The US national team has a lot to prove this summer. Fans don't feel good about the roster. There are questions in the defense. Disappointing results have become the norm. In fact, you can say it's all been downhill since losing to Mexico in the Gold Cup.
And there's a big tournament coming up soon, which the team pretty much needs to win. And yet, the domestic league plays on, without its star players.
Remember when we were all wondering when the men's national team would catch up with the women? Hurray!
Wow, I can't even find a video of Dora singing the "We Did It!" song.
So, on Saturday, Spain stuck it up our ass and broke off the handle - sorry to lapse into super-technical coach-speak there. Well, that's disappointing. It would have been very, very nice to have a winning streak over the world champs.
(If only to put some kind of brake on the whole "Best team EVER!" line we've been force-fed for a month now. Anyone in the mood for a rant about how they're not even the best Barcelona team ever, seeing as how Cruyff's teams would have...never mind.)
It's easy and tempting to chalk up Saturday as a learning exercise. As in, DON'T SCHEDULE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS AS A TOURNAMENT TUNE-UP, YOU YUTZES. And to tell you the truth, I sort of get the psychology behind it. Dempsey, Donovan, Bocanegra, Cherundolo - they won't be around forever. They might not even be around deep into the World Cup cycle. Steve Sampson and Bruce Arena lost their jobs in some measure because they stuck with Their Guys too long, not giving the New Guard a chance to become the New Guard until it was Too Late.
And who better to test yourself against, than the very best? Just think of how incredibly easy Canada and Panama will look compared to Spain. The odds that Spain crushed Tim Ream's spirit beyond repair are actually pretty small.
Anyway, the gap between theory and practice turned out to be four goals before Spain decided they weren't going to run up the score. Lesson learned, right?
Sure, that was it.
First of all - was the Spain game really less important than the first round of the Gold Cup? If you go by ratings and attendances, I'll bet you the Spain game comes out way, way ahead. I'm not running down Canada and Panama here, but they should be the first to admit that they ain't Spain any more than we are. The US had an opportunity to genuinely alter some perceptions, and Bradley decided to focus on getting out of the group stage of the Gold Cup.
Fine, except, if we can't get out of the group stage of the Gold Cup, we shouldn't be scheduling Spain in the first place. If giving it 65% against Spain is the difference between winning the Gold Cup and not, then schedule someone who won't humiliate us in front of New England soccer fans who presumably have suffered enough by now.
Which is a delicate way of saying that this lineup, at least Saturday morning, was supposed to be stronger than we are now admitting. And that could lead to serious trouble in the short term, and the long term.
Let's take a closer look at this whole "inexperienced lineup" excuse. Jonathan Spector didn't play in the World Cup, but he played throughout the Confederations Cup...including against Spain. He shouldn't have been out of his depth.
And while no, Lichaj and Ream aren't grizzled veterans, the hard truth is that someone is going to have to start in the back, and it's not going to be the same guys who started in 2010. It's no good saying before the game that these players are the hope for the future, then afterwards that they only started because Bocanegra was being rested.
It doesn't get any more reassuring up top, either. It's not fair to bash Jozy and Agudelo, because when did they ever see the ball? Spain cut through our midfield without mercy, and I was under the impression that Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu were supposed to play significant roles for this team. The only thing they accomplished was to give Bob Bradley more reason to start his kid.
While it was great that Landon Donovan got ninety minutes of rest, and Clint Dempsey got 45 - again, if it's rest the team needs, then don't schedule anyone at all. And if we're starting people to get them precious experience, don't throw them under the bus afterwards. If Lichaj, Ream and Spector aren't now going to be big parts of the team, then they shouldn't have played against Spain in the first place.
It's not as if our best eleven - whoever the heck that is - would have done appreciably better. But you'd never know that from the press releases coming out of Soccer House. Is it fair to say that we are completely, utterly, and helplessly in denial about the quality of our team right now?
Signs point to yes.
If the game didn't make you wince, then Sunil Gulati's performance at halftime did. I'm sure you enjoyed our wholehearted support of President Blatter, and share Sunil's faith that he will do something about the rampant corruption that characterized the previous regime of Sepp Blatter.
I'm holding out hope that we're actually going to get something out of this, in exchange for our support. No, we don't have to have the revote for the 2022 World Cup this week. It can be years from now, even. And if Sepp Blatter is instrumental in correcting that, Sunil will be completely vindicated. (Unless you subscribe to the theory that the USSF president should have anticipated rampant bribery among competing bids before all this, of course.)
But if all Sunil is getting out of this is Jack Warner's scalp - well, Jack Warner probably didn't vote for Qatar. Lining up behind Sepp Blatter looks great inside FIFA, but irredeemably corrupt to the general public. The FA might be acting out of sour grapeitude, but at least they're not drinking it down and calling it nectar like we seem to be doing. Please tell me we'll get something tangible out of all this. Why be a whore if you're not getting paid?
Oh, look! We have another national team! And it took a Paul Caligiuri-style Shot Heard Round The Corner from Lauren Cheney to beat Mexico, deep into injury time in the second half. Not good.
For our younger readers, the United States used to own Mexico in women's soccer the way Mexico used to own California, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Also, the USWNT used to be both popular and good. Today, they are neither.
Oh, they're the defending Olympic gold medalists? That can't be right. Let me check Wikipedia...I'll be darned. So they are.
Well, perhaps Mexico turned out to be an outsider choice for the World Cup while I (and everyone else in the world) weren't paying attention. Unfortunately, according to Jenna Pel, signs point to no.
Either this is an above-average team cursed with illustrious predecessors and a fanbase whose expectations haven't dwindled as rapidly as their numbers - or Alex Morgan will make everything better.
At least there's an Olympics next year, in case we stink up yet another World Cup. Unfortunately, that's not an option for the men.