FATHER'S DAY WITH THE USMNT - a one act play
Hey, Mike. Got a second?
Sure, Dad. What's up?
I'm gonna make a few changes in the lineup.
No, you're still starting. It's just - I'm making some big changes. BIG changes. And if it goes wrong today...well, that could be it for me. So, I'm going to need you to play your very best.
At the very least, you know, don't play like a chicken-fried abortion out there.
Yeah, whatever. So, what's the big lineup change? Let me guess, you're benching Landon, ha ha.
Ha ha. Let's, uh, let's get the team together and we'll go over some last minute things.
Sure thing. Happy Father's Day, Coach!
So, yeah, about the lineup change. First, dropping Landon seems to be temporary, and based on this article, there don't seem to be any lasting recriminations:
Video of that quote from Scott French's blog here.
It's as if no one involved had any idea how close they came to completely tarnishing their careers. Had the US lost to Jamaica with Donovan on the bench, there would have been hell to pay.
Starting with Landon himself. I'm sure he tried to get to Washington on time - whenever the hell that was, if Clint Dempsey was cool for coming in five hours earlier. The fact remains that he put his coach and his team in a hell of a predicament by forcing a last-minute change. (Bradley brought some of this on himself, though - he could simply have said no.)
It also didn't help that Donovan's performance so far this Gold Cup might have led one to think he had been benched based on merit. He now has a chance to redeem himself, against the team that started this whole mess by embarrassing the US last week.
But, the US did not suffer it's worst and most controversial loss since 1998, avoiding a complete meltdown of the program and changing the course of the game in America in untold ways.
However, to read some reports, you'd think the US actually played well against a good opponent. Allow me to disagree.
The US once again played down to the level of its opponent - yes, now it can be told. We painfully overrated Jamaica based on this tournament. Donovan Ricketts is their one truly great player. Here's a little exercise - cover up the names on the rosters, and just compare the list of clubs. This won't give you a complete picture - it would be a little unfair to Costa Rica, for example, who seem to have a bunch of good young players to go with Bryan Ruiz. It's a good thing they weren't our quarterfinal opponent.
But you'd put the United States comfortably ahead of all of their opponents so far in the Gold Cup. I think I read somewhere that hasn't played out quite as expected.
This doesn't account for outliers like, say, Ricketts, who plays for a crummy little MLS team like some US backup. But in general, you get a pretty good idea of the various teams' relative strength. The US should not sweat games against Jamaica.
No, I'm not swayed by the argument that goes along the lines of "If it wasn't for Ricketts, the US wins by four or five goals." Well, Jamaica generally does play with a goalkeeper, as do most teams these days. Turns out they're allowed to stop shots using their hands.
Jamaica can play "What if" at least as well as the US. Seriously, I've never, ever been one of those people who hated hated HATED Michael Bradley, until the fourth minute of the game. He not only starts the Jamaica run with a clueless giveaway, he utterly fails to stop the guy, THEN he kept Luton Shelton onside by walking when he should have been running. His dad should have pulled him then and there. If Shelton hadn't borrowed Chris Wondolowski's boots from the Panama game, we have a very different game. One that Jamaica wins.
Now, if you say "If Altidore hadn't blown his hamstring" as a counterfactual, I'm a little more sympathetic. I have to respect the choice made by Bob Bradley - putting Dempsey in attacking midfield was exactly what I thought he wouldn't be courageous enough to do, because that sort of change mid-tournament is such a huge risk. And once Altidore was injured, the 4-5-1 nearly collapsed, along with the Gold Cup campaign and - maybe - Bradley's job.
So Bradley deserves credit for a change that gave the United States a monstrous advantage in possession. Yet, it still took an extremely fortunate deflection for the US to take the lead. I realize that Jones was given the goal, but that doesn't mean we should blind ourselves to how little that goal had to do with any shooting skill. And that nice little second goal after Dempsey had a second chance in two games to goof around in the six yard box. Now we know eleven of our players can score on ten of Jamaica. How glorious for us.
The cold reality is, Jamaica took our best shot, and was very unfortunate to lose. If it takes a disgraceful, if well-acted, dive for the United States to beat Jamaica, then the United States has answered none of its criticisms...unless "You're right" counts as an answer.
And the aggravating thing is, the United States will probably get to the final without playing a single good, solid ninety minutes. Yes, I anticipate we'll beat Panama in the semifinals, for pretty much the same reason we beat Canada, Jamaica and Guadaloupe - the talent gap is just that large. The same wellspring of confidence I felt after Jermaine Taylor was unjustly ejected should give all US fans hope that given two tries to beat Panama at home, we should at least prevail in one of those games. If not, well, Tim Howard should see us through in penalty kicks. (He's done it to Panama before, after all.)
And then, knowing us, we'll play out of their freaking minds against Mexico - Michael Bradley will probably even have two assists - and afterwards all concerned will make it a point to lecture us on how we didn't believe in them. They've done that before, too - a lot.
In fact, that 4-5-1 might end up being crucial against Mexico. The only way to beat Mexico will be to prevent Chicharito from destroying our back line - and the only way that happens is if he sees the ball infrequently to the point of never. If the 4-5-1 gives the US the possession advantage, then it's Mexico's back line that will have to worry about stopping Dempsey. No, Clint Dempsey isn't as good as Javier Hernandez, but that's not how soccer matchups work, is it? The 4-5-1 will hit Mexico in the holes left by Zinha and Ochoa's tainted beef. Bob Bradley might have won the Gold Cup today - and not by any means because of our wildly overrated performance against Jamaica.
Or Michael Bradley keeps making passes to guys wearing different colored shirts, and Mexico wins 5-0 again.
This isn't the national team we want, and it certainly isn't the national team we deserve - but it's the national team we have, and we're stuck with them.
In the future, though, can we ask the players' sisters to schedule their weddings with a little more consideration?