The Talent Gap

Guest TSG contributor, DTH asks if there is a talent gap between the USMNT and their rivals south of the border.

Freddy Adu. A bright spot for the USMNT in the Gold Cup Final.

Somehow the hysteria has sustained itself for a month or so after the Gold Cup loss; it was traumatic, sure, but that’s no reason to draw the wrong conclusions. Most people seem to blame a talent gap, with some reasonable people—like, say, Brian Straus, suggesting that the Gold Cup loss was inevitable, even after going up 2-0. While Straus is a really good reporter, this seems almost unbearably silly: a team good enough to go 2-0 up is good enough to finish the game off. Mexico had trouble scoring two goals against its previous knockout round opponents—Guatemala and Honduras—and the U.S. is more talented than either.

Still, one game doesn’t make a trend and a talent gap, if real, would be a disturbing sign for the U.S., particularly since it had the edge in the previous decade in terms of results. The talent gap people are fuzzy on exactly what they mean: do they mean a talent gap right now or do they mean a talent gap that they can foresee in the future due to superior youth? Both questions are interesting, and I disagree with the common take on both, though to varying degrees.

Let’s take the talent gap right now, and look specifically at the 2011 Gold Cup rosters. Admittedly, I don’t know the Mexico depth chart in perfect detail, but it’s my impression that the roster is basically the most talented assemblage of Mexican players available, save for perhaps Jonathan Dos Santos and Carlos Vela (I have a personal fondness for Edgar Pacheco though as far as I know no one was really surprised he was excluded by de la Torre.) On the other hand, the U.S.’s roster was plainly not at full strength, for whatever reason—the most prominent being Stuart Holden, Timmy Chandler and (personal bias again) Mikkel Diskerud.

Can Mixx bring it at the national level?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding each respective team’s fringe players, but I don’t think there’s a substantial difference necessarily. Holden can’t be counted on, as he’s missed large parts of three different seasons now to injury; Chandler may perhaps be a one-half-season wonder and Diskerud hasn’t been tested beyond the Tippeligaen. Still, the Mexican players have their own weaknesses (on the positive side–one Mexican player, dos Santos, addresses a specific and glaring need for Mexico: deep-lying midfielder. Despite the mistaken reputation of some players—no matter how many times you say it, people, Stuart Holden isn’t a number ten and doesn’t play as one, so please stop suggesting he’ll cure any creative woes—I’m not sure any of the U.S. players closest to the top 23 fill any current glaring needs.)

So then let’s consider the rosters themselves. Talent is difficult to quantify, especially in soccer, so I like using a couple of heuristics: number of players in Europe, and number of appearances in Europe. The best players generally play in the best leagues, and generally start in them. The U.S. featured 11 players in top five leagues, and five players playing for other European leagues. Mexico featured five top five league players, and three players playing in other European leagues.

I suppose Mexico partisans might claim that the relative strength of the Mexican league vis-à-vis the MLS helps explain a current talent gap, but this explanation doesn’t fit for me. We know that the U.S. and Mexico were at rough parity in results in the previous decade: was the U.S. substantially less talented during that time? That seems unlikely. It seems more likely that the U.S. and Mexico were roughly equivalently talented. And the gap between Mexico and the MLS was much larger then than now. So our domestically-based players are, relative to the past, getting much tougher competition and the gap between the difficulty of the competition is smaller.

Currently the most successful USMNT player abroad.

As you might imagine, the U.S. made substantially more appearances in top five leagues than Mexico: in total, Americans appeared in 212 top-five league games, for an average of 19 appearances per player. Mexico made 103 top-five league game appearances, for an average 20.6 appearances per player. Aside from Chicharito, Mexicans weren’t playing for substantially more successful teams than Americans: Cherundolo, top-four; Dempsey, mid-table; Howard, mid-table; Jones, lower-table but not relegated (but also Champions League); Bradley, lower-table but not relegated; Bocanegra, mid-table; Edu, champion; Lichaj, upper-table in Championship; Spector, relegated. By contrast two of Mexico’s top-five league players were relegated, and Barrera barely appeared for West Ham (he looked like he needed time to adjust, to be fair). The closer you look, the harder it is to see the talent gap: Americans play for more European teams and at a similar level.

