Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I Must've Been Watching Some Other Match

United States 1:0 Jamaica

Now that the United States' Men's National Team has ... ahem ... redeemed itself for the unanimated chukkering it got over the weekend in Kingston, the soccer pundits are indulging some primitive need to make the team seem as good as people think it should be. They rave about the performances in the exciting, scintillating re-match played in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday night.

I must have had some other soccer match on my television. What I saw was a United States team that could engage in sharp, crisp, and incisive passing as long as their opponent held back and didn't press. Jamaica held back and didn't press, so the US looked good from the start. They did manage to get behind the Jamaican defense three times, hitting the post each time. (Credit the Jamaican goalkeeper for his performance on at least one of those shots.)

But once the US scored in the 55th minute — from a fairly well-taken free kick by Herculez Gomez, which only went in because of a poor effort by that same Jamaican keeper — the Reggae Boyz started to play for a draw. (That, it would appear, had been their aim all along: the one point for a draw would have put them at the top of the group in this qualifying round.) They started pressing the US immediately, and our guys' passing immediately went to Hell. Where the game, until the US goal, was played entirely in Jamaica's half of the pitch, after we scored our guys were content to hunker down and defend, a disappointing strategy. The late stages, after the slim lead was taken, had the US team entirely on the back foot, and was played entirely in our half of the game.

Fortunately, our team's defensive capabilities have improved since Klinsmann took over as head coach, and while the back line that was available for this match were not (I pray) the strongest the team can put together, it was adequate for the task of defending against the 60th-ranked* Jamaica. 

Overall, it was a performance worthy of the national teams we could put on the field in the early '90s. The US national team of the present should be a regional powerhouse, a rival to the Mexican national team; it should not be struggling to overmaster such relative minnows as Jamaica. And the giddy sports columnists and commentators on television, in print, and on the Web, are doing the team and the sport no favours by talking about this slipshod half-assed performance as though it was all it could have been. Even with Donovan and Bradley and Holden out, and Dempsey so badly out of form, this was a poor, poor performance from the team.

* Don't take those rankings too seriously. As someone once famously said, they're more a guideline than a rule.

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