Wednesday, June 30, 2010

USA in the World Cup: Final Thoughts for 2010

I haven't posted anything about the USA v Ghana game yet, partly because I was too sad to write about it and partly because I was riding roller coasters. (True story.)

I am sad about the USA's early exit (I consider it early.) from the World Cup. Watching the game against Ghana, the US was clearly the better team. Things just didn't come together for them in the end and that wasn't helped by the shameless time wasting by the Ghana team. So my last post about the US in the World Cup is not about the goals scored or not scored or scored then disallowed, but instead about the men on the US team. I think I can say, even without my American bias, that the US men's soccer team was the most sportsmanlike and classy team to play in the World Cup this year.

Let's look at a couple of examples of what NOT to do in a World Cup. Screaming at your coach until you get thrown off the team is a good example. How about refusing to practice in protest of a player being sent home? Sure, because when your country is counting on you to play well so you can win games so you can do well in the World Cup, as you have historically proven you can do in the past, it's a great idea to not practice, right? Ridonculous. Add to that that the same team's coach refused to shake hands with the coach of the team that won the match and you get the award for Worst World Cup Attitude. That's an official thing. I'm mailing the trophy to France any day now.

Dives are no stranger to the World Cup, either. I remember being furious with Christiano Ronaldo in 2006 for falling down and screaming in agony, any time an opposing player came near him. This year, Ronaldo couldn't pull it out for Portugal against Spain, but at least he wasn't falling over at the slightest breeze in his direction. And, sure, there have been many dives this World Cup. But the beautiful thing is that you haven't seen them from the US team. You have, however, seen the US players get beat up quite a bit and not really whine about it much. Case in point: Clint Dempsey gets elbowed in the face, has a really bad bloody lip, and when the refs did nothing, he wiped his face and kept taking shots on goal. Clint Dempsey got particularly beat up this World Cup, actually. He took tackle after tackle, including some pretty nasty fouls, and he kept playing, and playing well. He looked amazing against Ghana! And let's not forget that "off sides" goal against Algeria. Totally on side, but whatever. Let's move on. The point is that the USA didn't dive and whine and hold their faces for no reason while pounding on the ground demanding a foul.

If you need another example of annoying conduct on the pitch, check out Ghana at the end of the US v Ghana extra time. Sure, any team in that position would be praying for the clock to run down, but these players took it too far. They were falling over left and right, lying on the ground, writhing in pain, and generally wasting as much time as possible. My favorite moment of time-wasting shenanigans was when a player for Ghana sprawled on the ground for as long as it took for a ref to notice him and stop game play, then he continued to lie there being "examined" by the med staff, then was carried off the pitch in a stretcher, only to get off the stretcher, by himself, the moment is was set on the sidelines. It's a miracle! I'm so glad those 3 minutes of play time were taken away from my team's players so that this guy could make such a miraculous recovery. The US players were visibly upset by all of this, and who could blame them? I was furious and the announcers weren't happy, either. Finally, the refs started telling the toppled-over Ghana players to quit, but that didn't stop them. Then there was the Ghana substitution that was for the player furthest away from the sideline. And the player walked over. Slowly. So. Very. Slowly. When he finally got there, the other player slowly walked on. It was infuriating! And we didn't get enough extra time to compensate for all those "injuries."

So, speaking of the refereeing, good stuff, yeah? I don't need to go through the specifics of how many times the USA players were the victims of terrible calls. But, in case you missed it, we weren't the only ones! The call that England's goal against Germany wasn't over the line was horrifying. Unfortunately, it cost them the game. But, and no offense to the English, terrible calls like that didn't keep the USA down. The US players didn't let those bad calls and opposing team tomfoolery get in the way of what they were there to do. They played and they played hard, no matter what. With two disallowed goals (for not reason!), they still fought and pushed and didn't give up and I find that incredibly inspiring.

My final note on the USA v Ghana game is that the US outplayed Ghana for all but 2 minutes of that match. The other day I heard someone say the US got lucky when Donovan scored in the 91st minute. My reply to that was that Algeria got lucky that that game wasn't 9 to 0. But, this is how it goes with soccer, and so we have four more years to get pumped up for Brazil. (And my trip to the World Cup! We're going!)

So, even though the team has already left South Africa and Landon Donovan was kicking soccer balls at moving taxis on Letterman last night, I am very proud of the way my country was represented in the 2010 World Cup. The US players didn't dive, they didn't give up when they got bad calls, they fought every minute of play (Remember Tim Howard up on the offense? Chills!), and they didn't whine or blame things on other teams or referees. They were a class act the whole time.

I'm going to do another post to address my thoughts on American reaction to the World Cup, so stay tuned for that!


  1. So I'm first to comment? Cool, I think.
    Although I agree with your overall analysis and appreciate your thoughts, I feel it necessary to remind you that, for better or worse, the bad calls, the whining, falling, stalling, and all other evils you point out in your post ARE a part of football.
    The US selection played four incredible games, showed that they are a legitimate force in international play, and hopefully elevated the beautiful game in the eyes of the American public. (I look forward to your post on the American reaction to the Cup.) I believe that the US failure to advance comes down to this: our society is so concerned with fairness that we are outraged at lousy calls and what appears to us to be unsportsmanlike conduct that by hoping the rest of the world will step up and play by our system of honor (which I might argue is only legitimate because we have instant replay and goalline technology,) that we are not playing competitively against the rest of the world. For an example of our desire for fairness, just take a look at salary cap rules in our MLB, NBA, NFL, etc.
    Was the US squad one of the best teams in the tournament? Absolutely. Did they outplay Ghana? Yes and no. The score states otherwise. Ghana earned two goals against a solid US squad that let its guard down for 2 minutes. It was not a perfect storm, Ghana capitalized when it mattered most, and in football, sadly, when you're up, you stall.

  2. Scott, I totally agree with you. I am actually one of the few Americans (including American soccer players) who is against the inclusion of technology in the game. I think the reliance on the calls of referees is something really interesting and special about soccer. I do think that inclusion of technology ONLY for goals would be cool, but that's it. Replay for anything else (fouls, etc.) would ruin the flow of play in the beautiful game.
    As for my comments about dives, etc., it is an integral part of the game, sure. I agree with you there. But what I didn't mention (mostly because the majority of the readers here aren't soccer fans) is that the excessive stalling in the case of the Ghana game should have been called by the refs. Just like dives and shenanigans are part of the game, fans being upset about it is just as important a part. So I was an upset fan.
    You noticed, I'm sure, that I don't attribute the US being out of the Cup to the calls of the refs. We're out because we're out. And I do think that Ghana scored because the US let its guard down when it shouldn't have. There was even a comment in my house that the first goal was a complete goalkeeper error on the part of Tim Howard. So your comments are also right and thanks for them! I didn't include more about that in the post because it was an optimistic post about the team after being eliminated. Basically, a post with a different slant might have been accompanied by my tears. (Insert smiling emoticon here.)
    Thanks for your comments! It's always nice to have banter with someone else who understand the game on an international level. Who are you pulling for now that Chile is out?

  3. Ew, a typo. That should be "understands" in the last paragraph there.

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