The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

The weight of expectation

In qualifying for Italia ’90, a little-fancied USA side went down to Port-of-Spain to play a decent Trinidad & Tobago outfit. On that day in 1989, thanks to a ridiculous hit-and-hope 30-yard goal from Paul Caliguri, the USA scraped a 1-0 win and took their place on the world’s biggest football stage. Oh, and exactly 32 people cared. In qualifying for South Africa 2010, a USA side that is allegedly the region’s top dog went down to Port-of-Spain to play an utterly abject Trinidad & Tobago side…and thanks to a ridiculous hit-and-hope 30-yard goal from Ricardo Clark, the USA scraped a 1-0 win and look likely to take their place on the world’s biggest football stage. Raucous fans from all over the country took to the internet to spew bile on message forums and social-networking sites, and an army of journalists and bloggers posted their columns by the next morning at the earliest.

My, how times have changed?

Of course, that young group of players in 1989 went on to have a respectable run as the host nation in 1994. However, they had the luxury of apathy on the home front combined with a lack of respect from the rest of the world. After the relative heights of 1994 – and despite the nadir of 1998 – the USA established itself as a semi-serious football nation. Then, we all know what happened in 2002 – despite the almost-nadir of 2006, the USMNT crossed a line that could (and should) be one of no return. Once those who are amenable to the Beautiful Game took notice of our national side, once we saw them smite Portugal and Mexico, then fall in glorious defeat to Germany, never again can we take joy at a skin-of-the-teeth win against a tiny Caribbean island. That is the price of success.

I’m almost reminded of the dot-com boom in the early part of this decade. The USMNT is almost like a small company that exploded out of nowhere into having untold potential and capital. The catch is that running a large company with a lot of moving parts is a different proposition than running a small outfit out of one’s garage with a handful of employees. What I’m getting at is that we’re no longer a ragtag collection of college kids playing out games in front of empty stadiums, where any positive result is lauded while negative ones are shrugged off as par for the course. American players now ply their trade in the English Premier League and the Bundesliga. Even the ones that don’t are all professionals who, at bare minimum, are top stars on their MLS or minor European club sides. The level of talent available to an American manager – problem positions aside – is unparalleled in our nation’s history.

I just spent exactly 450 words to convey one thought – a 1-0 win against Trinidad is no longer in the time zone of good enough.

I hate to keep harping on it…I really do. But, Bob Bradley is not the man to lead the USA forward in the modern era. In 1989, he would have been our best-ever manager. In 2009, he is painfully out of his depth. Time waits for no man.

With that out of the way, I won’t spend that much time on the specifics of the match (my great love of Captain Morgan and ginger ale contributes to some extent here). We spent large swathes of the first half firmly on the back foot, mainly due to the home side dominating play in the midfield. Our alleged ball-winners failed at their role, and the distribution from our wingers (specifically Clint Dempsey, who was a special kind of awful last night) was abysmal. The service to the front two of Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies was non-existent.

Meanwhile, a better side than Trinidad would have ended the match as a contest by the time the referee mercifully blew the halftime whistle. Cornell Glen broke through the static USA backline (once again, Carlos Bocanegra was a spectacular liability in central defense…christ’s sake, Bob…he’s a stopgap at LB and nothing more at this point) and his marvelous chip over Tim Howard deserved better than to clip the crossbar and bounce away to safety. I didn’t catch the name of the bloke who took the free kick from just outside our area, but his rasping shot was on target and Howard had to be sharp to parry it away at full stretch. Later in the half, a Trinidad player had a penalty shout turned down that, while I thought it was a dive, could be filed under “seen it given”.

Things did get better after the interval, but the fact is that we had to rely on a freaky outlier (a Ricardo Clark long-range goal) to take all three points against the worst team left in the competition. Also, while not as baffling as Diego Maradona’s effort down in Paraguay, Bradley’s substitution patterns were troubling. First, Altidore came off for Benny Feilhaber. I originally thought we were bunkering and going 4-5-1, but it turns out that Dempsey was pushed further forward instead. Well,that’s fine…but why are you taking off our best threat from set pieces (and the man who had one of our only two serious chances in the first half with a self-created long-distance shot) while pushing forward the guy who is performing the worst on the day? Then, Dempsey was taken off a little later for BRIAN FUCKING CHING. The fact that this man is still winning caps in 2009 is proof enough that Bradley should be fired.

Anyway, the lead held (just), and the USA does sit on top of the hexagonal with two matches to go. However, Mexico has an easy run-in, and they will run the table with little problems. They will – against all odds – finish top of the group once again. Meanwhile, we have to travel to Honduras and then entertain Costa Rica. Neither will be easy, and my fear based on recent performances is that there is a serious chance that we could lose both. Were that to happen, the most likely result is that we’d be in 4th place and in a sure-to-lose two-leg playoff against either Argentina or Uruguay. Were that to happen, we would find ourselves out of the big dance. You don’t need me to tell you what a disaster that would be.

However, just one point against Honduras (unlikely, but it could happen with improvement) or Costa Rica (at home, which SHOULD happen given their struggles away from the Saprissa) and automatic qualification should be assured. You have the personnel (for the most part), Bob. SORT IT THE FUCK OUT.

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September 10, 2009 - Posted by | Other Soccer

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