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Excuses for United States in tonight’s World Cup qualifier? No – we’ll have none of that

Oct 12, 2012, 12:55 PM EDT


A commenter in a previous post mentioned a certain sinking and unpleasant feeling. He was alarmed that a few U.S. Soccer “concerns” over Friday’s World Cup qualifier were more “excuses in the making.”  In other words, he was concerned about the ol’ gambit most commonly known as “covering your butt.”

The concerns were about U.S. injury issues that have stripped away a layer of talent available to coach Jurgen Klinsmann, helping to reduce a significant gap in talent between tonight’s competitors, the United States and Antigua-Barbuda. (The visiting Americans still enjoy a significant edge in skill, of course.)

(MORE: Injury crisis at left back for United States)

(MORE: Brek Shea, Landon Donovan ruled out)

And it was about field conditions in Antigua, about U.S. eagerness to get into the country yesterday and see how the cricket ground is holding up.

I suppose it is easy to see this as U.S. Soccer arranging excuses in case things go horribly sideways. But … that’s not it.

From the U.S. Soccer perspective, and from my perspective as a journalist, it’s not about making “excuses” or being gullible and naive enough to write thoughtlessly about them. I promise, my “built-in, shock-proof, BS detector,”  which Hemingway famously called an essential requirement in every journalist’s tool belt, works fine.

The bottom line here is this: the stakes are remarkably high.

So this falls under “concern” and “being thorough.” (And now I will paraphrase from what I told the commenter yesterday):

At an international soccer level, all of this becomes quite serious. (Sometimes too serious, I think, although the easy-going Klinsmann has taken that down a notch from the Bob Bradley days, where things were sometimes treated with a Pentagon-level somber and substance.)

It is usually the same for big college football programs, for most professional sports programs, etc.  When the stakes are elevated, they fret over even the smallest of details, like how many pats of butter are on each table at the night-before dinner (true story of one college football program.)  And shouldn’t they?  If Klinsmann and his staff gets caught off guard – not over pats of butter, but something a little more substantial – myself and a bunch of men and women like me will bite right into the center of that chewy little chocolate delight.

For instance: U.S. Supporters might look at a crappy surface and assess: “Man, the field looks like a real mess … Hey! Who wants another beer?”

But team officials don’t have that luxury; they must actually prepare for all scenarios. Fretting over this stuff, conditions, injuries, logistics, proper roster cover … the whole shootin’ match, that’s why they get paid good money.

(MORE: previous qualifiers in Antigua, and a prediction on tonight’s match)

And then the stakes: I’ll let the Sporting News’ Brian Straus tell you about that one. This piece says why; it’s a look at what might happen if the U.S. (gasp!) fails to qualify.

This also should be said: if the United States does crash land, there will be no excuses. It will be seen as a colossal failure.

So, setting up excuses? I think once we all give that one some thought, we can all agree that’s a moot exercise.

There will be no excuses.

  1. dfstell - Oct 12, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    I agree…..we’ve got a lot of things that aren’t ideal. But, sheesh….we really should be able to beat A&B regardless of any problems when you consider just the population differences and scale of resources. And….does A&B have anyone with an injury problem? I’d guess they do, but we never mention that….and that’s appropriate because we should beat them regardless of whether they have their first choice defensive midfielder ready to go or not.

    I know population sizes aren’t the right way to look at these things, but A&B is about the size of the city I live in. Ideally, we should be able to take a team of NC-based players down there and win.

  2. soccerjohn - Oct 12, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    Three broad thoughts:
    1. Soccer is by its nature a sport that leaves superior teams vulnerable to spectacular upsets.
    2. Referees can have an outsize influence on a game, and nowhere is that more likely than at the homes of CONCACAF’s minnows.
    3. Each of the issues with which the US contends tonight (including pressure, field condition, injuries, weather, maybe the ref, etc.) will interact with the others, with the potential for really meaningful consequences.

    For me, the USMNT is living on a knife’s edge tonight. If they fall behind–or even just fail to score in the first half–and add desperation to the mix, it could be disastrous. I think this match is going to tell us a lot about how JK prepares his team for games that really matter, and about the useful depth of the MNT.

    It strikes me as probable (in a statistical sense) that the US will win. And it could easily be a rout. But I think there’s a scary-big chance for a devastating loss or tie.

  3. footballer4ever - Oct 12, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    “On any given friday”, Fifa qualifying friday that is, could a hiccup or upset may prevail and that’s the reality of it. The fact the USMNT has no confidence as of latel leaves an air of vulnerability which is not agreed or accepted by many in the states. As some people like to think, “how can a country with so many millions lose to an island the size of no-man’s land”, but in the end, it’s 11 v 11 and many factors, asides goals scored, can play a big factor in any result.

    Having said that, we’ll be able to collectively gasp throughout the game and hopefully sigh in relief at the end IF we win.

    • schmutzdeck - Oct 13, 2012 at 10:23 AM

      The population size comparision is getting pretty tiresome.

      What is the population of Spain and Holland? I’ll bet that combined, it is a lot less than the population of California.

      And how powerful a soccer team is the Chinese national mens team?

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