The impetus for this piece came from my wife. While it physically pains me to credit her, I would be remiss if did not mention that I would not be sitting here typing if it were not for her (well her and a 5 hour flight to Phoenix). You see, in our household, the only times when I can pry the remote from her icy grip, is for a sporting event. These times are brief and usually pass with her sitting on the couch, poised to reclaim what she considers rightfully hers when I inevitably grow tired of watching whatever horrible team I’ve been cursed to root for by growing up in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. One sport she will usually tolerate more than most is soccer, specifically the U.S. National Team. She grew up playing the sport and we bonded over it back in the early years of our relationship.
Back then, I thought she knew a lot about sports. Being a simple man, this of course impressed me and was part of what initially attracted me to her. My world was shattered, however, the day she asked me, “Which ones are the linebackers?” I like to give her a hard time about that to this day, claiming our relationship is built on a foundation of lies. Good times. Seriously though, she knows way more about sports than a girl probably should. This is one of the many reasons that the Big J tells her, “You can be such a guy sometimes.”
When my wife and I watch a sporting event together, she often makes a number of off the cuff comments. Most I do my best to ignore, as they are based on some irrational bias she has developed from god know where – on this day, her hatred for Clint Dempsey could not be quenched – but some can be quite insightful. While we watched a U.S. squad toy with an overmatched Canadian squad in the first round of the CONCACAF Golf Cup, I thought to myself what a difference 3 days makes. It was 3 days earlier that a young and inexperienced (at least on the international stage) U.S. squad was thoroughly dismantled (thrashed, destroyed, annihilated, humiliated, and de-balled would also work here) by the reigning World Champions from Spain. Seriously, if the Spaniards had so chosen, they could have won that game 12-0. I honestly believe that.
A quick aside on this match: What was the point of scheduling this game? Was it to tune up for the Gold Cup? If so, it might have been helpful to actually feature players that would be playing in the tournament. But that was impossible with the start of said tournament only 3 days away. Was it to break in new players? I guess throwing players with only a pittance of international experience up against the best team in the world is one way to break them in (or just break them). And was that really the time to be evaluating new talent? If U.S. Coach Bob Bradley really holds this iteration of the Gold Cup in as high esteem as it seems he does, shouldn’t he be doing everything within the realm of possibility to prepare for it? Instead, it seems the U.S. chose to half-assedly cram two goals into one poorly scheduled match. The result was as I described above and with little to no benefit to the U.S. National Team’s goals, either short term or long term. Perfect. But I digress…
It was as I was in the middle of this thought, feeling good about what a U.S. team can do with all the players they count on on the field, that my wife uttered the following sentence, “Yeah, it will interesting to see what they do when their big guys aren’t playing anymore.” It’s not unusual for my wife to take the Buzz Killington approach. Our glasses cannot be more differently half filled. But usually, I have enough positive energy to overcome her inherent negative-nanciness. On this occasion, however, I became troubled by her statement. I was even more disturbed when I actually went and looked at the U.S. roster. Without a doubt, this team is built around 4 key players: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard. When these 4 players are humming at top gear the U. S. can play some effective, dare I say attractive, and sometimes spectacular soccer. But we have seen how this team plays without them in the lineup (first half of the Spain game) or when they don’t all show up (first half of the Panama game). Now take a step back and ask yourself who on this roster will be contributing when the next World Cup rolls around in 4 years? Are you ready? Michael Bradley. That’s it. If this team is still running a 33 year old Donovan and a 32 year old Clint Dempsey out there and expecting them to carry the load, they are in dire straits. Tim Howard will be 36. And that’s if these guys don’t retire from International Soccer before that. Soccer is a year round sport and it takes a serious toll on the body. That’s why you have guys like Thierry Henry (33) and David Beckham (36) just trying to hang around in MLS. The greatest player of the last generation, Zinedine Zidane, was done at 34. But as far as I can tell, that’s what the plan is (at least if Bob Bradley is still the coach).
A word to Bradley: What’s with the slow starts Bob? This is way past becoming a habit. I fully expect this team to be down 1-0, 6 minutes in when they play Guadeloupe tonight. Whatever you do in the planning and run-up to games is just not working. Maybe try a George Costanza and do the opposite. Or pull out some tapes of those sweet pregame speeches Lou Holtz used to do on College Game Day. Those were NICE!
I will not claim to know enough about the U.S. National Team development program to tell you which young hot-shot is going to be next the Landon Donovan. Hell, Landon Donovan wasn’t even LANDON DONOVAN until he stepped on the field against Portugal at the 2002 World Cup. I can just tell you that it worries me that I’ve been waiting 30 years for the first dominant striker to emerge for the U. S. Jozy Altidore could be that guy but he hasn’t shown me enough yet. And I’m still not sold that heading over to play in Spain was the best thing for his career development. He can talk to Freddy Adu and Oguchi Onyewu about how being stuck on the bench at a big name club can derail a career. I’m still waiting for the first play-making central midfielder since Claudio Reyna to show up. I hear good things about Mix Diskerud. Maybe he’s the answer. Maybe. The point is there are far more questions than answers about this team as currently constructed. The biggest may be just who is going to coach them in 4 years. I hope that younglings like Diskerud, and Joe Gyau, and Teal Bunbury are able to live up to their hype. I hope Stuart Holden can stay healthy for more than 5 seconds. I hope that Charlie Davies can somehow recapture his form from 2 years ago. I’m less sold on the last two statements than the first which should tell you something about just how not optimistic I am about this team. Who knows? The U. S. only seems to thrive when there are absolutely no expectations placed on them. So maybe in 3 years when they are really and truly terrible, they’ll actually be good.
That last line made my head hurt.
That last line made my head hurt.