Colin Jose and Roger Allaway, the Herodotus and Thucydides of American soccer history, have updated their indispensable book, "The United States Tackles the World Cup."
Full disclosure - I received my second edition copy for free. I didn't even ask for it. Someone up there likes me.
But I did pay for my previous edition. In fact, I got it at the Soccer Hall of Fame store annex in Cooperstown, New York, literally across the street from the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's a great little store, I heartily recommend....
...yeah, it's probably not actually there anymore, is it.
On to happier subjects. The previous edition only took us through the 2002 World Cup, which gave that edition a satisfying ending. "And if it weren't for Tosten Frings' handball, we'd have beaten Germany, beaten South Korea, and...then we would have gotten boat-raced by Ronaldo and Brazil, but hey! Second place, that's good, right?"
The premise of the book is that friendlies and Olympic games and U-whatevers are just sideshows - to measure the full development of the US through the ages, you look at the games that counted.
Which means a couple of watershed moments of the 1990's are not counted - the 1993 US Cup, and the 1998 Gold Cup. Jose and Allaway apply scientific rigor and consistency, and it's completely understandable that they did not go through recorded and unrecorded history to arbitrarily decide which friendlies were important, and which were not.
The Gold Cup is a slightly touchier decision - skipping the continental championship would not work in a history of England or Argentina. Because CONCACAF is French for "incompetence," though, the continental championship 'round these parts has only occasionally approached relevance. In my opinion, 1998 was one of those years, but the title of the book ain't "The United States Tackles the World Cup and Other Tournaments."
Although Allaway and Jose would probably be loath to admit it, "The United States Tackles the World Cup" is largely the history of the US team post-Shot Heard Round the World ( a term Allaway and Jose find problematic, seeing as how most of the world cared laughably little). The 2002 World Cup takes thirty pages to cover. The sixty years from 1930 to 1990 takes fifty-five pages.
This is because the factually-minded authors rarely stray off the field, where most of the US games in the NASL era were lost. This was a very prudent decision, since a detailed history of USFA/USSFA/USSF incompetence would be about a foot thick.
This is also because so few games were actually played. There were no qualifiers for 1930, and the United States played three games in Uruguay. There was one qualifier in 1934 - Buff Donelli got into the Hall of Fame largely on the strength of it - and in the Cup itself, the US was one and done.
There are fascinating stories in these tournaments - hence, the book - but most of the attention inevitably falls upon the modern era. Detailed, game-by-game recaps of the progress of the US team is - well, if this topic doesn't interest you, then this isn't the book for you anyway. It's striking to see how the US World Cup adventures have gone from a half-dozen games to the two-year roller coaster epics we enjoy these days. Each cycle now has enough material for a book or two. The book ends - well, where we are now. Was the 2010 Cup a triumph, a setback, or neither? What next? We'll find out in the third edition.
Women's national team fans might want to wait for that third edition, and skip this one entirely, given that this book ends with the 2007 China World Cup. If you're anxious to relive that tournament, less power to you. USWNT fans could always tear out the last few pages and live in the past, if they choose.
There's a bigger issue here, though, and that's the decision to ignore the Olympics. It makes sense from the point of view of the men's national team, but far less so for the women. You can tell the story of the 2010 World Cup and mention the 2009 Confederations Cup in passing, but ignoring what those three gold medals have meant to the women's program is a far more problematic decision.
In fairness, the USSF chooses to put two stars, and not five, on the women's jerseys, so this conclusion might be understandable. But the book ends with Pia Sundhage being hired to coach the team in 2007. The women's story is choppy enough that it might warrant a different book - "The Meaningful Games of the Women's National Team," perhaps.
The other problem women's Nats fans would have is that Allaway and Jose tell the story of a program that rocketed to success and has been slowly declining. That's not a fun story to read. It's not the authors' fault, but barring a fairly significant upset this year, the next edition isn't going to be any more cheerful.
So, "The United States Tackles the World Cup" - indispensable for USMNT fans, merely interesting for USWNT fans. (I say this knowing that fellow blogger Roger is far too nice to tell me to (in the words of the great Woody Allen paraphrase) go forth and multiply.)
Speaking of fellow bloggers - if you liked Sam Pierron's journey through MLS stadia last year (and it was fantastic), then you will enjoy Brother Badgerjohn embarking on a similar series. He's done RFK already.
I was going to say that over the years, RFK has become one of the oldest remaining stadiums in MLS - for a while there, every other team in the division had a newer stadium. Then Houston joined the East this year. Amusingly, Portland, one of the league's newest teams, has by far the oldest stadium in the league - although what I still think of as Civic Stadium has had several facelifts.