Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The USA And The Golden Generation^
From the US National Team Players Association, June 28, 2011

By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 28, 2011) US Soccer Players -- Back in 2001, I was working for a company that provided the material for the official FIFA Under-17 World Cup site. At the time, the United States was expected to turn out better than most in a field of 16 teams. Instead, they crashed out in the group stage to Nigeria, eventual champions France, and fellow under-achievers Japan.

Unlike the other three teams in the group, the US finished with no points. Only Iran and hosts Trinidad and Tobago joined the US in that category. All told, whatever promise that group of players had going into the tournament was downplayed by that early exit.

Yet there was an exception, as always seems to be the case with a USA squad. They did better than expected against the eventual champions. On September 16th, 2001, they lost to France 5-3 at Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet. That’s not a score line that flatters, but since the US was shutout in their other two games it’s worth stressing. Three goals – one a gift in the form of an own-goal – against the eventual champions and crashing out in a group that contained the other finalist. Hey, if you want an upside it's two US players scoring against France.

The goal scorers? Our current MLS Player of the Week and the League’s favorite fill-in goalkeeper Mike Magee and Eddie Johnson. A quick run through of the starting eleven against France: Adam Schuerman in goal, David Chin, Justin Mapp, Magee, Jordan Harvey, Santino Quaranta, Johnson, Gray Griffin, Chad Marshall, Jordan Stone, and Craig Capano. Coach John Ellinger used all three subs, bringing on Paul Johnson, Chris Lancos, and Chefik Simo.

In June of ‘01, the US played in the Under-20 World Cup, back then known as the World Youth Championship. Their lineup in their opener against China? DJ Countess in goal, Qguchi Onyewu, Nelson Akwari, Alex Yi, Kelly Gray, DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Bobby Convey, Kyle Martino, Brian Carroll, and Conor Casey. Coach Wolfgang Sunholz also went with three subs: Philip Salyer, Alecko Eskandarian, and Edson Buddle.

At the World Youth Championships, the US finished second in Group C losing to China, beating Chile, and drawing with Ukraine. The goal scorers in those games were Beasley, Brad Davis, Buddle, and Kenny Arena. Egypt knocked the US out in the Round of 16 in a 2-0 shutout.

Two years later, and the next U-17 and U-20 tournaments. At U-17 level, the USA finished second in their group, losing to Brazil in the quarterfinals. A look at who was playing for the USA: Phil Marfuggi in goal, Jonathan Spector, Eddie Gaven, Dwight Owens, John Diraimondo, Guillermo Gonzalez, Freddy Adu, Steven Curfman, Jamie Watson, Corey Ashe, and Danny Szetela against Korea in their opening game. Coach John Ellinger used two subs, Chris Germani and Brian Grazier. The goal scorers for the US in that tournament? Owens, Adu, Watson, Curfman, and Gonzalez.

At U-20 level, the US won Group F beating Paraguay, losing to Germany, and beating South Korea. They beat Ivory Coast in the Round of 16 and lost to Argentina on penalties in the quarterfinals. The lineup in that game against Argentina was: Steve Cronin in goal, Zak Whitbread, Justin Mapp, Chad Marshall, Ryan Cochrane, Eddie Johnson, Bobby Convey, Ricardo Clark, Freddy Adu, Drew Moor, and Ned Grabavoy. Coach Thomas Rongen used two subs, CJ Klaas and Santino Quaranta. Johnson, Mike Magee, Convey, Whitbread, and Mapp scored in that tournament.

Those ‘03 squads combined to form the 2004 Olympic soccer team, a synthesis of proven goal scorers at international level over two youth championship cycles. Some of you are already giving me that look, while others are waiting for the squad list. The US didn’t qualify for the ‘04 Olympics, losing out to Costa Rica and Mexico. The USA won their group in CONCACAF’s pre-Olympic tournament, but lost 4-0 to Mexico in Guadalajara. They ended up finishing in fourth-place after losing to Honduras on penalties in the third-place game.

From all of those rosters – the ‘01 and ‘03 U-17’s and ‘01 and ‘03 U-20’s, six players were on the ‘06 World Cup squad. Johnson, Beasley, Onyewu, Convey, Donovan, and a barely used substitute from the ‘03 Under-20’s named Clint Dempsey. Onyewu, Dempsey, and Donovan are the only players from that group to make the 2011 Gold Cup squad.

Injuries happen. Players continue to develop differently into their early 20’s. New faces emerge. Other teams in all of those tournaments were relying on odds-on future stars that didn’t pan out. All fair enough. But looking back at those rosters it should be clear that the obvious choices for that generation of American players weren’t as obvious by ‘06. Some of them reemerged for the 2010 cycle, but only Onyewu, Dempsey, and Donovan have stuck around.

Three players from the cycles of youth soccer that would give us players in the prime of their career. Something to think about for those looking at the current crop of American youth national team players and trying to predict the future.

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