(Anybody notice that the Mets have won four straight since I got off them?)
Everybody knows the Welsh can sing. We learned that from visiting our friend Alastair in the Brecon Beacons years ago -- concerts in the beautiful cathedral.
Nobody talked about Welsh soccer back then. Mostly it was about great rugby teams in one valley or another.
On Friday I learned that even Welsh footballers can sing, during the anthem before the quarterfinal against Belgium. The eleven starters all had good voices, as the camera panned them from a few inches away.
Then they stunned Belgium, 3-1, in the quarterfinals of the Euros -- merely the greatest result in Welsh soccer history.
During the match, I tried to text a friend from those long Wales summer evenings, but I could not make contact. Umm, ever try to find a David Thomas in Wales? Dude, I'm sure you were watching.
Oh, about the singing. When Wales went ahead in the second half, the choristers in the stands of Lille came up with a new ditty -- Are You Watching, England?
I want to thank the Amazing Metropolitans of New York for stumbling in recent weeks, to let me concentrate on the Euros -- with Iceland, Wales and Poland all making it into the quarterfinals of the Euros.
Iceland's demolition of England was even more of an upset than the Welsh victory. Check out this great article in the Guardian by Barney Ronay:
Now it's time for Italy against Germany on Saturday, followed by Iceland against France on Sunday. Wales plays Portugal in the semis. No time for any Mets angst.
* * *
(This is what I wrote after the recent Copa America in the U.S.)
The images overlap – the victories and the failures; the artistry and the butchery.
Even in the New World, we are starting to accumulate a national memory of soccer.
From sea to shining sea, epic letdowns for tragic princes.
Even the American team is starting to develop overlays, collective memories of better days in a nation still searching for technique and flair and gall. (More below)
But first, the disasters of the talented – Roberto Baggio of Italy skying the final penalty kick on a muggy afternoon in California in 1994, Lionel Messi of Argentina sending up a wayward drone on Sunday evening in New Jersey.
They were the designated geniuses, expected to weave and dodge their nations to championships, but in the brutal schedule of soccer, Baggio, playing on a wobbly knee, missed against Brazil in the World Cup final, and Messi -- worked to exhaustion like a coal-mine mule -- missed against Chile in the Copa América final.
Messi said after Sunday’s match that he will never play for his nation, and probably that is best, but his legacy will be zero championships for Argentina in his time.
By contrast, stubby, paranoid Diego Armando Maradona cheated and smirked – and won the 1986 World Cup, single-handedly, you could say. Gall counts. Maradona strutted like Al Pacino in “Scarface.” Messi carries himself like a workman, head down.
When Argentina fell short against oncoming Germany in 2014, I suggested – for the paperback version of my soccer book – that Messi was lacking the moxie of a truly great player. I caught some stick for my position but I believed it. In the long run, the grand sum of his goals for Barça may stem from the fertile brain of Andrés Iniesta.
In a recent unguarded moment, close to an open microphone, the aging lions, Maradona and Pele, mused about Messi.
-- I don’t know him, Pelé said. What is he like?
"He's a really good person, but he has no personality," Maradona said, adding: "He lacks character to be a leader."
Classic self-serving Maradona, of course, but probably incisive.
For all that, for Messi’s flubbed PK against Chile, Argentina also left the earlier impression of carving up the youths and graybeards of the United States, 4-0, in the Copa semifinal last week.
The very same players who hacked and dove and stumbled along with exhausted Chile in the final imposed a moving geometric light show upon the upstarts from North America. For one humiliating night, the Americans were back to the mismatches of the ‘80s into the ‘90s.
There are so many levels of soccer, and it changes from day to day.
But let’s move from Baggio and Messi to the Americans.
Beyond the failures in the semifinals and finals, Team USA has showed collective growth in the time of Klinsmann. They are now expected to be more brash, to take chances, to run the sidelines, to push the other team, the way adventuresome and fleet Klinsi did in multiple leagues.
Klinsmann has tried to implant his innate understanding of the game, at some higher level, in the psyches of his players.
Yet it may also be that Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley, both under-appreciated because they are Americans, had better players at their disposal – world-level keepers in their prime, Donovan and Reyna, McBride and Dempsey, some of the defenders.
It may be time to move on – not for Klinsmann, who has a contract through 2018 and, to me, is not a failure, but for the core of the team. Fans keep suggesting that Dempsey’s time is over; good grief, he is the guts of the team.
However: in the second half of the third-place match Saturday night, needing a goal, Klinsmann pulled the captain, Michael Bradley, to get a fresh touch in there. It may have been a telling move.
