"One game changes everything."
And just like that, the USA is done.
Is the US performance in the 2006 World Cup the most disappointing follow-up performance since George Lucas inflicted Jar Jar Binks on the world? (Photo courtesy of Lucas Film)
After their stellar--and somewhat shocking--showing in the 2002 World Cup, expectations were high for the US squad in 2006. This was supposed to be the "next step" for the US program. We were supposed to show the world that the US deserved respect on the pitch--where it must be earned.
US arrogance in international political affairs has made us the easy target for player haters around the world, but good showing on an equal playing field would prove that 2002 was no fluke and would have forced even the most anti-American critics to recognize the talent of our soccer team.
In short: The US proved the critics right by failing to deliver on their promise.
Perhaps they read their own press, perhaps they believed the hype, perhaps they were over-confident, perhaps they were unprepared, perhaps the coaching was over-calculated, perhaps the players were non-plussed by their assignments...or perhaps the refs were biased against the USA**
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
The following are irrefutable facts regarding the USA's "performance" in the 2006 World Cup:
1) They phoned it in:
The US got punched in the face in game one, losing 3-0 to a Czech team that failed to produce another goal in the round--and we never recovered. Unlike the Miami Heat, which stared down a 3 games to none hole in the face, overcoming a ten point fourth quarter deficit with less than six minutes to play in the 4th quarter of game 3 in the NBA Finals, the U.S. team looked defeated from five minutes into the entire tournament when Czech striker Jan Koller headed a Zdenek Grygera cross into the net. No one "stepped-up" to lead the team to victory. All the experience on the pitch might have contributed to the team's lackadaisical, listless output; They never made sustained drives to score goals--a moment here, a shot there, crosss bars, and off sides calls--but nothing like what you see from the winning teams like Germany, Spain, Argentina...et al. Teams whose players swarm into the box, storm the goal and produce winners--they finish because they set themselves up time and time again.
Who needs the world when you can play for the MLS Cup? (Image: Courtesy DC United)
With the exception of some gritty-as-hell second half defending with 9 men on the pitch in the second half of the Italy match (holding a superior team to a draw) and a few minutes of desperation play in the waning moments of the Ghana match, the team played flat--instead of stepping onto the International stage of the World Cup, like they were in the friendly exhibition stages...or worse, like they were lining up for US club match play. Good thing the U.S. "stars" can come home and get back to the "serious" business of winning an MLS Cup.
I would not have been surprised had Arena gone Budd Dwyer at his post game press conference.
(Image: Gary Miller / ©Associated Press)
2) Bruce Arena should resign after his team's embarassing showing in Germany
He was outcoached, his team looked unprepared, his players looked confused (because many of them were playing out of their "natural" position?), the team couldn't put together a sustained offensive performance (because they were playing a a defensive scheme with only one forward?), and the team couldn't play from behind (they played the entire tourney on their heels, looking content to play not to lose, rather than attacking the goal with the relentless passion it takes to win). The team lacked urgency--their play was lackluster, conservative and boring. Now they can sit at home, with the rest of us, and watch creative teams, that wanted it more, like Ghana, play in the knock-out rounds.
A lesson in what happens to those with no heart: Dorothy kisses the Tin Man goodbye.(Photo: Courtesy of MGM)
3) The US played with no heart.
The USA's most inspired and talented players showed no creativity, imagination, nor heart. I hate to say this--especially given Brian McBride's bloody, gritty effort vs. Italy. But in short, there were many players on the squad who were ineffective or, disastrous. 3 in particular deserve to be called out: Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna and DaMarcus Beasley (who in all fairness made a nice pass to set up the only U.S. goal in the tourney--a brilliant finish by Clint Dempsey).
4) This ranks as one of the worst US showings in World Cup history
No matter the excuses or explanations, the US scored only one goal in three matches (the goal vs. Italy was an "own goal"). The US managed only a single point (for their tie vs. Italy) in the first round.
The U.S. World Cup will not runnneth over.
It is not half empty.
Nor is it half full.
It's off the table.
**Two red cards vs. Italy? A ticky tack penalty kick vs. Ghana? The officials blew more calls than a Vegas hooker. The officiating didn't cost the US the tourney--say the way bad calls cost the Seahawks the Superbowl--but they certainly didn't help. The US was playing poorly enough to lose all on their own. Sans bad calls.