Germany 4:1 US--Initial reactions
Being a good opinion writer means knowing when to admit you’ve made a mistake, and not having to do so very often. A couple posts ago, I brazenly asserted that “[a]s long as we avoid a confidence-deflating result (and this US team is probably too good to get embarrassed), we’ll be fine.” Now technically, this is a true statement, but it’s the part in parentheses that I feel obligated to retract. After today’s 4-1 loss to Germany, it’s pretty clear that we’re not “too good to get embarrassed,” and that disappoints and upsets me.
It disappoints me because we were playing so damn well for 70 minutes. The first two-thirds of this game made me feel as good about the US team as I’ve felt since 2002 in the Cup itself. If it were our full-strength squad holding their own against Germany’s A-team in Dortmund, I’d be pleased but not entirely surprised. But for this B-list group to be doing the same—that was impressive and inspiring.
Then Neuville scored, and the next twenty minutes are why I’m upset. In Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs, the author infiltrates a group of Man U hooligans, and is told that there’s no shame in losing a fight “as long as you don’t shit yourself.” That is, as long as you don’t panic and lose your composure. Today, after Neuville’s goal, the US shat itself.
Until then, I was unconcerned about the scoreline. But for a fluke goal from Schweinsteiger and an unbelievable save by Kahn off an EJ header, we could have easily led. But the way we played after the seventieth minute reminded me of the old US squad: intimidated, panicky, mistake-prone, outclassed. We’ve seen touches of this US team in recent years, but we’ve largely laid it to rest. Yet the memories are so bad—the ten or so minutes at Azteca where we let in both goals in WCQ 2005, the early going against Poland in WC 2002, the 2002 friendly versus Germany in which we also gave up three goals in ten or so minutes—that they leave a really bad taste in the mouth.
Now to be fair, lots of teams have bad outings. This Germany side just got embarrassed by Italy by the same scoreline (a fact that does not reassure me considering that we’re about to play Italy), and every so often a result like this has to happen, so it might as well be in a friendly. And of course there are the standard excuses about how this was a B-team, Germany was super-motivated, etc. (Though it really burns me up that Germany bragged about routing us, and then did just that.)
But at the end of the day, it’s not the loss but the way we lost that bothers me. We have a really strong team, as we showed for 70 minutes, but we still struggle for respect on the world stage, and looking like headless chickens for 20 minutes can’t do much for our confidence. Ultimately, it’s probably just a bump in the road. Bruce will bring perspective, and no doubt also hone a fine squad for the big dance. But confidence is key to performing well in sports, and I wonder if this result may have exacted a greater toll in confidence and loss of face than it produced in practice and learning about players. As for the latter, I’ll save it for my next post. As for the US, go buy some toilet paper and clean yourselves off.