06 July, 2010

Project 2010 = Fail?

My intention was to write about the beautiful 4-3-3 that The Netherlands runs, with instructions to Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu to watch Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong to see how it should be done.

The Oranje have started the same back four of captain Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, Joris Mathijsen, John Heitinga, and Gregory van der Weil until the Brazil match, when Joris Mathijsen was unexpectedly scratched and Andre Ooijer took his place, but not seamlessly. On Brazil's goal, Heitinga looked lost and didn't know who to mark, likely because his central defensive partner was absent. Note that Gregory van der Weil is suspended with accumulated yellow cards tomorrow, so it is likely that Khalid Boulahrouz will step in his place at outside back.

The real talent is in the central midfield. The Oranje have two defensive center mids, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong, which frees up Wesley Sneijder to create goals as the playmaker. This is a very superficial similarity to the United States, who have been starting Michael Bradley and someone else as two defensive center mids for as long as Bob Bradley has been in charge. For reasons unfathomable to us here at TSI, Bradley Sr. has usually started the talentless Ricardo Clark, famous for his aimless passes to no one in particular, but finally during the World Cup, Coach Bradley got wise and started Maurice Edu. Great, I thought. Now Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, our wings, will be free of their defensive responsibilities and be able to go forward, just like Dirk Kuyt and Arjen Robben for The Netherlands.

But noooooo! For the use of two defensive mids is where the similarities in our formations end. Instead of a #10 playmaker and three forwards (two wing forwards and a #9 center forward), the United States plays two wing midfielders and two forwards, without a playmaker. The reason for this is obvious: we don't have a playmaker. So, our wings have to track back on defense all the time. Did you notice how much Landon and Clint were defending on the wings? And the reason we didn't score goals until late against the likes of Slovenia and Algeria was because Landon and Clint started neglecting their defensive responsibilities and pushing forward toward the end of those games. Like Dirk Kuyt and Arjen Robben do from the opening kickoff.

That's not to say Kuyt and Robben don't defend. They do. They defend the other team's defenders. I noticed that whenever Brazil's superb attacking back Maicon went forward, Kuyt went with him. Maicon takes corner kicks for Brazil, and whenever he did, there was Kuyt shadowing him. That, my friends, is what the Dutch call Total Football: the forwards know how to defend and the defenders know how to attack.

Why can't we do that? Simple: our two defensive mids, Bradley Jr. and Edu (I refuse to consider Clark a starter), are not Van Bommel and De Jong. Not even close. OK, Bradley Jr. is literally in the same league as Van Bommel (the Bundesliga) but even his dad would admit that Michael and Maurice can't defend like Van Bommel and De Jong.

So, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey get stuck with defensive duties and must play wing midfield in a 4-4-2 with two defensive mids and NO attacking mid, instead of playing as goal scoring wing forwards in a 4-3-3 like The Netherlands play. Notice what happened when we abandoned the 4-4-2 and switched to a sort of 4-3-3 with Feilhaber as playmaker, Landon and Clint at wing forwards, where they should have been all along? WE SCORED GOALS, that's what happened!

The reason we can't play the 4-3-3 from the get-go is because we don't have players that are talented enough. We are dependent on our two best field players, Landon and Clint, on both sides of the ball because our defensive midfield doesn't have the sort of ability that The Netherlands has. Which brings me to my next subject: Weren't we supposed to have that level of world-class talent by now?

In 1997, US Soccer began a program to bring the most talented young players to MLS so that they could play against pro competition every day, instead of college where their skills would not improve during those formative young years. The program was called 2010, with the goal of developing a United States team capable of winning the World Cup (Yes, WINNING) by 2010.

Ha ha, very funny, you say. Well, that was a complete failure, you say.

Was it a failure? Sure, we didn't win the Cup, but we did win our group for the first time since 1930. I'm going to repeat that. 1930. The first ever World Cup. Bert Patenaude.

Wikipedia has a nice list of all the Project 2010 alumni.

The second group in 1998 included an 18 year old goalkeeper who just graduated from high school in New Brunswick, NJ, by the name of Tim Howard. Instead of going to college, Tim Howard started playing pro, and the rest is history (FYI, when he finishes playing, there is a full college scholarship waiting for him, courtesy Project 2010 and Nike. The project is now sponsored by Adidas, according to Wikipedia).

Since then, Project 2010 has included a 16-year-old DaMarcus Beasley (who rumor had it at the time was superior to his older brother Jamar), who started playing pro immediately at that age in 1999. Also, Carlos Bocanegra left UCLA in 2000 with a full scholarship provided by Project 2010, which I'm sure Bill Clinton's new drinking buddy will use. He's a good writer, if you didn't know, and has a cool head, which is why he is our captain. Subsequently, Edson Buddle was in the 2001 group, among others, and Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley both came from the Project 2010 class of 2003. Jozy Altidore came through the program in 2006, at the age of 16, and finally, Maurice Edu was part of the 2007 group.

By my count, that is six of our starting eleven (Howard, Boca, Bradley, Edu, Dempsey, Jozy, seven if you count Buddle as our other starting forward, which I think he should have been) from our youth development system which began a mere 12 years ago. Landon was already playing pro and never really considered anything else, so make that eight of our eleven.

You could argue that Project 2010 failed to produce a team that could win the World Cup in 2010, as was the goal. But, the program did produce a team that won their group, making us among the top eight teams in the world (or at the very least, 9th, because let's face it, Ghana has beaten us two World Cups in a row, they are by all measures better than we are). We went undefeated in group play, tying top rated England and, in effect, beating Slovenia and Algeria.

Sure, we are not as good as The Netherlands and can't master the 4-3-3 because we don't have the talent. But guess what - neither could Brazil. In fact, The Netherlands were my pick before the World Cup began to win it all (and I had them playing Spain in the final before I saw how awesome Germany's youth movement is). Germany has the greatest youth development system in the world. But come to think of it, our youth movement isn't half bad.

Go ahead and check them out!


  1. My only problem with this article is the mention of De Jong as a rolemodel of sorts for Edu. De Jong is a hack who is very good at positioning. He knows where to be and when, but he still likes to come in, cleats up (ask Holden and half of the Holland opponents to this point in the Cup). Granted, De Jong would have a place on our team had he not grown up in the Dutch system. He'd be called Ricardo Clark (who is also a hack). Ironic.

  2. True, but Nigel De Jong is a far more talented hack than Ricardo Clark. I don't think anyone would disagree that we are not as talented as The Netherlands. Neither is Brazil or anyone else. I think the Dutch are going all the way.

  3. I think what's obviuos here is the Dutch formation. When I grew uo learnign soccer we always watched the Dutch trading videos, can't remember the name, like Soccer Made in Holland, or something. That was the definitive guide on how to play then, and I model coaching after it. We could play with Bradley and Edu as De Jong and Van Bommel. Just lack that attacking mid Paul Schiles-type player. Don't laugh, but maybe Feilhaber or even Freddie Adu could some day fill that role. Free up Donovan and Dempsey for all attack. With Jozy and a rehabilitated Davies up front, this looks pretty good to me.


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