On Failure

Re: Relatively obvious, I suppose.

This is not the end of the world.

It’s not even some kind of plague or zombie apocalypse, where everyone runs down the street screaming “Ahh! It’s the end of the world!” even though there’s quite plainly still a world going on all around them. It is perhaps in the overall dichotomy of Utopia to Complete and Utter Human Extinction a medium-level war, something maybe a little greater than the First Gulf War and a little less than World War I (Vietnam seems almost too appropriate in terms of expectations and relative abilities, but the comparison trivializes that war in an unfortunate way that I’m not really prepared to do).

I’m not sure where failing to qualify for a World Cup would fall on that scale. I’ve long said that the momentum of building a soccer fanbase in this country is such that the only way there will be fewer soccer fans in America at some point in the future than there are right now at this very moment is if we failed to qualify for a World Cup, but I’m not sure if that makes it a mutant flu virus that wipes out a billion people in one swoop or a quick conquest of the world by General Zod that has us all on our knees and our kids learning Kryptonian in school  until Superman bails us out or somewhere in between.

Personally, I’m a little miffed because after seeing this team in person (in their tune-up against San Antonio, there I am in the video, the tall blur in a black jacket next to a bunch of other tall blurs on the sidelines in the buildup to Jack McInerny’s goal – hi Mom!) and in their thrashing of Mexico, I talked them up to nearly everyone I knew, paying compliments that they specifically failed to live up to in Crash(andBurn)ville.

I said that despite the weak or unmotivated opposition, they looked more comfortable in a system with two high wingers than the seniors did. I said that they had better instincts about when to switch from possession to penetration, when to hold the ball and when to take their (proverbial) shots at getting a goal. And I said that because of those two things, they were actually more fun to watch than the big boys. I was wrong on nearly every count.

I suppose it is my fault for reading too much into performances against crummy teams; there were enough people with 20/20 hindsight on Twitter after Monday’s game explaining that they knew all this all along to make you think it must have been obvious all along. I watched Boyd turn the ball over when we was meant to be holding it up, and Freddy Adu too often dawdle on the ball when they should have played quickly and try something quick when perhaps patience was in order, and they were among our best players.

Between the time I’m writing this and the time you’re reading it, everyone you follow on Twitter will have posted their postmortems, which will all say mostly the same thing and yet which I’ll read all of anyway. They’ll likely blame, in some order, Porter, the central defensive spine, the grueling schedule (Mix got a bad rap for his ineffective performance in that last game even though he essentially had to play in three games in five days as a box-to-box midfielder, collecting the ball out of the back and serving as an outlet in attack 50 yards away. It was clear he was tired against Canada when he wasn’t as effective showing for the ball; it was painfully obvious against El Salvador that his poor passes were more a function of not being able to calibrate them properly with his dead legs.), Brek Shea for that final giveaway, and Joe Gyau for failing to turn off his super-speed for long enough to waste a sufficient amount of time when he was brought on in the 93rd minute.

They’ll call for level heads, saying this isn’t a step-back of a generation and that Caleb Porter doesn’t necessarily have to commit hara-kiri inside the temple of Brian McBride, but that he should probably go back to Akron for a while and maybe try a lower level MLS team for a couple of years before he submits his resume for the big boys.

Like a good medium-sized war does, this poses a number of structural questions for us to argue over. When players abandon their possession-based system in favor of direct long-ball play only to come up short, is it the failure of the possession or the long ball strategy? In terms of similarities between Porter’s side and the big boys, what’s the most essential role in this system anyway? The Torres-Diskeruud passer? The Corona-Dempsey goal-scoring attacking midfielder? Brek Shea? How much better was this team really when Juan Agudelo was playing center forward, and how much of that has to do with his skill level versus his skill set, i.e. is he just the best center forward that age group has (possible) or does his movement and the removal of that fixed target forward point, improve the whole system (very likely)? And if the latter is the case, how can that movement be replicated by other players when playing a more traditional, Boyd/Altidore number nine?

I’m not sure of the answers. Really, I’m just upset that I won’t get to watch this team any more, no matter how bad they may have looked in their last two outings, that it’s one less set of soccer dates to look forward to on the summer calendar.

What a catastrophe that is.


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