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

Thursday, June 15, 2006

US Soccer: we've arrived

If there’s one thing good that we can take away from the USA’s debilitating loss to the Czech Republic, it’s that our sports fans and media finally react to soccer with a degree of hysteria on par with European and South American nations. I’m making this observation only now because it took me a while to be able to read the reaction to the game, but after sorting through it I’m reassured that this WC disaster in the making won’t erase soccer from the American sports consciousness, because everyone seems to be having too much fun freaking out over this one failure.

In order to see what I'm talking about, look no farther than the soccer cognoscenti, people like me who have been closely following the US men’s national team for years and actually understand the meaning and context of Monday’s game. Part of the reaction here is straight-up rage-tinged disappointment, expressed with all the dignified understatement of a John Waters production of La Boheme. Andrea Canales' column from Soccernet.com is as good an example as any. You can just see Canales freaking out at her keyboard as she portends the downfall of US soccer and reveals the astonishing discovery that Arena's good management makes no difference if the team doesn't play well.

So why is this evidence of our arrival on the world stage? Because all of a sudden, the mainstream media and soccer specialists alike are treating one single bad game as an epic, newsworthy tragedy. In 1990, no one really took note as an overmatched US went out in three games. In 1998, our abysmal WC merited a brief mention. But now America seems to regard a single game as warranting funeral notices. There's no such thing as bad publicity, as the man says.

Oh, and just for the record, this response is ridiculous. No one was more disappointed in and surprised by the US performance against the Czechs as I was, but there's no reason to write off the team after a single game. People who know the game and this team well understood what a tall order this group was, and should have expected that the US could play well--better, even than they did in 2002--and still go out after group play. The Czechs looked excellent on Monday and likely would have beaten any other team in the world on that day (albeit not as comprehensively as they defeated the US).

Even more irritating is the response by uninformed watchers that the single loss confirms our soccer inferiority. For one thing, no one who understood anything about the game actually thought we merited our FIFA ranking of #5 in the world. If anything, most informed observers thought the inflated ranking was a mere distraction that would only add unneeded pressure. The US is a good--not great--team that has performed well over the past four years and has rightly earned respect as a formidable side. A single bad game doesn't negate this. It's very common that good teams simply have bad world cups (or bad games in the World Cup). Ukraine was the first team to qualify out of Europe and they have one of the world's best players in Andriy Schevchenko--yet they lost ignominiously to Spain yesterday, 4-0.

These things happen, and when they do, the national press of the disappointed country reacts with hysteria and rage. Just like ours has in the past week. We've arrived, baby.


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