"Gratitude is a euphemism for resentment." - Robert Heinlein
You'd think I'd get sick of apologizing for being wrong all the damn time...and you'd be correct. However, I was very, very wrong for suggesting that it would be best if the United States commenced Operation Red Carpet in Panama City.
Like many of you (but by no means all), I was at first appalled and amazed at the effrontery of Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson. How gauche, we all thought, or words to that effect. Now, roughly twenty-four hours later - well, it's still a little hard to piece together. But I think everyone, except maybe a certain former province of Colombia, is better off for what happened.
First, let's compliment Juergen Klinsmann for doing what I accused him of ignoring on Friday - taking a golden opportunity to deepen and strengthen his squad. Zusi, Johannsson, and Brad Davis weren't trying to write a strange and glorious chapter in the region's soccer history - they were trying to make the World Cup squad. Klinsmann wasn't trying to shaft over a rival that, in fairness, is not HIS rival - he's trying to find the best twenty-three men for a tournament where every single roster spot except third goalkeeper will be crucial.
As a fan, I have to be reminded sometimes of the yawning chasm between player and fan, and yesterday's reactions illustrated that perfectly. Winning the game, performing well, meshing with (hopefully) teammates, getting minutes in a live-ammo situation - the Hexagonal was done, but the squad still has to be built. Klinsmann's right, we're not gonna win the thing, but that's no reason to go there and stink up the place.
Panama was not their problem. Mexico was not their problem. The US national team was, rightly, their only focus. That was much better for us short-sighted, silly fans than four years of delicious, delicious mockery.
Since the US was acting in its self-interest - Zusi and Davis and Johannsson obviously benefited themselves greatly - then, well, Mexico doesn't need to be overly effusive in its thanks. And that win was certainly in the best interests of the US national team.
Enough self-congratulatory electrons have been killed extolling the honor and honesty of the US team - and, by extension, how wonderful and sportsmanlike we are as US national team fans - oh, this? just the halo I got for buying a centennial shirt - seriously, we'll be as bad as England fans at this rate - anyway, we've been reading and basking in the positive effects of winning, so let's take a moment to ponder what might have happened if the USMNT had listened to small-minded, hateful imbeciles like myself.
If Panama had earned the victory, sending Mexico out of the World Cup, a cloud would have settled over our program, perhaps permanently. We now know that a Panama victory would have been hard-won and just - ironically, because had they won, it would have been seen as ill-gotten theft. The US would have, as noted, won four years of mockery - at the expense of an eternity of accusations.
Again, we know those accusations would have been groundless - no thanks to people like me, who would have been cheering the result with no heed to the cost. I've been cheering for heels like the Galaxy for too long, so I would have been fine, wearing a Nike scarf in a lake of fire. But there would have been no way to prove that the US was not complicit. Both existing and potential fans would probably have been turned off, because it's hard to connect with a sport where you can't trust the integrity of the competition. Ask boxing.
Many of the fans who wouldn't have forsaken the sport altogether would have been driven into Mexico's waiting arms. There's only one thing that attracts fans as much as victory, and that's unjust failure. Instead of being irretrievably exposed as frauds and clowns, this Mexico team - this team, probably the worst in that country's history, one that's earned the sneers and catcalls of an entire continent many times over - would have been given martyrs' crowns. We were THIS CLOSE to turning over 140 million people on both sides of the border into Red Sox fans.
....you know, if Klinsmann does call up Mike Magee, he wouldn't need to worry about wasting a spot on a third goalkeeper....