PR isn’t supposed to matter this much.
Yet, here I sit, utterly mortified by the United States’ utter capitulation to Mexico in the Gold Cup final. No matter how much I keep telling myself it doesn’t matter or it hardly counted, I just cannot get over the fact those guys embarrassed themselves and the US program as a whole out there. I think my main takeaways from this match are these:
- This has become the summer where the US national team became so mainstream that it can no longer afford to send B/C-level teams to tournaments and risk the massive negative PR hit. In the past, the Gold Cup, Confederations Cup, etc. could pass by with nary a whisper other than on Bigsoccer, Spanish-language media, and FSC. Well, now that ESPN has discovered that soccer makes for good Summer programming, US Soccer has to learn to adjust to the fact that sending a squad like the ones we sent to the 2007 Copa America and 2009 Gold Cup is no longer a public perception risk they can take. ESPN has turned its bright lights on US Soccer and the media has followed. US Soccer had better put its shades on and evolve or else it won’t know what hit them come 2010.
- As American soccer has improved its ability to produce players with attributes like speed, strength, and even technique, it’s not producing players of character right now. What we saw out there in the second half yesterday was a void of talent and also a void of character and leadership. We’ve seen how hard it’s been to craft leadership and character out of our A-Team players and we’re only now starting to see evidence of it out of guys like Donovan, Bocanegra and Howard. As you look down the depth chart though, few of these players resemble leaders whatsoever. Maybe Jimmy Conrad would’ve helped but, regardless, literally everyone else folded like a cheap suit at the first sign of adversity. Is MLS developing a generation of second-bananas? Was yesterday at least partially a symptom of so many MLS teams relying on foreign talent to carry them creatively? (Here in DC during crunch times, we’ve grown very used to everyone not-named Olsen looking at Moreno, Gomez and Emilio and saying, “You do something great, I’m sure as hell not able to). I hope some smart people in American soccer are wondering why that a league can produce players of great physical and technical ability seem to produce so few with the kind of leadership skills also required to succeed at the highest level.