Ugh. Sorry, people, assuming I have any people left. I wish I had an interesting reason for taking an impromptu, but I don't, so please accept my apologies.
So we're American soccer fans and it's 2019. How do we explain what that's like?
Let's say we have two adult children we love very dearly. One son, one daughter. They're big now, but they'll always be our babies.
Our daughter is a big success, but is always under pressure to do even better in her job. She's bright and talented and hugely popular, but she's also one hell of a perfectionist. And there are those who are jealous of her achievements, and wouldn't mind seeing her fail. She's got a big, big project this month, and there are huge, huge expectations on her.
Meanwhile, our son went to prison for selling meth to schoolkids.
Let's talk about the USWNT, shall we?
It wasn't until I saw Stuart Holden and Maurice Edu on Fox Sports almost come to blows over the subject that I realized how deeply personal the whole celebration thing was for people. Holden and Edu are different people, obviously, but they are national team contemporaries whose playing careers are remarkably similar. And yet the two men strongly disagreed. That tells me there's not a code about this, written or unwritten. Usually a pro athlete is going to have a different and more detailed perspective about subjects in professional athletics – this time, everyone is just a fan. You don't care about my opinion, but you care about yours a lot. (And vice versa, to be fair, which is why I'm still writing this, even if you have stopped reading.)
After a couple of days, I don't think people were upset about running up the score. There really wasn't a second team Jill Ellis could have put in. Goal differential is, conceivably, a factor (although one a team like the United States shouldn't have to concern themselves with). And it was sort of useful practice, if only for muscle memory. Ideally Jill would have taken a couple of players off and played 9 v 11 to make it more of a worthwhile scrimmage after the 60th minute, but that would have been much, much more disrespectful than the celebrations.
Jill Ellis didn't mind the celebrations, she wants a mindset where scoring goals is good. I know, what a weirdo. I almost feel embarrassed at joining in the banshee chorus, but I just wanted to make two points.
(1) Anyone saying this is a Trump thing or an Obama thing or an American exceptionalism thing is being silly. Silly as Milli Vanilli, Jennifer Tilly and Free Willy.
(2) "We are so offended at your classless lack of class, United States! This will inspire us to play better than we would have otherwise! Even though this is the World Cup, and presumably we were already going to play with maximum effort! But you have given us more reasons to want to defeat you, which apparently we needed for some reason! You will regret giving us incentive to do what we already wanted to do more than anything else in the world!"
(3) (I just remembered this one) Okay, so, "act like you've been there." I used to do this, as an extremely poor park player whenever I lucked into scoring. I would invariably job back to my position and wait for restart.
Because I was living out a fantasy, just as much as anyone who did a slide into where they imagine the corner flag might be. I was pretending to be such an awesome player that goals were all in a day's work, ma'am, just doing my job. Of course I wanted to be Bud Grant when I grew up, who didn't?
(4) (Okay, I lied about having only two things to add, I might as well admit it, mistakes were made, let's move on) What is it about the United States Women's National Team that we always want to make a damned morality play out of them?
Yes, the 1990's team won all the time. The women's national team were underdogs just for existing. No one knew whether people would pay to watch women's team sports. FIFA was so hesitant about women's soccer they wouldn't even allow the 1991 tournament to be called a "World Cup," for fear of devaluing the men's brand. FIFA's support of women's soccer would be dignified by the term "grudging."
And the turn of the millennium Wambach/Solo years were soapboxes all the way down. Hope Solo threw Briana Scurry under the bus as hard as she could, but male players do that to each other all the time. Solo probably wouldn't have been allowed to forget 2007 even if she had apologized. Abby herself remains a controversial figure – one of the topics I missed was her election to the Hall of Fame with 81% of the vote, a tally I find criminally pathetic.
Now, we don't even bother to climb off their backs for a second. We've seamlessly transitioned from celebrating to singing the national anthem. And we're only now out of the group stage. Who knows what silliness they'll come up with if and when the US keeps progressing.
I think this United States team is fun, likeable, and exciting. They're a great mix of veterans and newcomers. They are also one of the tournament's favorites, and if the tournament were almost anywhere else they might be prohibitive favorites. And their most famous players – Morgan, Rapinoe, Lloyd – seem to attract and enjoy controversy, if only as a means of motivation.
I suppose this is the consequence of years and years of role model marketing. Fans of the US men loved either Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan – almost never both, for some reason – but neither of those players were held up as heroes of American youth. There's a commercial out with Alex Morgan where the tag line is literally that when you cheer for her, you're also cheering for a battalion of adorable little children. This is a woman who was thrown out of Disney World.
The down side of this sort of marketing is the idiotic decorum scrutiny that we've seen. I have every confidence there will be others popping up, and that's if the US ends up winning. God have mercy on them if they lose, because we mortals won't.
But, for the time being we're a little more enthusiastic about our daughter than our son.
I have no problem using the Gold Cup as a benchmark for progress, especially after the last couple of games allegedly designed to prepare for the Gold Cup.
I do have a problem, and maybe I'm alone in this, with wanting to bring up the U-20 team practically wholesale. We don't have to go back fifteen years to Folie Adu to see the risks in rushing players. Sure, the U-20s looked good. Against other teenagers.
Fundamentally, the place for young players to develop is with their club, not their country. This was a big problem in ye olden tymes, back before American players had access to teams that could pay them a living salary. These days are not those. U-20 players should establish themselves as starters on clubs before being called to the full national team. Is there a sliding scale depending on the size of the team? Well, sure. I don't recommend dropping Pulisic if for some reason he doesn't get playing time at Chelsea.
But no matter how big the club, if the player is on the youth team, then that player is still a youth. If they're not playing against adults, or even training against adults, asking them to represent their country against adults seems to me a quick way to disaster.
You may well ask, "What's worse than what we have now?" Having what we have now for decades, because we blew out this generation and the next generation trying to make up for the failures of the previous generation. That would be worse.
All I want out of the US men's national team at this point is what we had back before the Klinsmann regime – a team that made up in heart what it lacked in talent. I don't need us to beat Mexico, mainly because I think it's going to be a hot minute before we beat them again. But I do want us to play well against them.
There is precedent for Gold Cup failure costing the coach his job. Losing the Gold Cup final gave Sunil Gulati – excuse me, that's Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Sunil Gulati – the justification he needed to replace Bob Bradley. Since then Bradley's replacement crashed out of the Gold Cup in the semifinals, and stayed at his post.
So this should be the benchmark, especially for the current state of the squad. Semifinals or hot seat. And if we lose to Jamaica for a third time at home – well, I don't know how many coaches the USSF can afford to pay at one time, but they'll have to make room in the budget, that's all I can say.