This post has got to be included in the "Brian's greatest hits" vault of mGoBlog treasures. 10 out of 10 on the chills-up-and-down-my-spine-o meter of writing excelence. On the level of "11 Swans" IMO.
7/1/2014 – USA 1, Belgium 2 (ET) – out of World Cup
I never really forgave the guy. Admittedly, it's not like there was a huge amount to forgive. I just thought that after I'd indulged his desire to go to a couple of shows that I normally would not have he would reciprocate. Instead, he sulked through the entirety of a fun Robert Earl Keen show that I should have enjoyed about 15% more.
We were 20-ish, in Austin, Texas. We were engineers on summer internships, suddenly stripped of our friend networks and ill-equipped to forge new ones. In such circumstances, horizons broaden rather quickly, which is how I'd ended up at a Smashing Pumpkins show a few weeks earlier.
I know exactly what I wore: a terrible replica Michigan hockey jersey forged from whatever that fabric is that comes with large, regular holes and feels more like plastic than anything else that humans put on their bodies. I know this because after the show this material was absolutely soaked with sweat. Some of it was mine; the majority was from the writhing mass of humanity that had surged to and fro for the duration of the show.
I had no idea the thing could even get so sodden. I'd washed it several times and knew it was the kind of material that exited a washing machine as dry as it entered. After that show the thing was ten pounds heavier than it was two hours before.
I sat on a stoop in the bright Texas sun and tried to process the weird communal thing I'd just gone through. It was, above all, exhausting.
On the day that hooked me for life, I force-marched myself down to the pub at halftime. I was in Ireland for a summer mostly because a girl had dumped me and I wanted to broaden the ol' horizons and the United States had just roared out to a 3-0 lead against impregnable invulnerable super-skilled Portugal. My place was about 20 minutes from the city center at reasonable pace; I got myself down there in 15, huffing and puffing as the second half kicked off.
To the Irish, the USA game that had just blown my mind was just an appetizer to Ireland-Germany. Group stuff meant that a draw would just about see the Irish through—they had Saudi Arabia last. Germany scored, because Germany. A loss was deadly. Everything was desperation and death until stoppage time, when Niall Quinn knocked a ball down to Robbie Keane and Kahn was finally breached.
Pandemonium. I ended up hugging a guy who was definitely not Irish. 12 years on I can only say he was Pakistani-ish. We hugged like we'd known each other since birth and jumped up and down and I was permanently in the power of the World Cup.
Ireland decided to take the afternoon off to drink by the river.
Four years later I watched the USA get blasted off the field by the Czechs. Six-foot-one-hundred Jan Koller pounded in a cross in the first ten minutes and things got worse from there. I sat across the table from Anthony, who'd moved to Ann Arbor and read my blog and knew I liked the USMNT. He'd emailed me because he needed someone to watch them with.
A number of months later, a guy who'd just moved to Ann Arbor named Jerry joined us at Charley's for some match or another—Gold Cup?—because he needed someone to watch the USMNT with. I don't remember what it was. It doesn't matter. From there it the web expanded to encompass most of my friendships forged after college. When I got married three years ago, Jerry was our officiant and Anthony was the best man.
Four years later I was in Chicago for the very exciting Blogs With Balls conference; the World Cup was in South Africa and the USA was playing a tune-up friendly against Australia on the premises, which meant the thing was at approximately 7 AM. I met a guy I'd known as Orson and kind of now know as Spencer (but who is still mostly Orson) at a bar somewhere proximate to Wrigley Field and watched Robbie Findley round the goalkeeper and shoot about 20 feet wide.
When I started this blog, there were two other college football blogs, period. Orson ran one. As college football blogs developed it gradually dawned on a large percentage of the early adopters that we had another, odder obsession: the US national soccer team. I think it's because the kind of person into college football enough to start a blog about it prefers his emotional gambling on sports to be as high-stakes as possible.
