The passion and the competence the US displayed against Ecuador was nowhere to be found Tuesday night against Argentina. The number one team in the world kept the ball away from the 31st ranked team in the world and passed at will.
The final result was a disheartening 4-0 loss for the Americans in the Copa America semifinals at NRG Stadium in Houston.
It was obvious from the start of the game that whatever the United States would do against Argentina, Lionel Messi’s team would answer with something better. The first answer was found just three minutes into it when Ezequiel Lavezzi received a perfect pass from Messi in the box. Lavezzi placed the ball out of the reach of US goalie Brad Guzan into the net.
The United States players looked stunned and panicked from the outset. The Yanks played with vigor all game long until the very end but not with competence or passion. On defense, the US XI seemed to be chasing the ball all night long. With their rare possession, seldom could they put more than five passes together. We pushed the ball forward instead of playing a touchline to touchline game which the Argentines, on the other hand, did with ease. T
he second goal all but silenced the American fans in the stands because it was a thing of beauty. Messi scored a record 55th goal for his country of of a free kick about 35 yards away from the goal, placing it perfectly in the upper right hand corner again just out of Guzan’s reach. That goal will be one of the soccer moments you look at when you type in your browser “best goals in world history.”
My players who were watching the game with me at De La Salle could tell that whatever hope we had was vanquished with that goal. Their hope was based upon being good fans of their home team. My hope went the little beyond that. My hope wasn’t just because I am a proud American. My hope Is for soccer to one day be and value sport on the men’s side in the Southeastern Conference. That won’t happen until record numbers of Americans attend professional soccer games regularly and watch them on television as well.
The average Mexican the day after their disastrous 7-0 loss to Chile was not talking soccer with there usual passionate opinions, but I’m sure that today most American sports shows won’t be talking very much about this game. Americans have always and will always love a winner. The average American isn’t going to be able to recognize that the United States actually did quite well in this tournament, and I truly believe they did their best.
North America is decades behind South America when it comes to soccer. It is not just our problem. It is Canada, Mexico and everybody all the way down to Panama struggling to keep up with the best. Every country has its reasons; I believe ours is the pay-to-play mentality on the youth levels but there are various reasons south of the border. All of those reasons stagnate the growth of our players to that of the South Americans and Europeans.
I also believe that if this year’s Copa America tournament would have been held in Bolivia, it would have been four South American teams in the semifinals. Playing at home was an inspiration to our team and fed them until tonight. The passion was taken away from the US by the skillful Argentines, and the game plan’s failure was obvious.
However, it is hard to come up with a game plan against world class players when you don’t have any to match. US coach Jurgen Klinsmann is doing the best with what he has. One of my players said, “Where’s LeBron James?” My heart sank for he hit the nail on the head. Argentina has their LeBrons on the field. We sadly don’t.
I bet most of the Argentine players didn’t even hear of the players we had on the roster, and they love the game. The second half looked exactly like the first, with the Yanks chasing the game even more. Five minutes had passed before Gonzalo Higuain was able to put in a shot that Guzan was unable to catch cleanly. It deflected right into the Napoli forward’s foot. After that, it was all but over.
At the end of the game, Higuain scored off a brilliant assist from Messi in the box when Lionel got Guzan to commit and then he passed it square to Gonzalo in front of the empty net. It looked so easy but it actually wasn’t. These players are the best in the world for a reason. They were developed at a young age, and this is the product.
I believe the answer is in our programs at the four to six year old level. Most of those players in the US are coached by well-intentioned parents instead of high quality coaches. In my club, Soccer Innovations of America, I coach those players. I develop them and then hand them off to my coaches who are becoming high quality teachers as well. That is one solution even the pay-to-play people should look at seriously. Europe trains this way. Messi was developed as a child with Barcelona FC – and I’m sure he did not pay a cent.
Now, Argentina and Barcelona reap the benefits of this brilliant player who is not stunning physically, but technically and tactically is the best in the world.
God Bless You and Your Family.