I Don't Believe

That sure was funny how Holland just boat-raced Spain.  What I found most amazing was how, after the game, Spain all lined up in front of the Holland team, handed back their 2010 medals, and sang the "Praise them with great praise!" song from "Return of the King." 

Oh, you didn't see that part?  I guess I just have a higher tier of sports channel than you, or something.

Yeah, I'm not in super-deep analysis mode right now, because Our Team plays tomorrow - crap, tonight.  I gotta get some sleep.  But, well, tomorrow's Christmas.

Well, it's either Christmas, or the day the test results come back from the vet and you learn it's time to take Floppy out for one last walk.  Then we have a couple more Christmas or Horror nights to look forward to. 

Intellectually I've steeled myself for defeat, because intellectually all the evidence points to one, two, three strikes you're out.  I think we kind of talked ourselves into this idea that we're not as big as underdogs as we actually are.  I hear how we work harder than other teams, that we have a bunch of unappreciated gems in our lineup, that aside from a couple of good players we match up really well, how CONCACAF is so very grueling and has toughened us up for any conditions, and in general a pretty consistent refusal to play the "Who on our team would start for their team?" game.

We - and by we, I mean Klinsmann - don't have the guys this time around.  Happened to Steve Sampson, and he panicked, too.  Sampson took a bad situation - Father Time taking a super-soaker to our roster - and made it worse out of desperation.  The same thing is happening here.  Some of this is beyond Klinsmann's control.  The talent pool let us down on defenders and forwards.  This isn't an indictment of the United States as a soccer nation - it happens sometimes.  We've got, by my count, one truly amazing player at the prime of his career - Klinsmann's son Michael.  We've got a couple of "Yeah, these guys are pretty good" in Howard and Dempsey.  We've got some guys who have some potential - I hope.  How fantastic would it be if after June 2014 you never heard from Julian Green ever again.  And sure, we have guys who have looked good in the send-off games, where the other qualifying teams had a bad case of either We Don't Care, We're Terrible, or, in Nigeria's case, If You Think I'm Getting Injured In This Game You're Out of Your Damn Mind.

But that's a bad time to decide, to pick an example, that maybe Kyle Beckerman ought to be given command of the defense.  Beckerman's been a wonderful MLS champion, and he has the ring to prove it.  He might indeed be capable of it.  The time to find that out would have been, in a perfect world, a great deal earlier than today. 

And I don't know how you get around the fact that Klinsmann picked the wrong team.  Everybody on the roster is someone's favorite player somewhere, so I hate to second-guess.  But let's take one of Klinsmann's stated reasons for leaving off A Certain Person - that the Lakers made a mistake in giving Kobe Bryant a huge contract at the end of his career.

Michael Wilbon wanted to send Klinsmann out of the country for that one - an overreaction he has since walked back - but I'm not sure Wilbon was that wrong.  Klinsmann's defenders have pointed out that an NBA career and the World Cup are two very different things.  True enough - that's what makes Klinsmann's equivalency so baffling.  Nobody thinks Landon Donovan couldn't have contributed something significant to the US - probably a great deal more than a few players that are being brought along.  No one was saying that Donovan should have been let down easy, or been given a roster spot based on past performance.  Cutting Donovan was the wrong move for this tournament.  Klinsmann, as we can see in retrospect, had been looking for a reason to cut Donovan for months, perhaps years.  Landon Donovan told ESPN he couldn't train as hard as he once could, and Klinsmann's reaction was to name the final roster.  (Link apparently opens up a video ad, so, sorry.)

That wasn't merely screwing over Donovan.  Calling the roster early also shafted the chances of Boyd, Goodson, Evans, Edu, Corona and Parkhurst.  Why call any of those players in to begin with?  They were all that close to being cut?  Coincidentally after Donovan's quotes were aired on ESPN?  Wow, those other six guys must have been terrible that weekend.

When you combine a shallow talent pool with a panicky coach leaving off his best player to prove who's in charge, that's....

Well, to be honest, it's up to the players now.  Klinsmann has to name a lineup, and heaven help him pick a good one, but it was always going to be up to a few very unproven men to vindicate Klinsmann and themselves. 

And yes, they were always going to be underdogs.  Nate Silver has the US at a little over 35% to advance, which would be slight underdogs behind Portugal, and ahead of Ghana.  But oddsmakers are putting us at closer to 20% or below.  And those guys are, you know, using actual money and making their livings at this.  No one's going to fire Silver for blowing a World Cup pick, let alone take money out of his pocket.

Yes, that's why we play the games.  We were monstrous underdogs against Portugal in 2002, and Colombia in 1994, and against Italy in 2006, and against England in 2010.  We were also fairly reasonable shots against Iran in 1998, Ghana in 2006, Ghana in 2010, and let's have some real talk for a second here - what were we doing needing divine intervention to beat the likes of Algeria anyway?

I hope we win.  But I'll believe it when I see it.