Filed by Gentry Estes
Since anyone who tuned in today realizes those inflated U.S. World Cup hopes are all but extinct, perhaps it would be more constructive to focus on the positives of the 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic.
Um, hold on ... still thinking.
Well, there is no silver lining. The U.S. was served a surprisingly large dose of humility by a bigger, better, hungrier opponent. Quite simply, the obviously overrated Americans went into the biggest game in four years and acted like they didn’t want to be out there.
Like an NBA team in December, the U.S. showed little hustle on defense, no imagination on offense and a mental approach that suggested indifference more than confidence and passion. That kind of effort deserved exactly what it got —; a paddling before the world’s sporting public.
American commentators and pundits, most of whom picked the U.S. to win Monday, were unified in their surprise over how the world’s fifth-ranked team can get slapped around in such a way.
But those at The Coliseum in Nashville a few weeks ago shouldn’t be so stunned. The same lifeless U.S. team that lost 1-0 that night to underwhelming Morocco showed up in Germany. I remember covering that ugly game, walking toward the U.S. locker room for interviews with chants from celebrating Morocco fans in my ears.
“Oh, this isn’t going to fun,” I thought, calling on memories of college football contests where the losing side is almost always in sour spirits. I headed towards U.S. coach Bruce Arena expecting Phillip Fulmer after the Vanderbilt loss.
Instead, I got Steve Spurrier after a day on the golf course. Arena’s mood was alarmingly calm and steadfastly arrogant. He kept insisting it meant nothing until June 12. Later, I caught his post-game talk to his team on ussoccer.com. He didn’t even raise his voice.
Perhaps he should have.
That was the time to scare, get in someone’s face, threaten spots on the World Cup team, do something to snap them out of the funk. Now it’s too late, although I wouldn’t expect DeMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey, Steve Cherundolo or Eddie Pope to see the field Saturday against Italy.
Arena has earned a reputation for his success with the national team, but each step has been achieved with the U.S. as an underdog. Being a favorite in a sport we still don’t know very well isn’t so easy. Overconfident American players may have been reading too many press clippings these fateful few weeks.
But apparently, the Czechs missed the Nike commercial claiming, “The world no longer looks forward to playing” the Americans. They took control early and forced the U.S. to adjust its pregame strategy, something the Americans never did.
Tactically, Arena inserted five defenders in his lineup (a change from the usual four) to absorb Czech pressure and fuel counter attacks. That strategy went out the window when Jan Koller scored in the fifth minute and the Czechs began to hold back and sit on a 1-0 lead.
The U.S. had to bring defensive players forward to attack, and the opponent snuck in behind them. It looked easy and it was —; Czechmate.
So what now? The U.S. must win its final two games against Italy and Ghana to reach the second round. That’s not likely if the U.S. plays well. It’s impossible if it has a repeat of Monday.
For the first time I can remember, die-hard U.S. soccer types (yes, they actually exist) are hurt and angry.
It’s one thing to lose a hard-fought game. It’s another to be completely outplayed, act like you don’t care about it, and spend the bulk of your energy arguing with the referee rather than getting back on defense.
Perhaps worst of all, there were plenty of people catching the game on television who haven’t watched much U.S. soccer the past few years.
Think they’ll watch more?
Said Convey: “We need to forget about this game as quickly as is humanly possible.”
Hey, no problem there. I’ve a feeling plenty of Americans have already forgotten about soccer, and they won’t be remembering anytime soon.
E-mail Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org