Ghana 2 United States 1
First of all, I'm going to back away - very slightly - from my bitching at halftime about the horrible penalty kick call against Oguchi Onyewu. Don't get me wrong, the call was awful, but even had it not gone down like that, the score would have been 1-1 and still not good enough to get the U.S. through to the second round. Granted, without that awful call, the score would have been knotted at the break and it would have completely changed the complexion of the game in the second half, and we'll never know how things would have been different, but the sad truth is that the U.S. just didn't play well enough to advance, bad call or not. One goal in three games and you're right to bitch is null and void.
In fact, the U.S. was garbage.
I want to get a couple of things off my chest now that we've been eliminated (and if you're sensitive fan of the national team, I suggest you look away):
1) I don't like Bruce Arena.
2) I don't like Landon Donovan.
My jaded feelings here have nothing to do with the U.S.'s just completed failure. Nothing. I've felt this way for a long time but was holding off on airing my pissiness while American fans were still all jazzed up about our chances. I didn't want to rain on anyone's parades, so I kept my bubbling negativity to myself. But the honest truth is, with those two as the coach and the supposed star of the team - in other words, the current faces of U.S. soccer - I've had a hard time being a fan. Oh, I'm still a fan. I desperately wanted them to win. I'm crushed that they didn't. But I just can't work up any genuine love for this team as long Arena and Donovan are front and center. Sad but true. I know this is as much my fault for being a negative creep infuriated by our (lack of) effort as much as anything else, but I'm just being honest. I don't like them.
Arena strikes me as an arrogant, know-it-all blowhard with man tits who has been overrated by fans and media alike who were duped by one good half of soccer against Portugal four years ago and dominance in the weak CONCACAF region. (Yay, we just roll El Salvador, baby!) He's one of those guys who merely looking at drives you to think, "Pompous dickhead." Or maybe that's just me. But I long ago grew tired of overzealous yahoos saying things like "In Bruce we trust" and "He dominated MLS." Who cares? Granted, I give him credit for winning NCAA titles at Virginia and MLS titles with DC United and having a decent stretch with the national team (yeah, 2002 was awesome) - fair play to him - but he carries himself like he's Vince Lombardi and I don't like it.
Meanwhile, Donovan is the very definition of overrated, and his balding head, munchkin voice and perpetual pout hit me like fingernails on a chalkboard. He pussed out of the German league twice to come back and hide in MLS. Now, I can't really fault him for that. If a dude is homesick, who am I to say he shouldn't come home? He has the right to seek his happiness. However, if the guy can't hang where the best soccer is being played then - follow me here, this is important - he should not be the face of U.S. soccer. He should not be the star. He should not be hyped. Most importantly, he should not be the guy who the U.S. team is built around. It was hardly even evident he was playing in this World Cup. He disappeared. He's about as clutch as Peyton Manning. Hell, he makes Peyton Manning look like Michael Jordan. Dude sucked in this tourney. Sucked. Hell, I put him on my fantasy team, not because I expected much, but to maybe create some good vibes, to give me more incentive to root for him, and he screwed the pooch on all fronts.
So I apologize for ranting here, but I can't help it. I don't like these two guys and yet these are the two guys who have been repeatedly thrown in our face as the great hope, the reason to care, the new American soccer experience. Don't make me laugh.
I remember watching the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, and those American teams were pretty awful, yet they were easy to root for. They were likeable. They had character. Alexi Lalas and his red hair. Marcelo Balboa and his mullet. The New Jersey gang who grew up together (John Harkes, Tab Ramos, Tony Meola). Bora Milutinovic, the smiling coach who barely spoke English. Those godawful denim blue jerseys with the stars. (Worst uniform ever.) They were a fun group. You knew they weren't going anywhere but you felt like they were your guys, and damnit, you were going to root like hell for the cause. Most importantly, they played their hearts out. And when they were done, you felt like you got back in return what you put in with emotional investment.
The current team? No heart. Just Donovan looking like he wants to cry.
I don't mean to imply that they're all as unlikeable as Arena and Donovan. As far as I'm concerned, I look forward to seeing more of Onyewu, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Carlos Bocanegra and a few others. But it makes me sad that we have been forced to stare at Arena's smug mug and Donovan's ever-present sourpuss pout. These are not my guys.
There. Now that I have that off my chest, onto bitching about today's loss...
First, congrats to Ghana. Yeah, it sucks that they advanced at our expense, but I always like an underdog. Under any other circumstances, I would have been rooting hard for them today. As it stands, I can set aside my anger enough to be happy that the nation of Ghana will get to enjoy this. I'm also looking forward to the Brazil-Ghana game and find it unfortunate that Michael Essien will be suspended. Playing without your midfield general always hurts, not to mention when opposite Brazil.
