Soccer breakdown in 1, 2, 3
Mic check, mic check
Okay, how do I upload a picture
...eh, I'll figure it out
Right. It's Monday. If I don't get this thing finished, none of my readers will know how the game turned out!
The practical effects of taking Honduras out to Miller's Crossing are at least statistically significant. The considerable goal differential headache disappeared about a minute into the second half. And Clint Dempsey is a LOT closer to the USMNT all-time scoring record. I don't think that's an intangible - six months ago, we thought Dempsey's entire career might have been cut short. Now he has a very, very realistic shot at the US record. Even before the irregular heartbeat, I thought he was 50/50 to even make the World Cup squad due to his age. Well, Dempsey is taking Father Time to overtime. If he's going to be The Man for the rest of qualifying, there's not much reason to de-Man him in Russia.
Everything else is intangible. You're supposed to get three points at home, after all, so the trade deficit we have with Mexico is still in effect. But the psychological lift from the Melee in San Jose sure as heck feels real, doesn't it? The temptation to photoshop Bruce Arena in a "Make America Great Again" cap is irresistible, so it will be resisted.
Boy, do you think Panama wants to pay us back for 2013? If Dempsey has a psychological motivation, Panama has a freaking vendetta. Graham Zusi is a brave man for traveling with this squad, if you ask me. I wonder if CONCACAF will give him a dispensation to play in full Kevlar.
Had the United States merely squeaked out a win in San Jose - let alone bungled the job - the Panama game would basically be us covering ourselves in steak sauce and jumping in the tiger pit. I know we're more talented than Panama. We've been more talented lots of times in CONCACAF. But I'm more than confident that Bruce Arena has the squad ready to get the job done tonight.
By the way? That means getting a point. It's still a CONCACAF road game. The mission is to steal a point (and take two points away from the other suckers) and flee to the embassy. That's the way it is always going to be. It's going to be true when we finally win World Cups and Barcelona loses transfer bids to Minnesota United. They'll play with a glass ball before we can take three points on the CONCACAF road for granted.
It was easy to overlook in the Honduras rout, but it's become obvious now. Tim Howard is going to be another old guy we're going to squeeze as much juice out of as we possible can. Goalkeepers age less quickly than other players, so 39 as a starting World Cup goalkeeper isn't as outside a concept as Dempsey running the offense at 35. It's still worrisome that no one has taken either man's spot. It's comforting that they're both playing at Hall of Fame levels, and maybe they can hang on for another nineteen small tiny little months. And you sure don't need me to tell you tomorrow is promised to no one.
There's an upside to having guys from the Permian leading your team, though. Especially when you have a few very young guys who are being hyped to the Oort Cloud. We love Pulisic and Morris, and we're currently petitioning the Elders if there can be such a thing as Co-Messiahs. The situation in the back line is...less promising. And I say this as The Last Living Fan of Omar Gonzalez.
In both those situations, I'm beyond happy to have guys who are scared of nothing. I dare you to come up with a World Cup scenario that would intimidate Dempsey and Howard. If we get drawn into Russia's group? Howard will stop the bullets and Deuce stare the pitch invaders down.
I hope. We're going to get to test this theory early June. If Tim, Bruce and Deuce can get a point in Tenochtitlan, then we're good to go. I'm not brave or vain enough to pretend we're going to win, despite the clear advantage we have in former Red Bulls coaching talent. But I am brave and vain enough to think that this squad playing at its peak can salvage a draw.
That's a game I hope we will use to toughen the squad, because it will be the toughest test the US will face in a year. But...it's not the crucial game of that particular international break.
Remember how getting one point on the road is great in CONCACAF? Well, getting three points at home is obligatory. The Trinidad game doesn't even qualify as a must-win, it's a if-you-don't-win-why-are-you-bothering. No disrespect to Trinidad and Tobago...um, apart from whatever disrespect one would infer from saying losing to Trinidad and Tobago would be the biggest US national team disaster since 1998, which I guess is quite a bit, sorry.
It's time for some game theory. First you have a game where you simply must win, where anything less than a win is unthinkable, against an opponent that (again, no disrespect) (apart from the palpable disrespect) should be easily beaten. Then, you have a very tough game where a draw would be fantastic and a loss easily survivable.
I start my best team against Trinidad and start guys I want to toughen up against Mexico. Sure, I'd like four points, who wouldn't? But I can not have less than three. Go into Azteca with house money.
There are psychological risks and rewards I'm not taking into account. Reversing the verdict at Columbus would be so, so glorious. And getting tuned up by four, five, six or seven would undo the good feelings we currently have. Maybe I'd feel more daring if the first two games of the cycle went differently.
And if June looks spicy, September looks downright menacing. First, home against Costa Rica, whom we owe. And then on the road to Honduras...who owe us. That is the crucial break. June in Azteca is for bragging rights - and those don't fit in our priorities right now.
Oh, I forgot to mention Jermaine Jones. Hopefully going forward, so will Bruce Arena.