US Soccer: Still the same old story

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Julie Ertz of the USA celebrates following the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Sunday, the seventh of July, 2019, marked a historic day for U.S. Soccer. With both the men’s and women’s national teams appearing in the final of a major tournament on the same day, the chance was there for both programs to grab the headlines around the footballing world.

Instead, we were treated to an all too familiar ending, and this writer wants to apologize ahead of time for the following wild abuse of Dooley Wilson’s classic hit song, “As Time Goes By,” from the Oscar award-winning film Casablanca…

 

Play it again, [Uncle] Sam.

It’s still the same old story…

[The men’s team] fights for love

[while the women’s team take the] glory…

[In] a case of do or die…

The world will always welcome [winners]…

As time… goes by…

 

Whoa, hold on now. Sit back down. I already said I apologize. No need for any extra lashings I haven’t already given my brain for simply coming up with that crap.

 

U.S. Women’s National Team successfully defends World Cup title

USWNT
Soccer Football – Women’s World Cup Final – United States v Netherlands – Groupama Stadium, Lyon, France – July 7, 2019 Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. and team mates celebrate winning the women’s world cup with the trophy REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

The women’s national team, who entered the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup as the favorites to win it all, overcame criticism for their on-the-field antics as well as a few off-the-field distractions to repeat as World Cup champions and win the country’s fourth overall title. For head coach Jill Ellis, she became the first coach (in either men’s or women’s football) to win back-to-back World Cups since Italian men’s coach Vittorio Pozo did so in 1934 and 1938.

Sunday’s 2-0 win in France over a tough and talented Netherlands team would be the icing on the cake for a women’s team led by veterans Megan Rapinoe (Golden Boot winner – 6 goals in 6 matches) and Alex Morgan (6 goals in 7 matches).

Despite a terrific first half by Netherlands goalkeeper, Sari van Veenendaal, the U.S. women didn’t quit and continued to command the game in the second-half, leading to Rapinoe’s 61st-minute penalty after Morgan was fouled with a high boot inside the 18-yard box. Eight minutes later, young starlet Rose Lavelle placed a fabulous left-footed strike from the edge of the box into the bottom right corner to secure the 2-0 World Cup Final victory for the USWNT.

For the women, it was the program’s fourth World Cup title and fifth total appearance in the final. Household names Rapinoe (33), Ali Krieger (turning 35 later this month) and Carli Lloyd (turning 37 later this month) have very likely capped off their World Cup careers with yet another title.

 

What’s next for the state of the Women’s National Team?

Well, two immediate changes will make a massive difference.

First, the NWSL just signed a contract with ESPN over the Fourth of July holiday to air 14 games for the remainder of the current NWSL season. Clearly ESPN is giving the domestic women’s league a chance to prove itself as a television draw, and there is no better timing than after a World Cup-winning performance to continue growing the women’s game in this country.

After a June 28th story from The Guardian revealed the financial compensation of the men’s and women’s national teams for their performances in the World Cup (proving the men out-earn the women by significant margins for lesser performance/success), the NWSL-ESPN deal should hopefully become a major stepping stone to bigger things for the league, the growth of the popularity of the women’s game in the United States, and of course, hopefully help to close the gender pay gap.

By the start of the weekend we could have asked ourselves, “Is this enough? Is a 14-game television contract really going to be enough?”

Well, before the start of the World Cup Final on Sunday, a second bit of good news came, as Budweiser announced a partnership with the NWSL, and in doing so, became the first official beer sponsor of the NWSL. Just before kickoff, Budweiser, who has supported the U.S. Women’s National Team for 30+ years, launched a terrific marketing video which showed clear evidence of one of the glaring problems in women’s soccer and Budweiser’s commitment to change the narrative (below).

(Tweet as provided by @budweiserusa on Twitter)

While it is widely believed women’s soccer is forgotten about in the years between World Cups, the challenge has been issued to the entirety of our nation. A national television broadcaster and a major international brand have made the commitment, and now it’s our turn, as supporters, to prove the value of the women’s game.

 

U.S. Men’s National Team falls to Mexico in the Gold Cup Final

Dylan Buell
Copyright: 2019 Getty Images

Meanwhile, the men’s national team — remember them? The team that failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup back on October 10th, 2017 when all that was needed was a win over Trinidad and Tobago or a draw with a little bit of help from other teams and yet still couldn’t get the job done — could not get the job done again as Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT side fell to Mexico 1-0 in the Gold Cup Final Sunday night in Chicago.

Don’t get me wrong, the USMNT were good in this Gold Cup tournament. Good enough for us to think Berhalter may just be the right man to take this program forward into the 2022 World Cup. His tactics are aggressive and attack-minded, and the men’s national team pool is filled with players who will certainly fit this style of play in the years to come.

