Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 1: Sputtering To Life
Swindle On Soccer: An Introduction
Tomorrow: game. USA. Czechoslovakia. Help us, Jeebus, as our hands tremble around our coffee just considering it, but tomorrow, for the first time this World Cup, we really, really care about the outcome of the match. It's as if we're about to turn 23 in World Cup years: after a brief period of coasting off borrowed money, reality's set in, the easy cash has run out, and we're about to get slammed with that first murderous credit card bill of adulthood. And after following team USA intently for two World Cups, the buildup to our third as a card-carrying member of Uncle Sam's Army has indicated that this one's going to be a whopper of a tab by the time it's over.
The chances tomorrow aren't bad, actually: Czechoslovakia's missing some key players, they're "old" according to the chattering classes of soccer, and they're sloppy on defense. This plays right into the sometimes erratic flow of the United States' average game plan: play excellent D, lean on the exceptional guy standing between the pipes (Casey Keller in this case,) and counter well and finish. The problem lately with the U.S. has been finishing, as evidenced in rotten fashion in the Latvia game, where the US blew something along the lines of nine shots on goal before finally converting for what would be the only goal of the match.
BUT WE CARE, AND CARING HURTS. And thanks to '02, we care more now than we ever did before. Blame Japan/Korea and that fucking Portugal game, the game where the U.S. blazed out to a 3-0 lead and took the "Golden Generation" of Portuguese soccer and melted them into a slagheap of busted potential. Blame the riotous, fisticuff-stuffed match with Mexico in the same Cup, where the U.S. beat the Mexicans in a brutally satisfying grindout with their continental competitors. Blame the "limit reached" match against Germany, where the brawnier German side eked out a 1-0 victory, a match where Claudio Reyna nearly caught ape/master goalie/scourge of children's nightmares Oliver Kahn out of position with a loopy, brilliant chip shot from damn near midfield we can still see bending just a few feet to the left of the post, putting a momentary hitch in the German fans' heartbeat and stopping ours for several minutes flat.
Thanks alot, assholes.
It's the potential that kills. It's the "confidence" that writers keep drilling into our heads when we read about the U.S. team. It's Gregg Berhalter all but admitting that he's going to abuse second string NBA center and Czech forward Jan Koller as much as the rules will permit plus some. It's fearless Brian McBride, who would run a full speed header into a wood chipper if he thought it would score a goal. It's wanting to believe in them because you've seen the worst--losing to Iran in '98--and their best (Portugal '02). And if you check the timestamp, it's losing sleep on Eastern Standard Time thanks to a cup of coffee at six o'clock and just thinking about the match tomorrow.
One other thing has clarified our own status as a fan of the United States National Team: the departure of dweeb Jeff Agoos, the last remnant of the dank, dark past of United States soccer. Agoos stood for everything terrible about United States soccer: prima donna behavior without the compensatory talent, a lame nickname, and an unironic ponytail worn with the pride of a porn star strutting into the locker room of your gym naked. Agoos' own goal in '02 was just icing on the cake of dislike we'd been baking for him for years. His absence, dear reader, is just one more reason you should skip work and watch Damarcus Beasley and Landon run the "When Chickens Attack" offense on Czechoslovakia tomorrow. Not only will you be getting in on the ground floor of American soccer fandom (good seats still available!), but you'll be watching a guaranteed Agoos-free performance. And the less ponytail you have in your life, the better.
Team USA: Agoos-free since 2003.