We gathered it ourselves in weird ways. I watched the 1994 World Cup in my basement on a 14 inch TV, just like FIFA wanted, and then helpfully forgot about it in 1998. I honestly have no idea what drew anyone else to the national team other than Orson, who's written about it. At the moment I was force-marching to the King's Head in Galway, Orson was running up a darkened street towards a lunatic screaming "WE'RE UP ON PORTUGAL" at five in the morning. I imagine all of us were, in some manner of speaking, running towards a lunatic at some point.
We were together then. I saw Landon score against Algeria in a bar with my best friends, both the half-dozen I knew already and the two hundred who just happened to be there.
I love the US national team. I love it in the way you can only love your wife: I chose it. It was not given to me by my father, like Michigan was. As something approximating an adult I made a decision. It stuck in a way that the Red Wings did not stick, that the Oilers did not stick, that every single other attempted non-Michigan affiliation did not stick. I chose it, and somehow it chose me.
Now I am in so deep that in some weird way the anger cannot stick. If I saw Chris Wondolowski today I'd buy him a beer and say "it's okay, man." I wrote a column earlier this year about how I invented a slur for people who annoy me by being even slightly incompetent. And yet here I am after getting crushed and all I want is for September 23rd to roll around. That's the next time the USA takes the field.
So I'm under this table. I'm under it because the US has just worked a brilliant drawn-up-in-the-dirt free kick that results in a goal a universe where being really clever is everything. I am aware I am not in this universe. If I was being a teenager would have gone a lot better. Therefore the US is still down a goal with five minutes left.
I am under this table an unusually long time. I am the kind of person who screams SHOW ME THE GAME when, say, a basketball broadcast cuts away from a point guard bringing the ball up the floor uncontested. I am still under the table, though. If I remain under the table I will not have to see the clock ticking inexorably upward. I know that I have to stop being under the table pretty soon, but I like it under the table where time has stopped.
Eventually I undo the emergency squat and stop being under the table, and time resumes. I'm not soaked in sweat but it's not for lack of trying. I have lurched to and fro only metaphorically this time, with a mass of humanity that extends to the table I had to abandon to get to the spot where I could stop time, to Atlanta and Alabama and Denver where Orson and Jerry and Jess are, to that setup in Kansas City or Chicago they keep showing on TV in an attempt to catch that Landon-vs-Algeria video live.
Above all, it is wonderful. Except for the score, of course, which is a crime and a lie. But I would not trade the horrible roiling feeling of doom for anything. As Michael Bradley said, the World Cup is about suffering well. We do, together.
I ain't got nothing. I mean, I could, but I can't. Instead, some goodbyes to guys who probably aren't going to see 2018:
BEASLEY. I may have been excessively strident in my attempt to stab anyone who said anything bad about Beasley, and then Beasley goes and redeems all excessive strident-ness. Amazing career, terrific player, terrific story arc, still weighs about 65 pounds. Most underrated USMNT player ever.
HOWARD. YOU SHALL NOT PASS, he said. He had an incredible beard as he did so. "Distribution… brilliant."
DEMPSEY. 1000% Anthemface. 1000% Deuceface. Scored goal after goal and stood as an eagle-riding, gun-waving avatar of America. Made it impossible to accuse USMNT of being euro floppers for duration of career. A hard man for hard times.
JONES. Anyone who says this is not an American is going to get run into the ground and then lashed in the face by a shot. Jones may not have known it, we may not have known it, but the man was born in Kansas and never left. He has overalls, and has always worn them.
BECKERMAN. Sanneh 2014. The guy who you're just like "remember when Beckerman played out of his mind?" Legacy is being that guy in the movie who gets on the Sports Or A Capella Team just at the end and kills it.
DONOVAN. Mexico feared Landon Donovan.
This post has got to be included in the "Brian's greatest hits" vault of mGoBlog treasures. 10 out of 10 on the chills-up-and-down-my-spine-o meter of writing excelence. On the level of "11 Swans" IMO.
from an earlier article about the World Cup: "Nothing is un-American" strikes me as something very, very insightful. I don't care for soccer all that much (no philisophical aversion; I just have too much time invested in my other fandoms--as well as my life-- to invest enough time to learn the game properly), but I still read his posts because, well, of things like that.
