them or any other team in the CONCACAF region, but I think many of us feel that this team will not develop unless they are playing higher quality opponents.
This team needs to be playing against opponents who are more technically and physically stronger than them. They need to be playing more friendly matches away from the confines of home (even though playing matches in the US sometimes seems like away matches, as some of you can confirm).
Like many of you, I am sure getting tired of the matches against Mexico. The rivalry is starting to get watered down because some of the leaders at the USSF only see dollar signs. This rivalry once meant something, but now it is really hard to get into it when it seems like we are always playing the Tricolores.
So, now the question is how can the US national team prepare itself for World Cup 2010 and remain the dominant team in its region? Well, my friends, the answer lies across the Atlantic Ocean. It's time the US National Team considers establishing a temporary training base in Europe and plays more friendly matches against European opposition.
One reason the USSF must consider this proposal has to do with the physical well being of the European-based players. Although FIFA has established a calendar for international matches, the travel back and forth between Europe and the Unites States is taxing on the bodies of these players.
Ask any player and he will probably tell you that, while they enjoy putting on the US jersey, the long hours flying back and forth they could do without. If there is anyone with a brain at the USSF, they could see that asking these guys to take an eight, nine or 10-hour flight back to the States to play in a meaningless friendly does no good for the team.
What could be beneficial to the squad is the USSF sends the coach across the pond during two three-month periods (September-November and February-April) so he can scout players in Europe.
Scheduling a few friendly matches during these periods would be good because the coach could gather all the European players easier and cut down on their travel. If Sunil Gulati needs and example of this project's success he needs to look no further the Australians.
Knowing that it was really a drain on the players to hop on a plane from Europe to Australia to play in a friendly, the Australian authorities decided to move their friendly matches to Europe, thus cutting the travel time. The Aussies also got good deal of support at their matches in London from the large Australian community there.
The second reason for the move is the chance to play more regularly against stronger opposition. Now, I am not sure if anyone else has noticed, but it seems like every year the USMNT plays the same teams.
I believe it stunts the development of a team when you don't face those that you have never played before. The US National Team is always going to have encounters with Mexico, Guatemala and other teams in the region. Why doesn't the USSF send this team to Europe and push for more matches against European teams instead of going over there for one match at a time?
I am not saying that it's an easy task to set up friendly matches against the likes of Italy, France, Germany or some of the other stronger teams in Europe. Even matches against likes of Sweden or Portugal could be beneficial to the team's development.
The US National Team needs to put these younger players in more challenging matches that not only test their physical strength, but also their technical ability. We know that this team can dominate opponents in the region, but they have always had problems with teams that are technically and tactically superior.
Spending an extended amount of time in Europe will help the USMNT learn from the best, take better notice of what is needed to be done to improve this team for future tournaments and better prepare the new players to face the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and a host of other top players.
Even if the team struggles to arrange a friendly match with a European squad, they could also schedule some of the top teams in Africa or South America. Brazil, Ghana and Nigeria have all hosted friendlies in England.
Lastly, this team needs to establish itself in Europe and start winning matches over there. There is no explanation as to why this team can't win in Europe. Could it be the playing surface? Does the US National team have the same problem as American tennis players when they head over to Europe to play on the clay courts?
Whatever the problem is, there is something that intimidates them when they play in stadiums there. Just look at their record in Europe; it is not one to be too happy about. The only way to overcome this intimidation is by playing more matches over there.
Of course, the next question you might ask is 'Where could US possibly play and get the support they need from the stands?' Two places come to mind.
Kaiserslautern, Germany would make an excellent venue for any friendly matches the US may arrange. The simple reason is that you have got a strong American contingent in the city. Ramstein Air Base is only minutes away from the Fritz Walter and I doubt the military families would hesitate to fill the stadium to support the boys. Just ask anyone who was at the Poland friendly last year, which was a US "home" game.
London is another possibility. Since the American trio of Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey play for Fulham, holding friendly matches at Craven Cottage would be a no-brainer. The USSF could build a great business relationship with the chairman of the club in order to have another facility for their matches.
So, while Sunil Gulati is mulling over who will coach this team, someone else at the USSF needs to be thinking about what they can do to improve this team. It's vital that the federation start acting for the future of this program. The US National Team is not going to challenge for a World Cup title in 2010, but they can challenge for future World Cups if they put this team up against stronger opposition.
The USSF has the advantage of being one of the most organized and financially stable associations in world football. Now it's time to seriously think about how they can make this team more competitive on the field against the rest of the world, and not just CONCACAF opposition.