Thursday, June 15, 2006

World Cup Diary: Day Seven Review and Fishy Chips

From the sounds of it, the United States football team is out of this competition. I don’t need to see another game to know that the team has already beaten itself. It’s not being self-critical and self-loathing the way any good football team would be, its members aren’t merely bitching out their coach and second-guessing his decisions. They’re doing something more revealing about their defeatist mindset: they’re offering up excuses about their own play. Midfielder Bobby Convey: “I think the reason we didn’t do well is because everyone did not do their role, maybe didn’t know their role, maybe didn’t know what to do.” I’d like to hear one back-benching Brazilian player in the history of the sport being caught dead saying “I didn’t know what to do,” or looking to the coach as his reason for being on the pitch. There is an instinctive knowingness about good teams that makes a coach almost superfluous. He’s there to oil the way, not to create it, least of all to justify it. Landon Donovan: “I need to get the ball in better spots. If we’re going to concede that we’re just going to move the ball uphill, that’s not playing into my strength.” Again with the scapegoats. So two days after their defeat, the Americans are still looking backward and downward, their attitudes as negative as their play. Italy must be smiling. The lousy prospects for Saturday’s Italy game are bad enough. But it’s football’s prospects in the United States that will suffer especially if the team continues its ugly-American act. Another game like the Czech fry will reinforce many a stereotype Americans love to kick around about football, setting back the game’s progress in the country. It won’t be fatal. The immigrant upsurge is the wind behind soccer’s sails in the United States. But the national team can provide that extra push necessary to take the game into the mainstream, rather than leave it to the snobs and the rich suburban. Italy of course could fall apart and give the United States a chance. But that’s not the way to win hearts and cleated boots. The United States need to beat an Italy in top form, the way—as one reader put it—the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets at Lake Placid in 1980.

But this is turning into a US-centric mania. And so onto the rest of the field. Read the rest...