If you don’t replace the foundation, the building might fall down. This applies to the national team. The upper floors of international US soccer have been furnished over the last decade with consecutive World Cup appearances and thrilling moments. We can hang the portraits of the heroes Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard on the walls and admire their commitment to the colors. But age wears the frame. Replacing this older generation of quality with a new molding of winners is proving difficult. The U-23 team’s elimination from the Olympic Games qualifying tournament, in Nashville yesterday, is more than disappointing – it is a warning for the future of the national team.
The generation of Donovan, Dempsey, Brian McBride and their ilk originally had something to prove to the world. The U.S. came to games as the no-hope brigade, arrogantly dismissed by the world’s elites – what do they know about soccer? stick to your game with bats and balls! This made the US team hungry. The underdog salivates at the chance to chew up bigger bones and spit them out. And they did. But this has led to rising expectations and it may now be working against the prospects for the future. The US is expected to achieve. So how do you make a new generation of players hungry?
Expansion of the game’s popularity through television demands winning. Who can forget the explosion of joy across the country when Donovan delivered the last minute goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup Finals? People said, we can go all the way, and the nation laid down its bats and balls for a moment and paid attention. But it is a dangerous fixture to hang all the lights on. Failure at the international level could strip the wiring under the carefully manufactured growth of MLS. Soccer is an integrated circuit here. Perhaps the humiliation of Olympics failure can flip the switch to hunger mode, a chance for the younger players to redeem themselves by being aggressive about playing for the colors next time out. And let’s remind ourselves – the big boys of the world are far better than us. And we need to demolish the weak to get a chance at fighting them. The U-23 team forgot that.