The United States men’s national soccer team did just enough through three matches in the group stage to advance to the knockout stages of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The 88th minute headed goal by Matt Miazga gave the USMNT first place in Group B, and secured a quarterfinal matchup with El Salvador.
It was said before the tournament started that Bruce Arena chose his roster specifically to give some lesser-seen players a chance to step into matches that were competitive, yet less significant than the World Cup matches, and we definitely saw that over the first three matches in the Gold Cup. During the opening 1-1 draw against Panama, I mentioned on Twitter that the passing, decision-making, and general effort were short of where I thought they should be for our best players.
Being on social media, naturally someone was quick to remind me that this was our “total B team”, that the USA isn’t Germany or Brazil, and that Mexico is the favorite to win the Gold Cup this year.
That’s a fair point in some regards, but I think my criticism is still valid. I would say that the general expectation is that regardless of who the manager is, or who is in the player pool, the goal of the USMNT has to be the same as every other nation in the world: to build a team capable of winning the World Cup.
So where are we at in that regard? I think even the most optimistic amongst the supporters, players, and team management would agree that winning Russia 2018 would be a miracle. It’s possible that even 2022 is asking for a huge amount of growth in too short a time. However, it’s becoming frustrating in some ways that the United States isn’t better at this game by now. The USSF has been a member of FIFA since 1914, yet they are still trying to field a team capable of making a serious run in the knockout rounds of the World Cup.
Whether fielding a “B” team of untested players (to me that should be a “C” team), or using the 23 best Americans there are, I think the expectation has to be that the USA should be the winners of any CONCACAF competition. We need to establish ourselves as the undisputed masters of our region, so that it’s surprising when anyone else can actually challenge us.
More to my point, we need to shed the attitude that there are situations outside of the World Cup where it’s okay for the USMNT to not win. The women’s team is already there, though the argument can be made that it’s only because the rest of the world hasn’t put the effort into it yet. Maybe our dominance of women’s soccer is winding down, though the most recent World Cup performance would argue otherwise, but that’s secondary to the somewhat apathetic view taken towards what is expected of the men.
So how can we watch sloppy passing and confused defenders leave points on the pitch against Panama, a near-miss against Martinique that required more effort to win than it should, and an improved yet not nearly lethal enough win over Nicaragua, and feel pleased that the team is performing well regardless of this being the second-choice lineup? Perhaps the perception I’m feeling is tinged by the proximity of the next World Cup, yet this Gold Cup is the first of two that qualify for the next Confederations Cup. I’m not a big fan of taking our foot off the gas, or settling back and being okay with an average performance. If you’re good enough to be called to put the kit on you should be capable of winning definitively, not just barely making it through as a host nation. I know the USA isn’t Germany, Spain, Brazil, or Argentina, but if we want to stand on the same level and challenge them for FIFA’s top prize, we’re going to need to see something better from our players going forward.
What do you think? Is the USMNT doing enough to grow and improve, or do you want to see more from them? Add your thoughts in the comments below.