And down for the count — the U.S. ended its World Cup campaign with a 2-1 loss to Ghana. Ghana’s second goal was the result of a very questionable penalty kick, but the U.S. deserved no more than a draw in this match and a draw would not have been enough. Italy did its part by defeating the Czechs (thanks to a goal by former Everton player Marco Materazzi), but the U.S. couldn’t uphold its end.
Why did we make such a weak showing in 2006? There’s plenty of blame to go around. I’d start with the fact that the stars from the 2002 Cup failed to reproduce their form (and Kasey Keller in goal failed to match the form of Brad Freidel). Landon Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley were particularly disappointing because they were young guns in 2002 and should have been even better this time. Our coach, Bruce Arena, must also shoulder responsibility. For whatever reason, this highly successful coach was unable to get his team to play with passion and unity. Think about the way Australia (a team of comparable talent and less international experience) played for Guus Hiddink. Had we played with that level of intensity and organization, we would have advanced or gone down in a blaze of glory.
The bottom line is that the U.S. is a middle tier soccer power, somewhere between 12th and 24th in the world (forget the ridiculous FIFA ratings). To emerge from a group as tough as the one we were in, we needed to play at or near the peak of our potential. We never came close to doing so.