Well, for once let's start with something completely uncontroversial. Last night's attendance wasn't actually a January Garbage Friendly record - last year drew a margin of error more. But that was a World Cup warmup, and the opponent was a Central American World Cup qualifier. This was a real, down-home Home Depot Center January Garbage Friendly. Even MLS fans could be forgiven for not knowing every domestic player on the roster. And it wasn't like Chile brought anyone you'd cross the street to see, either.
To my practiced eyes and ears, this was a legit 18,000 (cover your children's eyes - not EVERY Home Depot Center crowd is as announced), and it was split very roughly 50-50. You might be surprised to hear that the USSF bought blanket advertising in TV, radio and newspaper for this game...and you'd be right to be surprised, because obviously they didn't. If they did more than post it on ussoccer.com and put it on the sign off the 405, it escaped my notice.
Nine thousand diehard fans, with zero effort. Doesn't sound like much, but Los Angeles has the US fan-per-soccer fan capita is probably the lowest in the world outside Guadalajara. Maybe it's the rising tide lifting all boats, maybe it's the National Training Center. But that's visible progress. In the 90's, the USSF used Los Angeles to stand in for Mexico City, the way John Carpenter used East St. Louis to stand in for "Escape From New York." It's amazing there was a fan base here at all, and for practical purposes there wasn't. A decade and change later, and the US has a presence here. I wouldn't schedule a Mexico qualifier here yet, but then again, there won't be any for a while anyway.
So somebody's doing something right. Maybe they don't need to open up practices to passersby.
Although they should really have a full on travel package associated with the annual January Garbage Friendly. It would give the US Soccer Supporters Club something to do besides wait for World Cup tickets. They could have a discounted group plane rate if they get enough orders from specific cities, and a big old hotel and tour package for our more affluent fans. Throw in a signed shirt or two, have them watch an interesting practice - say a scrimmage with CUSA or the Galaxy or something - charge four figures for the whole deal, and next year they might even be able to open the upper deck. (And if they go back to scheduling Scandinavian teams, you could have their fans fly in and sell out the place.)
But if the Fed decides they don't need my advice - well, the scoreboard (or, at least, the box score) is on their side. They sure don't need me yammering about practices to grow the game.
Game? Oh, right, that.
Well...you know, the three weeks of camp was more important than the game. Last year, the games were final auditions, which is why Robbie Findley didn't make the World Cup roster HAW HAW HAW but seriously folks. We spend all this time bitching and whining about our lack of depth - well, this was Bob taking out the shovel and digging. Maybe it pays off, but if it doesn't, at least we can rule out some guys.
And while I hate to disagree with Aaron, especially when he's on ground as safe as "WOW, Marvell stunk it up Saturday night" - it's better to find this stuff out now than when it matters, even if you do think Wynne's a writeoff. But don't be surprised if you see him again, for a couple of reasons:
(1) Gary Smith is not a god-damned idiot. If he's starting Wynne at central defense, it's not because he lost a bet while drunk.
(2) A lot of guys sucked Saturday night, and it's because this was pretty much an MLS All-Star Team. There was a lot of "Oh, I'm used to my midfielder doing such-and-such" going on out there.
Does that excuse Wynne's hilarious first touch? No, but he wasn't the only one out there wearing Nike Cementos(TM). If he does turn into an international-quality defender...even if "international" means "CONCACAF cupcakes" - it's because he's getting this time early.
Oh, I said the same thing when Wynne was destroyed by Messi in Copa America a few years ago? Oops.
Fine, so Wynne is a project. So are Omar and Franklin and even Agudelo. You know what made this whole game worthwhile? Telefutura taking Teal Bunbury's goal celebration to a classic level. I am now hoping Teal becomes a 100-cap fixture, just to we can do that chant. I haven't been so devoted to a player based on potential chants since Guillermo Jara. "I like that BOON-BOO-REE!" shouldn't be left only for Wizards fans.
(No, I got the name right. Kansas City is getting it wrong. Let Telefutura announcers come up with a catchy chant for the new name if you want me to switch over.)
I'll tell you what I'm warming up to, a little. For several years, this team has been fantastic with the cliches about never giving up, fighting to the finish, showing heart and character - all that boring horsesh*t. YAWN.
But the World Cup team lived up to it - even if it meant always falling behind, the dunderheads - and this group has bought in, as well. Sure, they sucked in the first half. Then they got better, and that's after they added Marvell Wynne.
So when Studio 90 interviewed Dax McCarty after the game and broadcast it to the crowd (another nice touch, by the way - I always like it when the players address the crowds after games), and Dax passed Crash Davis interviewing 101 - well, you sort of bought into it.
Do I expect great things in the Gold Cup? Maybe. Do I expect great things in qualifying? Who cares, they don't have to be great, they watered down the process.
But on and off the field, they seem to be slowly building a proper international team. There will be some reverses - God help us if Donovan or Dempsey are taken away for some reason - but, in the words of William Makepeace Thackeray:
Wise, wise words.