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Expecting more for World Cup 2010

Clint Dempsey said this week that the US must advance from its group at the World Cup at a minimum to avoid being labeled a failure. I am very glad that Clint Dempsey made this statement because it shows that the US National Team has grown into a serious soccer team.

In 1990 the US was considered a lucky newcomer to the World Cup. The US hadn’t been to a World Cup since 1950. In 1994 the US was the host country and no one expected us to do anything much. In 1998 the US lived up to most people’s expectations by flaming out in the group stages. We even lost to Iran in that World Cup. Then came the 2002 World Cup where the US beat Mexico in the round of 16, and narrowly lost to Germany in the Quarterfinals. The US surprised everyone at that World Cup, but our success was considered a fluke. Then of course the 2006 World Cup performance confirmed international opinion about US soccer.

Now there has been a serious change. The US finished at the top of of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. The US also beat Spain and narrowly lost to Brazil in the Confederations Cup, finishing 2nd in what is basically a mini-World Cup.

We have impact players playing in England, Germany, and France in addition to other competitive leagues in Mexico, Denmark, and Scotland. Many people in the international soccer community have recognized the talents of some of our national team players. Now some of our players are starting to believe that they can compete with the best teams in the World.

For the US National team to grow into a legitimate soccer power, the players and fans have to start expecting the US to perform in the World Cup. Just getting to the World Cup has become something taken for granted, although it is still a significant accomplishment. The next step is for the players and fans to expect the US to advance out of the group stages.

The US is currently ranked 16th by FIFA and 15th in the ESPN Soccer Power Index. To really earn that position the US needs to finish within the top 16 teams at the World Cup. That can only be accomplished by advancing out of the group stages to the Round of 16  If we can do that we will have risen to the level of a serious soccer country in the international soccer community.

My opinion is that the talent level, organization, and tactics of the US squad have made it a competitive team that is a challenge for any of the major soccer nations. Although we are still far from being a major soccer power, we have made it to the tier of nations just below the top teams. This tier includes teams like Mexico, Serbia, Sweden, Denmark, and Russia. Where do you think the US is? How high should our expectations be for the 2010 World Cup? Let us know what you think.

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