So how to explain the gap? A few theories: Chicharito is just that good; the talent doesn’t mesh; the coaching is poor. Personally, I subscribe to elements of all three.

It’s a fair criticism to note that the U.S.’s best players are aging and Mexico’s are young. That’s where the fairest talent gap criticism comes into play, and given the weakness of American players aged 20-23, that generation will probably always be a weak spot. The youth players criticism even extends to youth teams. This is more interesting. Mexico just won its second u-17 World  Cup in five tries, and the team that won it this time around was very talented. Meanwhile, its American peers alternated from looking very good in the public eye (e.g. against the Czech Republic, or, before the tournament, against South Korea) and looking absolutely clueless. In fairness, this is a lot better than previous American u-17 teams, who looked consistently clueless (aside from the ’99 team with Donovan, Beasley, et. al.)

Mexico's future looks bright as their under 17's just won the World Cup

But if there’s one thing the hysteria has missed, it’s that like Tolstoy’s diagnosis of the family—all happy teams are the same; all unhappy teams are different. There’s the problem with analyzing the two team’s u-20 teams. The U.S. failed to qualify for the team on poor play and a series of flukes, essentially; but on the other hand, it’s already amassed the second-most professional appearances for an u-20 team ever (the exception being the 2007 team, which benefited from Freddy Adu’s huge number of appearances. Also note that this has been done while we’re still in the middle of the year; the gap will grow larger by the end.) At least as far as that generation is concerned, it’s hard to say the U.S. is worse at development. (Especially since the MLS is better: these u-20 players are earning more time against tougher competition.) On the other hand, Mexico’s u-20’s look like a solid bunch with a couple of very good prospects—Guarch and Torres, in particular—but have often looked workmanlike or worse against bad teams. (To take only one example: they struggled to beat a Chinese national team filled with players one or two years younger than they.)

My diagnosis, overall, is that there will be a talent gap—the game is about stars, particularly offensive ones, and the U.S. is not producing proven ones at the moment. On the other hand, it’s doing a good job of producing the Alejandro Bedoyas and Steve Cherundolos of the future. It’s a case of doing some things well and some things too poorly. That’s bad, but it’s a different kind of bad than we’ve been led to believe.

52 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by daniel on 2011/07/21 at 10:42 AM

    The US has a coaching talent gap. Sure, Mexico scored six thousand goals during the GC group stage, but we’d still have beaten them if not for the Bornstein decision.

    In all seriousness though, I think the rending of garments about a talent gap is a little overblown. Int’l tournament soccer is funny and unpredictable. I don’t think anyone in Argentina or Brasil is worried about how far behind Uruguay and Paraguay they are lagging in talent.


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/07/21 at 10:46 AM

      Definitely agree with the first part. Bornstein killed the US in that game and never should have been on the squad let alone on the field in the final.

      Now that it appears that Mexico has sorted out the coaching situation I think the US will struggle to regain superiority in the region. Mexico has always had a talent gap but due to terrible coaching and a poor mentality from those coaches they managed to waste it.


    • Posted by Matt Mathai on 2011/07/21 at 11:24 AM

      I don’t know if you can put that on coaching. What were the alternatives, Spector? He has shown he suffered against fast competition. If Chandler had been there he’d have done fine, IMO.

      We’re very thin. Most of our bench players aren’t ready for the big stage. That has to be addressed soon, since it’s unrealistic to expect our starters to remain healthy (and young) forever.


      • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 11:58 AM

        I also wouldn’t have put in Spector and opted for Bornstein.

        That said, coaching was a problem in the Gold Cup final. I specifically thought it was a problem that the U.S.:
        1) kept such an uncoordinated, high backline when up 2-0
        2) that Bradley didn’t switch Dempsey for Donovan after going up 2-0 (and fortifying the wing defense)
        3) that there wasn’t a strategy to take advantage of the fact that Mexico’s central midfield of Torrado and Castro are old and slow.

        Among other things.


