With great fear and trembling – no, this is not about the Republican primaries – I watched the American soccer team play Guatemala Tuesday night.
The Yanks had to win – 3 points in the standings – to retain hope of qualifying for the dreaded Hex, the final six-team round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
I love the queasy feeling before U.S. qualifying matches – like I used to feel watching the Sopranos, knowing something horrible was going to happen before the hour was up.
What is wrong with American soccer? The reputable ESPN commentators were working over that perennial question in the pre-game.
I could tell them – the youth programs, aimed at affluent families, with Coach standing on the sideline yelling, “Don’t get fancy, just pass the ball.” Kids get the improvisation drilled out of their psyches before puberty, leaving Latinos, playing for love, in a field, on their day off, making Ronaldo and Messi and Drogba moves. That’s what’s wrong.
For all that, the U.S. is not doing badly, having qualified for seven consecutive World Cups, the seventh longest active streak. However, the Yanks had lost, 2-0, in Guatemala four nights earlier, raising the specter of the pitiful giant, being tormented.
How can the U.S. lose in Guatemala, my basketball and baseball pals ask. Easy. Everything is different, on the road, in any continent. Even with the gonifs who run FIFA, there is realistic suspense, knowing that strange things happen on their own, no help needed from fixers.
Still, because we are relatively new to this sport, we act as if we are the only nation to get the staggers. It’s a wonder anybody qualifies.
I was in Milan on a dank night in November of 1993, when Italy needed at least a draw with Portugal to qualify for the World Cup in the Stati Uniti. The ansia was as thick as the marshy miasma as Italy staggered in a scoreless match, until the 83rd minute when Dino Baggio put in a deflection. Addio, ansia.
Wise Kasey Keller kept referring to some USA revivals Tuesday evening, but the main theme seemed to be that Our Lads just cannot play, and besides, Juergen Klinsmann cannot put players in the right positions to win. There he went,juggling keepers, bringing in Zusi from off the squad. Whacky Juergen.
Gloom and doom lasted all of 12 minutes until Clint Dempsey, playing the role of Dino Baggio in this performance, pounced on a ball and found a corner of the net.
Cross-sport note: My long-time pal, Stanley the Rebounder, was watching in his home, and decided that Dempsey had the hard eyes of a schoolyard basketball shark. True. Clint plays like a poor boy. May his tribe increase.
The U.S. clobbered Guatemala, 4-0, and is now in great shape, at least until the U.S. falters in the Copa America Centenario this summer, or stumbles at St.Vincent-Grenadines in early September. That could happen. But for the moment, our national sense of entitlement is fulfilled.
3/30/2016 06:23:22 pm
Gold Cup was last summer. Copa America Centenario is this summer.
3/30/2016 07:59:57 pm
Dear Monroe Bryant: Thanks for noticing my mistake. I have fixed it in the story. Scary business, this blogging. I miss Jay and Patty and all the great editors at the NYT, saving me from myself. GV
3/30/2016 08:49:53 pm
You are right. Dempsey is a poor boy. Maybe that's why he is so good.
3/31/2016 06:52:38 pm
George—you are on the right track. More unsupervised school yard, or sand lot, play is what is needed to add spontaneity to our young players.
3/31/2016 07:59:31 pm
Alan, because you are active in soccer and work with developing goalies, you know stuff.
4/19/2016 11:20:08 am
George, don't forget this is the country where championship trophies are presented to the TEAM OWNER first rather than the team captain. The sight of all the players standing around exhausted after giving everything for 90 or 120 minutes while Don Garber extols the virtues of the smiling owner standing next to him on the big stage is something I find nauseating and I'll bet a lot of the players do as well. But hey, Garber is just doing what Roger Goodell and the NFL do, MLS following the NFL template as usual. I wrote to Garber about it and he, as he always does, wrote back. I respect him for that, of course. He said it was important for MLS to acknowledge the role of ownership and that was the best occasion to do it. I said I thought a really classy owner would decline to participate and insist that the trophy be presented to the team captain as is the case everywhere else in the world.
4/20/2016 05:40:37 am
I like the idea if promotion and relegation, but there's just no tradition of anything like that in the US. besides, the owners would never stand for it, given what they invest in order to participate in the top league. The difference, economically anyway, between the top league and what lies beneath it is a chasm, far greater than the difference in Germany, Italy, England, Spain and other countries where relegation makes more sense and is part of the tradition of the game.
4/4/2016 10:49:25 pm
9/8/2016 11:17:12 am
nothing to say
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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.