The U.S. Men’s National Team’s 4-1 loss to a Brazil comprised of mainly U-23 players may indicate that the U.S. has a long way to go before they can be considered an elite team, but there is little doubt that this team has the tools to be good. In the last four years, the team has been Gold Cup runners-up twice, made a Confederations Cup final, and won their World Cup group. Still, it seems that this team has the ability to go above and beyond those accomplishments and really make their mark on the world. Key to that ability is the experience that many of the top players are receiving overseas. These players are not just heading over to Scandinavia after spending a couple of years in MLS, but they have spent time in the lower-leagues of Europe and then moved up to bigger clubs. Some, like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, could be moving up to even bigger teams.
To illustrate this point and to show the potential this team has, let’s compare the current players in camp to the most successful U.S. team of all-time: the 2002 World Cup Squad. (The teams the players are listed under were their club teams at the time.)
2002: Brian McBride (Columbus), Clint Mathis (New York), Josh Wolff (Chicago), Landon Donovan (San Jose), Joe Max-Moore (Everton)
2012: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Herculez Gomez (Santo Laguna), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
2002 Earnie Stewart (NAC Breda), John O’Brien (Ajax), Eddie Lewis (Fulham), Claudio Reyna (Sunderland), Cobi Jones (Los Angeles), DeMarcus Beasley (Chicago), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado)
2012: Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Michael Bradley (Chievo), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca), Kyle Beckerman (Salt Lake), Joe Corona (Tijuana)
2002: Frankie Hejduk (Bayer Leverkusen), Gregg Berhalter (Crystal Palace), Eddie Pope (D.C. United), Tony Sanneh (FC Nuremberg), Jeff Agoos (San Jose), Steve Chreundolo (Hannover), Carlos Llamosa (New England), David Regis (FC Metz)
2012: Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Carolos Bocanegra (Rangers), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting CP), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland), Geoff Cameron (Houston), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana)
2002: Brad Friedel (Blackburn), Kasey Keller (Tottenham), Tony Meola (Kansas City)
2012: Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)
When looking at these comparisons, it is fairly easy to see that more of the current players ply their trade overseas (18) than the 2002 squad (12). However, what is more important than those numbers is the quality of time and caliber of teams the current squad is playing on. Of the 12 overseas players form the 2002 World Cup squad, only Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Cladio Reyna, Steve Cherundolo, and Tony Sanneh were seeing big minutes for top league clubs, but the rest of the players were either struggling for playing time or playing in lesser leagues.
Flash forward to the current squad and almost every single player on the roster is playing and seeing significant minutes for top league clubs. Clint Dempsey is a legitimate star in the Premier League and could fetch a large sum of money this summer, as could Michael Bradley. Other players like Jozy Altidore and Fabian Johnson are not only young, but are seeing significant time for their teams. These players are playing and training against some of the top competition in the world, and it shows in the sophistication of their play.
Sure the argument could be made that in 2002 European clubs weren’t buying American players and most had to play in MLS, but that ignores the fact that the backbone of that team was built on players with overseas experience. Cladio Renya, John O’Brien, and Brad Friedel carried that team (with significant contribution from others). All credit should go to that team for putting together what is arguably the best run of play an American team has ever had, but the fact remains that on paper, the current team is better. The depth of the squad is there. Besides Landon Donovan, most of the MLS players on the current squad are seeing spot duty at best. Most of the starting lineup is made up of players that have been playing at top clubs for several years now. However, until they can achieve similar results to the 2002 team, they haven’t proven anything.
Nevertheless, the fact that the current team possesses so many strengths and has had a good run of form over the last several matches, should be a good sign for fans. Now all they have to do is win when it counts.
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