Why We Lost To Argentina

In response to Nick Mafi’s article: “Watch Lionel Messi’s Beautiful, Record-Breaking Free Kick

2nd Paragraph Excerpt:

Playing FIFA’s top-ranked team, Team USA looked intimidated. This, no doubt, is yet another nod to the fact that American soccer can’t excel on a global scale because it remains an upper-middle class sport in our country. It was evident last night, as our players, out of sheer consistency from their youth days, were afraid to hit, or go into a potentially nasty tackle with Argentina. And it wasn’t as if they were concerned of getting hurt. No, it was because they feared Mom would yell at them for playing dirty and take away their Xbox privileges on the minivan ride home toward suburban America. Yes, that’s right: they played like spoiled middle school brats.

It’s not an issue of social class. Maybe 10 years ago one could argued the role social class plays in American soccer and even still it’s thin. In 2002, under coach Bruce Arena the USMNT went to the quarter-finals of World Cup and clearly out-played a German side that went on to obtain 3rd place. Furthermore, this argument does not explain the semi-final match versus Argentina yesterday. Not to mention the fact is 4 of the 5 teams we played in Copa America are ranked in the top 25 of FIFA rankings. In any other sport and for any other team outside of the top 25, the US are currently ranked 33rd, this would be an incredible achievement. Something to feel positive about. Argentina is ranked 1st. Colombia is ranked 3rd. Ecuador dropped to 13th and Costa Rica is ranked 23rd.

The issue is circumstantial, not the result of our players social upbringing. “Mano a Mano” the argentines are simply more superior. National teams are cyclical and the Argentines are going through a period of greatness, where as the Brazilians are going through one of the worst slumps in their history.

Back to Argentina; this is the strongest side since the 80's and early 90's, the time of the great Maradona and Batistuta. This is an era of incredible talent in the world of Argentine soccer, not an issue or social class. Besides social class does not have a baring on one’s potential. Reference the careers of Andre Pirlo or Kaka, just to name a few.

The issue is lack of depth. Something every team needs to manage. Going into the game the USMNT were missing three of their starters. Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya. Since the 2014 World Cup, Jermaine Jones has been the anchor in the midfield for the USMNT and over the last year has undergone a number of groin surgeries, however, during this tournament has found his legs again. He’s been the player disrupting play, winning possession and creating a much needed presence in the midfield that we lacked during the semi-final against Argentina.

Bobby Wood has provided that blend of athleticism and skill we’ve been lacking since the retirement of Bryan McBride. Wood has been playing for Berlin Union in the Bundesliga 2, Germany’s 2nd division, and just this summer signed a contract with Bundesliga side Hamburg SV, in their 1st division. Not having Wood to pressure and stretch the Argentine defense hurt the US attack and made it difficult for Dempsey to find that space between our front line and midfielders to receive the ball and create. In Wood’s absences we played Wondolowski who lacks the athleticism and technical ability of Wood. Depth at the forward position is something we’ve struggled with. Reference the 2014 World Cup when Josie Altidor injured his hamstring, missing the remainder of the tournament.

Alejandro Bedoya applies his trade in the French Ligue 1 with Nantes and not having his technical ability really hurt us in the midfield. In place of Bedoya, Brad Zusi played but the reality is Zusi does not have the skill on the ball like Bedoya. They’re similar players in style and energy but technically different. Its the same with Beckermen who came in for the missing Jermaine Jones.

The point is we should be positive about the USMNT’s performance in Copa America and our loss to Argentina is not do to our players upbringing. Unfortunately, going into the most crucial game of the tournament against the best team and best player in the world we were missing 3 of our best midfielders and forwards. Statistically, the cards were already stacked against us and couple that with missing 3 starters, we should be proud that we didn’t pull a Mexico/Chili where you saw players giving up and with their heads down. Or a Brazil in their WC semi-final match against Germany where they too gave up.

There is certainly room for improvement, but, as out played as the USMNT was playing against Argentina, they never gave up. You could argue that’s part of being american and their upbringing.

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