29 June, 2010

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck

June 17th, 2002. That was the last time a US forward scored during the World Cup. We’ve been in seven games spanning two World Cups since then. The last time we had a forward that led the US in scoring was 2002 when Clint Mathis had 7. Yeah, I said it, Clint Mathis. EJ and Donovan scored 5 each in 2004. The rest is pretty dismal and we play against CONCACAF powers such as Barbados and Antigua (read HEAVY SARCASM). So when the head of US Soccer, Sunil Gulati, went on record saying that the US lack of recent scoring forwards was troubling, I snickered.

In a country where sports fans clamor for points, goals and touchdowns, we are relying on our midfield to produce. Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have midfielders scoring, but when they are the primary goal scorers, that’s bad. Someone once said, “What do you call a forward that doesn’t score? I don’t know, but it’s not a forward.”

So, when are we going to find the goose? Our midfield isn’t getting any younger, we've seen the last of pretty much every defender we brought to South Africa, and with Altidore (20) and Davies (24), arguably our two forwards of the future, and no one else in sight, we're in trouble. It begs the question, why aren’t we neck deep in forwards that are scoring like C. Ronaldo at a Paris Hilton party?

One argument has been that the other major sports, in the US, take the primary talent. That cannot be totally true. There are more registered soccer players in the US than in any other major sport’s youth system.

Is it the possible money? Aside from football and baseball, there are more players on the average soccer team than on any other major sports team. And considering the average salary (outside of MLS) is higher than most make on a typical MLB payroll, you would think that soccer would be flooded with the type of person trying to get that paycheck.

I think what it boils down to is a lack of player development. Currently, USSF patterns much of its structure on the British FA and Dutch KNVB. Between them, they have won 1 World Cup (England in 1966) and 1 Euro Championship (Holland in 1988). Heck, England is still best known for booting the ball upfield and running on to it. I swear the USMT did that in a couple games this year too. Now, I’m not saying they don’t have a good current developmental philosophy, but maybe we should be looking to develop skill and player ability in conjunction with more proven teams such as Brazil (5 World Cups and 8 Copa America wins) or Argentina (2 World Cups and 14 Copa America wins). Even Germany could be a possibility (3 World Cups and 3 time UEFA Champions). We were about 1 vote short of creating a national language back in the 1700s and it was going to be German for heck's sake.

Both Argentina and Brazil have numerous proven goal scorers over the years, and many of their players are among the top paid and top skill level players in the world. Granted, Argentina did pick Maradona to lead their National Team, but at the moment, that is looking like a masterstroke of genius.

Argentina and Brazil are in our hemisphere. Spanish is the national language of Argentina. It also the primary language of nearly 13 million registered soccer players in the US and a key demographic into which the USSF claims to want inroads. No one could suggest that Milito, Aguero, Messi or Tevez are shoddy forwards by any means. And Brazil? They have Fabiano, Ronaldinho, Adriano and Robinho. They left Pato off their WC squad. Dude, to have that luxury! FIFA's Sepp Blatter even suggested that in the near future, every country may end up having a Brazilian on it. A pairing with either of them would make sense. Perhaps we should be looking to send our coaches there to learn techniques or to have their coaches come here and work with our players.

As for Germany, their striker tandem of Podolski and Klose has racked up an impressive 90 goals in a span of several years. Germany even boasts that most of its team is of dual nationality parents (hello America... are you seeing a parallel here?) Yet, we still don't look to Germany. Perhaps some remaining bias from the World Wars, but who knows...

Now the USSF would say that we are improving player development, but if you look back again at the last several years and see the drop off in scoring forwards, I would beg to differ. Primarily, our attack relies on a holding forward that sets up the rest of the team. It has been years since we had an out and out striker type to rely on. Additionally, we seem to be stuck in a time warp and foist a 4-4-2 on the team rather than adjust the formation to best fit the players on the team. For a span of 2-3 years, we were even relying on Landon Donovan to get a penalty kick to score a goal it seemed.

We need to foster creativity in our forwards. We need to develop the desire to try the new, to take the shot, to work on attacking the goal. We need to look to other federations if we are to learn how to develop attacking forwards. We need to revamp our youth structure and strategies instead of pandering to the status quo and favoritism. Until that time we make some adjustments in the structure of learning soccer here, I guess we’ll have to rely on the teachings of Claudio Reyna (our current USSF Youth Technical Director had 8 goals in 112 appearances for the Red, White and Blue at mid) and England, our compatriots in elimination. Yeah, not too bad but also not too bright a future, is it?

For the record, England racked up one goal from its stable of forwards this World Cup, and just three goals overall. This is the federation we get technical advice from? Anyone seen Rooney score for England at this World Cup? I didn’t either. Quack Quack…


  1. Yeah, but our wings Donovan and Dempsey are, in effect, wing forwards. Look how many teams are playing a 4-3-3 with two defensive mids, a playmaker, two wing forwards, and a lone center forward. Is that really any different from a 4-5-1 with exactly the same lineup? We play a 4-4-2 with two defensive mids, NO playmaker, Jozy and some guy who plays for Real Salt Lake. No wonder all our goals come from the wings and defensive midfielders (and I am counting Edu's goal against Slovenia as a goal). Now, the stats are also biased because we only got one whopping goal in 2006, from Dempsey of course. Remember the goal in the 1-1 tie against Italy in 2006 was an own goal by Zaccardo. We didn't score it. So of course none of our goals come from forwards. We don't score any goals at all except for Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and occasionally Michael Bradley. You could just as easily point out how our only goal in 1998 was by a forward, Brian McBride, in the 2-1 loss to Iran. A lot of good that did, getting a goal from a forward. I'd rather win games than have forwards score the goals in losing efforts.

  2. Well, unfortunately, the 4-4-2 is ubiquitous with US soccer. The idea of a 4-4-2 here is a sweeper behind the back line, forming a diamond shape with a defensive mid and offensive mid with everyone but the forwards having a defensive responsibility.

    In the national team setup, we've put the same request of Dempsey and Landycakes on the wings. That isn't the role of an outside mid in a 4-5-1 or even the (at least in 90% of the WC teams in SA this year) where they have a 4 man flat back, 2 defensive mids, a playmaker in the middle, 2 outside attacking wingers and a sole striker. In that layout, the wingers really never come back inside the box to defend, where in a 4-4-2 everyone but the forwards would. So in this case, we see why everyone laments Dempsey's defensive frailties, because he is asked to play a role he doesn't usually play, while also asking him to go up more.

    Why do you think the US has 3 of the top 10 players in "ground covered" according to a recent FIFA stat? It's because we are stuck in a 4-4-2 but require them to all play up when attacking. I don't care how fit they are, that is just stupid of the coach. Make the ball do the work, not the players, and we won't be so tired.


    Not sure whats funnier, that they cut off Lalas because his opinion is useless, or that they agree with me.

  4. Yes, Mr. X is absolutely right. The reason to play TWO defensive midfielders is SUPPOSED to release the wing forwards from defensive responsibilities. To see how this SHOULD be done, look no further than Nigel DeJong and Mark Van Bommel playing defensive midfield, freeing Dirk Kuyt and Arjen Robben to attack on the wings, with Wesley Sneijder as playmaker and Robin Van Persie as lone forward. So how come when we play two defensive mids, Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu, why do Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have so many defensive responsibilities? They should be free to attack, with Feilhaber as playmaker and Jozy along up top. Not with Robbie Findley running around aimlessly. FORMATION FAIL!

  5. Good article, I agree. Time to look to South America and get the MLS to run proper youth programs similar to Ajax without the production-line feel


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