      • Posted by Ufficio on 2011/07/21 at 12:40 PM

        The problem was with the roster selections. We needed better fullback cover. Spector is too slow, and while I’m not a Bornstein hater by any means, the guy is gaffe-prone even when on form, and he had played maybe one game at left-back in the last year. Could it really have been worse to have, say, Sean Franklin on hand to plug in for Cherundolo when he went down, rather than plugging in Bornstein and having Lichaj swap sides?


        • with lichaj and chandler, as starters i think we are a much better team in that final. cherundolo was great, but chandler is cherundolo +1


        • Posted by Jeff on 2011/07/25 at 4:06 AM

          “and having Lichaj swap sides?”

          A perfect example of hindsight bias. Lichaj regularly plays RB, and prefers to play at RB. If Bradley had not switched Lichaj to the other side and the US had lost, people would be criticizing him for failing to make such a “no brainer” move.

          At least you recognize Spector was not some magical solution available to Bradley, he is not an international caliber defender at any position after his injuries.


      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2011/07/21 at 7:21 PM

        I would’nt have moved lichaj to Rb though. He’d been grooving at lb all tournament long. I’d rather have one guy who hasn’t plYed a minute in the tournament come in at a position he’s familiar with(Spector) than 2 guys come in who have to adjust to game speed


    • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 11:24 AM

      In the long run, I think these things tend to even out–the coaching and the cohesion, that is–and the talent ends up triumphing. Which is why any talent gap would be concerning.


  2. Posted by Jared on 2011/07/21 at 10:54 AM

    Their will always be a talent gap with the US and Mexico until player development is improved. How many young players go undiscovered in the US due to lack of money to get onto the fast track of American soccer? It’s sad when more and more of our top prospects are scouted from overseas rather than in the US. Recently the Mexican federation has wasted that by burning through coaches and not playing to their strengths.

    Also, many young Americans have essentially wasted 3 or 4 years of development playing college soccer which is unrecognizable to the real game and they play fewer games. The Dos Santos brothers were both at Barca while most of the young US players were in college or at Bradenton.

    Holden does solve a lot of problems in the US midfield considering he can pass and tackle unlike MB90 who can only tackle and then pass to opposition.

    Were you including Scotland as a top 5 European league? They aren’t even in the top 10 in terms of UEFA coefficients.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 11:23 AM

      Bradley had the highest passing percentage for the U.S. during the Gold Cup. Though, to be fair, with the way some of our guys were finishing, this was like passing to the other team.

      Re: top five leagues: it’s EPL/La Liga/Serie A/Bundesliga/Ligue 1. Obviously the first four are better than the last one, but the gap between them and France is smaller than France and the sixth-ranked country (Russia? Portugal? Netherlands?)


      • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/07/22 at 5:46 AM

        And he shouted at Eric Wyanalda. Something that makes most soccer fans bucket lists. Here’s the rest of mine:
        1)being a fly on the wall when John Harkes is fired for whatever stupidly controversial thing he’ll eventually say in the next few years

        2)helping Bob Bradley pack up his sweatpants and load them into his Envoy

        3)being in the new USMNT coaches office for the first discussion with Baby Bradley about “how things are going to work from here on out”…

        4)Four words: 1)Hope Solo shower scene

        5)Shouting at Eric Wynalda (see there it is!)


  3. Posted by Ufficio on 2011/07/21 at 12:47 PM

    Where do you find the stats on passing percentage for the Gold Cup?


  4. Posted by Ufficio on 2011/07/21 at 1:08 PM

    General thoughts: I agree that the reaction to the loss was overwrought. Sure, Mexico is clearly the better team right now, and have four very nice attacking players, but the team as a whole is not without its weaknesses. Contrary to most of the prognostications I read, I don’t see why we can’t field a team that’s competitive with them in the next hex. Our back line is in a bit of shambles right now, but a year and a half is quite a while to fix the problem.

    Second, I’m actually kind of glad that Mexico finally seems to have their [stuff] together. If our rival is better, that should only push us to get better. And we get stronger by playing stronger competition. The 10-2-2 run was fun, but hopefully playing a more competitive Mexico will eventual help us compete outside of CONCACAF.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 1:18 PM

      On the second point: I didn’t have time to fit this in, but you could make the case that Mexico is the most underachieving soccer country in the world, historically speaking.

