Seth Vertelney: When a loss is more than just a loss - how England and the USA were exposed, and how they plan on fixing it

Sometimes, losing just one match exposes an entire systematic issue. England and the United States each experienced similar defeats within the past year.
The team in white trudged off the pitch, heads down. The players all knew they'd been vanquished by superior opposition, but that was hardly any consolation.

The Three Lions of England bid farewell to Euro 2012 with a dogged, yet subordinate performance against Italy in the quarterfinal, drawing 0-0 over 120 minutes before falling in penalties.

A year earlier, the opening paragraph could have easily been written about England's former tea partying colonists back in the New World.

The USA said "adios" to the 2011 Gold Cup in much the same fashion that England left the Euros, being run off the pitch by a superior Mexican side with a 4-2 hiding in the title game.

Both losses brought about a similar sentiment of self-reflection. These weren't just losses, these were referendums. The future of both soccer programs was at stake.

Something had to be done.

For England, its problems were personified by Italy's midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo. With a captivating blend of grace and nonchalance, the 33-year-old picked apart the English defense time and time again during the game, then turned the tide in the penalty shootout with his audaciously chipped spot kick.

England had no Pirlo of its own. Coach Roy Hodgson favored a staunch defensive approach, hoping to frustrate the opposition into submission. It worked against lesser teams in the group stage, but against Italy, Hodgson's system reached its glass ceiling.

“They have to analyze why we aren't keeping the ball better,” England captain Steven Gerrard said after the game. “Especially at this level because it's fundamental, and it's the key if you want to beat the big teams. You have to keep the ball, otherwise you work so hard without it the other side end up running you into the ground."

“Until England can find their Pirlo, we must prepare for more of this,” read the headline in the Daily Mail.

When the USA fell to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final, a similar sentiment hung in the American airspace.

USA head coach Bob Bradley had spent five years instilling his Hodgson-esque system in the national team. Defensive shape, discipline and opportunism on the counterattack were the team's hallmarks. It was ugly sometimes, but other times it worked like a dream (see: Confederations Cup 2009. USA 2, Spain 0).

Against Mexico though, the Yanks were exposed. It wasn't so much that the USA lost to Mexico, it was the way in which they lost that really resonated. It was the the disparity in talent on the pitch. The Stars and Stripes were torn asunder by attackers like Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos. Mexico hadn't just won, the Mexican system had won.

A month later, Bradley was fired.

Harsh lesson | Dos Santos dazzled the USA at The Rose Bowl in the 2011 Gold Cup final

New coach Jurgen Klinsmann wasn't just brought in to coach the senior national team, he was hired to change the entire culture of the U.S. apparatus. Bradley's defensive system was out, and a proactive, attacking, possession-based system was in. The 4-3-3 formation was installed at all levels of the U.S. setup, from the U-14 side all the way up to the senior team. The head coaches of the U-17 and U-20 national teams were replaced with Klinsmann disciples.

It was going to take some time, sure, but the U.S. federation had seen the future. Teams like Spain, Germany and Mexico were in the ascendancy. The United States had to catch up, or get left in the dust.

England faces a similar crisis. The team was hopelessly outclassed by Italy, and would have likely faced an even worse fate had it met any of the tournament's other three powers: Spain, Portugal and Germany.

Much like in the USA, England's youth development system has been called into question following the loss. For years, the FA has neglected to invest in youth soccer, instead spending its money on big-name foreign coaches like Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello.

The English Premier League, stylish and popular as it is, has taken its share of the blame as well. Many of its best sides are overstocked with foreign talent, crowding out the ambitions of young English players.

Having the world's best players makes for great spectacle of course, but at what cost to the national team?

During one weekend in December 2011, just 38 percent of players starting in the EPL were English. By comparison, 53 percent of players in the Bundesliga are German, according to the league's official website.

In just over a decade, Germany has become the world's standard-bearer for youth development. Die Mannschaft is now one of the strongest sides in the world, reaching the semifinals of World Cup 2006, the final of Euro 2008, and the semis at World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. Much of the heavy lifting has been done by young talent (the 2010 World Cup team was the youngest German squad since the 1934 World Cup).

The tipping point for the Germans, naturally, was a humiliation on a big stage.

The Germans took an old, stodgy side to Euro 2000 (average age: 30), and the results weren't pretty. The team finished dead last in its group, managing just one point from its three matches.

Rather than blame the coach or the players, the German Federation (DFB) recognized that systemic failure was behind the humiliation. The Bundesliga had become overcrowded with foreign talent, and investment in youth development was lagging.

And so, the DFB set out to change all of that. They established 121 national talent centers across Germany to incubate young players. They told every club in the top two divisions that without an academy, they would not have their licenses renewed. In the past few years, young German talent has been moved through their system like parts on a BMV conveyor belt. And it shows no signs of abetting.

It seems that English soccer is finally getting the message, albeit too late to save the doomed Euro 2012 squad. In August, the FA will open St George's Park, the federation's long-awaited 100 million-pound national soccer center. The facility will become the new hub of English youth and coaching development.

"We know we are not technically as good as other nations," former England defender Danny Mills told the BBC. "The FA is trying to change the whole philosophy, just like the Spanish did, just like the Germans did. But that is going to take 15-20 years. We have to go back to grass roots and reinvent football from the children up."

Back in the U.S., the head coach of Germany's 2006 World Cup squad has taken on his next big challenge. Jurgen Klinsmann, the man at the forefront of world soccer's last great revolution, is now trying to lead its next one.

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