I'm so not mad about the USMNT and so excited about the future that I actually got mad this morning when Eric Wynalda* ranted on the Dan Patrick show about how stupid and foolish the US was in the WC this year. I almost punched my car radio.
This post, including and especially the good-bye thank yous, sums-up my feelings perfectly. I would only add that the future looks so bright--there is gobs of young talent that might allow us to play more like Belgium, Germany, Portugal, and Ghana in the future. For now, I'm just damn proud of a group that played like Americans, because TIM HOWARD.
*Wynalda is one of the best examples for why ex-players can make for lousy evaluators: he is emotional and irrational, and refuses to look at reality or basic soccer tactics when making his absurd comments. I mean, the dude even made Dan Patrick sound like a soccer expert.
Eric Wynalda is emotional, but he is not irrational.
I know lots of people hate him because he is a dick, but he is one of the only ones that speaks against the establishment and is trying to change soccer in America.
I don't agree with the crap he said about JK. I do agree with him about having Michael Bradley out of position.
Also he will always be 100000000000000000 times smarter than Dan Patrick when it comes to actual tactics and technique.
Saying Klinsmann's style is un-American and that he should have been fired if the US had not made it out of the group stage is quite irrational. That and the fact that he's going to be doing games with Gus Johnson in 2018 is going to piss off a ton of people. Anyone who makes Gus look good on soccer broadcasts (at this point in time) should not be doing them.
I don't agree with anything he said about JK and yes that is irrational. And he is a terrible broadcaster.
He is not irrational on his views of what needs to change for the US to move forward. I agree with most of what he says about MLS changing their schedule to match European leagues and how coaching needs to get better in the US.
I can understand that.
But with Altidore out, and Dempsey moved-up, who else plays where MB did? You can argue JK messed-up by not having an alternative to Altidore (though no such player that is a good option actually exists), but once Jozy was gone, Bradley played where he was needed.
And JK's placement of MB did not make MB turn the ball over or play bad passes. That's on MB.
JK had MB playing the tip of the diamond in the 4-4-2 diamond setup even before Jozy went out with the injury.
It wasn't like they moved Bradley up from a holding position up to CAM because of Jozy's injury.
Mix is a perfect player to put in at CAM.
I would argue that putting MB at CAM put him in a new position where he wasn't fully comfortable. It was pretty clear that there was something off about his game. I would say that playing in a new position and having different responsibilities led to him not being like his usual self.
Throughout the game you could see Bradley coming really deep to get the ball. It is pretty clear that he is most comfortable in the deep holding playaing making role.
I just feel bad for Wondo. I can't muster anger for missing that shot. I just know he's going to regret that moment the rest of his life. Have a beer man. Maybe two.
I go into every Michigan season with unbridled hope and optimism, and this USMNT team has given that to me too, more than any other. It feels really nice.
Excellent write up, as usual, Brian. We can start to move forward.
1. Until most players from the US start playing in the best leagues in the world, I'm not sure if we're ever going to win a world cup. (You could shoot holes in this theory considering England had the most premier league players and didn't make it out of group play, BUT - I think on average this holds true). I don't know if the MLS is ever going to catch on enough here to do that.
2. Where was the intesity we saw at the end of the extra time in regulation? I know they had to be during that time, but they looked possessed towards the end and an entirely different team. Was hoping to see a bit of that in regulation.
3. Couldn't believe W missed that shot at the end - i was in my office watching the game on my comp, yelled and drew some looks. Eh, whatever - they should've been watching, too.
1. The goal isn't to win a World Cup. That's like setting your standards for Wisconsin Basketball at winning the NCAA title. Winning it all is a once-in-a-lifetime event. A combination of a million factors and a bunch of luck going your way. The goal should be being a top-10 team. A team that is always in the group of death because we are in that group. If you're that top-10 team; a team that can play Belgium to a 1-goal game without giving up that enormous shot discrepency, then you can make a run. The MLS issue is a double-edged sword - our best players need to play in Europe, yes. And they do for the most part. We also need stars stateside to help grow the sport. But the best will always play in Europe.
2. It isn't a change in intensity, it's a change in tactics. This is soccer 101. If you're down a goal late, you start pushing. You relax your defensive responsibilities because you need the goal. This is often mistakenly seen as an increase in "effort" or "intensity."
