THE FUTURE OF US SOCCER
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
And that's about all we know.
For US fans on both sides of the analytical aisle, it's nigh impossible to define the significance of this team and this World Cup. But I'll give it a go…
The underlying truth is that after advancing from the group stage, the most important World Cup for US Soccer was always 2014. Although there is the permeable sense of what might have been, an equally successful run in 2014 will do more for soccer in the US, than a semifinal appearance through an "easy" quadrant would have.
Bob Bradley's men did wonders to rid US Soccer of some of its most suffocating bugaboos:
First time registering a point in the third game of group play.
First time finishing atop the group since the Cretaceous Period.
Scored a total of five goals (second only to the seven scored in 2002 and 1930).
These feats will satisfy US Soccer's perpetual need for a boost of confidence, but the most debilitating trend is yet to be dismantled.
Since 1990 the US has oscillated back and forth between captivating the nation and capitulating support. While the mainstream media continues to proclaim the "arrival" of American soccer, the fickle public is far from won.
In order to cement soccer in the minds of the casual sports fans that prop-up America's most successful professional leagues, consistency must be the primary objective. Soccer doesn't need to be the number one sport in America or even number three, but it must find a place in the collective conscience of America and become a permanent resident.
Many of the issues facing the future of the US Soccer team are intertwined with the continued development of Major League Soccer as a viable and relevant venue for American soccer interest. The mechanics of this growth are far beyond the scope of one article, but to the annoyance of many YA readers, the relationship is undoubtedly symbiotic.
The benefit of a thriving domestic league that caters to home grown talent is evident in the success of Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands as regular contenders in the World Cup. However, these institutions were not built overnight.
For the time being, the US should continue to export top talent to an increasingly accessible European game that directly challenges American soccer's inferiorities: mental and physical speed of play – game management – confidence against the world's best – and so on ad nauseam…
Fans that are fretting over the possibility of another four years with Bradley or perhaps a Capello-esque fiasco - fear not. The decisions that will truly shape the success of Brazil 2014 and US Soccer as a whole will be subtle and infinitely more frustrating.
Four years ago, Jozy Altidore was a manchild shedding his training wheels with New York Red Bulls. Today, Altidore has displayed an ability to muscle and turn world class defenders in arguably the most competitive league in the world, as well as international tournaments.
The hack-job Algeria employed against Altidore is a prime example of the fear he elicits and how far he has come. Surely others have noticed.
US Soccer needs Altidore to seek a situation where he plays regularly for a club with a sound reputation. It isn't good enough anymore for an American to make it to Europe, now they need to feature regularly and grow.
Altidore is just one example, the development of Freddy Adu (he's only just turned twenty-one!), Gale Agbossoumande, Michael Bradley, Charlie Davies, Luis Gil, Eric Lichaj, and Jose Torres will set the table for Brazil 2014.
If these and other young Americans can establish themselves and make regular appearances for their club's first team, we'll know a lot more about US prospects in 2014 than we will when Sunil Gulati announces the status of our national team coach.
Don't get me wrong, it matters, but Gulati won't be after Bielsa or Maradona. The new coach, assuming Bradley decides not to renew his contract or Gulati doesn't offer one, will be someone much like Bradley - cerebral, practical, and seemingly detached.
There is a dark truth that most US Soccer followers can't accept. The US is not ready to play a carefree attacking brand of soccer and won't be until 2018 at the earliest.
But even during Bradley's tenure we saw progress, through the abolition of the 4-5-1 formation and the instillation of an unassailable team ethic. Many will focus on South Africa 2010 and the three goals that were conceded early.
Few will acknowledge Bradley's willingness to apply the versatility at his disposal. Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez, and Jose Torres all had their chance to contribute beyond the method that saw the US finish as runner-up in the 2009 Confederations Cup and first in CONCACAF qualification.
Even fewer will remember that at times in this World Cup, the US played with three defenders, the US played with three defenders, the US played with three defenders. No, that is not a typo.
Whoever is at the helm between the end of Bradley's contract and Brazil 2014, will continue to play to our strengths of athleticism, determination, and organization. With these attributes as the foundation of the American game, improvisation, cunning, and finesse will continue to emerge and take root.
It would be easier to write an article decrying the ineptitude of US Soccer, proclaiming a lack of vision or direction.
It would be easier to scream that our great nation, with all its resources and influence, is wasting away in the plebian bowels [take a deep breath] of a simple and profound game, with only the disdainful chatter driveling from the haughty mouths of soccer's aristocracy to keep us motivated!
But it isn't so.
We are in the ascendancy of an American Soccer Age. Sure to have its hiccups and bumps along the way, pessimism is only a waste of time and energy, with so much left to accomplish.
If anything, pity Brazil, Germany, and Italy as they are in constant contradiction with themselves. Their joy in the beautiful game is conditional and fleeting, while ours is accumulative and cathartic.
If you think I'm getting carried away in highfalutin prose. If you think I'm unwilling to accept that US Soccer is second-rate at best, but more than likely a lost cause - you've never met someone from Scotland.