As I sit here in the midst of Euro 2008, arguably the 2nd biggest soccer tournament in the world, I wonder, can US Soccer ever compete with these 16 elite European clubs?
There was a glimpse of hope in the 2002 World Cup as the American side burst onto the scene with victories over powerhouses Portugal and Mexico before falling to Germany in the quarterfinals, 1-0.
Coming into the 2006 World Cup with great momentum and an extremely high world ranking, the US could not advance out of the “group of death” while scoring only 2 goals in the tournament.
Fast forward to 2008, veterans like Kasey Keller, Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, Eddie Lewis, and Eddie Pope give way to a team made up of mostly youngsters.
The 2008 player pool includes young talent like Potomac, Maryland native Freddy Adu, Maryland Terrapin alumnus Maurice Edu, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Benny Feilhaber. All 5 are 23-years-old or younger, and all 5 look to play key roles in US qualifying in the CONOCAF region as well as at the 2010 World Cup.
Adu and Altidore, considered to be key offensive parts in the American attack, are both only 18-years-old.
Combine these explosive youngsters with the experience of DeMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and the team captain Landon Donovan, and I see a national team with the potential to be very good come 2010.
There are still flaws, no doubt, flaws that were exposed in losses to England and Spain in which the US failed to score a goal and recorded only a few shots on goal.
However, the 0-0 tie recorded by the US against #1 ranked Argentina showed me that this team has the chance to be something special.
It isn’t the score that impressed me, it was the quality of US play that makes me optimistic.
Freddy Adu and Maurice Edu, substitutes who came on in the 2nd half, combined with Donovan to provide a very explosive attack. The US certainly deserved a goal in the 2nd half, and they were close several times to getting it.
Defensively, the Argentineans are tough to stop, and they had several good chances early. However, goalkeeper Tim Howard, the Sierra Mist Man of the Match, made 7 saves, many of them spectacular, to keep the US in it. The US made defensive adjustments in the 2nd half, limiting the amount of Argentinean chances.
For now, I think the Americans should focus on continuing their dominance of the CONOCAF region while steadily trying to improve leading up to 2010. The quest for South Africa begins on June 15, as the US opens up qualifying against Barbados in Carson, California.
Down the road, however, I think our goal (no pun intended) should be more than just dominating North and Central America.
2010 or even 2014 needs to be the World Cup where the US makes a huge splash at the world’s biggest stage. From there, the goal of US Soccer should be progress towards becoming an International powerhouse like the elite European teams that I have watched play this week.
The potential is certainly there.