Enjoy this picture. This is as much of the Olympics as we're gonna see this year.
Oh...yeah, the women. I guess.
I think Caleb Porter would pay real money to scrub all traces of this article off the Internet. Tell us why your teams play so beautifully, Caleb.
As it happens, I have a unique perspective to bring about this loss, and what it means for the US national team program. Why? Because I'm on codeine.
Two things have already been forgotten in this debacle, probably for the same reasons the stylish and well-organized deck chairs on the Titanic have been ignored. First - the US did come all the way back from the hole they dug themselves. Being down a goal was like being down two -and by golly, they got them back.
At home, against lesser opposition - well, okay, I suppose there's a reason Porter and the boys aren't getting a parade and a trip to the White House.
The other thing that's forgotten, at least for the moment - Terrence Boyd's goals were tasty. Those were some fine-looking assists from Brek and Freddy, and Boyd converted those puppies like they were Saul of Tarsus.
That really, really should have been enough. If you take the micro view on this particular game, the flaws are identifiable and correctable. Like, hire a training staff that can tell when your keeper is done for the evening. The Galaxy made a similar botch in MLS Cup 2009, and it cost them a star. This one cost the US a possible trip to the Olympics. I don't blame Bill Hamid, although it's tempting - you don't get to be a starting professional goalkeeper by wanting out of tough games. That's why you need trainers like Gregory House, who assume the patient is lying. This is pretty fanboyish of me, but I think if Johnson comes in before the first two Salvador goals, the US wins 2-0. Well, maybe 2-1...I don't think this defense is pitching any shutouts against teams better than Cuba.
I also wish we hadn't played El Salvador's game - which was based heavily on good old ultraviolence. Those who turn the other cheek in CONCACAF usually get an elbow through it, but the fact remains that the US drew first blood long before Boyd was cheap-shotted - Amobi Okugo got himself a yellow in the seventh freaking minute for smacking an opponent. If we join in the extracurricular off-the-ball nonsense, that just gives the ref an excuse to swallow his whistle - except in extreme cases of showing up the ref, which the US was also guilty of.
Well, those will be helpful lessons...for the five or six guys we'd ever want to see in an American uniform again. I'm sure Porter's learned a lot, too, but for him to have said "There is no doubt in my mind that we are going to get the result" when, in retrospect, maybe there should have been a little doubt - I'm in no hurry to see the guy coaching adults.
When you pull back the camera a little bit...well, I understand why people are looking at the program right now and pulling out other people's hair. We got dropped by Canada and El Salvador, who (and I apologize to both these teams and their fans for this assumption) are probably going to play as many games in London as the United States. It's one thing to get beaten by Mexico, it's another to look at the team and say, "Wow, Mexico would have crucified us."
I suppose that's a silver lining - if this was the quality of team that the United States is fielding these days, it's better to flop on a small stage than in front of millions. Once upon a time, failing to make the Olympics would have been a crippling disaster for American soccer. Nowadays, we miss it as often as we make it - at least, the Y-chromosome compliant version - and American soccer marches more or less merrily on.
Both national teams have reached the American public to the extent that they have millions of casual fans. Only a few thousand of those will truly mourn missing the Olympics, just like only a few thousand would follow the team into Azteca. When people talk about making massive structural changes to the federation to prevent calamities like this, it's good to remember that the truly huge structural change has almost been achieved - acceptance and support of the game by the American public. That's going to be the engine that will carry the program through its occasional crummy losses, and enable the program to maximize its occasional lucky successes.
I suppose I should come clean. When people say "Let's restructure the USSF," I tend to hear "Let's blow up the moon." Just because the person saying it has no realistic way of accomplishing the goal doesn't make me feel better. What the United States Soccer Federation is, is a youth program licensing body that happens to sponsor a few male and female all-star team. You and I care much more about those teams than we do about the health and well-being of the nation's rec leagues and youth academies, but those are important parts of the USSF constituency. Any concerted effort to reorient the USSF away from that will be met, to say the least, with massive resistance.
That's even assuming that blowing up the moon will help. The USSF would need several hundred thousand man-hours and Manhattan Project-style resources to come close to the corruption of, say, Brazilian soccer - and yet, there they are, where we want to be, with shirts full of stars and hosting a World Cup. Everyone asks, where is our Messi? How can we develop a Messi? Not by modeling ourselves after the AFA.
If you've been reading Bill Archer's blogs for, oh, roughly an eighth of a second, you'd quickly realize that most national federations are malignancies. The very best we can hope for is a federation that can hire the right people, and let them do their jobs. America's problem is that for several decades, the end-all and be-all of soccer participation was an NCAA college scholarship. In other countries, the end-all and be-all was making a professional club. I don't even think college soccer fans would argue too loudly that the latter produces a better player than the former.
I don't mean to say that the NCAA ruins good American players...although with the limits that the NCAA imposes on development, it's hard to resist wondering what someone like Claudio Reyna might have done if he had chosen Europe over Virginia. And I certainly don't want to get into the moral quicksand of encouraging merely fair-to-good players to focus on an unlikely pro career, just for the benefit of expanding the national team's player pool. Someone drafted in the third round and cut in February has a diploma to fall back on, unlike some kid brought over form Tunisia who blows a club tryout. That's a better outcome for the player, and I can't demand it should be overthrown for the good of the elite without feeling a little, well, both national and social. If you get my drift.
But I will say the free market is going to handle a lot of the issues that have us perplexed this week. The longer MLS lasts, the more profitable it will be, and the more worthwhile it will be to make soccer into something besides a ticket to college. If the jobs are there - for players and coaches - we won't be stuck with Caleb Porter starting Jorge Villafana forever.
Okay, this is definitely the codeine by now, but, American soccer isn't like turning a car around, or even a battleship. It's an olive orchard. And those damn trees to take a while to grow. Project 2010 didn't come true, because even a ten year plan shows too much impatience.
I'm fine with "firing" Sunil - although how we'd begin such a campaign in a realistic sense is completely beyond me - but not just for the sake of change.
One last thing - even the great teams step on a rake now and again. This round of qualifying caught us at a bad time. Que sera etc. I mean, hell, the other month Italy lost at home to - I forget, some POS team from the ass end of nowhere. We survived losing to Iran, we'll brush this off. For tomorrow is another day.