wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Thursday, March 23, 2006

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.


Blogger mirarchi said...

I agree with your overall assessment of the match, although I think I come away a bit more hopeful than you. The fact is that for 70 minutes, a U.S. team full of scrubs held its own against a motivated German side featuring almost all of their best players.

True, we looked awful for the other 20 minutes. But clearly our players lacked fitness, given that they're coming off the MLS off-season. And ultimately, I think it's good to get a good spanking in the run-up to the WC. We need to learn that against an elite team like the Germans, you can't afford to lose your concentration -- even for just five minutes. We certainly learn more from a good thrashing like this than we learn from a win over the Norwegian u23's or Guatemala (or Latvia, Morroco, or Venezuela).

The bright spots to me were Convey and Gibbs' performances. Gibbs certainly didn't look like a player who hasn't played a competitive club game in over six months. After his performance today, I have to think Gibbs is a lock to make our final roster, assuming he can stay healthy.

It was great to see Convey look so dangerous against a truly world class side. If Convey continues his form, it puts Bruce in the difficult position of having to decide how to use Convey, Beasley and Lewis -- move Beasley to right wing and use Convey or Lewis at left back? Bench one of either Convey or Lewis? Move Donovan up to forward, play Beasley on the left, Lewis at left back, and Convey as our attacking mid? (seems unlikely, but not totally out of the question, given how strong I thought Convey looked yesterday)

I thought EJ, while not fantastic, did well, and it was only a world-class save from Kahn that kept him from tallying. We need to remember that Johnson is coming off an injury, and so hasn't had the benefit of any consistent playing time for his club. If he can stay healthy throughout the upcoming MLS season, he'll only get sharper.

I think it's safe to say that Ching and Zavagnin played themselves off the final roster. Aside from his early chance, Ching was invisible, as was Zavagnin.

I also hope that Conrad and Berhalter are both left off the final roster -- Gooch, Gibbs, Boca, and (an in-form) Pope are in a different class. Bruce will probably end up taking Berhalter along, though, which I think would be a mistake.

12:11 PM, March 23, 2006

Blogger DF said...

True enough--I don't mean to make it sound like this game was an unmitigated disaster. There were bright spots, and the bad 20minutes shouldn't make us forget the good 70, although that excuse doesn't really work at the international level ("Hey, we played two thirds of a good game!").

As for Convey, I liked his forward runs but I don't think they ended up producing truly dangerous moments--he needs higher quality players around him to link up with. Still, he's an exciting option off the bench and perhaps even in a starting role for the WC.

Next up I'm going to do more player-specific commentary.

12:46 PM, March 23, 2006


Post a Comment

<< Home