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- It Seems To Me. . .-

MLS ability to develop top players must be examined.

FIFA must examine World Cup policies.

Referees might have been harsh, but U.S. was not cheated against Italy.

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

At the World Cup, Arena chooses to do things his way.

With U.S. team in Germany, Adu makes gains at home.

MLS should lead the way by using second referee.

Arena's World Cup selections were made with a purpose.

Arena's selections for World Cup roster are fairly evident.

Arena needed to make no apology for loss to Germany.

Contiguglia presided over U.S. Soccer period of progress.

MLS business model is being eyed by European leagues.

Arena selections for Poland game give hints of World Cup roster.

Arena still doesn't get the respect he deserves.

It Seems To Me . . .

U.S. failure in World Cup is easy to understand -- other teams were better.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, July 6, 2006) -- Enough time has passed since the United States men were eliminated from the World Cup to re-watch the Americans' three matches a couple of time and to look back with perhaps a bit more perspective and a little less emotion.

I have been a bit surprised how much of the commentary and the fan reaction has centered around team manager Bruce Arena as if had he coached better the team would have rolled to victory. To believe that, one would have to believe that the U.S. fielded a team with players of superior abilities who underperformed because of poor coaching. The players did underperform, but not because of bad coaching.

I think one must look at each of the three U.S. matches independently. The Czech Republic was at its best against the U.S., the choice of many commentators to go deep into the tournament. The Czechs' biggest problem was lack of depth.

After facing the U.S., they lost Jan Koller, their giant striker, then four other starters to injury or suspension. They played their subsequent two matches, against Ghana and Italy -- two losses that sent them home -- without five, then six starters and, in both matches, had a player sent off meaning they also had to play down a man. No wonder they lost both games.

However, against the U.S., the Czechs were at their best, and they took advantage of a couple of breaks to get a lead, then bunkered in to protect the advantage. It was a bad 3-0 loss for the U.S., but one that can be understood.

Certainly the U.S. came back with a great 1-1 result with Italy, a team that was clearly superior, as witnessed by its charge through to the tournament final. The Americans showed great character to protect the draw and an important point despite being reduced to nine men and playing a man down for virtually the entire second half. Still, for the second straight outing, the U.S. did not threaten the opponent's goal -- Italy's tally coming on an own goal.

The match against Ghana was another strange one in which the Black Stars got a big break, converting a much-disputed penalty kick to go ahead 2-1. Ghana then bunkered in to protect the lead, though Brian McBride hit a post with a potential tying header. With the injured Claudio Reyna out, the U.S. was unable to orchestrate a comeback for a victory that would have meant advancement to the second round.

Going into the tournament, given the difficulty of Group E, the best hope for the U.S. was to play defensively, hope it could score off counters or set pieces, get a break or two and advance. Even with all the difficulties, that almost did happen.

There is a simple and basic explanation why the U.S. did not do better in Germany, but it's one that American fans apparently just don't want to hear -- the opposition simply had better players. It really is that simple.

Look at the teams that the Italians and the Czechs play for: Juventus, Lazio, AC Milan, AS Roma, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Paris St. Germain and Aston Villa. How many players on the U.S. team can play for any of these clubs? Kasey Keller, perhaps. Reyna, McBride and Steve Cherundolo, at most. Oguchi Onyewu --perhaps some day, but beyond that, who?

Before the tournament, there was a steady drum roll that this was the very best American team ever put together. I disagree. Maybe, if every one had been healthy, including all those who went down to injury before the tournament, and maybe if everyone had played up to his absolute potential, then possibly this would have been slightly better than the 2002 team. But in 2002, the U.S. had key players at the top of their games, having career days, role players who fit into situations perfectly and others who were inspired and overachieving. I think the 2002 team was better.

Did Bruce Arena (and for that matter the U.S. Soccer Federation) make mistakes. Absolutely. There were those preposterously silly three meaningless matches over six days in a buildup that might have been designed to improve fitness, but did little to actually prepare the Americans to step out onto the field in Gelsenkirchen and be prepared to face a superior Czech team.

U.S. Soccer's excuse was because this was a World Cup year and the tournament was so close to starting, it couldn't get top teams to come to the U.S. for warm-up matches, Fine, go to them. Mexico coach Ricardo La Volpe had the right idea. He took his team to train in Europe for a month before the tournament and played the toughest games he could get on their soil -- France in Paris and the Netherlands in Eindhoven. Big teams in front of big, hostile crowds. Had the U.S. done this, maybe the players would not have been as nervous as they were facing the Czechs. Those nerves were what ultimately lost that match.

Then too, I think Arena made some mistakes in his player selection. The ongoing problem for the U.S. was its inability to generate offense when it had to, especially in the second half against Ghana. I think Arena leaned over backwards to include Major League Soccer players on his roster and to reward players who had worked hard in qualifying. I think the biggest mistake was not including Conor Casey. He had come back from a year-long injury and was playing well enough for FC Mainz in Germany to show he might have been very helpful -- at least more helpful than Brian Ching.

Maybe Arena should have considered Ante Razov or Taylor Twellman rather than Josh Wolff. Maybe he should have considered Watford defender Jay DeMerit when Cory Gibbs went down. But this is all 20-20 hindsight and not worth the effort.

The U.S. was in the most difficult group, experienced as much bad luck as it had good fortune in South Korea, and fell short of moving through. Had the Americans beaten Ghana and then went on to lose to Brazil 3-0, as Ghana did in the Round of 16, would that have somehow been a huge difference?

The bottom line is the U.S. failed to measure up to people's expectations. Maybe the problem is those expectations were just not very realistic.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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