Mike Lantry, 1972
6/28/2009 – USA 2, Brazil 3 – Confederations Cup Runners Up
Note: yeah, this is Off Topic, but 1) this is also way more interesting than anything else going on at the moment, 2) I reserve the right to wander off the reservation in the hard offseason, and 3) I'm slightly tired of recruiting-recruiting-recruiting. Aren't you? Coming up tomorrow: Wednesday Recruitin'!
Here's Clint Dempsey holding the "bronze ball" bestowed on the FIFA-approved third-best player at the Confederations Cup. Here is a brief list of the folks Dempsey finished in front of:
- That white guy on South Africa
- Everyone on Brazil not named Kaka or Fabiano
That is an impressive array of players to beat out. And yet Dempsey looks like he's auditioning for The Hangover 2 or Fully, Completely Baked. This is because the United States has just found out that there is a way to lose to Brazil 3-2 and feel agonized, that, yes, there is such a thing as crashing out for you who thought yourself immune.
Sitting there in the aftermath of Brazil's comeback was one of the strangest feelings I've had as a sports fan. To demonstrate: I was going to put an adjective on "comeback" there and considered both "stunning" and "inevitable." Words literally fail. Maybe there's something in German for it. Schiessenkopffrauballsdammit: the feeling you have when the incredibly improbable thing you dreaded and feared comes to pass, just like you knew it would. (See: 2005 Ohio State game.)
That was the nature of this deeply bizarre tournament. Bludgeoned and discarded in the first games, the United States retroactively justified my friend's terror that the Honduras game would not end with a result and that this would surely put the Nats in an honest-to-god World Cup qualification dogfight—in CONCACAF! Late in the dire Brazil drubbing, another friend asked me what we should do and I succumbed to pure reactionary talk-radio blithering: "Fire Bradley," I muttered, and said no more.
From that moment on the US put together the most brilliant two-and-a-half game run in probably their entire history: 3-0 over Egypt, 2-0 over Spain, and 2-0 over Brazil. Yeah, they were on the back foot for about 60 minutes of the Spain game, but dos a cero is dos a cero. If only soccer finals were 45 minutes long. (While we're at it: if only soccer finals were 45 minutes long and banned people fluent in Portuguese.)
They are not, and we are left with our schiessenkopffrauballsdammit.
I don't have any other soccer team. The nearest MLS team are in Chicago and Columbus and Toronto, none of which I can root for on geographical principle. If I was to pick up one of the big four in the EPL I might as well just go the whole nine yards, buy a Yankees hat, USC jersey, Duke shorts, and Lakers shoes, and shoot myself.
But what's the point of rooting for Fulham? Good job lads, you didn't get sent to purgatory… this year. European soccer is structured such that you can either pick the Yankees or the Toledo Mud Hens. The Mud Hens have as much of a chance at winning the World Series as Wigan has of winning the Premiership. But Wigan fans don't seem to mind. Win some games, lose some games, sing about Emile Heskey emerging from a radioactive lagoon during a terrible thunderstorm, end of story let's get a pint.
On the other hand, even the lowliest American franchise has aspirations to greatness. A few years ago the Penguins were awful enough to get like three consecutive top-three picks. The Patriots were a laughingstock for most of their existence. The Spurs were some random team in San Antonio before Tim Duncan arrived. The Cardinals won the World Series despite being like four games above .500. Everyone can strive. Even Clippers fans eagerly await the day Donald Sterling dies. "Look at the Blackhawks!" they say before returning to Bill Simmons' annual fantasy football draft-stravaganza. This is a blessing and a curse.
The curse section is provided Brian Phillips on the outstanding Run of Play:
I'm more interested in seeing the run through this tournament, and the Spain game above all, as something to celebrate for its own sake, without thinking about next year or whether it's safe to nudge up my expectations. I'm sure I'm not alone in that, but partly thanks to Bradley's understandable emphasis in his postgame remarks, so much of the coverage has skirted the "what does this mean?" question that I've spent most of the last 24 hours wanting to take an anchorperson by his lapels and scream "We #$*%ing BEAT SPAIN! Doesn't that matter more than abstract 'potential'?"
