Friday, August 22, 2008

US on the crest of a revolution, for now

I live for World Cups, synchronizing my mind, body and wallet into a four-year cycle.

So when soccer plays second string to anything else sporting, as it is at the moment, my brow furrows. While the Olympic Games cannot hold a candle to the World Cup for FANaticism, I still enjoy it, especially as my country is currently burning the opposition to take ‘gold’, behind the superpowers of China and the USA (actually, as long as Britain finishes higher than those bigmouths down under I can sleep soundly).

Without England, I was all-American for soccer, so was also delighted to see a US team, male or female, make it to the front page of USA Today and other newspapers.

The US women inhabit the unusual position of being far better in world soccer terms than their male counterparts. But more interesting for me were the parallels between the Nats in Guatemala and England playing the Czech Republic the same night.

Soccer’s circular infinity of chances is one reason it never grows boring. You want to kill yourself when your team blows a final (a few Brazilians did after the Seleçao lost the 1950 World Cup) but memories fade once the competition comes around again. In Brazil’s case, how silly those fans were in retrospect…

Back in May, the US traipsed off the damp Wembley turf well beaten by an on-song England and reputations were quickly revised. The resurgent Three Lions were once more a power in the game and the US were back in the second division knocking on the door with the other wannabees. I could see the disappointment in the Americans' faces as they left the mixed zone with nobody but a handful of hacks wanting to speak to them. As they exited stage left, they surely wished they had swarms of microphones around them like Beckham, Gerrard and the other England players had.

Fast forward three months and what do you know? In the space of a day, Prairie Avenue is wearing a smile as wide as the Chicago River after Carlos Bocanegra’s header handed the US Men a World Cup qualifying victory and Carli Lloyd’s drive won the Olympic gold medal for the American women.

Meanwhile, England were being booed off after stumbling to a 2-2 tie with the Czechs. Fabio Capello’s honeymoon period came to a drizzly end after a disjointed display in front of almost 70,000 dismayed fans in London. The footballers are now being ridiculed by the same journalists who fêted them in May, while the coincidence of the UK Olympians’ prowess casts them in a doubly bad light.

Thus far, the English soccer press, a pack of hounds who like nothing more for lunch than savaging anyone who dares take on ‘the impossible job’, have held off biting Capello, largely because they are ignorant of his history and have blithely assumed he is a foreign miracle-worker in the mold of Arsene Wenger or Jose Mourinho. Coming out of the press box at Wembley, my compatriots’ reactions were all positive towards the new England Fabio was forming.

But after Joe Cole’s pinball goal rescued a clumsy draw against one of the poorer teams from Euro 2008 on Wednesday, the gloves are off.

Such attacks are premature and pointless. Capello is not the problem. Nor was Steve McClaren, Sven-Goran Eriksson or any other of the hapless jobbers who have guided one of the great soccer nations to persistent mediocrity on the world stage. England’s problems run too deep for any one man to change overnight. Real change must still come from the bottom up and take time.

England has the money to create the best club sides and build a stadium as wondrous as the new Wembley. But, where it counts, on the field, the cream of its playing talent has once more displayed inferior technique and positional awareness against a continental nation and an irritating difficulty in adapting to formations other than 4-4-2.

The press inferno surrounding the Three Lions’ perennial ineptitude is not only self-defeating and puts the coach under unnecessary stress, but it is irrational, too. England has reached one final in 58 years of international competition and 1966 and 1996 apart (both times at home), have never looked like potential tournament winners.

If we want the US National Team to be a matter of national celebration and debate, do we want the concomitant pressure it would place on the team and coach?

Maybe you can’t have one without the other, but I can’t help thinking we should be glad the pressure is not there yet from the American public at large, a lack of expectation which lets the team pull off results such as those in Korea in 2002.

They would have disagreed in May, but I can’t imagine the likes of Landon, Eddie Johnson and Bob Bradley would really want to be in English shoes today.

-Sean O’Conor


Anonymous said...

There are some rumors that the Gooch deal with Catania has fallen through and that Liege are looking at keeping him until the winter now. Any idea what's going on with his transfer?


Greg Seltzer said...

Here's what I have on the Gooch situation at this time (though I'm hoping to learn more this week):

Nothing will happen until Standard play the second CL leg against Liverpool. And if Standard advances, the likelihood of a sale drops dramatically - vice versa if they are ousted. Despite his not being cup-tied yet, I can't imagine Standard dealing him before this match.

Of the teams involved, we have one French club (which I believe to be either Marseille, Monaco or Lyon), one Spanish team (which I am now pretty sure is Espanyol), Cologne from Germany and one Italian team (which could be any of a number of clubs from Catania to Palermo to Inter, with my hunches based largely on need and process of elimination on who it isn't).

If I had to guess, Standard will bravely crash out of the Champions League and Gooch will be off to somewhere before the deadline.

Greg Seltzer said...

Actually... I may as well post that little bit on the front and share it with everyone LOL.