      If you take the Soccernomics model that Population + GDP + Soccer Tradition determine a nation’s ability, Mexico should be one of the very best. They have a huge population (100 million +), they are, in comparison to their Latin American neighbors, rich (they’d be the second- or third-wealthiest country in South America), and their soccer tradition is longstanding. They should be a true powerhouse. They are not.

      I suppose it’s possible they’re starting to make that move, but these things are very uncertain. The Cote d’Ivoire is in the process of wasting the Toure/Toure/Drogba/Gervinho generation, to take one example–and I’d be surprised if any of Mexico’s current players turned out as well as the first three in their peak.


      • Posted by Ufficio on 2011/07/21 at 9:21 PM

        I was thinking almost the exact same thing about Mexico, although I wonder if wealth distribution isn’t a more important factor than GDP per capita. In the latter Mexico is basically on par with Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, and well ahead of Brazil, but the poverty rate (of nearly 50%) is far higher in Mexico than in any of those countries. It seems like having a huge number of kids who aren’t getting good nutrition, or have to work instead of playing sports could be a big drag. Or it could just be down to bad strucutres/management by the federation. It will be interesting to see what happens with them in the future.


      • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/07/22 at 5:49 AM

        And don’t forget drug cartel money which is usually a solid predictor of club football success.


      • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/22 at 11:39 AM

        On the underachieving note, you could also just refer to the Run of Play post that made the case pretty well.


      • Posted by Unak78 on 2011/07/29 at 9:10 PM

        I think that this is one of the curses of being in CONCACAF, lack of competition. Mexico should be a world power in this sport but they have stagnated in a sub-par confederation which is why the US has nearly caught them. Imo neither the US or Mexico will win a World Cup until they get the stones to leave CONCACAF and join CONMEBOL. Just my opinion.


  5. Posted by John on 2011/07/21 at 1:17 PM

    I like this one DTH, well done.

    I also think that one problem the US has is a lack of EuroDance Montage videos on youtube.

    Moar Eurodance for Dempsey and Donovan please.


  6. Posted by Martin on 2011/07/21 at 2:22 PM

    Between now and the 2014 World Cup,the US will play Mexico in , I believe, only two games that matter, home and away, for WC qualifying.

    While Mexico has better players and better balance,at the moment, it’s not as if they have an insurmountable edge. Of greater concern is the growing parity with the other teams in CONCACAF.


  7. Posted by israel on 2011/07/21 at 2:50 PM

    I am very pleased to have come across this article but most importantly
    was pleasantly surprised at the respectful and informative comments.
    I being a Mexico fan believe that the gap in talent between the starting
    eleven for both teams is currently wide. Now saying that I am very well
    aware that like all in life this can also be short lived. I do not however
    see how this cannot benefit both teams as they will both I believe give
    more to their teams and nations as a matter of pride. There is no reason
    why both teams must continue to listen to other so called ” footballing ”
    nations tell them how much they have improved.


  8. Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/07/21 at 3:53 PM

    dth, thanks for writing the article. It was great.

    I look at the talent gap slightly differently….

    Mexico has the only SuperClub (ManU/Chelsea/Aresenal/Barca/Real/Inter/Juve/etc) starter/star in Chicharito. As much as I would love to argue it Dempsey can’t even be put in that class and won’t transfer there. Dos Santos with his time at Barca probably puts him closer to this category then Dempsey. No one please bring up Donovan, he isn’t at this point and spending more time with the Galaxy isn’t going to help him make the jump (sadly he probably had the talent to be the US Chicharito). That is one of our talent gaps.

    The US does better as your stats illustrate at the next tier Top 5 league clubs

    That said, we also have some holes and those holes can be exploited (see Bornstein, or Ream)

    I would pose the question to dth or anyone else… Does our current college system cause people to develop later? Meaning that while we currently have a 20-23 gap will that fill in with the likes of Perry Kitchen developing as late bloomers, the US seems to have a lot of late bloomers.