Yes, because it probably doesn't mean much in the scheme of things. Spain and Brazil showed their quality, and while it's great the US beat one and took the other to the limit, what that says is that the US can scrap with teams better than they are. The World Cup group is going to have between one and three teams better than the Nats, and there will be scrapping.
This is foreign to the national state of mind. The United States does not scrap except maybe in rhythmic gymnastics and kayaking and other things dreamed up by commies trying to get up to par in gold medals. When the US decided to get super-serious about soccer, they dreamed up "Project 2010," which was supposed to "ensure the US Men's National team was a legitimate threat to win the World Cup by 2010," emphasis mine because WTF? Win? We are Americans, and it doesn't matter if we have the resources of the Kansas City Royals. We have Yankee dreams.
So what the Brazil game was was a chance. A stupid, improbable chance built on equal parts grit, skill, and astounding luck; a chance to slay two giants back-to-back and scramble up to the pinnacle of world football for somewhere between sixty seconds and a day before the ground gave way and it was back to Grenada and Haiti. So I appreciate *#$&ing beating Spain but also feel like Dempsey above, holding a trophy he had no right to expect and thinking of what might have been.
- So a major reason this post exists was the large influx of soccer emails into the inbox. Aaron Rennie's contribution: "The first half was like the best blowjob you've had in your life; the second was discovering you got it from a dude." Funny, but it's not like I started questioning which team I was rooting for later. I have my cool group of local friends because a couple people knew I liked soccer and needed someone to watch it with and joined up with us; I feel I owe Arriaga II, God of Soccer, a tribute.
- You know, I had bought into Harkes' gratuitously negative take on Dempsey in the Egypt match—when I deigned to tweet about the 3-0 win, I mentioned Dempsey had been "terrible" or "awful" or something like that—but then I re-watched the first half a couple days ago and saw him set up the US's two best scoring opportunities of the first half with incisive passes. There really needs to be a Nats UFR.
- …which might fall to me, actually. I'm seriously considering starting up a USMNT blog with a couple friends (so that the burden on me is not extensive enough to hamper MGoActivities, of course). Name suggestions welcome.
- I wasn't thrilled with Bocanegra at left back but that might have something to do with the fact he was coming off injury and playing against Spain and Brazil; he was clearly less overmatched than Bornstein. Bocanegra-Demerit-Onyewu-Spector/Cherundolo should be the backline going forward, with Hedjuk around to come on as a lead-protecting substitute and all around insane hairy guy.
- Bornstein, meanwhile, might see his spot yoinked by Edgar Castillo, the Texican left back who appears frozen out of Los Douchebags' plans. That would make the USA 2/2 on grabbing newly-eligible defectors.
- Argh Rossi.
- Actually read some insane Big Soccer criticisms in the wake of the first couple matches directed at Howard because "the book" on him had become clear: shoot miraculous 30-yarders. When that's all they can say about you…
- What happens when Ching is available? Davies ran around and did some stuff and scored an Eckstein goal and had that gorgeous assist to Donovan. But Jozy's not much of a holding or linkup forward right now. He is a beast who is fast and huge and could conceivably function as a Charlie Davies who ate a steroid-laced power mushroom. Ching and Jozy worked very well together before Ching's injury, and then you get to bring Davies' pace off the bench.
- Similarly, once Edu and Jermaine Jones start pushing for central midfield slots the competition will be as brutal as it gets on the US National Team. Clark might get pushed to the bench even after turning in a very strong Confederations Cup; he's not likely to go without a fight.
- Side benefit: you've seen the last of Kljestan against teams outside of CONCACAF. (Or I'll die.)
- Jozy watch: Villareal just sold Nihat. He was injury-plagued and not a consistent starter, but maybe that opens up space for Altidore to be a consistent substitute?
- While we're at it, Dan Levy has an excellent article at TSB on ESPN's impact on the Future we're trying so hard not to consider at the moment.