3. It wasn't going to be an easy goal if he kept it on frame. The keeper, in all likelihood, would have got some piece of it. Still. Still.....
Cause that wasn't very motivational.
Goal not to win, then why play in the first place? Not arguing a degree of luck involved, but it sounds like you're content "winning the Big Ten and not a NC".
On point 2: Call it whatever you want, they looked like shit for 90 min and then picked it up/changed tactics. Then maybe thats on the coach.
That's like setting your standards for Wisconsin Basketball at winning the NCAA title.
Actually, I would imagine Wisconsin basketball is setting that exact goal this season.
And winning it all should - eventually - be the goal for the U.S. Not in the next few World Cups, but eventually. Maybe we'll never attain that goal, I don't know, but if I'm the president of the U.S. soccer federation, I'm asking myself, "OK, what steps do we have to take to be a serious WC title contender by the year 20__?"
Geez, people I think you know what I mean. I typed goal, but I meant more "expectation."
Nobody in their right mind expects to win the NCAA MBB tournament. It's the lofiest of goals. Sure, you put it on the list of goals and you want to win, but it isn't necessarily a failure if you don't win. That's what I mean. Sorry I used the wrong word.
Damn, So much feels reading this. I have to say this is one of the best things I have read on mgoblog.
Thanks for the coverage Brian.
Great stuff again. There were a lot of great stories this year, but two of the best were Jones and Beckerman playing, yes, out of their goddamn minds for long stretches.
Seeing the Smashing Pumpkins -- even the crappy late-era replacement band masquerading as the Smashing Pumpkins -- is the most interesting part of your story. Mostly because your story seems to center around fucking soccer.
You read through an entire post about soccer, a fact that was not hidden, because the picture at the top is of a soccer game, and then commented just to whine that the post was entirely about soccer? What are you, some kind of idiot?
More specifically, the jerky kind of idiot.
I vote whiny idiot. And so much like the OSU fans he seems to think suck.
That this is his here blog. The one you're commenting on. It's his. Not yours.
Does it hurt?
Perhaps you'll grow a liking to soccer in your new home, Bolivia. I think it's the only sport they play there.
I wish the mods would give me more negs so I could neg this 2331 more times
you obviously need a hug
around the neck
with a rope
Dad gave me Michigan as well. The only time I didn't absolutely love M football was when I attended the place.
The Tigers "stuck" for me because I love the soap-opera aspect of baseball... it's a long damn season and a lot is gonna happen and you can look away for an inning or two weeks and you'll be up to speed pretty quickly upon your return. I also love the way stats get along with each other between eras.
To those who are heartbroken over the US loss... I'm sorry. The team is seemingly getting better. Most importantly, Opening Day is coming in a couple months and a nice football season will heal most anything sports related. Cheers.
Did anybody else click on the link and relive the Nebraska game that I had mercifully put out of my memory until just now? Reading that post reminded me how much I dislike Borges as an OC and then I scrolled down to the comments and got to enjoy the epic Space Vs Coastal battle royale all over again.
You're using this to bring up Borges?
But, but dad linked it.....not me!!! It's all his fault.
Yes I know....Time & Place.....fair point. I will now take my beating.
but I sense that people fear the post-Howard era of the USMNT.
The keeper is almost always the least of our problems. It's really the one spot on the field the US has truly produced world-class players. Timmy is great, but Guzan's no slouch himself, and surely others will show up as well.
the full usmnt roster, but in reality there will only be a small drop off to guzman.
I think you might be missing a couple things. First, losing Altidore is a much bigger loss than you might think. Did you notice how much more effective Dempsey was once Wondo came on? He isn't a natural hold up player. Altidore's chemistry with the other attacking players is really good, in particular, his link with Bradley, Dempsey and Johnson was missed.
Second, Gonzalez was such a liability when it came to distribution, and Cameron was too when at CB (even though he is normally excellent in that department). It is so hard to attack when your only option out of the back is the newly termed AUP (Aimless Upfield Punt). I think that neutralized Bradley's ability too.
