Well, it has taken me about 48 hours to be able to calmy discuss the USA's disasterous 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic on Monday. I was hoping for a draw or a win, but the absolute thrashing that the Czech Republic laid on this team was a textbook example of the difference between quality and wanna-be. The US was wholly unprepared to take the pitch, and coach Bruce Arena's disasterous decision to play left-sided midfielder DaMarcus Beasley on the right-hand side of the pitch lead to consistent problems with the team keeping possession and moving the ball forward with any danger. Not that it would have helped to put him on the left; Beasley was unable to control the ball with either foot all night long. And Landon Donovan was also invisible. As was Brian McBride, who had no service from the midfield all day long. It resulted in one of the most agonizingly bad and embarassing matches played by the US in a very, very long time.
It all started in the fifth minute, when Kasey Keller launched a goal kick up field to no one in particular. If you watched the US in 2002, you will remember that Brad Friedel almost exclusively played a short ball to his defenders on re-starts, allowing the team to build from the back and control the ball up the pitch. Keller's booming pass was easily controlled by the Czech midfielder, who passed it up the right wing to the unmarked Zdenek Grygera. Why was he unmarked? Because US left-back Eddie Lewis was all the way up at midfield. On a goal kick. Instant recipe for disaster. Of course, Grygera made no mistake from the wing since no US player was within 10 yards of him (you'll hear that again soon), and he hit a perfect cross to the center of towering striker Jan Koller's head, who buried what might be the most perfectly powerful header I have ever seen in the back of the net. 1-0 Czechs, in the fifth minute. Disaster.
The game played on, and the USA had a single chance when Claudio Reyna stepped up and hit a long range effort off the post, missing a goal by inches. Let me quote myself from the last post I wrote on here (if I may):
"If the previous games have provided any clue to the situation for the USA tomorrow, it is that in games like this one, against an accomplished, professional side, the chances on goal will be few and far between. The USA needs to finish their chances, a problem for this team in recent matches, because The Czechs will not fail to punish our mistakes. This game will come down to which team makes the most of their opportunities, and while history is on the side of the Czechs, I think Bruce Arena will have the USA focused, loose, and ready."
Well, I was wrong about focused, loose and ready. The rest, spot on. I take no solace in that, though. After Reyna's miss, it didn't take long for Arsenal's new signing Tomas Rosicky to punish another mistake. After Steve Cherundolo failed to make a rountine clearance, the ball was croosed into the box and Oguchi Onyewu headed the ball out of danger, about 40 yards away from goal, right to Rosicky who was standing unmarked in the middle of the field. Just like when Lewis blew his earlier assignment as a left-back playing upfield when he should have been home playing defense, Claudio Reyna did not mark Rosicky, and as our Captain wandered over to half-heartedly try and close the attacker down, Rosicky was clincial and struck a world class goal from 35 yards away. 2-0 before halftime. Nightmare.
Rosicky. Perfect strike. 2-0
Then, down 2-0 in the second half and chasing for a goal, the team got beat on a classic counter-attack and Tomas Rosicky met a perfect pass from Pavel Nedved and slotted home. 3-0. Game over.
Yes, Bobby Convey, we lost. Remember that pain.
This was a huge lesson. And on Saturday, more to come.
Italy has way too much class on the pitch for us. Sorry. Jan Koller is half the athlete that Luca Toni is, and Luca Toni is hungry to impress after not scoring in the opener. Gattuso and Zambrotta are back, and if you can name one of our midfielders who has shown enough imagination and ability to beat either of them, let alone match Totti and Pirlo, you will be lying to me. If Italy doesn't win this game by 2 or 3 goals, I will be shocked. I hope I am shocked, but shocked I will be. The reality is that we have too many 24 year old kids who have no experience playing at the top levels of football for an extended period, and our older, experienced players are a cut below as well. I love Brian McBride, but he is no Del Piero. Reyna is my captain, but he is no Totti. At every position on the pitch, Italy outclasses this team by a country mile. We have used moxie and the team ethic to overachieve without properly seasoned talent since 2000, but now, the chickens are coming home to roost. Heart can take you to amazing places, but unless you teach your heart how to be inventive with the ball, this team is coming home in a week's time.
MLS is a big part of the problem, surprisingly. I support a domestic league, but it simply isnt good enought at developing world class players as it has produced ZERO in 10 years. The only person on this team who plays on what I would call a world class team is Beasley, and he is terribly out of form and technically inadequate. I don't want to abandon the league, but US Soccer should put jingoism aside and recognize that the league is a developmental league for domestic players who we can then sell to Europe; end of discussion.
I am proud of my country and my team and I look forward to watching players like Convey, Johnson, Dempsey, Donovan, Beasley, Gooch, Spector and Adu grow into the backbone of a good team, but US Soccer needs to look in the mirror and get our players into the best teams on a day to day basis. Otherwise, I expect this to continue.
There is no shame in three and out in a group this tough. Last Cup, France and Argentina both crashed out in the first round and they are world powers. No shame in that, I expected it. But the lack of quality, desire, and ability to create on the ball are shocking. The US has a way to go. We can get there, but things must change.