Now that some time has passed, and emotion has faded, we can look back at the USA’s World Cup and consider just what to make of the tournament, and exactly what it means.
When it comes to the Belgium game, the best team won. I think we can all admit that. I don’t think you could fault any of the players for the effort that they gave for the shirt, which is a great thing to see. I know that a lot of people would think that that’s just the bare minimum requirement for players, but that doesn’t always happen. Every single player that came on the pitch gave every last ounce of energy that they had to give, and it was great to see.
I think overall the World Cup in itself, what the U.S. has in abundance is heart, is team spirit, is endeavor, is a never-say-die attitude, which are all great qualities to have as a team. But it will only get you so far when you go up against quality opposition.
Was I proud of the boys on how they performed and the effort they gave? The answer is absolutely yes. But I think it’s now time that U.S. Soccer needs to start developing more into a nation that can control some of the big games, instead of reacting to the good play of the opposition.
I thought defensively, especially the play of Timmy (Howard), of Omar (Gonzalez), and of Matt Besler, was outstanding, but when we play against these better teams we must learn how to possess the ball much more than we actually did in this entire tournament.
I think through the tournament, the two standout guys were Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones. I don’t think we would have progressed through the Group of Death without the attacking quality from Jones and Johnson. Those were the two guys that really gave us the legs, and were the engine room for us.
It must also be said that after the first 10 minutes of the Germany game, Omar Gonzalez settled down and played two very good games.
I also have to mention my former World Cup teammate DaMarcus Beasley. It’s always tough when you’re a natural winger and you have to play left back, especially against the four teams that we’ve had to play against. I thought, with the exception of the first goal against Portugal, I thought his positioning was very good. He was asked to do a job at a position he was probably not fond of and he was great throughout.
The reasons I think this World Cup was a success for the U.S. is because we were in the Group of Death and we came through as one of the two teams while a team with one of the best players in the world, Ronaldo, didn’t. That’s a success on its own. We showed again that we can compete with most teams. Where we do need a lot of work is technically our passing and movement, winning possession. It lacked a little bit, and that was evident in the Ghana game.
It’s easier said than done to change all this, but from watching and getting into the nooks and crannies of things, we need to start imposing our attacking intensity like we impose our defensive intensity. Because the United States fans are being more educated about the game, and they understand it now, I think this will probably be the last World Cup where the supporters will just be happy with us competing. If we’re up against an opponent in four years time, and we’re out-shot 30-6, I think the fans will start asking questions.
Our league is getting better, We’re attracting better players. We have the ability now to develop more players, and it’s just another evolution, which, again, is a step in the right direction. Overall, you’d have to say the World Cup was a success, for off the field reasons as much as on the field.
Looking at the rest of the tournament now that the USA is out, we have to look at Belgium, which impressed me against the our boys. It was the first time Belgium started to do what we all expected them to do from the outset in the group stage. With all the quality they possess in their attacking players, I thought that they would be far more influential in the group, but they weren’t. So the first time we got to see it was against the U.S. To have over 30 attempts in a game is far too many for us to concede, but fantastic from a Belgian standpoint.
Belgium will be full of confidence going into the Argentina game because if Argentina does possess a weakness, it’s in the back. Where they’re obviously very strong is Mr. Number 10, Lionel Messi. That game against the U.S. would have given Belgium a lot of encouragement.
My friend and teammate Jan Vertonghen will have his hands full on Saturday dealing with Messi, who causes problems for everybody he faces. If he goes over on the right hand side, which he likes to do, Messi’s always going to want to cut inside. And listen, this is so much easier said than done, but you want to try and force him wide and get him onto his right foot. In saying that, even when you force him wide, he’s so quick to cut back to his left that it’s difficult to stop sometimes so Jan is going to need help from the central midfielder, and he’s also going to need help from a central defender, and he’s going to need help from the left midfielder.
You need to do a little bit what Switzerland did, and just try to swarm around him and limit his options. All that is much easier said than done.
Naturally I want Belgium to win because I know their players, but I also hope Brazil can go as far as they can because I’m friends with a couple of Brazilian players as well. And to be honest, I hope France beats Germany because of Hugo Lloris playing.
The outstanding thing now is that there are some incredible quarterfinal match-ups. To have France against Germany, who have been the two best European sides in the tournament. You’ve got a Belgium team, who if they’re going to attack against Argentina, that’s going to be an outstanding match-up. You’ve got Brazil-Colombia, so we’ve got a Neymar-vs-James Rodriguez match-up, and Thiago Silva, who is the best center back in the world right now. You’ve got the surprise package in Costa Rica against Holland, and I think Holland is going to get a very similar game to the one they had with Mexico, so it’s not going to be easy.
For CONCACAF reasons I’d love to see Costa Rica beat Holland, and from a friends standpoint, I’d love to see France to beat Germany, Brazil to beat Colombia and Belgium to beat Argentina, but things don’t always happen that way. I personally think Brazil will overcome Colombia. I think Argentina will just squeak by Belgium because the magic of Messi. I think the Dutch will squeak by in a tight game, and I think France will beat Germany. The German defense is slow for me, and France has enough quality strikers to exploit that.