05 July 2007

I blame Footie Girl for this.

Because instead of writing about the Torres deal (thumbs up!) or Rafa's new facial hair (thumbs down!), I'm being forced to defend the US's team selection for Copa America. Note: this is not defending their performance, because I can't do that. They lost concentration and allowed Argentina back into the game, and their finishing was absolutely dire against Paraguay. But those were both problems during the Gold Cup too, and so I don't think that's really down to team selection. Given the constraints they had to work under -- club commitments, fatigue, and the need to win the Gold Cup -- I don't think the team selection was that bad. And it certainly wasn't bad enough to be singled out by CONMEBOL.

The general criticism of the Copa America squad is that it was second-tier and too inexperienced; usually people argue here that Bob Bradley or US Soccer or whoever should have picked the more experienced internationals for Copa America and let the younger players handle Gold Cup. But that's based on a misunderstanding of current priorities, and, I think, a desire for prestige now instead of later. While I think everyone would agree that Copa America is the more prestigious tournament, it's also not entirely relevant to the US's immediate goals. Winning it -- which they were never going to do, even with their strongest squad -- would have gotten them nothing in terms of the Confederations Cup or financial reward. Copa America is essentially a no-stakes tournament for the US. Even the best result for them would have been pretty much meaningless, like winning a friendly. While getting to the quarters, or even further, would have been nice, that's all it would have been. For better or worse, the US is in CONCACAF, and I don't think you can fairly blame them for the weakness of the conference. In the short term, winning their conference tournament still has to be the priority, since it gets them both immediate rewards (money) and future payoff (Confederations Cup, and more international experience).

Therefore, since there was no real benefit to winning, it seems like the US decided to treat Copa America as essentially a practice tournament, calling up next-generation players and a few more established ones. One of the things they were faulted for after the World Cup was only playing against weaker teams, which hurt them when they got drawn into one of the tougher World Cup groups. Well, again, it's not the US's fault CONCACAF is weak, and they're absolutely required to play Gold Cup. But now a lot of the players likely to be in the mix for 2010 (assuming qualification) will have experience against more quality teams. So, yeah, this is really a developmental squad, but I don't think that's necessarily bad. In addition, it's not like the US is the only country who took that approach. Brazil, a CONMEBOL team, exempted its two best players and took a more untried team as well. And yet the US are the only ones getting called out by CONMEBOL. Doesn't make a lot of sense.

Finally, you have to look at the issue of availability. Since Copa America isn't the conference tournament for the US, releasing players for it was optional on the part of their clubs. Especially with European clubs starting training so early, this meant that many of the more experienced players had to return, like Dempsey, Howard, and Bocanegra. So the US was, I think, hampered to a large extent by the fact they were only invitees to the tournament and not required to play, unlike Brazil, Argentina, and the other CONMEBOL teams. (And even that doesn't take into account the fatigue issues present in playing two tournaments back-to-back.) In addition, the u-20 World Cup started immediately after the Gold Cup ended, which meant that some of the more experienced younger players like Michael Bradley and Freddy Adu were committed to that instead. So even if they had wanted to pick the exact same team as for Gold Cup, there was no way they would have been able to. (A side issue here is that there don't seem to be a lot of mid-level players; people tend to either have 30+ caps or under 10. I don't know why that is, but I blame Arena.)While I agree it's a significantly weaker team than I would have liked, I think it'll pay off in the long run. A lot of the players in the Copa America team now will be in their mid-20s by the next World Cup, which is when it'll really matter.


Anonymous said...

You've made me rethink the whole to some degree. Which I really didn't want to have to do. Dammit!

However, I think we can maybe agree that there is a difference between bringing "young, inexperienced" players and bringing "guys who have been given every chance in the world to prove that they aren't just middlin' talents who deserve no more shots." I speak of that defensive backline that included Jimmy Conrad and Danny Califf. I think we're getting pretty close to putting Eddie Johnson and maybe Taylor "My shirt doesn't fit" Twellman into that category, too.

Regardless, I resentfully admit you have valid points. I just didn't like watching this particular edition of the US team.

Amanda said...

BBM: Sorry to make you think ;) I do agree that there were some people in that squad who I wouldn't have taken in a perfect world -- particularly Conrad and Twellman. But I'm not sure they'd run out of shots before Copa America, though they may have now. I don't think there's anyone out there who could seriously argue that this was remotely a full-strength side, but they were working under several pretty severe handicaps.

And I understand not enjoying watching this team -- sometimes they actively caused me pain. Particularly every time Eddie Johnson had the ball.

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