    Also I would note that while out U-teams didn’t fare well that is a very small sample size and we seem to have developed a decent bit of 17 to 20 talent (we might be a generous term because its really Germany that developed our players for us).


    • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 6:12 PM

      I think the college part can be overstated. Let’s look at the u-20 team. If we had qualified, my guess at a roster would’ve had all of two college players (Kelyn Rowe and Sebastian Ibeagha.) And I think this will hold true for the 2013 u-20 team. We’re getting players professional at the right times–you want to be debuting somewhere around 17-19 anyway–at least for a group of players we consider to be elite.

      The trouble is–from our perspective–that some players develop late and we only realize later that they should’ve turned pro early. Like a George John, who went to school for all four years; or a Tim Ream. But here’s the question: what would’ve been the alternative? In a college-less world, would Ream and John been offered contracts at a young age? Or would they have had to drop down or out of soccer entirely? I think college can serve as a good way to sop up otherwise-ignored players–which happen for everyone.

      I don’t think it’s a big deal to spend a year in college and then turn pro. Perry Kitchen isn’t a late bloomer–he was captain of the u-17 team for a while, for example. In fact, for Kitchen, this was probably a sound business decision. Salary-wise, he makes $60,000 more per year than someone like Juan Agudelo.


      • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/07/21 at 7:59 PM

        Perry Kitchen might not have been the best example but to refine the question and make it a little more generic…

        Would you be better to play in an academy (whatever academy you are good enough to play at) or college ball?

        My take is that someone like Ream would be further along (or at least we would have a better idea of what he would develop to) if he spent 4 years in some foreign academy/U-23 team (lets just say Hertha U-17 and U-23 like Brooks currently is).

        I don’t get the sense that college ball is anywhere near the same learning environment as most academies but I don’t have any real knowledge to make me feel that way.


        • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 8:10 PM

          Well, of course I’d rather have them in a pro academy in Europe. But because of the work rules in various leagues, and the lukewarm esteem American players are held in, you won’t see too many Americans over there in Europe.

          You also won’t see too many Americans be in a pro academy in MLS instead of Europe, at least for the foreseeable future. The oldest MLS academy teams end in u-18, where you either get a contract or go to college. Hence “go to college” becomes the dominant option for midtier players.

          By sheer weight of numbers, you’re bound to get some pretty good players from this route. Hell, Neven Subotic spent three years in college and he’s probably worth twenty million euros. I think devoting some efforts to figuring out how to optimize college would be worth someone’s time.

          (I also think we overemphasize the magic of pro teams here. Let’s look at Japan. They’re doing wonderful things in terms of development. They also routinely send kids to play for high school teams and college teams. Good kids, too.)


          • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/07/21 at 8:33 PM

            I wasn’t aware that MLS academies stop at U-17. That seems criminal to me. To assume that you can start in the MLS at 18 seems harsh. I would be all for scrapping the reserve league and make it U-23.

            In order to get top players you can’t run 20 kids through Bradenton, you need to run literally hundreds through to catch the outliers. Its why they most MLB teams have 3 to 5 single A/rookie ball leagues and 1 AAA team.


            • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 8:38 PM

              u-18. And that’s 18 at the beginning of the season–you can end it at 19.

              A few teams have started up u-23 PDL teams: New York and DC are two I can name off of the top of my head. It helps bridge the gap a bit for some players, though my guess is that you’ll see good homegrown-eligible college players play in the club’s PDL team as a way of speeding up his development.

              My guess is that every MLS team will have both.

      • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/07/21 at 8:09 PM

        Tied into my question is; Did Kitchen set back his career to get $60K more? I am not picking on him and realize that these decisions are very complicated and involve personal issues.

        Was Kitchen’s choice make $40K and be further ahead (Agudelo) or spend a year in college and make $100K? Or did going to college have a positive or at least neutral impact on his development.


        • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 8:13 PM

          I don’t think it’s so bad to spend a year, especially in Kitchen’s case as he went to Akron.

