(Please see testy analysis by George Wilson and John McDermott, below)
Soccer is a cruel sport.
Always was, still is.
One team can plan well and play well and take a lead that has its
fans dreaming of the old soccer cliché, “a just result.”
Then one mistake can nullify much of the careful work.
That is what happened with the United States in the World Cup on Monday – or rather, that is what the U.S. did to itself. One sloppy tackle turned a victory into a 1-1 draw, setting up the next week of apprehension and doubt and maybe even fear.
Could it happen again? Athletes have to fight off that feeling, but it is not easy, knowing how easily a lead can vanish, with the flourish of a pair of soccer boots.
I was sitting in front of the tube, watching the U.S. play its best
soccer in many months, and I was trying to put together the reasons this was happening.
I was giving some credit to the coach, Gregg Berhalter, who has not won over hard-core fans yet -- judging from some of the snide remarks on the Elon Musk Daily Blatt -- despite Berhalter's lifer pedigree as a stalwart on the 2002 quarterfinalist team.
Berhalter had a huge hand in choosing the squad, and the starting lineup. I learned this around 2010 when I spent a few days with Bob Bradley as he prepared for the 2010 World Cup. I saw how he and his assistants (Jesse Marsch, now of Leeds United), had daily contact and tapes from scouts and spies and American players overseas. Coaches know who is on a roll, and who is not, and very often why.
Listening to the grapevine, Berhalter recalled Tim Ream, a defender who seemed to have fallen out of favor with the national staff. However, Ream, 35, was being reborn on the Fulham team in the Premier League of England, playing alongside the outside left back, Antonee Robinson, 25 and lanky and ambitious, with his American passport and his Everton roots. Robinson likes to take off downfield, sometimes winding up near the goal, assured that Ream likes to stay at home.
The pair of Ream and Robinson is not exactly Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, the great back-line engine of the AC Milan team and the Italian national team of the 1980s-1990s, but it’s an honor to pop up in the same conversation.
Coaches make other decisions, the way Berhalter did in naming Tyler Adams captain -- a tribute to Adams and also a favor to Christian Pulisic, who labors under the terrible injustice of being labeled the face of the current U.S. generation. Pulisic is too flightly, too moody, to be a leader.
The decision by Berhalter helped both players. Adams played a 360-degree sheriff in midfield while Pulisic free-lanced, slipping an elegant little forward pass to Tim Weah, who found a corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Decisions like this made the U.S. dominate well into second half, with . Gareth Bale, 33, playing in his first World Cup, seemed to be puffing hard with every breath. But Bale did not excel this long without inner resources. In the 80th minute, Bale materialized in front of the U.S. goal and defender Walker Zimmerman, knowing not to give him space, slid recklessly into Bale’s feet – certainly worth a penalty kick at that spot, at that time.
Bale, with the poise of a long-time star, waited for the keeper to commit, and then put the ball high and to the right.
The sizeable red-clad Welsh section began to sing. Well, of course they sang. Take it from a long-time visitor to Wales, everybody in Wales sings, whether Bryn Terfel from Pant Glas or Tom Jones from PontyPridd, or Shirley Bassey from Cardiff or Bonnie Tyler from Skewen, near Swansea, whether in a church chorus or an eisteddfod, a regional session of music and poetry.
Every Welsh person in Qatar or far-away Wales no doubt sang, as Wales drew 1-1, pretty much ruining the start by the U.S., as U.S. fans yelp at Berhalter: where was Gio Reyna?
Now both squads have to take on rebuilt England and unimpressive Iran -- no guarantee of advancing to the second round, no promises of a "just result."
* * *
(Guest Commentary by George Wilson (our grandson)
To start I think that Wales bringing on Kieffer Moore changed the game and allowed them to hold the ball up the field, something they failed to do in the first half. This completely bewildered Berhalter and he didn’t seem to have an answer to it, which shows from the second-half stats. We were outplayed and probably deserved a draw.
It’s frustrating to see a coach whose only experience comes from the Swedish Division and at the Columbus Crew get out-coached by the opposition simply putting a big guy up top. Another indictment of the Berhalter system is that our only shot on goal yielded a goal -- this is not sustainable for any sort of success.
We will not win anything if we cannot create chances and test the keeper. Playing the ball wide to Pulisic for him to cut inside and play a ball in simply cannot be our only avenue of attack. On that note -- why is Pulisic taking our corners? His delivery really leaves a lot to be desired and I just can’t imagine he’s the best choice for them.
In a lot of ways, Berhalter is emblematic of the USA - he’s flashy, knows the right people and can sell a big idea but upon delivery it is immediately clear something is off. He’s the McKinsey consultant of soccer with a fun shoe collection. His focus on positive reinforcement places him closer to BF Skinner than to Joachim Löw.
So now, with England looming on Friday the question is what tweaks will Berhalter make? I expect an over-correction on his part. The only thing that gives me the slightest glimmer of hope is that Southgate is nearly as inept as Berhalter. I’d predict a loss to England barring several moments of divine intervention.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
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.