I don't know if I should be infuriated at Claudio Reyna's gaffe that led to Ghana's first goal or feel sorry for him. I mean, that was a mistake worthy of an all-time World Cup blooper reel. He could have just stepped aside and given the ball away to Haminu Draman and it wouldn't have been any less embarrassing. And then to be injured on the play as well? That's a tough way to go out in what was undoubtedly his last World Cup.
After Reyna's mistake, we needed goals more than ever. Considering we scored exactly zero in the first two games, the sudden need for a pair loomed as a near impossibility. So Arena would switch to a more offensive lineup, right? Right? Right?
Instead, he brought in Ben Olsen to replace Reyna. Now, Olsen is a serviceable, defensive midfielder in MLS, but he's generally useless at the international level, especially where offense is concerned. Useless. I was watching the game with a buddy who hails from Europe and is a soccer fan but knows little about the U.S. team. When Olsen came in I said to him, "Watch this. We won't hear Olsen's name at all unless he's fouling someone." Then roughly forty minutes later we both laughed when Olsen committed a foul and it was the first time his name was mentioned since he entered.
Where was John O'Brien? Not to say that O'Brien would have turned the U.S. attack into the San Diego Chargers circa 1981, but he would have at least offered a spark, that slimmer of hope that something - anything! - might happen offensively. If O'Brien was not to be used, then why was he rushed back from injury at the expense of a fit player?
Where was Johnson earlier? He was the one guy who offered any bit of life up top. Why wait until the 60th minute to bring him in? It was almost like Arena didn't understand the logistics of the situation.
In the end, maybe we shouldn't be surprised. I mentioned in here just before the tourney started that I didn't like the signs. Reyna was bitching about Mexico being seeded ahead of us. Demarcus Beasely was bitching about not knowing who was going to be in the starting lineup for the Czech game, and then he bitched after the Czech game about not knowing his role. Bobby Convey made public remarks about confusion among the players. Arena was calling out players in the press. After today's loss, Arena was talking about the bad call on Onyewu and, shockingly, the seeding process. (Please, make it stop.) It was ugly. Ugly Americans. It wasn't quite as bad as the Bruce Sampson-led debacle of 1998, but in all honesty, this team didn't do much to endear itseld to a nation that, to be fair, has been giving the World Cup, at long last, plenty of coverage. I can't complain about that.
Talk about a golden opportunity lost for soccer to truly make its mark here. This may be the saddest aspect of all.
One last thing I want to touch upon is a comment left by reader Toku in my halftime post, a thought I was pondering myself and feel deserves at least some consideration...
For me, none of this is surprising. First, the US was put in the group of death. Then, when that showed to possibly not work, the refs took the Italy game away. Now to seal the deal, they're trying to take the Ghana game away too.
The fact that anti-American sentiment has, like, quintupled since the last WC isn't totally irrelevant to what's going on, I don't think.
Coincidence that the ref convicted of corruption popped up in a US match? Its a stretch to say there's a anti-US conspiracy within FIFA, but its not exactly a stretch to connect the dots either
Again, I'm trying hard not to be an ugly American who blames our losses on the refs. But between the Italy game and today's phantom call on Onyweu (which, mysteriously, occurred only minutes after we equalized), something smells funny.
I still want to know how a ref who had previously been suspended for corruption magically appears in a World Cup, and in a U.S. game to boot. Has FIFA offered a public explanation of this yet? I'd really, really, really like one, please. Listen, when a ref is suspended for corruption he has lost the right to offciate a match between eight-year olds, let alone in the World Cup.
So could the U.S. standing as a global bad guy have an effect on our team? Hmm. I'm not saying either way. To be honest, I've always thought it might be the opposite. You have to figure that FIFA regards America as the motherload of money and the success of soccer in the U.S. would lead to a windfall of cash. Why would FIFA place a poor nation like Ghana ahead of the U.S. where money is just waiting to be made? I've always thought the bogus FIFA rankings were possibly a ploy to get the U.S. team ranked high, which would generate more interest here and in turn more money. (And if so, you can't say it hasn't worked.) Who knows? It's all something to think about. I wouldn't doubt a conspiracy in either direction.
So anyway, we're out. Three and done. See you in South Africa, 2010. Let's give this lovely lass something to truly smile about next time.
Italy 2 Czech Republic 0
Figures. Italy comes through with what we needed with flying colors. Such a tease. And now with a second round match with Australia looming, they're almost a certainty for the quarterfinals. So we'll all be forced to watch the Italian actors dive and whine their way deep into the bracket. Splendid.
The Czechs? For the oldest team in the tournament, they're clearly at a crossroads. The generation of Nedved, Poborsky and Koller is essentially done. We'll see where they go from here. They've certainly been a joy the past few years, and one of my favorites to watch, but they'll need some young guns to come up and aid the likes of Rosicky and Baros.