          Kitchen was in many cases playing against guys two, three, even four years older than himself. That’s a worthwhile experience. I don’t think it’s the games that’s the issue, or the number of games (most colleges play around twenty regular-season games or so, which is plenty from a developmental perspective), it’s the coaching in between. Kitchen was being coached by Caleb Porter and in an environment that emphasized the right things. That’s not ideal, but it’s actually not so bad. And you could imagine things getting better.


          • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/07/21 at 8:29 PM

            Thanks… I feel that answer supports my thoughts. If Akron (widely considered the best college program) is not ideal, but its not so bad then I can only imagine what happens the as we move downstream.


            • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 8:31 PM

              Yeah, it gets bad.

              Then again, the development for any country gets bad the further down you go the ladder. The question is whether you’re properly matching the elite players with the elite development spots.

    • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/21 at 7:29 PM

      “I would pose the question to dth or anyone else… Does our current college system cause people to develop later? Meaning that while we currently have a 20-23 gap will that fill in with the likes of Perry Kitchen developing as late bloomers, the US seems to have a lot of late bloomers”

      If the intent is to serve as a “farm system” for the pros and the national team, the traditional American sports model, then the college system has many flaws.

      However, it does at least give another option to players who want to play in an organized competition. If playing in college were mandatory to play in MLS or the pros then you could say the college system could be a negative in the sense that you describe but they don’t have to stay there the whole time.

      Everyone is different. Not every player develops at the same rate or responds to the same stimuli.


      • Posted by dth on 2011/07/21 at 7:55 PM

        I think the next–and interesting–evolution we’ll see in the American college soccer scene is American players specifically choosing colleges based on their ability to develop pro players, as their peers do in basketball and football. This would be highly interesting, as it might align the incentives more properly for college coaches.

        If you look at the American talent system, the real travesty to me isn’t midtier guys going to college. It’s midtier guys going D-III: there are like three or four guys on the various First XIs of the Development Academy this year who are going to school at, like, Rochester or Colgate or something. My guess is this doesn’t happen in the future, and perhaps we see some interesting changes as a result.


      • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/07/21 at 8:03 PM

        My question was really USMNT focused and trying to follow-up on dth’s talent gap discussion. I am all for people playing in college rather than not playing at all. I also realize that some D1 college players have a ceiling of MLS or lower.


        • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/22 at 1:50 PM

          In terms of the USMNT college isn’t a hinderance since playing in college is optional.

          Three guys who had pretty long and distinguished USMNT careers, Reyna (three seasons), Harkes( two seasons) and McBride (four seasons) went to college.

          Whether they would have had better careers had they gone pro earlier (if they even had that option) is impossible to say at this point.

          My main issue with college, is the substituion rules they have ( is that still in place?). That should tell you how much I watch NCAA soccer.


          • Posted by Jeff on 2011/07/25 at 3:55 AM

            Yes, the substitution rules are still in place.
            Although Akron, and perhaps others, don’t follow them. Hopefully more college programs will follow that example.

            Aside from that there may be issues with how often players can train. And of course the clock counts down, which is minor but stil absurd.


    • Posted by Jeff on 2011/07/25 at 3:47 AM

      “with the likes of Perry Kitchen developing as late bloomers”

      A 19 year old who is starting regularly for a decent MLS team is the example you came up with for a “late bloomer”?

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reforming NCAA soccer, but using a guy who went to college for one year (where he won a national championship) and then became a top three draft pick, makes no sense.

      Kitchen is future captain material.


  9. Posted by Charlie G. on 2011/07/22 at 6:15 AM

    On this topic, I’m wondering if there is much communication between US Soccer, MLS and the NCAA. I know there are some issues with the college game, such as unlimited substitution rules, that probably have the effect of hindering development. That said, this has been an important element of US soccer – not that you would intentionally design such a system, but it just happened to evolve. And, it will continue to evolve. As someone mentioned, very good players will now not go to college (eg U-20, U-17 levels), or will go only one or two years. We’ve come a long way since most USMNT players came from the college ranks.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/07/22 at 6:34 AM

      I would assume so. The biggest ruling that no one seems to have paid much attention to was made by the NCAA last year in which they ruled that training with professionals no longer makes you a professional yourself in their eyes. That opens up reserve games and practices for youth players, and that’s huge.


