Impossible Comparisons: The U.S. Team in 2010 and 2014

Was the 2014 United States team better than the 2010 version?

It’s been almost two weeks since the United States men’s national team fell to Belgium and out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And while the picture of what happened isn’t entirely clear, we’re far enough away that it’s safe to write an early version of the final postmortem.

One of the trends I’ve seen is wondering if the 2014 version of the American squad was better than the one Bob Bradley brought to South Africa four years earlier. Making exact comparisons is tough, but when I started thinking about matching up individual players now and then, I started to see some patterns develop. This is a dangerous way to play this game, but it’s a fun one and, I think, instructive in this particular instance, so let’s get started.

(A note: When one man played in both tournaments, I compared the two. Otherwise, I tried to get as close as I could to the analogous player. I realize this is not a perfect science, as Klinsmann and Bradley brought different types of teams, but I think I managed to get pretty close in most, if not all, of the situations.)

1. 2014 Tim Howard (2010 Howard) – In Brazil, the United States goalkeeper turned into a meme-hero. In South Africa, he was adequate.

Verdict: 2014

2. Brad Guzan (Guzan) – The backup goalkeeper didn’t see a minute of action in either tournament, but he’s a better netminder now than he was four years ago.

Verdict: 2014

3. DaMarcus Beasley (Beasley) – The former midfielder went from afterthought under Bradley to one of the better players on the roster. A remarkable comeback.

Verdict: 2014

4. Michael Bradley (Bradley) – A conundrum: While Bradley is a better player now than he was in South Africa, he was worse at the World Cup.

Verdict: 2010, although perhaps a tad harsh.

5. Clint Dempsey (Dempsey) – The captain found his role limited after Jozy Altidore went down but still managed to thrash around and score two goals.

Verdict: 2014

6. Jozy Altidore (Altidore) – An ineffectual 2010 was better than a non-existent 2014, right? Altidore has improved in four years, but not enough, and he didn’t get to show it in Brazil.

Verdict: 2010

7. Nick Rimando (Marcus Hahnemann) – Um… Rimando has better shot-stopping skills but Hahnemann has better trucks. Both have an excellent sense of humor.

Verdict: Push

8. Fabian Johnson (Steve Cherundolo) – Cherundolo was the best player on the field in South Africa both attacking and defensively. Johnson was one of those things.

Verdict: 2010

9. Matt Besler (Jay DeMerit) – Besler is the better soccer player; DeMerit the more important leader. Throw in the two late Romelu Lukaku goals and the nod goes toward the latter.

Verdict: 2010, with reluctance.

10. Omar Gonzalez (Oguchi Onyewu) – Onyewu, still recovering from a knee injury, struggled with pace and positioning. Gonzalez did everything asked of him, and more.

Verdict: 2014

11. Geoff Cameron (Carlos Bocanegra) – Cameron made a few crucial mistakes, but he’s three years younger than the former U.S. captain, plays on a better club team, and is more skillful.

Verdict: 2014

12. John Brooks (Clarence Goodson) – Brooks scored a huge goal against Ghana and played shutdown defense for a half. Goodson didn’t get off the bench.

Verdict: 2014

13. DeAndre Yedlin (Jonathan Bornstein) – This is where we remember that Bornstein started two games and wonder if this whole exercise is silly.

Verdict: 2014

14. Timmy Chandler (Jonathan Spector) – Yeah, I don’t know.

Verdict: Push

15. Jermaine Jones (Ricardo Clark) – Duh.

Verdict: 2014

16. Kyle Beckerman (Maurice Edu) – A few pundits had the Real Salt Lake holding midfielder on their Team of the Tournament. ‘Nuf said.

Verdict: 2014

17. Aljeandro Bedoya (Robbie Findley) – Findley failed miserably in the Charlie Davies role. Bedoya played a different position, holding his own on the wing.

Verdict: 2014

18. Brad Davis (Landon Donovan) – Donovan ’14 versus Donovan ’10 isn’t an argument, but neither is Davis against Mr. Sorry Algeria.

Verdict: 2010

19. Graham Zusi (Benny Feilhaber) – Zusi wasn’t particularly excellent in Brazil, looking out of his depth at times, but he delivered a beautiful assist and is better now than his Sporting KC teammate was.

Verdict: 2014

20. Mix Diskerud (Stuart Holden) – Holden saw four minutes. Diskerud saw none. Without the benefit of hindsight, you would have rather had Holden then than Diskerud now. But it’s close.

Verdict: 2010

21. Julian Green (Jose Torres) – Green wins the battle of slight, skilled midfielders for his goal and his potential but would be wise to avoid Torres’ future path.

Verdict: 2014

22. Aron Johannsson (Herculez Gomez) – Neither did much, but at least Gomez didn’t hurt himself enough to require surgery. Herc wins by default (but I’d rather have Johannsson going forward).

Verdict: 2010

23. Chris Wondolowski (Edson Buddle) – The San Jose Earthquakes forward very nearly scored to send the U.S. to the quarterfinals; Buddle played a bit against England and Algeria.

Verdict: 2014

The final tally? I have 14 in favor of 2014, seven for 2010, and two that are too close to call. That’s a Germany-Brazil scoreline for the 2014 squad, and it could be even more lopsided depending on how you lean when it comes to World Cup production versus potential.

From this quick sample, I think it’s fair to say that Klinsmann’s roster was better than Bradley’s roster. It’s a combination of key elements improving, a couple unlikely resurgences, an infusion of MLS talent coming of age, and the continuation of the dual national recruitment.

The real question, perhaps, isn’t whether the 2014 team was better but whether it was better compared to the rest of the world. But that’s for another day.

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