In case you missed social media meltdown, the U.S. Men’s National Team lost to the Ukraine in a friendly yesterday.
The 2-0 loss — played out in Larnaca, Cyprus, thanks to the ongoing political upheaval in the Ukraine — featured mainly European-based players. And boy did the lot of them put in a very underwhelming performance lacking energy, fortitude and passion. A limp back line featuring veteran Oguchi Onyewu and youngster John Anthony Brooks were completely out of sorts. An experienced midfield featuring Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan provided little possession and was poor in distribution. And captain Clint Dempsey, one of the few MLS guys taking part, looked about as interested in playing as he has been with involved with Seattle’s preseason.
Add all of that together, combined with the fact that we’re now under 100 days away from Brazil 2014, and you have the perfect conditions to induce panic.
The collective response of most of the supporter base would sound something like, “If we can’t beat a country that didn’t even qualify for Brazil and is in the middle of a war, then how in the hell are we going to be beat Ghana, Portugal or Germany?!?!?!”
At least at a really basic level, I can understand the panic. We looked dreadful. Even if the boys put in a performance twice as good as that one in Brazil, we’ll likely still get picked apart in the group. There was plenty enough talent in that side to compete with the Ukrainians.
But despite my disappointment with the side’s performance, I’m not actually panicking. Not based on that game alone, anyway.Why?
First and foremost, Klinsmann was missing a slew of starters and/or big time contributors. The defacto-starting center back pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler was missing. So were creative attacking players like Landon Donovan and Graham Zusi. Also missing were midfield generals Michael Bradley and Mixx Diskerud. Gone too were further strike options like the plucky Eddie Johnson and lumbering Chris Wondolowski. And that’s not even mentioning experienced squad players like Brad Evans, Michael Parkhurst and DeMarcus Beasley who weren’t in attendance either.
Jurgen was also clearly giving several guys a final chance to prove themselves worthy of consideration for one of the last coveted seats on the plane to Brazil. Guys like the aforementioned Brooks, Onyewu, Kljestan — the worst performers on the night in Cyprus — have around a zero percent chance of starting this June. In fact, I’d be surprised if more than one of that trio even makes the final 23-man roster.
And for that reason, I doubt that the manager even cared much about the result.
His main priorities for the match: to see how certain people would perform with their backs against the wall, to try out some new ideas, and to round out his squad. After all, you can’t decide who those last men in will be while watching them in training. They need to prove themselves worthy in live game situations.
But aside from team selection issues, there was also the awkward pressure of playing in front of a nearly empty stadium against a bunch of guys who can’t even host a friendly match in their country because it’s literally falling apart at the seams. This Ukrainian side was already arguably the best of the sides not in the World Cup; throw on the extra motivation of playing for a homeland that could desperately use some good news and this match was bound to be a tall task. Even if the US had a few more of our good players out there, it’s not like it would have been a walk in the park.
Does any of that excuse the performance? Not at all. It’s still a disappointment. Not a single player out there was uncapped, and they should have been able to hold their own. But it just wasn’t in the cards.
So if your one of the hoards of US soccer fans who have contemplated seeing a shrink of the anxiety induced by this week’s setback, cancel it. Or don’t, maybe you do need it if you’re freaking out that bad.