Bradley was perhaps the best player in South Africa in 2010, young and hard and disciplined, but he hasn’t been the same player in 2014 or 2016. He and Jermaine Jones just don’t work in midfield; I love Jones’s brutish swagger – every team needs a hard man -- except when he overdoes it.
It may be time to move on. In the third-place match, in the final 15 minutes, Klinsmann went to 17-year-old Christian Pulisic, the kid from Hersheyland, (check out this terrific profile by Jacob Klinger) who plays for Dortmund, one of the great world clubs.
Due to the complexities of Fox, I could not find the match in English, so I listened on Univision, and heard one commentator say "Pulisic me encanta” – I love Pulisic. The kid ran out there and found a few openings, raised the tempo. The commentator added that Pulisic was neither a Landon Donovan nor a Tab Ramos, but himself. The future is out there, somewhere.
When I was a young baseball writer, Casey Stengel used to say that he was looking for the Youth of America. “They aint failed yet,” Casey said. Works for soccer, too.
But just remember this: Argentina and Italy are two of the great football dynasties in the world – and the price of that patrimony is two tormented geniuses, vastly different people and players, who failed in the ultimate moment, and understood, by the code of the game, the extent of their failures.
The United States can only hope to risk that kind of failure, somewhere out there in the future.
6/27/2016 09:23:33 pm
6/28/2016 08:53:01 am
Dear Altenir: I hope you are wrong, but you are there.
6/28/2016 09:12:34 am
6/28/2016 06:04:14 am
Apparently, the future of soccer is not the US but a tiny, sparsely populated, seismically unstable moonscape of an island near the Arctic Circle.
6/28/2016 08:58:01 am
Josh: I am eating my heart out for not catching that match yesterday.
6/28/2016 02:46:07 pm
6/28/2016 10:10:20 pm
6/28/2016 10:04:48 am
"worked to exhaustion like a coal-mine mule"
6/28/2016 11:55:48 am
Brian: thanks. I could have said "trapper boy," but mule seemed more graphic. Best GV
6/29/2016 10:27:22 pm
My favorite line, from an English soccer affiliate, (sorry I did note who)
7/1/2016 08:14:41 am
I live for this kind of writing.
7/1/2016 09:46:47 am
Hansen, you mean the guy from the Guardian?
7/1/2016 06:12:23 pm
What guy from the Guardian? I haven't read the Manchester Guardian in 40 years. I was referring to that Vecsey guy from Queens, New York.
7/1/2016 09:47:13 am
I will just add that, if you haven;t been there, Iceland is a wonderful and delightfully strange country. Mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, weird rock formations. You can walk around the outskirts of a small town and watch the ground breathe steam, eat bread cooked in an underground geothermal oven, take a hot outdoor bath surrounded by snowcapped mountains, walk between the walls of a continental divide, and hike over a small mountain pass to a hot river where you can strip down and bathe on a 50 degree day. The people are wonderful, they have embraced the modern and the ancient in all kinds of great and unexpected ways, and you can eat all kinds of preparations of the most deliciously fresh (or cured) fish for every meal. We were only there about a week and there is so much of the Island we are itchy to get back to and see. Definitely our most memorable family trip. So, we have no expectations for what happens in St. Denis on Sunday but we will be rooting hard for iceland.
7/1/2016 10:34:10 am
Josh, thanks. For years, Iceland was a free stopover on the national airline but I was always in a hurry to get to Europe.
7/2/2016 08:12:43 am
Hi George! This long time Belgium supporter can't help but love and admire the Welsh squad. What a great match. Robson-Kanu is out of contract w his lowly Reading team and he provided a work-of-art goal. And I'm fortunate to have traveled to Wales after college. My girlfriend (eventual wife) and I hitched a ride from a farmer. He let us pitch our tent on his land which sat on a cliff overlooking the Irish Sea. We picked potatoes w some local townspeople for "casual wages" (I guess the minimum wage equivalent). We stared down from the cliffs one morning and watched a mother seal coax its newborn baby into the water for its first swim!! Go Wales (even though they voted for Brexit!)!!
7/2/2016 11:41:23 am
Michael, nice memories. My wife says the best cup of tea she ever had was at St. David's, facing the Irish Sea, on a blustery day, even if it was in a cardboard cup.
7/2/2016 12:23:19 pm
George—Nice article on the supposed have-not's. I have always been attracted to the underdogs of the world.
7/2/2016 09:01:41 pm
Alan, thanks for all the insights. You as a keeper and coach must have been enthralled with the shootout today -- the emotional Buffon and the serene Neuer, both great competitors.
7/3/2016 08:50:39 am
It was an interesting shootout in several ways.
7/3/2016 12:31:27 pm
Alan, I always learn from you, particularly about goalkeeping.
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.