Again, don’t get me wrong, the men’s national team were also good in this game against Mexico, and a few missed chances by stars Jozy Altidore and Christian Pulisic early in the first half would have made a massive difference, and we might even be talking about a U.S. men’s Gold Cup champion on Monday. Even an early second-half header by Jordan Morris was inches away from crossing the goal line and putting the U.S. ahead.

Instead, a better performance from Mexico in the second-half swung the momentum and when LA Galaxy midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos scored in the 73rd minute, we all could see it coming.

 

The mental difference between the men’s team and the women’s team

The women’s national team stood up to adversity, and basically told all the doubters (including you know who in the White House) to go f*** themselves, over and over again.

They told the French team to have another croissant on their own home soil.

They sipped tea in England’s face.

In the grand finale, the U.S. women gave a talented and young Netherlands squad a few minor mental victories… before snatching away their stroopwafels and bitterballens, and throwing it all in the trash like none of it mattered.

The women didn’t prove anything to anyone but themselves and did not give a damn how they did so.

The men on the other hand, faced adversity, took a slap on the cheek, and sat right back down in their rightful place below Mexico in the CONCACAF region, muttering to themselves: “Don’t cry. You said you wouldn’t do this today. It will be your turn soon enough.”

 

Rewind and Remember

We need to reiterate a few things about that loss to Trinidad and Tobago just twenty months ago and re-visit just where the men’s team stands internationally today:

U.S. Soccer NEEDED to fail.

U.S. Soccer NEEDED to own up to the program’s mistakes.

U.S. Soccer NEEDED to be brought down to earth about the state of the men’s game in this country.

The same can now be said as the men were riding the high of success in the Gold Cup going into the final, but

 

We seem to forget…

We have NEVER been typically “good” when it comes to men’s soccer. Granted, we have had our moments. Landon Donovan’s stoppage-time game-winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup comes to mind first and foremost. The long-standing “Dos a cero” (2-0) we used to be able to throw in Mexico’s face for a few good years comes next to mind.

We remember these miraculous moments, but do we remember that the opponent in that game was Algeria — a country which, to this day, has only qualified for the World Cup four times, and has only made it out of the group stages once (four years after that goal, in 2014)?

We also liked to remember that before the 2018 edition left us watching from our couches, our men’s team qualified for every World Cup since 1990. Here’s what we forget:  we have only been to the quarterfinals once, in 2002.

Still, lasting until the quarterfinals was no small feat that year, as that U.S. team defeated Portugal and picked up a draw against the co-hosts and eventual semi-finalists, South Korea, in the group stage. Losing in the quarterfinal would give the U.S. men an 8th-place finish (yes, EIGHTH) in the entire soccer world!

However, that was 17 years ago and the man who led that USMNT team, Bruce Arena, had now been responsible (partially) for the biggest let-down in recent U.S. Soccer history (as head coach who took over for the other head coach who could not get the job done).

So why has U.S. men’s soccer always acted like we deserve more when we literally have won nothing important, ever? Is it because we’re the United States and fans gather ’round every four years to pour their heart and soul into the “idea” of U.S. men’s soccer for one month?

Unlike the women’s team (who we now expect to win the World Cup every four years), when the men’s team is in the World Cup, we treat every little success in those 3-4 World Cup games played as if they have exceeded our outlandish expectations, when really, all the men’s national team did was uphold their mediocrity.

 

What next for the state of the Men’s National Team?

United States midfielder Christian Pulisic celebrates after scoring a goal against Jamaica during the second half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal soccer match Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The United States won 3-1. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Unlike the women’s national team, the men don’t have to look forward to a new television contract in the domestic league, with Major League Soccer thriving as a highly competitive league which continues to grow in popularity.

Head coach Gregg Berhalter has decisions to make going forward. World Cup qualifying begins in March of next year, and CONCACAF has yet to decide on the qualifying format. Until then, the USMNT will have at least six friendlies by the end of 2019, so there is plenty of time for Berhalter to begin giving other players (preferably younger players) a chance to impress before qualifying begins.

In the meantime, eyes should really be on the U.S. Under-23 squad led by head coach Jason Kreis. The 2020 Summer Olympics are just around the corner, and if U.S. Soccer has any idea what they are doing, they will put the focus on the performance of this younger squad in the Olympics. Success or failure in the Olympics could have a direct effect on the 2022 World Cup team.

With the U.S. men completing an important day in our country’s soccer history with a loss to our biggest rival, the positive we can take away from Sunday, the seventh of July, 2019 is the USWNT will deservedly remain in the spotlight once again, as they should.

Ed Palumbo
About Ed Palumbo 13 Articles
Ed is a 2010 graduate of Temple University with a degree in Sport and Recreation Management. A New Yorker at heart, he now resides in Philadelphia and supports the NY Giants, NY Mets, NJ Devils, West Ham United, and the Philadelphia Union. A former hockey coach and amateur scout, Ed is also the founder of the Prospective Hockey Central mobile app, connecting scouts and players in the recruiting process.

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