Thursday, June 22, 2006

Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 6: USA Postmortem

Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 5: ESPN coverage Is Teh Suxorz!
Swindle On Soccer, Vol.4: Golden Guus!
Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 3: US-Czech Republic
Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 2: Pregame, USA
Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 1: Staggering To Life
Swindle On Soccer: An Introduction

Seen I Shouldn't Be Alive? It's the show on the Discovery Channel where people review in painstaking detail their brush with death and impossible survival. My favorite one involves a guy who was flying an ultralight over some terrible stretch of African wasteland when something in the engine went [ping!] in a bad way, sending craft and pilot spiralling to the ground in a most unpleasant way.

When he comes to, Mr. "Oh, yeah, such a great idea to fly an ultralight around Africa" finds that he's alive, but has broken something. Several somethings, actually; from my dim memories, it seemed like the guy had snapped every especially painful bone in his body, pelvis, femur, ass, pain-bone...all of 'em at once. The actor screams a lot and grabs everything south of his nipples when he does this, dragging himself across what appears to be a field of broken glass to shade.

The rest of the episode gets worse as he tries to survive until help arrives. It's not pretty. He's got no water. There's gas everywhere. Vultures literally circle. He's bleeding, and unsure of what his future is. He tries to signal with a flare gun and shoots himself in the eye; he resigns himself to death as a meteorite falls from the sky and scores a direct hit on his crotch. Then, just when there's a glimmer of hope, he dies.

Just kidding! No, of course he lives. And we will, too, as U.S. soccer fans whose ultralight (work that metaphor! work it) of expectation has put us facefirst into the scree at the speed of a very, very swiftly falling object. The US came out in '02 and showed the world that they, too, had the makings of a budding world power. In '06, we came out and showed the world and showed that we...we had the potential to be another Nigeria, just without the exciting shots from thirty yards and cool team name (the Super Eagles. Yeah, the Super Eagles.) Or maybe Tunisia.

Revise that last statement: Tunisia actually scored three times as many goals on the way to racking up an identical record in their group. We're not quite up to Tunisia's level in soccer--but we can dream, can't we?

Mitigating factors flying up here: Group of Death! Atrocious refereeing! Playing in Europe! Bulllllllllshit. Say it in a long, Tommy Lee Jones accent when you say it, since that will add the right edge to the sentiment. Good teams win when they're supposed to, especially when given the golden chance of resurrecting their vibe, attitude, and World Cup chances in a single span of ninety minutes versus a side missing two badass strikers making their first World Cup appearance. They don't die the minute Fortuna turns on them for an instant and spend the rest of their match effectively rolling on the ground as someone happily pours gas on the flames.

The US died for 40 minutes in the second half. Forty straight agonizing minutes, just gasping like an asthmatic reaching for an inhaler held inches away from their grasp. One, possibly two real scoring chances vanished in the haze of bad passes, uncontested Ghanaian time-whittling, and endless scenes of Ghanaians doing their best imitation of the Azzuri, lolling about on the ground grabbing the wrong leg while watching the clock with one open eye.

The bad is bottomless. Arena is done, and American fans are already furtively polishing a certain German coach's nameplate while Bruce gets his things in a white cardboard box and heads for the door. (Please, no stealing of office supplies on the way out. Those things add up, you know.) Landon Donovan, already put in a bad position by Arena's tactical cowardice, played like EuroDonovan, the one who couldn't hang on as second team German league player. Reyna finished his career as an indecisive, uncreative midfielder after an otherwise stellar career as the face of American World Cup soccer. And Bobby Convey created a vacuum of opportunity or hope each time he touched the ball, sending passes out of bounds, botching potential shots, and generally performing one long, sad pantomime of ineptitude. Everyone else watched in horror and knocked the ball around like it was covered in hantavirus.

Done for the U.S. There's plenty of fine soccer to go, though. The quality of the matches will improve with teams like Saudi Arabia and the United States out, actually. Italy faces a Brazil team with a rapidly improving and ever-svelter Ronaldo, now Brazil's leading scorer evah after a nutsoid, beautiful match against Japan. Prepare for seventeen minutes of injury time as Italian players grab legs, whine, and send text messages to their mistresses and mothers while pleading for yellow cards and penalty kicks in drammatico fashion.

Ghana and Australia bring the cinderella card. Germany, Spain, and England bring the "gigantor teams loaded with the burden of grandeur." And the best players in the world are, for the most part, still on the field playing spectacular soccer in the world's biggest free-firing fiesta in Germany. Plenty to watch, plenty to gawk at, and plenty to savor in the next few weeks.

At least that's what we'll be telling ourselves for the next week. There's a Ghanaian who works in the office. Walking in this morning, a poster hung on the door: a tombstone covered in black stars with a single American flag in the middle. The caption: REST IN PEACE--JUNE 12, 2006--JUNE 22, 2006. She said that Accra's been effectively closed for the past 24 hrs due to uncontrollable revelry. Streets jammed with people covered in green, yellow, and red. Here the lead story is Isiah Thomas finishing the demolition of the Knicks.

Where's my fucking Phil Steele guide...


Kanu said...

Klinsmann would be the best possible next US coach, and all the rumors make total sense. Lives in Cali, American wife, American kids, refused to uproot them and move to Germany when appointed, suffered the wrath of an entire nation in 2 years for "commuting". (where are all these people now after 3 wins and 9 points?). Anyhow, I am glad that he is stuffing the naysayers and I totally buy that he will leave Germany after the WC. Already lives here and loves it, and although he is ex-Sp*rs, he seems to me like a damn good coach and from some interviews I have read a good guy. Would be the perfect hire.

Worst possible hire? Hmmm, I can think of another high profile Euro-coach who is about to be out of a job. That's right - Sven. I could totally see US Soccer hiring him because he is such a big name. The trouble is that he is a terrible manager. This should be avoided at all costs (and I thnk it will be because Sven is a mercenary whom the US probably cannot afford), but at the same time wouldn't suprise me if the US did it, trying to make a big Splash. Worst possible hire, other than re-hiring Sampson.

DC Trojan said...

You don't have to worry about Sven -- he's not going to be able to negotiate enough hot secretaries out of the US Soccer Federation, for a start. Plus his timid tactics will probably suit another tour in Serie A.

If Klinsmann doesn't come available I say offer it to Bobby Robson, with a house in Florida as a sweetener. He might not be able to remember anyone's name, but he could at least put people in the right position on the field, which is one ahead of Arena. Get a coach or two for the rest of the work.