Suffering Well Comment Count

Brian July 2nd, 2014 at 11:55 AM

7/1/2014 – USA 1, Belgium 2 (ET) – out of World Cup

howard-belgium

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.

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landon-donovan-lui_1537159i[1]

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.

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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.

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8666189-standard[1]

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.

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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.

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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.

Bullets

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:

damarcus-beasley[1]

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.

tim-howard-soccer-world-cup-qualifier-mexico-usa[1]

HOWARD. YOU SHALL NOT PASS, he said. He had an incredible beard as he did so. "Distribution… brilliant."

20140616165653[1]

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.

Jermaine-Jones1[1]

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.

kyle_beckerman_on_verge_of_us_world_cup_team_just_as_he_predicted_years_ago_m5[1]

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.

Sep 10, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; United States midfielder Landon Donovan (right) celebrates his goal in the second half against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

DONOVAN. Mexico feared Landon Donovan.

Comments

mGrowOld

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:05 PM ^

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.

Thank you.

ScruffyTheJanitor

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:38 PM ^

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. 

Ron Utah

July 2nd, 2014 at 2:31 PM ^

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.

ken725

July 2nd, 2014 at 3:34 PM ^

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.

SCS100

July 2nd, 2014 at 3:37 PM ^

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.

ken725

July 2nd, 2014 at 3:46 PM ^

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. 

Ron Utah

July 2nd, 2014 at 5:29 PM ^

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.

ken725

July 2nd, 2014 at 5:58 PM ^

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.

gwkrlghl

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:08 PM ^

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.

quigley.blue

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:14 PM ^

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.

ChuckieWoodson

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:17 PM ^

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.

MGoBender

July 2nd, 2014 at 2:45 PM ^

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.....

ChuckieWoodson

July 2nd, 2014 at 3:48 PM ^

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.

snarling wolverine

July 2nd, 2014 at 4:11 PM ^

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__?"

 

 

MGoBender

July 2nd, 2014 at 6:13 PM ^

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.

ken725

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:26 PM ^

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.

UMQuadz05

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:27 PM ^

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. 

JClay

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:28 PM ^

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.

jmdblue

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:28 PM ^

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.

mGrowOld

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:31 PM ^

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.

Good times.

westwardwolverine

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:35 PM ^

My biggest takeaway from this World Cup is the fact that people are going to say "We're on the right track! We made it out of the Group of Death! Klinsmann is a genius for his roster selections! Julian Green will be Lionel Messi in 2018!"....when in reality we were pretty terrible overall and seemed to benefit from some monster defensive performances and luck. 

We were dominated in three out of four of our games. Our strategy against Belgium was awful. As much as I think Yedlin is going to be a good player and as much as its nice that he was able to put in four crosses...what was the point? Who was going to meet his crosses? Dempsey? Bedoya? Against those Belgian CBs? Come on. 

We lost because Belgium is better, but we also have no coherent gameplan. We play Zusi and Bedoya because they track back hard, but we still should have lost 4-0. We play guys like Johnson and Yedlin at right back for an offensive attack that isn't going to work and that causes the rest of the defense to suffer. 

Why not play what looked to be your four best actual defenders (Beasley, Gonzalez, Besler Cameron)? If you have no one in the center who is going to finish crosses, why not play guys like Johannsson and Diskerud instead of Zusi and Bedoya, who might actually be able to keep possession and link up with Bradley, Dempsey and Jones? Why play Bradley so far forward when you know he's better playing further back (this appeared to happen during the Belgium game) and you have a guy like Diskerud whose built to play the attacking midfield role? 

Klinsmann doesn't know what he's doing tactically. Look, Belgium is a better team. And yet, Russia and Algeria played them way better than we did. Algeria and Ghana played Germany way better than we did. In fact, if you go through the round of 16, our game was the most lopsided in overall play and if it weren't for Howard, would have been by scoreline as well. Is Mexico really that much closer to the Netherlands than we are to Belgium? Switzerland to Argentina? Even Nigeria didn't look as bad against France. We can make excuses about how we had to absorb attack and counter attack, but our counter attacks were pointless because it just ended up with balls out wide to be crossed into a box with no option and our defense wasn't actually stopping Belgium. 

But hey, instead we can pretend that everything will be alright in 2018 because John Brooks scored an uncontested header and Julian Green had a great finish that would have never happened if the score had been 1-0 or 0-0. (Seriously, with Klinsmann's luck, he should have thrown Chandler on for Zusi and he would have biked home Wondo's chance). 

 

IndyBlue90

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:45 PM ^

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. 

westwardwolverine

July 2nd, 2014 at 1:16 PM ^

Which is why you don't build teams around non-scoring strikers...and why if you are, you should bring a back-up (Hi Terrence Boyd!) or play someone who actually makes what you've been working on, you know, work (Wondo!). 

Point two is ludicrous. That was not why we were terrible and there wasn't anything particularly awful about either of their distribution. We were bad because we don't play the right players in the right positions in the right games. And as silly as that may sound, its true. 

Klinsmann is not a good coach. If his saving grace is that his subs that probably shouldn't have been on the roster score goals at nice times, we are in trouble. 

DoubleB

July 2nd, 2014 at 1:11 PM ^

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.

alum96

July 2nd, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

Amen.

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.

westwardwolverine

July 2nd, 2014 at 3:31 PM ^

I should say this:

What you don't seem to get is that we didn't try to play overly defensive. We tried to attack in ways that were not efficient, including playing a weaker defense than we needed to try and accomplish our poor attacking goals. 

If it were not for some quality individual defensive performance and luck, we would have been embarrassed. 

If we had actually tried to do something coherent, I would be okay with Klinsmann. Because we did not - because he is not a tactically sound coach - I am frustrated. 

Voltron Blue

July 2nd, 2014 at 1:16 PM ^

...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.