There are three things we need to talk about regarding the USSF and the team it has chosen to represent itself, but first, I wanted to admit that I have a sincere response to the Deadspin MLS troll.
In reality, MLS is still a second-tier product, full of dull play and even less compelling players, with a top-down league ownership structure that neuters real competition and an obnoxious, proselytizing hardcore fanbase. All of this makes the idea of following the league just as offensive as it's always been.
Fine. So don't.
It's a very busy time in the sports calendar. March Madness is about to start, the NBA playoffs and MLB opening day are around the corner, we just had the NHL trade deadline, and who knows, there might even be some international soccer coming up soon.
If we've learned one thing in the past eighteen years, it's how vastly "football" fans like this have overvalued their importance. MLS has always been about most of the best domestic players, however good or bad they are, plus a few international celebrities of wildly varying ability and motivation. That happens to describe nearly every league in the world. If you're going to tell me that the likes of the Scottish Premiership qualify as first-tier.
MLS is also about the journey. We were pretty darn far away in 1996, we're closer now, and yeah, we're not there yet. Maybe we never get there. Maybe we never have teams as good as Barcelona. Maybe the United States never wins a World Cup. Maybe we never get particularly close, at least in our lifetimes. I happen to believe that the ongoing story of MLS as it approaches its third decade, with the changes we've seen so far and are likely to see down the road, is pretty darn interesting. That's something you don't get in any other American sport (except women's pro basketball), and something no European league can offer.
That doesn't have to be interesting to you, but it shouldn't really hurt your feelings just for existing.
We are so much better off without people like this, it's delicious. Don't believe me? Fine. Let's say the writer decides to grace one of our games with his or her presence, and you have to stand next to him or her. "Oh, this is so top-down and second-tier," this person will sniff, texting and tweeting what a terrible chore it is to watch mere Americans play the beautiful game.
Maybe you're made of sterner stuff than I, but the Beckham Experience brought me into a lot of contact with soccer Eloi who believed they were doing me and mine a big fat favor by shimmering into our section and blessing our team with their gaze, only to hear how we just didn't match the quality and authenticity of teams that spent decades as the props of dictators. That crap got older than Methuselah faster than Jesse Owens, and to this day I hope every one of them died on the way home.
I've said this every so often for years, and I'm certainly not too proud to keep saying it - we will never reach this kind of so-called fan. We can't compete with their television, and I'm at a loss to imagine why we should.
Now, back to our national team.
Last year around this time, we were in a panic because we had lost on the road to Honduras and the team was in disarray. Then we won the Snow Bowl, drew to Mexico, won a bunch of games in a row, and then got real full of ourselves.
Not talking so big now, are we? Perhaps not waving around quite as many Nate Silver projections as we were a couple of months ago. Maybe the second word in "Oh boy, the World Cup is three months away!" is being replaced by something a little less FCC-friendly.
Or maybe we're just not much of a February team.
I'd love to say friendlies are meaningless, but this one isn't. If it did nothing more than cost a few guys roster spots, that's bad enough - even if our best choice in Brazil is Tim Howard and an MLS All-Star Team, you'd like to think the guys on the bench could step in in case of emergency.
And both Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore have timed the worst, most disastrous slumps of their respective careers perfectly...provided they both pull out of it RIGHT THIS SECOND. Otherwise...well, for one thing, Chris Wondolowski is going to be our starting forward. He'll end up scoring ten goals and winning both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball, and Earthquake fans will be just insufferable about it. We can't have that.
At least we have four more games to...yeah, I keep thinking about how the World Cup is a long, detailed, intricate series of preparations that take months and years, all but three months of which are now over. And if the Ukraine game was the result of that preparation, how just magnificently screwed we are. Yes, I know it was just Last Exit Before Toll for our country's non-MLS players, but doesn't it feel like we shouldn't have stunk up the Mediterranean? Just a little?
Anyway, in a month we have fellow World Cup no-hopers Mexico in Arizona, which - and one hates to be cynical - might be less about preparing for a specific World Cup opponent than making buckets of cash for the two programs. Then come Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria. I believe Nigeria is meant to replicate Ghana, because we're racist; Turkey is supposed to approximate Germany and/or Portugal; and Russia plans to invade Azerbaijan and we want to host another political rally. Rumors of building being damaged by the seismic tremors caused by our opponents in Group G quaking in their boots have not yet been confirmed.
Okay, so we don't look good. But we also don't look good.
Nike and the Fed revealed our "home" jersey this week, which has so far completely failed to gruntle our fanbase. Keith Olbermann even opened his show last week comparing the new uniform to that of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, calling them both marketing-driven failures. But what Olbermann misses is....
Wait. Keith Olbermann is talking about the US national team jersey? As if he is somehow invested in having the US look good at the World Cup? The guy who made a catchphrase out of Gianluca Pagliuca, leaving us to explain to future generations that once, Americans were baffled by Italian names?
Wow, times have changed. Anyway, the United States has worn white as a home color for all but one of its World Cup appearances since 1990. I think we need to accept that's where we're going with this. I can think of three other countries that wear white as a primary shirt - England, Germany and New Zealand. White shorts differentiate us enough from the two of those that matter. Sorry, Simon Elliott, if you're reading. There are very few distinctive "looks" still available after over 140 years of international soccer, and I doubt we're going to go with purple, gray or brown. As the song almost says, everything's going to be all white.
The white horizontal stripes on a white background make me violently angry, but I think that's just me. Remember the centennial jersey everyone loved? Was that really any more interesting visually than this year's model? I put it to you, gentle reader, that the real problem is the same as it has been since Nike took over - our hodgepodge crest.
Don't believe me? Put the centennial crest over this year's shirt. Looks better, doesn't it? Even if you change the navy to royal. It's not the colors, or the hidden colors, or the collar. A good crest would make that a quality shirt. I'd love to blame Nike for this, but Soccer House needed to make a change over a decade ago. Between this and blowing the World Cup, I'd bet Sunil Gulati is in serious trouble over...oh, really? Unanimously?
Well, let's see what the road jersey looks like. I hope it's purple, gray and brown.
One last thing while I've got you here - does ANYONE know why we haven't gotten the vote totals from the Hall of Fame voting? I mean, congratulations to the three people elected - I used a "Bob the Builder" headline years ago, little realizing it would have come in handy.
Or am I the only one who cares? I'd like to know if Lilly was unanimous, or if McBride squeaked in, or how close Scurry really was, or most of all how MLS guys like Kreis and Ralston are trending.
But, uh, can't do that without the numbers. I could start a conspiracy theory that the votes weren't actually counted, I guess. It would be irresponsible, but then, so is not releasing the voting numbers.
I was going to make a joke that Briana Scurry should be in the Hall, because after all, six people who played in front of her are. See, because, Hope Solo didn't have that much help.
Then I looked again at the lineup for the 1996 gold medal game against China. I was sort of right. Six current Hall of Famers started that game for the US. Plus Chastain, who will be inducted once she ever gets around to retiring. Plus Shannon MacMillan, whose latest voting totals I'd be very interested in seeing. Plus Tiffeny Milbrett, who will be on the ballot next year, unless I miss my guess, and will have a very good, but controversial, case.
So, uh, yeah, Scurry had some help. She made Tisha Venturini look AWESOME, though.