May 31, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
The rise and fall of national regard for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team looks like a heart rate monitor, a continuing patterned series of sharp rises and steep falls.
And on it goes …
Fans and voices in the chattering class were about fed up last year as World Cup qualifying in the semifinal round seemed be wandering off the rails. But restoration of faith came in three wins to close the round and all was sweet peaches and plums in placid Klinsmann Valley.
Well, until a listless draw with Canada to open the 2013 calendar, followed by a stinker at Honduras. And we were all fed up again.
Well, until a determined and gritty night in Denver, followed by a determined and gritty defensive stand in Mexico. In a five-day period, faith was dutifully restored. “Say, when do tickets go on sale for Brazil 2014?”
Well, until …
A rising European power worked the United States defense the way a Belgian brewmaster works the lagers and ales. And now … well, you get the idea.
But here’s some important information, especially as Klinsmann’s forces prepare for another toughie on Sunday against Germany, which might help supply some context:
This is something of a May-June rite for the United States national team, which seems to find itself getting dressed down annually once or twice about this time of year.
- Surely everyone remembers last year about this time, when U.S. fans and media were falling over backwards about the 4-1 loss to Brazil? Even Klinsmann was hacked about that one; noting rather notoriously his team’s flagging “nastiness.”
- In 2011, Spain delivered the punishing reminder of a yawning gap between the United States and global soccer’s ruling class. The message came via a 4-0 win outside Boston. Words like “thoroughly embarrassed” and “dominated” careened with a menace through the internets. A week later, a loss to Panama seem to confirm it once and for all: The United States would never win another match. Ever.
- In 2010, a close loss to Netherlands in Amsterdam could be forgiven. A robust Dutch side did, in fact, go on to finish second in South Africa that summer. But a 4-2 loss on home soil to the Czech Republic was certainly a basis for fist-slamming concern, especially where Oguchi Onyewu was concerned. Too bad the warning didn’t seem to take; Bob Bradley’s faith in the big center back, who was recovering from injury, proved misplaced.
- The first team was on the field in 2009, when Bradley’s team got conked on the head in Costa Rica, 3-1. It was a double whammy because that was a World Cup qualifier, and because it was painfully close to the 2009 Confederations Cup. Speaking of which, the United States lost its first two matches there by a combined 6-1 – Time for pitchforks and lanterns? – before the big summer rally, including a huge upset over Spain, a signature victory for Bradley’s time a charge.
- The team was shut out three consecutive matches over 12 days in 2008, by England, Spain and Argentina (all quality teams, of course.) A scoreless draw with Argentina outside New York was the punctuation mark, and that doesn’t sound too bad – until you consider that Tim Howard had to wear two super hero capes just to keep the United States from being run plum off the field that night at Giants Stadium.
So, yes, you can see that this is something of an annual moment for U.S. Soccer. That doesn’t excuse a mistake-strewn performance against Belgium, and there are certainly problems around the field (not just in the back, by the way) that require quick address.
But if we can take a step back and inhale, we can see this, at least: We’ve all been here before.
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