What a Nightmare
Please don't kill yourself.
That's a text message I received from my good friend Neckers after the US lost 3-0 to the Czech Republic in their opening World Cup game today. The sad thing is, he's not the only one that contacted me to make sure I was okay after the game.
Let's just say I'm a fan of US Soccer, and I take the World Cup pretty seriously. People knew that my mood would be, depending on the result, either euphoric or homicidal. I haven't killed anybody yet, but it's certainly not out of the question.
I'm going to do my best attempt to answer 3 questions about the game today - What the hell happened? What needs to change? Is there any reason for hope?
(For the record, I am not emotionally prepared to write about the game I just witnessed, but I feel I must. Apologies in advance if this isn't humorous or entertaining)
So... what the hell happened?
- We were not ready to play. The USA came out flat, and gave up a goal 5 minutes into the match. I don't think they were overwhelmed, I don't think they were overconfident, they were just flat out not ready to play. They weren't there emotionally, they weren't there psychologically. In the biggest sporting event in the history of the world, this is completely unnacceptable.
- Eddie Pope is terrible. I've been saying it for the last 3 years, Eddie Pope is a liability on the United States backline, and he proved me oh so right today. Jan Koller is 6'8"... how can you let him be alone within 6 yards of the goal for a free header? From the beginning, Eddie Pope was never in the game, not for a second. He was completely outclassed, and needs to be replaced (a Jimmy Conrad sighting, possibly?)
- "We got nothing out of Beasley on the night." That's a comment from Bruce Arena during the postgame press conference. I believe Bruce is right on there. We got ABSOLUTELY nothing out of DMB tonight. He's one of our top players, a world class midfielder, and he didn't show up at all today. He played scared, and seemed completely disinterested in the game.
- It's well documented that I have a man-crush on Oguchi Onyewu... but he did not have his finest game today. I think what hurt him was that he received a yellow card (unneccessarily) 4 minutes in, and was forced to play tentatively for the rest of the game. Missing Cory Gibbs is obviously hurting our back line.
- The turning point of the game came when Claudio Reyna hit the post. The United States were carrying the play, moving the ball from side to side, being diverse with their offense, and it resulted in a shot that rattled the inside of the post. An inch to the right and that shot goes in, and all of a sudden the score is 1-1 and we have a great game on our hands.
What Needs To Change?
- John O'Brien needs to start. He's the most creative and dangerous midfielder in the history of American soccer. I understand the reasoning behind starting Pablo Mastroeni over him (a solid midfield defender, a good ball winner, a great guy to stop the other team), but now it's lose and go home. We need attack, we need a player who can make things happen out of nothing, and that man is John O'Brien. If he doesn't start against Italy, you can expect a string of profanities out of my mouth the likes of which have never been seen.
- If Demarcus Beasley is in the game, he must be on the left side of the field. 90% of the touches he takes are with his left foot. Why have him out on the right? Convey looked better than Beasley today, and I wouldn't be surprised if only one of them was in the starting lineup on Saturday. Regardless, Beasley has to play on the left to be effective.
- Get our forwards the ball at their feet. The United States is at their best when they keep the ball on the ground, attack with a sense of urgency, and occasionally serve a high ball in the box to McBride. Today it seemed like once we went down 2 goals, we just started pumping balls into the box in the air. That is not the answer, and will certainly not be the answer against Italy.
- Personally, I'm going to change 3 things: (1) I've been growing out my beard for about 2 weeks, saying that I wasn't going to shave it until the US lost. Well, the first thing I did when I got home from watching the game was lose the beard. (2) Change viewing locations. I watched this game at Fado in Denver (more on that later), I will not watch one there again. (3) Wear my US Men's National Team scarf to the game. I made a mistake today of not going all out, you can be very sure that the scarf will be draped around my shoulders on Saturday.
- Play with pride. Play with heart. Play with fire. Play for your country. Play with determination. Play with a chip on your shoulder. Play as hard as you can. Play with desire. Play like if you lose, your World Cup dreams are over. Which they will be with a loss.
We're in a bad place, no doubt. Things actually couldn't have gone worse. We now have to go against Italy on Saturday... a team that is known as being the best defensive team in the world. Since they just beat Ghana 2-0, they have no reason to play for a win. They're going to sit back and play for a tie, because if they tie, they're almost guaranteed to go through. The US has never won a World Cup game in Europe, and now we have to go into Italy's backyard and try to beat them there. So...
Is There Any Reason for Hope?
The Czech Republic are the 2nd ranked team in the world for a reason. They're awesome. If the team can put this game behind them, and come out ready to play on Saturday, we have a chance.
We certainly have the firepower to beat Italy... I think now it's up to our team to find the intestinal fortitude necessary to go out there and prove we belong.
It's definitely an uphill battle, but a battle that is certainly winnable. Italy didn't look that great today against Ghana, and Ghana had many scoring chances. Americans are known for being hard-working, for busting their ass to get their reward, and not hanging their heads when the chips are down. Now is that time for our national team... hopefully they respond.
One final note - I'm very impressed with the overall change in attitude shown by Americans towards the World Cup this year, especially when compared to 4 years ago.
I was in Cincinatti this weekend for a friends wedding (congratulations Nick). On the way home, I was wearing my USA jersey in the airport, and about 5 people came up and talked to me about the team. People are fired up.
I got home last night, and was so excited that I couldn't get to sleep. I slept a total of about 8 hours this last weekend (it was an AWESOME weekend), and I didn't feel like sleeping last night at all. This morning I went down to Fado in Denver to watch the game... and it was packed. There were USA jerseys everywhere, people were cheering, there were flags, scarves, drinking... you could have convinced me that this was a bar in England, not in the United States.
I love the progess we have made as a soccer country... but our National Team needs to reward our fans by showing up and playing their best on Saturday. I'm confident that they will.