Third, chill out. It takes a while to build a coherent soccer system. Klinsmann has had the team for three years. See what he can do as he has some continuity.
Thanks for your insight. I'm interested to know what league you played and coached in.
It's less tactical than the complete lack of high skill by all but a couple of players. Watching the skill level of Belgium and Germany with the ball compared to the United States was like comparing college football to the NFL. It was a wide gulf.
We have very athletic players who work hard and aren't very skilled which is the direct product of how we go about producing soccer players. And that's not a Klinsmann issue or a money issue or a popularity of soccer issue. It's a United States cultural issue that won't go away in our lifetime.
We don't have a single midfielder who would have made the squad for Belgium, Portugal, Germany or Ghana yet we have complaints about how they are not dribbling around or passing around those opposing players and being "constructive". Dempsey may be the only field player who would even make the squad for any of the 4 teams we played, and even then maybe 2 of those squads.
We could have played like Australia did - a squad which had won ZERO games in 2014 - coming into the world cup. It was attractive, fun, by a team with like minded skill as the U.S. - and it generated exactly zero points for them. They scored 3 goals, gave up 9 by playing open and "interesting" in another "group of death". And went home in last place.
That seems to be what some of you guys are yelling for JK to do which boggles my mind.
...with all of that, Wondo finishes and we're still playing. Not to mention that we had the better of the run of play with Portugal, who beat Ghana, who tied Germany - point is, you can't really ever use the transitive property in sports.
Just curious what your soccer chops are to tear down Klinsmann like that? And particularly without being in the practices, etc. to know what works and what doesn't. You may be eminently qualified, and may have valid points, just curious.
Do you watch/follow soccer? Sometimes you just have to keep your head above water and wait for your opportunity. Especially when you are down your top striker and then lose one of your best attacking players 30 mins into a game.
Being thoroughly outplayed in the way we were and still being tied and having to go to extra-time is the definition of the idiom "Keeping your head above water."
VoltronBlue didn't say you couldn't question JK, he just asked what your soccer background was.
Relax man, your'e a magical pegasus.
I think are being particularly harsh on JK. And yes please question him that is fine - he is not perfect. I think not bringing Donovan was a bad error. He could have subbed for the slumping Bradley. Or been outside instead of Bedoya for 2 games.
First, I agree with you that aside from Portugal we were outplayed 3 games. I also think the U.S. just played
So all in all we deserved 4 pts (win v Portugal, tie v Ghana). We had no games of like minded teams. We are probably around 20th in the world - we will always play hard and physical and never give up but we lack a lot of technical skills.
I also agree we were the worse of the final 16 teams aside from perhaps Greece and Costa Rica because that game was "weird" with the red card and 2 teams who are probably on par with U.S.
And it confusing when we play equal (better) with Mexico and then watch Mexico play equal with Brazil for long stretches while we get gutted by Belgium. Mexico was underachieving for long stretches the past 2 years but has more technical skill than us. They just do. It's become a good rivalry but like OSU-UM the worse team can win that individual game. Mexico is better technically than we are right now; it's just reality. That doesn't mean head to head we cannot and do not beat Mexico - we do. (when played in the U.S.)
Looking at Algeria for example, they looked like Ghana lite - tons of speed on the flanks and up front, with still more technical skill than us. So teams with pace and some skill will give a plodding German defense some issues. We don't have that. Who was the one player who gave Belgium trouble ? Yedlin. He is not even that skilled but his pace was killing the guy he was facing. So right now we have 2 players with that pace and the other plays left fullback.
As a coach for travel kids I can tell you why JK plays this way. He doesnt have talented outside midfielders. Guys who are offensively talented he doesn't trust to track back (Mix is #1) Bedoya is a workhorse (who was destroyed by Belgium and Nani) but he can be counted on to be in a place and be physical. Mix cannot - he is soft, and easily taken off the ball. I dont watch him like JK does every day but I bet all things being equal he does not track back like a Bedoya does. You saw how happy JK was after Nigeria because he finally had a team that was all coming back on D and being responsible and hard on the ball. That's what you do when you are not offensively talented. Which the U.S. is not. That is why Beckerman suddenly became invaluable.
