A Stifling Evangelism: USA’s Opening Failure in Copa America

It’s simple really–we are unapologetically myopic regarding the US men’s national team, refusing to see or acknowledge not only the flaws in the team but also misapprehending its strengths. You’re guilty of it, I’m guilty of it, and the team is guilty of it.

Every few months, I watch a USMNT match hoping to see something that will provoke me into feeling anything for this team. Since the departure of Landon Donovan, nothing about the men’s national team has been tolerable or pleasant to watch. But I keep going back thinking new blood (Julian Green, John Brooks, Miguel Ibarra, Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic, and Darlington Nagbe) or a new hunger or motivation will not just spark a change in the team but in my attitudes toward it.

I’m struggling to overcome my own myopia, to shirk negativity but still resist the mindless jingoism of the American Outlaws. But it’s difficult when commentary on the team is riddle with bias, at best homerism, at worst (and most common) a violent ignorance. Trying to strike a balance is difficult and it feels as if no one (fans, commentators, analysts, players, and coaches) is trying to make it easier.

The first match of the Copa America saw the US take on Colombia. The US played poorly, soundly beaten by a more mature, balanced, and professional team.

Because USMNT fans spend an inordinate amount of time and energy parsing the press conferences and tweets of coach Jurgen Klinsmann, I feel more than entitled to do the same to commentary. Today, I’ve read through the plethora of articles at Pro Soccer Talk, a site that gives quality analysis and commentary of the North American game. Digestible and astute, Pro Soccer Talk is a great site with quality writers but even this is falling victim to a creeping nescience.

The first gives a match summary which paints a picture of a match where although the US lost, it was only just. Colombia’s goals are called “the game’s only goals” as though goals are such a common thing there should have been more. The implication being that somehow the US was able to stifle Colombia’s attack keeping it contained. What makes this infuriating is it’s paired with the accurate description the “Yanks were lopsidedly outplayed in every area of the field for 90 straight minutes.” Even in a simple summary we get a split consciousness.

This is perhaps best seen in the handball penalty. Somehow, USMNT fans and commentators can’t seem to accept a blatant handball. It suggests a failure to understand the rules of the game as well as a stubbornness abutting delusion.

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Photo US Soccer, @ussoccer

There’s the notion Clint Dempsey played well as a hard-nosed striker, one who “resembled a warrior.” He did not and is not. Dempsey is dynamic, certainly, but he is also sloppy, selfish, and scattershot. Playing as a center forward, which is not his position and not in his skill set, he was a bull in a china shop. Colombia kept its distance making the necessary moves to keep itself safe. Accurately, even though the language around his shots suggested more quality that was there, the Dempsey situation was put thus: “If the U.S. wants to get out of this group, play Dempsey in his best position. If not, then don’t play him at all.” 

What’s maddening about the USMNT isn’t just the delusional coach, “‘There was no difference, besides the two goals,’ Klinsmann said,” or the players drinking the Kool-Aid, “‘We are definitely optimistic and we are positive,’ Cameron said. “We believe in each other and have the ability to do something special,’” but that this party line trickles down to the fan base leaving them stupidly clad in their stars and stripes novelty clothes. In the article where these quotes are drawn, it’s impossible to determine sarcasm or earnestness. And that’s the USMNT in all facets. 

I’m going to keep watching the Copa America. I will watch the rest of the US matches, but I can’t bring myself to believe that it’ll turn out any different that three-and-out. I’m trying to generate a connection to this team but it’s difficult. The old guard was shown against Colombia that it needs to be replaced (Dempsey, Cameron, Jones, and Bradley). Half of the team is deployed out of position. There is little vision, urgency, or technique (all qualities possessed by the newer faces like Ibarra, Nagbe, Pulisic, and Wood when they are used correctly). Finally, there’s the recalcitrance of the fans (best seen on Twitter) bleeding into astute and knowing analysis slowly turning it obdurate and, in some cases, just pure propaganda. 

We deserve better than stifling evangelism. 

***

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This article was made possible thanks to support from my patrons:

Rachel Racicot 

Tyler Whitesides 

Patrick Casey

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