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Sunday, July 19, 2009

US Confed Cup Success Bred in Europe

            In looking at Bob Bradley’s squads for the United States’ extremely successful Confederations Cup showing, there is one statistic similar amongst the majority of the USA players.  With the exception of a few individuals, the American line-ups consisted of players playing their club soccer in Europe.  No surprises here, though.  Soccer junkies all across the United States have been calling for our stars to go abroad for the past few years now.  There is no irony in the fact that now that America’s best talents are playing club football in Europe, the United States Men’s national team has had its best finish in any non-CONCACAF international tournament ever.

            Not knocking on MLS, but everything about club football on the other side of the Atlantic is that much better: the coaching, the competition, the supporters, etc..  Heck, even the schedules of game play are better.  (MLS still finds it sensible to hold their seasonal play throughout the summer, the time of year when all major international contests are played, most notably the World Cup.)  By playing in European nations, where the world’s best club football is played, whether England or Denmark, or France or Sweden, many of the United States internationals have found themselves more developed, better educated, more experienced, and all around better football players on the international stage.

            Of the 17 players that saw the pitch in the red, white, and blue outfit at this summer’s Confederations Cup, 12 play their club football in Europe: Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Michel Bradley (Borussia Monchengladbach), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus Gymnastikforening), Charlie Davies (Hammarby), Jozy Altidore (Villareal), Damarcus Beasley (Rangers), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege), Jay Demerit (Watford), Carlos Bocanegra (Stade Rennais), Tim Howard (Everton), and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa).  With the exception of Damarcus Beasley, who has struggled to recover his form since a serious knee injury sustained while playing with Rangers in 2008, these players were no doubt the core of the United States’ success.  Dempsey received the Bronze Ball, awarded to the tournament’s third best player.  Feilhaber showed no hesitation in taking on men in front of him.  Davies ran at defenders, wreaking havoc in the Egyptian, Spanish, and Brazilian back lines.  Oguchi Onyewu was a rock in the American defense.  And Tim Howard, easily the tournament MVP for the United States, was absolutely world class in goal.

            The remaining players, Landon Donovan, Ricardo Clark, Sacha Kljestan, Conor Casey, and Jonathan Bornstein, play their club football in MLS.  To be fair, Donovan was fantastic this tournament and Clark was a workhorse in the midfield.  Kljestan, Casey, and Bornstein, however, were totally ineffective on the pitch.  These players did nothing to establish their presence on the pitch, most notably lacking confidence and efficiency in decision-making.  European football would help these players, as well as the MLS stars who rode the USA bench this tournament, develop into better international competitors.

            So, not to beat a dead horse, but European football is where it’s at.  Fortunately, the number of Americans going abroad is increasing, and more and more European coaches are exploring the American market.  Historically, against the world’s biggest teams, the United States has lacked confidence and their technical weaknesses have often been exploited.  The recent Confederations Cup suggests otherwise, though.  And as more American footballers make their way to Europe, hopefully this summer’s success is just the beginning of more to come for the great USA.

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