Has any week in the modern history of American soccer contained the kinds of highs and lows that we witnessed last week? It’s taken me all the way until now to be able to sit and really think about what happened starting with the win over Honduras and ending Wednesday night at RFK.
Let’s start with the win over Honduras. For all the bad things that Bob Bradley does, the single most important thing he has done is really instill a never-quit attitude in a team that in the past, has shown a propensity to get its head very down at the first sign of adversity. Sure, it’s not the silky skills and flowing attacking moves that many people want, but the charicter that this US team has shown time and again is something that will benefit us. I think it’s clear that the public adversity this team faced at times during the Confederations Cup and after the Costa Rica loss rallied this team together. In a way, I wonder if the criticism was a good thing… and in fact a better thing for this team’s long term development than just sinking back into public anonymity as would have happened in the old days. With players coming from so many different backgrounds and “places” profesionally, it’d be easy for this squad to devolve into cliques and division just as we’ve seen to an extreme with Belgium. Yet, we’ve seen no signs of that. It sounds elementary, but the clear respect these players have for Bradley is an achievement for which Bradley deserves some credit.
This brings us now to events of early Tuesday morning. I was caught up in the traffic and detours early Tuesday morning as I attempted to get to work, only knowing that a fatal crash had tied things up. Learning later on, that I was caught up in the traffic from Charlie Davies’ crash added a slightly personal element to an accident that I still have many questions about. It’s a shocking tragedy to see one person killed and two injured in such a manner, especially for those of us who travel down that road often, including at night. I was defintely a bit rattled by it.
In the hours going in to Wednesday’s match, I couldn’t help but think it was a bit crass to even play this match while a teammate lays in Washington Hospital Center in 300 pieces, a friend is elsewhere in the hospital, and a young woman lays somewhere else waiting to be buried. This match was supposed to be a party for US fans and a chance for fans to blow off some steam after the stress of the qualifying process and yet, in no way, did that seem appropriate going into Wednesday.
Yet, when I showed up to RFK on Wednesday and suddenly felt better about it. I don’t know why. I still don’t really know why. But in the end, it felt better being there and supporting the US and helping the US players support Charlie. There is still something about that that feels kind of wrong. But would it have been more respectful to postpone the match, if it were possible? I don’t know. The game itself was almost a complete embodiment of the Bradley era USA. The US found itself down 2-0 after defensive breakdowns and midfield giveaways gifted opportunities to a Costa Rican team that simply wanted it more in the first half. In the second half, the US opens the scoring with an ugly goal, just like against Honduras and then grabs control of the match until finally tieing it in waning seconds. This sounds dumb, but there are a lot of teams out there that couldn’t have done that. They’d have quit already, especially after seeing a critical defensive cog go down with a bad injury and reduce the team to 10 men. They’d have started thinking which ever club match they’d have to worry about next weekend. But they didn’t. They “tied it for Charlie.” In the end, it was an unforgettable night.
I, like many US fans, I suspect, am torn on how I feel about Davies himself. Obviously I feel tremendous empathy and wish him only the best with his recovery. Yet, there is a part of me that is mad at him and his friends. They should’ve known better. They shouldn’t have been out that late. They shouldn’t have been driving GW parkway that late. Charlie should’ve known better, right? I hard quiet mumblings from some that they thought all the “do it for Charlie” tributes on Wednesday were a bit much for a guy out past curfiew. I am not prepared to say that. But, I am prepared to say that I am dissipointed in the guy. I don’t think that makes me a bad guy to say so.
So where does this week leave everything?1. It leaves us winning the CONCACAF group and booking our trip to South Africa, which despite perceptions of Europeans and their acolytes here, remains a real achievement.
2. It leaves the US I think as a emotionally stronger, if physically weaker group. Not having Davies and Onyewu for extended periods will clearly hurt. Suddenly there are big openings both at the forward and central defender positions as this teams preps for the World Cup.
One thing is for sure. None of us, players, coaches or fans, will ever forget this last week.