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A giant half glass of water

Monday, June 28, 2010
Jun 28
11:07
AM ET

Sunday, 2:05 p.m. Hollywood Center Studios, Edit B.

It is not easy to both edit a television show and watch 120 minutes plus of a World Cup game but somehow I managed it. And when all is said and done, I'm not sure what I actually achieved by doing so. Everything negative I feel is cancelled out by everything positive I feel. And everything positive by everything negative I'm left feeling.

Saturday's U.S. game leaves me staring at, metaphorically speaking (because I never drink enough), a giant half glass of water. It is labeled:

How to View the Performance of the U.S. at this Year's World Cup of WiffleSoccerParity

Is it half full or half empty? Because I am English, let's start with the negative.

The U.S. blew a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make it to the semifinals.

Ghana is ranked 32nd in the world according to the FIFA rankings. Uruguay, who the U.S. would have met in the quarterfinals, is ranked 16th. Yes, the Soccer Power Index ranks both teams higher, but there is no doubt that the "funny corner" of the draw in which the U.S. (ranked 14 in the FIFA rankings) found itself -- no Brazil, Argentina, Holland, Spain, Portugal or Germany to face until the semifinals -- presented an almost unprecedented, and unlikely to be repeated, opportunity. Furthermore, Ghana was without its most celebrated player, Michael Essien, who was so influential in Ghana's controversial victory over the U.S. in Nuremberg in 2006.

If the U.S. also lost to Ghana 2-1 in 2006, how can this 2-1 loss possibly indicate progress? Yes, it's a round later. Yes, the U.S. had to play Ghana on its home continent. Yes, it went to extra time. But it was still Ghana -- a country the size of Oregon. And without Portland.

The U.S. conceded yet another early goal.

At a certain point this stops being about conceding early goals, and starts becoming about conceding too many goals. The U.S. has had one clean sheet in its past 14 matches (against Algeria -- thank you, crossbar). And according to the popular narrative, the U.S. has one of the best goalkeepers in the world. What does that say about the defending? How many goals would the U.S. concede with one of England's keepers in goal?

Not one of the Americans' five goals was scored by a striker.

Landon Donovan, right midfield, three goals. Clint Dempsey, left midfield, one goal. Michael Bradley, defensive midfield, one goal. Maurice Edu, defensive midfield, one disallowed goal. Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle, forwards, zero goals, nul points, nada, zilch, zippo. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Emile Heskey. And Altidore has some Heskeyish qualities -- size, strength and perhaps more speed than Heskey ever had as a young man. But at his first World Cup (2002) Heskey scored against Denmark and was England's best player against Brazil. He scored 21 goals for Liverpool in a single season in 2001-02. Altidore scored twice for Hull City this past season. Until he proves he can score at the top level, he does not score at the top level. And until the U.S. has a top-level striker like Luis Suarez, David Villa or Gonzalo Higuain, the Americans can not expect to go very far in a World Cup.

Dempsey and Donovan scored four out of the five U.S. goals at the World Cup.

Clint and Landon will be 31 and 32 at the next World Cup. Perhaps not past it. But no longer in their primes.

The U.S. played two good halves of soccer in two weeks, six bad halves and two poor extra-time halves.

Second half against Slovenia. Second half against Ghana. Other than that, and this is harsh I know, they were either neutralized or outplayed. OK, Algeria just sat back. And Landon's injury time goal was the moment of the tournament. But this team has not looked as good as Ghana looked Saturday at any time in the tournament. And this is Ghana we're talking about. The 32nd-ranked team in the world, playing without its best player.

What do all these new U.S. fans focus on now?

Because they are in neither South America nor Europe, there is no significant tournament for the Americans to compete in until 2014. And don't talk to me about the CONCACAF Gold Cup or the Confederations Cup because nobody cares. Even qualifying games in CONCACAF, save for the games against Mexico, are tough to get too excited about. This is something that really hurts the U.S. Too few genuinely competitive matches. Too easy a route to qualifying. The reality is that some of these fans will get into Major League Soccer. A few more, perhaps, will start watching EPL games on ESPN and Fox. Most will drift away from the game until 2014.

OK, now I've got everyone all upset with that, let's focus on the positive.

Landon Donovan has totally proven himself to be a world-class, big-stage footballer.

Very few teams have a Landon. The U.S. does.

Tim Howard will still be in goal at the next World Cup

Let's just agree that he is a very good goalkeeper. It is a positive that in goalkeeping terms he is still young enough.

Joze Altidore has potential.

He is an athlete. He needs to become a better footballer. But my gut tells me he progresses.

International games are often won in central midfield, and in Michael Bradley the U.S. has an anchor for the future.

Sir Landon will have plenty of money thrown at him from European clubs, but perhaps no U.S. player has increased his stock more in percentage terms than Michael Bradley.

Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber.

Not a great name for a double act, but two more midfielders who played enough, and well enough, to catch the eye.

U.S. defense is stronger than it has ever been.

Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo, had, on the whole, a very good tournament.

At times, the U.S. just looked, well, really good.

This observation is more of a Malcolm Gladwell "Blink: thing. I have watched a lot of U.S. games over the past 20 years, in stadiums all over the U.S. and the world. And this is hard to quantify, or even to explain, but there were passages of play during this World Cup when, for the first time, I just thought that the U.S. looked a level above where it has ever been before. There were moments, all strung together, and not only involving Landon, when I simply thought "class."

The U.S. has established a come-from-behind, never-give-up ethos.

Though the USA's ability to dig deep and come from behind, score at the last minute, never say die is perhaps a little overplayed by the media, what is certain is that no team with a lead against the U.S. is ever going to think it's going to cruise home. That could make them play smarter. But more likely, it's going to create a little tension and a little doubt. Heart and hustle can be overrated. But with the U.S. team, it seems to be an ever-present 12th man. Like the Irish crowd. Or Brazilian flair.

After this loss, I can feel a whole country in pain.

That is new. That is good. Because somewhere there is some kid watching this and kicking the furniture. He's thinking: One day I'm going to play for the U.S. and I'm going to score a goal and make a difference.

ESPN has totally committed to this World Cup and made it way bigger than it has ever been before.

That will massively spur the game on in this country. USMNT games will be a hotter ticket (and if you want to attract inner-city kids to the sport, U.S. Soccer, please play qualifiers in big cities again). More people will watch MLS, many more I think will watch the Premier League, Champions League and the other leagues of Europe.

That's 10 glasses half full, versus only eight half empties. This has been a good World Cup for U.S. Soccer. Not great.

Give it a solid B, with a + for effort.

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