  10. Posted by 4now on 2011/07/22 at 7:48 AM

    Please never quote Tolstoy again.


  11. Posted by Andy_4Lakes on 2011/07/22 at 10:43 AM

    Outstanding discussion. The college discussion is interesting.


  12. Posted by mbw on 2011/07/23 at 8:50 PM

    My two cents: There is a very modest aggregate talent gap between the US and Mexico, the entirety of which, from what I can tell, derives from a series of debilitating injuries the top end of the US pool has suffered in the past two years. What actually needs to be explained is not a talent gap, per se, but rather a gap in recent performance that is somewhat larger than the talent gap. You’ve pointed to coaching. Another possible explanation is that Mexican players share more tactical/positional points of reference, because they tend to come from the same handful of youth programs and tend to play in the same leagues (in some cases on the same teams); whereas American players are scattered to the four winds.

    Really enjoyed your post.


    • Posted by Jeff on 2011/07/25 at 3:59 AM

      “derives from a series of debilitating injuries the top end of the US pool has suffered in the past two years.”

      Yes, let’s remember that in addition to missing Holden and Chandler because of injuries (minor in Chandler’s case, but he is just establishing himself and can’t exactly go against his club), the US also suffered major injuries to Charlie Davies and Onyewu, who may both be done at the international level.
      And of course we lost Rossi and Subotic to other countries. Even if we only count Subotic (as Rossi was never on US youth teams), that’s five talented players we lacked for various reasons, and if you add them up we would certainly have had a more talented roster on paper than Mexico (in my humble opinion).


  13. Posted by Texas 1836 on 2011/07/24 at 3:32 PM

    You alluded to this somewhat, but I believe what gap exists is a gap occurring at the two important ends of the bell curve: the top and the bottom.

    In the middle, I think we compare well with Mexico.

    But at the top (Chicharito) and at the bottom (Bornstein), the gap between their strongest strong and our weakest weak is enough to get lapped with a 2-goal lead.

    We need more starry stars, and we need to shore up our weaknesses. Might sound obvious, but I think it’s the basic gist of things.

    We’re relatively fine in the middle (of the bell curve, not the pitch).


  14. Posted by Texas 1836 on 2011/07/24 at 3:39 PM

    I’m curious, dth…

    In your opinion, list the 5 best players on the pitch in the Gold Cup (in order) and the 5 worst (in order).

    I think doing so would be illuminating to this discussion.

    My best attempt:

    1) Chicharito
    2) Dempsey
    3) Howard
    4) Donovan
    5) Guardado

    I made that list asking myself the following question: “Who would first be taken by top Euro teams to help them right now?”

    It came out different than I expected, honestly. But maybe the most important takeaway is how wide the gap is between 1 and 2.

    Just one man’s opinion. I’d love to hear others’.

    Another interesting point this raises is: Gio Dos Santos, while possibly not in the top 5 picks, was unquestionably the best player on the pitch that night. What explains why he played so out of his mind, and our guys played relatively in their minds? Maybe the matchup?

    Now to the bottom:

    1) Bornstein
    2) I don’t know
    3) I don’t know
    4) I don’t know
    5) I don’t know

    I don’t know Mexico’s roster intimately enough to know who their suckers are, especially if factoring out the injured.

    When the opposition has the best player on the field, and you have the worst player on the field, I’m gonna wager you lose that contest far more times than not.

    Not sure how much this benefits the talent gap conversation, but it’s interesting to think out loud.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/07/24 at 6:46 PM

      Don’t know if I can do an exact ranking of every single player–but Torrado and Castro are big liabilities for Mexico. Bradley/Jones are a point of strength. Theoretically, then, we should’ve dominated that area of the field.* We didn’t.

      * That doesn’t mean holding possession, necessarily–it means containing Mexican possession to specific, nonthreatening areas of the field.


  15. […] The Shin Guardian points out what is both scary and obvious: There appears to be a generation of Mexican stars that can outclass the next crop of young Americans. […]


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