On further reflection (and after a series of cooling beverages), I’ve come to grips with the United States’ exit from the World Cup. I can’t improve on the massive and well-considered (if, of course, arguable on a case-by-case basis) player ratings here. But a few additional, potentially worthless thoughts do come to mind.
First, getting out of the group phase of the World Cup is actually supposed to be quite hard. You wouldn’t know it from the groups England and Mexico ended up in, but it is. Ask Croatia, Poland, Cote d’Ivoire or Japan—all countries that came into the tournament with an eye on the Round of 16 if not beyond. You don’t go to the World Cup to have an easy time of it. You go to play against the best. We failed twice and semi-succeeded once against a truly mighty team. So the most dire proclamations, on this blog included, are probably a little extreme.
Second, the real question is why we were in today’s position to begin with, vulnerable to a couple shady calls and a wily, poaching team. Why were we such easy marks for the Czech Republic? I think the answer has to do with the character and experience of our players as much as their ability. As Bunco Parade points out in the post linked above, many of our players—and certainly the backbone of our player pool—play the bulk of their football in criminally undervalued MLS games, with no pressure or particular need to get results. The Italy game proved we have steel, but we lack gravitas, the ability to play our way out of tough spots.
Third, I think the Bruce Arena era is over. Shocking conclusion, I know. Arena took over this team when it was in an utter shambles after 1998. He took it a long way, in effect guaranteeing it a future. The USA is the dominant team in North America; a tough team to beat in any circumstances. But we need to leap up a level in tactics, style, player development and results. It’s time to thank Arena for a Hall of Fame effort and move on.
Fourth, let’s not forget that just 16 years ago, Team USA was a goofball bunch of college kids whose mere presence at Italia 90 was considered a temporary suspension of the laws of physics. We had no real professional league. Soccer itself was more or less the sports equivalent of slivovitz. We’ve squeezed about four decades of football evolution into one and a half. And despite a ceaseless propaganda war against it, the game is now all over the place: MLS, USL, ethnic leagues, adult leagues, youth leagues, the women’s game, Euro games on satellite, etc.
Besides, one of the cool things about the World Cup in the ‘States is that fans aren’t in constant psychic meltdown over the national team’s fortunes. We’re going party through 9 July regardless. How boring would it be, anyway, if we were already the best? If soccer was the nation’s obsession and Claudio Reyna was king of the world instead of Ronaldhino? That wouldn’t be any fun at all.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Our demographic research here at Eleven Devils (“The Football Blog That Could, But Didn’t”) indicates that we have about nine readers. Hopefully, a hiatus of a few days won’t unduly inconvenience any of you. I’m off on a secret mission—reports to follow.