the keys to the car

do you remember the first time you ever got to drive a car? i do. i remember feeling like i was a badass. “look at me, driving around with all of the other adults,” i recall thinking, despite the fact that i was just a naïve, pimply-faced 16 year old that was still struggling to control my pubescent hormones. but none of my character flaws (ADD, immortal, egotistic, etc.) mattered, because i was driving a freaking motorized vehicle like a grown up.

much like every other car-crazed 16 year old, i went flying about the streets of southwest ohio like a bat out of hell. seeing as how i was invincible at the time, i thought nothing of breaking speeding laws because i was an adult and i could handle it. blast the music and roll the windows down? sure… i could even handle four more distractions, so i’m going to pick up my friends now.

tim ream of the united states
ream took a beating last night, but also showed promise.

of course, this attitude eventually lead to trouble. six months into having a drivers license, i had rear ended two cars, a speeding ticket, and a trip to juvenile traffic court all resulted.

clearly, i was in over my head and i wasn’t ready for the responsibility of driving the car.

some might say that it’s my parents fault for giving me the keys to the car too early, as they failed to recognize that i wasn’t ready to handle the privilege of driving. but i disagree, and instead think my parents did the right thing. while i suspect they did recognize that i was probably too immature to step behind the wheel of the car aged just 16, they probably also knew that you have to let the chicks leave the nest at some point. it’s often said that learning by experience is the best way to learn, and while i often learned lessons the hard way (and still do), those early miscues eventually made me a better driver.

moral of the story: sometimes you have to let your kids to do things that they’re probably not ready for, just so they can learn a necessary lesson or two.

in last night’s gold cup tune-up against spain, USMNT coach robo-bob bradley did exactly that: he gave the keys to the car to the america’s next generation of footballers. and predictably, they crashed and burned like your average 16-year-old driver.

at this point, there’s little doubting that the americans are a nation on the rise on the international stage. we’ve had some respectable showings at recent world cups, made the final or the confederations cup, and have finally become a dominant force in our own region. but all of this success has come mainly on the backs of a core group of established veterans: donovan, dempsey, howard, onyewu, cherundulo, bocanegra, etc. and while these guys are all at or around their peak playing years, they’re all closer to the ends of their careers than the beginnings. we can’t continue to expect them to play every game from here until the end of time, so we’re going to need some young guys to step up and show they can contribute.

and honestly, what better way to test your youngsters than against the world’s indisputably best team who is looking for a bit of revenge for the defeat in the confederations cup two years ago? quite the trial by fire if you ask me.

in last night’s 0-4 drubbing, the US started nine players with less than 35 caps. of those, four were earning their fifth cap or less… two occupying spots in the american’s extremely leaky first half back line. two of the subs brought in during the second half had less 30 caps between them. so to say this was an inexperienced teamsheet tonight would be an understatement.

so with that in mind, maybe we should have expected an outcome like this. while i expected spain to come out winners, i also thought bob’s bhoys might keep the scoreline respectable. instead we received what can either be interpreted as a masterclass lesson in how not to play in the future, or a gigantic warning sign that the USMNT’s future isn’t quite as bright as we’ve quickly gotten used to during to.

for some players, last night was probably an excellent learning experience. tim ream was out worked by a physical álvaro negredo several times (especially on negredo’s off the bar chip), but i think last night’s bruises will taught the young big man an important lesson or two. and though juan agudelo didn’t live up to his hype, he showed some flashes against a very experienced and organized spanish defense. goodson showed well in the second half in the back, but was caught out for torres late ego-boosting goal. let’s just hope the fresh blood in the team took something from this moving forward, and will be better drivers moving forward for it.

robbie rogers takes on sergio ramos
rogers might not be able to cut it at this level.

unfortunately, i think this match also might have been the first nails in a few players’ coffins. jonathan spector, despite being a “veteran” with 31 caps, continued to show he can’t cut the mustard at the top of the game: he was too slow in decision making regardless of the position he played. robbie rogers again looked to be in way over his head when playing against the world’s elite. kljestan, another one of my favorite whipping boys, put in another indifferent performance. the 25 year-old would have needed to put in a massive performance to convince me to be impressed with him in the slightest. i’d like to be critical of altidore, but he rarely saw the ball… maybe because he didn’t work hard enough to find it?

either way, maybe there are some guys in bradley’s young contingent that don’t quite deserve to be the ones driving this team forward.

luckily, bob realized at half time that he needed to stop the bleeding and put in some of his big guns. the addition of dempsey, cherundolo and bradley certainly brought some calm to the side. but again, it took the addition of the old guard to make it a respectable match.

let’s be honest though too: the americans are not going to face a team like spain in the gold cup. that’s not to say that the won’t be facing any quality sides in the regional championship, but there should be enough talent in the squad to challenge the mexicans for the title, especially since bradley will have his best available for the tournament. but whether or not the young lads can shake off the ass kicking from the spanish in time for the first match against canada might be a more important thought to ponder at this point though.

who knows: maybe some of the youngsters will step up, showing they belong up here with all of the adults. but eventually, the next generation of yanks need to start carrying their weight and contributing, or all of the progress we’ve made in the last 12 years will be for nought.

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