Monday, June 12, 2006

Czech Republic 3 United States 0

It's a weird sensation when you can actually feel time moving backwards past you. And in this case, none too pleasant. But that's what happened today when a flat, lethargic United States team set soccer back in this country about a decade or two. The years just flew right back behind us, nearly knocking on us on our ass. It was swift and it was complete. So, hey, I hope you ejoyed 1990 the first time around.

Yup, all of those old jokes from all corners of the globe aimed at U.S soccer that had quietly disappeared in recent years will all come storming back after today. Count on it. That's what happens when you not only lose but look downright awful while doing so. The only thing preventing me from an all-out rant is the fact that there are two games left and all is not lost...yet. But it's coming. And it won't be pretty.

What I will say is this: What worries me more than the fact that we played like shit is the possibility that we just aren't very good. I mean, if we just suck, I can accept that. It's the part where we don't show up that bugs me. As soon as the game ended everyone wanted to vent on how the U.S. came out lifeless, flat and unprepared. But how can that be? How can you spend your entire life as a soccer player waiting for the moment the entire world is watching and then simply not play inspired? Could it be that as much as Americans like to proclaim how much ground we've made up in soccer, when it gets down to it, we're still severely outclassed? Do we just kind of, well, suck?

Look, two things worried me heading into Germany:

1) A lack of creativity. It seems that unless we're getting crosses to the head of Brian McBride, we're pretty much useless. For lack of a better term, we have no "geniuses" on our side. We have nobody who can surprise an opponent and create something out of nothing. Our attack is mechanical and boring and infinitely more likely to score from a set piece or a defensive lapse than from sheer quality creativity. Our attack is akin to the offense of the Chicago Bears. It sucks. And Eddie Pope is no Brian Urlacher.

2) Our defense is a major, MAJOR weakness. It gets broken down, often in an embarrassing and unacceptable fashion, at least once or twice a game, sometimes more. As the Czechs proved today, that's all it it takes.

Come to think of it, my two big concerns are pretty much all there is in soccer, eh? Creating on offense and being a wall for ninety minutes on defense. And we seem poor at both unless we're playing king of CONCACAF against the likes of El Salvador and Guatemala.

So do we just stink?

Or was it a bad day?

Probably a little bit of both. Thing is, people have been living off of 2002 for way too long now when, in actuality, all 2002 really boiled down to was one fantastic first half against Portugal (when we went up 3-0 and held on 3-2) and the trip to the quarterfinals. However, we beat Mexico to get to that point and that is hardly an upset. We play and beat Mexico regularly. So really, 2002 came down to one glorious half against Portugal. That's it.

And now people expected us to be great in 2006? Please. Today's loss is not shocking. The only thing that is shocking is how poorly we played. Landon Donovan is the supposed star and he was invisible most of the time. Nobody could find McBride with crosses. Demarcus Beasley was absolutely useless and played out of position. The defense was ran into the ground. Claudio Reyna looked old. Carlos Bocanegra is one of the few dudes on this team who strikes me as having any balls, and Bruce Arena left him on the sideline. The entire operation was a debacle.

Granted, perhaps if Reyna's shot off the post in the first half goes in and knots the game at one apiece it's a different story, but I doubt it. We just weren't on the same level as the Czechs. Not at all.

If there is a positive to be found, perhaps today will serve as a staggering wake up call. It should. There was an arrogance surrounding the team that was bugging me heading into this. I tried to ignore it, but after today, I can no longer do so. Reyna was bitching about the seeding, Beasley was bitching about not knowing the starting lineup, and Arena was busy doing all-access shows for ESPN. Not to mention that casually playing the likes of Venezuela and Latvia on American soil as warmup matches while the rest of the world was playing stiff competition on neutral sites around Europe was damn arrogant. Are we so good that we could prepare half-assed? We played Morocco in Nashville. Mexico played France in Paris and Holland in Rotterdam. See the difference here?

Well, maybe today will wipe the proverbial smirk from our faces.

And now, perhaps worst of all, American soccer again has to struggle for the attention of an American public that is as receptive as it's ever been. The World Cup is being covered and talked about here like never before, but after today, well, who knows? And if we lose to Italy, forget it. This is sad. A tragedy, really.

When we made the World Cup in 1990 for the first time in 40 years, our first game was against the old Czechoslovakia with Thomas Skuhravy and his mullet. We were summarily crushed in that game 5-1. But back then, that was totally acceptable. We were the definition of just happy to be there. I still have that game on tape somewhere and I'm almost tempted to watch it just to see if we've improved at all since then. I was certain that we had, but now I'm not so sure.

Too bad that tape is Beta.

Meanwhile, the Czechs looked damn good. You can cancel any talk of Pavel Nedved being old or banged up. He was everywhere and controlling everything. Tomas Rosicky was lethal. The entire team was pretty much airtight in all facets. And they didn't even have Milan Baros available. It looks like Jan Koller's injury may be serious, and that would be a shame. The Czechs play attractive, quality soccer and you'd like to see them at their best.

Anyway, hey, it's not over. If we beat Italy and Ghana we'd get through. Let's all pray for a miracle. Or several naturalized Brazilians.


Blogger Bill-DC said...

A complete and utter embarassment. They basically quit after the Czech's went up 2-0. I can't entirely fault Keller on any of the goals, his defense let him down big time today.

Five days. That's how long Bruce Arena has to figure out this mess or else it could get worse vs Italy.

5:28 PM  
Anonymous priest said...

Dear Unknown Column,

I noticed you have been writing alot about soccer lately. Do you think you can tell me when the World Cup starts? The U.S. is gunna do awesome, don't you think. By the way, did you know Jerome Bettis is from Detroit!

5:29 PM  

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