What do you want from your national team?
Wins, sure. But you both want more than just wins...and less. You want your team to play beautifully, of course, while winning.
But every fan of every team wants that. I think national team fans want their team to represent them, more than a mere club does. That means it honestly doesn't matter whether we win. We want our national team to represent us, the best of us, most of all.
So if we don't win? No team wins every game. As long as we play intelligently. As long as we play to the best of our ability. As long as we never give anything less than our best, until the game is over.
Clubs? Well, if they don't win, there's nothing to do but wait for the next game. Let's face it - your club is a business, and business is winning. National teams - well, the responsibility isn't winning. It's greater than winning.
But it also means that my national team doesn't have to win ALL the time. So, in a way, that's actually easier.
So, as I sit down to watch the US play Panama in the first round of the Gold Cup, all I really ask is that the US doesn't fail disgracefully. If the US players and coaches treat the fans, the jersey, and the nation with the respect it deserves? I'm happy.
*two hours later*
...what the CRAP was THAT?
The day started out fine - old pal Kenn is back in the saddle, calling soccer games again. Until the Galaxy finally hire him, I'll settle for an excuse to watch lower division games.
The day ended with my team losing, 2-2, at the hands of Alan Freaking Gordon. Afterwards, I went home, drew a nice, warm bath, plugged in the hair dryer, and jumped in.
Anyone catch Cobi on FSC before the game saying the two key players would be Bradley and Jones? All too true. My man of the match was Maurice Edu. If you can't have a good game, have a good alibi.
It seems like usually we tie, if now win, those kind of games. Not games against Panama - well, yes, we usually do beat them, but they're not a bunch of stiffs. I mean, when we fall behind a goal or two, then come fighting back. To be honest, it's actually a relief to see us realize that what lack of talent and intelligence get us into, "heart" won't always bail us out of.
Maybe we're trying to finish third? Instead of facing Mexico in the final in Los Angeles, we face them in the quarterfinal in...the Meadowlands. How have we done against Mexico in Gold Cup games at the Meadowlands - can someone look that up for me?
I realize I'm supposed to be up in arms about Jermaine Jones throwing down the jersey in disgust - and I am. But that's because I dislike Jermaine Jones. And that's a good enough reason for me to pretend that plastic bottles molded into a shirt with a swoosh on it falls under the US Flag Code.
However, if Clarence Goodson had tossed his shirt down in disgust - I'd have had no problem with it. Not that Clearance Clarence was fantastic, but he was a lot better than poor Tim Ream - and he did score a goal, after all. Are Bornstein, Lichaj and Gooch stinking it up that much in practice? Or is Bob Bradley just taking "sink or swim" to ridiculous levels?
Hell, start Ream against Guadaloupe. Might as well. He's got to get confidence from somewhere, otherwise he's going back to the Red Bulls a broken shell of a man.
It's not like the Old Guard is going to help, even in the short term. If Carlos Bocanegra had connected on that tackle on Alberto Quintero, would Sounders fans demand a ten-game suspension? Because that was pretty Mullan-esque. I realize there is no deadlier insult in soccer.
Landon Donovan got what used to be (and should still be) known as a secondary assist on the Goodson goal - not getting credit for that probably makes up for getting an assist on the Jozy goal against Canada. That's pretty much been his Gold Cup performance up to this point. The knee-jerk baying hounds that comprise our fanbase have been piling on Donovan all weekend for his allegedly substandard performance...and for once, the knee-jerkers are right. NOW can we start Dempsey and Donovan at forward?
I like Juan Agudelo, too, but come on. There are three ways to approach the lineup when you have a player or two who are both incredible and versatile. Let's call them "Landon" and "Clint." Option one, you put them at their best position. Option two, you put them at what you consider to be the most important position. Option three, you put them at your weakest position.
After giving it some thought, you - let's call you "Bob," for the sake of argument - anyway, Bob chooses Option Three because at least he gets Landon and Clint in the lineup. He still has his Kicked Bucket, with the middle clogged up with two d-mids. And Landon and Clint can be stuck out on the wings, because otherwise who the hell is going out there? Chris Wondolowski?
....actually, that's not THAT bad an idea. But "I'd rather have Jozy and Agudelo on the field than Wondo and Robbie Rogers" - that's not blithering insanity. It's a perfectly reasonable conclusion. Bob chooses Option Three (he probably doesn't call it that) because it gets the best players on the field.
The downside of Option Three is - well, the Panama game. Our most talented players are that much less of a factor before the ball is even kicked. It's not so much that it subsumes creativity and individual talent to the Coach's Plan - this is 2011. Every coach on every team in the world quashes individuality in favor of the Plan. A coach wants individual initiative from one of his players about as much as Vishwanathan Anand wants it from one of his pawns.
(I admit it, I Googled the current chess rankings to get that name. I couldn't remember if Kasparov was retired or not.)
Anyway. The real problem is that, no matter how adventurously attacking the strategy, Option Three is all about safety and damage control. It's about trying not to lose. And, historically, it's worked. Check out Bradley's won-loss record.
Unfortunately, right now, Option Three is killing Dempsey and Donovan, and taking the rest of the team with it. Is that Clint and Landon's fault? Honestly - yes. This isn't their first rodeo. Those are the positions they played when they won their freaking World Cup group. If their production and performance has dropped off, that's on the players. It wasn't like 2010 was a hundred years ago.
But it's a problem now. And there are two ways to solve it. Hope Landon and Clint go back to their old levels, or move them to their best positions and turn them loose.
Whichever Bradley chooses, it's going to look like it worked against Guadaloupe, because Guadaloupe can't compete with us. We won't actually know if it worked until later in the tournament, though. I can see huge downsides with either approach, and I don't envy Bradley's position right now. Based on the Canada and Panama games, the status quo will get us killed and eaten by Mexico...maybe by Honduras as well.
But it's bravery to the point of foolhardiness to put in two untried wingers - let alone to switch out the entire midfield mid-tournament, which would have to be done if Donovan or Dempsey were put in as the attacking midfielders that God intended them to be. If Wondolowski, or Kljestan, or Rogers, end up being liabilities severe enough to - well, severe enough to consider Option Three in the first place? Mexico will kill and eat us, unless Honduras (EDIT - per comments, Jamaica) does first.
Anyway, I'm glad to see that my call for those calling for Bob Bradley's head, then also suggest a credible replacement, has weighed about as heavily on Paul Gardner's back as a sunbeam:
Let's give Paul the benefit of the doubt here, and assume he doesn't mean Greg Ryan.
But who does he mean? Bradley and Gulati lived out the hiring equivalent of The Pina Colada Song last year, after the World Cup. Bob flirted with Aston Villa, Gulati made goo-goo eyes at Juergen Klinsmann. They're the couple you know that are together because they can't do better, so they spend all their time whining about each other.
Now, losing to Guadaloupe would be the equivalent of getting caught with an underage donkey prostitute - but I short of that, I don't see anyone but Bob Bradley coaching the United States through this World Cup cycle. And given the quality of coach we're likely to end up with after a panic firing - that's unfortunately for the best.
Although if, a week after saying "Hey, at least we're not Canada," we then lose out on a quarterfinal spot to Canada? I'd laugh.