So your proposal is throw in some more fancy soft midfielders who are not world class themselves and don't work as hard on defense so that we could maybe get 3-4 more chances on offense but we'd probably have given up 40-50 shots rather than 35 or whatever it was. It is a no win situation.
The U.S doesnt have the tools right now to play with these teams - outside of Jermaine Jones there was little offense from the midfield. Bradley usually plays a lot better but aside from maybe 40 minutes this tournament he was bad. You don't get offense from Cameron, Beckerman or Bedoya. Zusi is out of his level here as well. If you think just throwing Mix in there would have changed anything I'll have what you are drinking. If you cannot possess the ball you can't do squat. And yes the Altidore injury hurt not so much for Jozy's skills but it prevented the one guy who can actually go at guys with confidence on this team from playing attacking midfield and we could push Bradley further down the field where he belongs.
Look at Iran vs Argentina. They played defensively for 93 minutes, were dominated, and almost pulled out a tie - than a moment of brilliance by messi took them out. The U.S. technically is not at a level much higher than Iran - that's just reality right now. When you are not offensively gifted this is what you do and how you play and the type of players you play.
Look at who Portugal was bringing off the bench as subs - any of those guys would be the best field player in our country. Be realistic man.
Again I do not think the U.S. played well vs Belgium - but I disagree with you that Ghana is just the same as the U.S. They press high, team speed everywhere (which gave Germany all sorts of trouble) they have better technical skill and had one of the top 10 midfield groups in this tournament. I did not watch the Portugal v Ghana game because US Germany was at same time but I know 1 of the goals Ghana gave up to Portugal was one of the worst Ive seen in 10 years. So I don't know if Ghana outplayed Portugal and was unlucky or if it was an even game. Ghana right now is better than the U.S. and I dont think it is super close. 4 years ago I thought US and Ghana were closer in skill... Ghana gave Germany everything they could handle. The U.S. was in a shell v Germany.
As for Johannsonn - tell me what he did vs Ghana in 70 minutes again? He seemed lost. Doesn't mean I don't like him but when given a chance he did little to nothing. Maybe in 4 years he is our star.
Not having guys on the other end of the ball on Yedlin's crosses was due to lack of players upfield and U.S. playing in a shell.
U.S. went into Mexico and pulled its first non loss out in what - 40 years? Then Mexico came to the U.S. when Mexico was playing its worst in probably 10 years and got beat. Then they made a coaching change and actually played very well. Mexico played Brazil very well and outplayed Holland for large portions of the game. If you think the U.S. on its best day would dominate large portions of the game versus the Dutch then you have a different view of the sport than I do.
This is how I compare U.S. and Mexico. U.S. is a Dow Jones utility stock - it has relatively limited upside and downside. You know what you are going to get. On its best day or worst day it's going to be in a limited range. Mexico is one of those wild NASDAQ tech stocks - based on the mood at any point it could drop 30% in 6 weeks or jump 50% in 2 months. It has a much higher ceiling than the utility stock... but if you catch it at the wrong time it can act awful for you. Mexico of Jun 2014 is a different animal than Sep 2013. They have more skill at the individual level. They also have way more headcases, emotion, can play selfish, etc.
I think you may need to just cool off. We are all disappointed. But so far what I got was Jurgan Klinsmann doesn't have a clue and Portugal isn't very good.
You definitely have a different opinion from all the other pundits!
Did I say you can't? I'm one of those dudes that has to tell certain family members to cool down - that just because the US didn't win a game against a top 5 team in the world, it doesn't mean the players are all gutless and talentless and shouldn't be let outside. Did you miss the part where I said your points may well be valid and I was just curious?
But your aggression on the subject kind of tells me what I need to know. You're not actually interested in discussion and debate, you just want to vent. It's cool...I suppose one former player (who could well have a grudge for some personal reason) knows better than the German soccer federation and Bayern Munich, not to mention Sunil Gulati, who all hired the guy.
Nobody's perfect, and I'm personally not qualified to evaluate Klinsmann. I was hoping you could help, but I guess not. Which is not a knock...like I said, I'm not qualified either.