Monday Lunch: Could USA Win the World Cup in the Near Future?

Posted: May 9, 2011 in mls, soccer, sports, usmnt, world cup
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

By Evan Ream

If the World Cup was a league style tournament, with each team playing each other home and away, USA would be a second tier team, like Everton in the EPL, and have absolutely no shot at winning it in the near future. When we talk about which teams have a chance to win the World Cup, second tier teams like this are always discounted as if they were playing in a league; this is a mistake. Teams like Everton, though not often, make Cup Finals, and though few win some trophies. Anything can happen in a knock out tournament; upsets occur all the time. I believe USA, or a team like USA, could win the World Cup as soon as 2014 and here is why:

After examining all the major (World Cups and Euros) tournaments in the modern era of soccer, which I define as 1998-present due to the game speeding up, the emergence of more athletic players, and the addition of eight teams to the World Cup, there have been six victories by legitimate, first tier international teams (1998 France, 2000 France, 2002 Brazil, 2006 Italy, 2008 Spain, 2010 Spain), and one outlier. In 2004 Greece, a third tier team, won Euro with zero world class players and zero pedigree. This was the first time, and so far, only time, that a team of this stature has won a major tournament, and the reason why I believe most teams should have a chance at the World Cup. So how did they do it? Greece had no world class players. Without them, it is hard, but there is a formula for winning. Here are some of my thoughts on how Greece did it (and how USA can do it too):

1. Luck: Greece got very lucky this tournament. They were a perfect foil to Portugal (disciplined and organized) who they beat twice in the tournament. If Greece had been in any other group in this tournament, I don’t think they would have advanced. They also got lucky by Spain having an off tournament and narrowly edged them on goals scored to advance to the quarterfinals. Once they got to the quarterfinals, they faced an aging France team that didn’t seem like they wanted to be there. Zidane was stupidly being used out on the left side of the midfield and Thierry Henry was in poor form. Two of France’s all-time best players were not at their best. After dispatching France, they met the class of the tournament so far: the Czech Republic. The Czechs were delivered a devastating blow when their best player, Pavel Nedved, was injured and had to leave the game; they were never the same team after that. Some poor finishing by Portugal and some heroics in goal led to a championship for Greece.

2. Discipline: Greece were very committed defensively, giving up four goals in the group stage and none in the knock out stage. They always had numbers behind the ball and were the toughest team in the tournament to break down. Organization and discipline are underrated in soccer: look how well Paraguay did at the last World Cup with superb organization and discipline. Everyone thinks that attacking players win games, but Spain scored just eight goals to win the last World Cup; they won because of their possession and commitment.

theo_13. Influential Captain: Theodoros Zagorakis was the best player at the tournament, not only linking the offensive and defensive side of the ball but getting back to defend and showing great leadership. Greece wouldn’t have won without him.

4. Goalkeeping: Antonios Nikopolidis wasn’t known as a great goalkeeper, but he didn’t have to be; he was on amazing form in the tournament and kept Greece in some games. Much like they do in hockey, teams can ride a goalkeeper through a tournament in soccer. USA looked like they could do it this World Cup until Tim Howard was injured and made a few mistakes.

5. Set Pieces and Counter Attacks: This is how Greece scored their goals. Because they did not control the play for the majority of their games, they forced their opponents to commit numbers to the attack, and therefore hurt them on the counter with a few goals as well as a few set pieces that were gained primarily from counters. If you want to score against a better team, you will have to do it this way in all likelihood.

So, how does USA look to match up with these five points? Let’s explore:

1. Luck: This is something you cannot plan for and manufacture. In 2002, USA were lucky to get out of the group stage (thanks to Portugal’s loss) then unlucky to not make the semifinals (Fring’s handball). If the luck goes your way in a few games, anything can happen. USA just have to focus on each game, one game at a time and they can do it.

2. Discipline: American players are loved overseas for being some of the most disciplined and dedicated players. Although their tactical awareness is sometimes lacking, if USA can get players behind the ball and not get caught up field, USA will be a hard team to break down. It can be done, but USA just have to have a very high work rate and 11 players on the field that believe in the cause.

3. Influential Captain: There is no way Carlos Bocanegra will be around in 2014, and if he is, then we are screwed. Many think Landon Donovan will be the captain when Boca gets phased out; this won’t happen. Michael Bradley is going to be the next USMNT Captain, and he is an influential player. Assuming he continues to prosper in Europe (not a sure bet at this point), Bradley should take the armband from Boca and become the fiery leader that USA has never had.

4. Goalkeeping: Tim Howard is a top five goalkeeper in the world. USA ride him to victories even against inferior opponents (see Algeria); I don’t see any reason why he can’t be relied on, especially if Nikopolidis was for Greece.

5. Set Pieces and Counter Attacks: Landon Donovan (yes he will be around for 2014) serves a great ball and is an amazing player at counter attacking, while Clint Dempsey is amazing on set pieces. USA’s two best players are arguably the best at these two things. These have always been USA’s strengths and should remain so.

Under this formula, things look bright for USA, but even if all of this is done perfectly, USA still need a lot of luck. Look at South Korea in 2002; they came within one game of the World Cup Final; they had luck going their way. There is no reason to think that a team of USA’s caliber couldn’t go on a five to seven game hot streak and take the World Cup. It will happen someday to some random team, the question is when? I am not saying it is likely that USA will win the World Cup in 2014, as the odds are probably something like 80-1, I’m saying that it can be done. USA should not be counted out of any tournament at any point, there have been too many deep runs by second and third tier nations that give me hope (1998 Croatia, 2004 Greece, 2008 Russia, 2010 Uruguay). It won’t be easy, but it is possible.

This Week in MLS:

I don’t even want to talk about the Javier Morales tackle, or the LA-NY game, though this was the play of the season so far.

There are no unbeaten teams remaining so I will start my playoff picture in a few weeks, but for now…

Golden Boot Standings (my pick in bold):

Player                            GP     G     A

1. Charlie Davies               8      6     1

2. Thierry Henry               7     4      3

3. Landon Donovan          6     4       1

4. Emilio Renteria             6     4       0

5. Diego Chaves              8     4       0

2394. Alvaro Saborio   4     0       0

Goal Tracker 2011: Wondo vs. Barrett

Wondo        Barrett

3                 2

  1. mwc says:

    I like the analysis. I would add in Holden on taking set pieces. I actually think he might be the best one we’ve got. — mwc

  2. Primo says:

    “Many think Landon Donovan will be the captain when Boca gets phased out; this won’t happen. Michael Bradley is going to be the next USMNT Captain…”

    Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight…….and who should replace Sunil as Predident? Bradley senior?

  3. Everyone thought that Donovan would be the captain after Reyna retired but that never happened, I think we could see a similar situation when Bocanegra gets phased out. About Holden, I think he is great at set piece delivery as well, but whenever he and Donovan are on the field at the same time, Donovan seems to take them.

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