Now that the first post established that times are uncertain for the USMNT, it is important to talk any of you off the ledge and assure that this is not quite yet the winter of our discontent. Much like the State of the Union, where the President emphasized that the audacious have reason for hope and that better times are around the corner, there is reason for optimism in the American camp. In fact, even at a time where one senses the harrowing specter of a third disappointing World Cup in four tries lingering around the American camp, our concerns are, to deploy a rather trite weather metaphor, a tropical wave compared to the Hurricane of trauma and drama across the Pond.
John Terry’s performance in the two-man English character play “Dr. Tigerlove: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Muff” has put the English camp in disarray. The oft-injured Rio Ferdinand has replaced Terry as captain, and though it appears he likely won’t be exiled by Fabio Capello, icy treatment of a former captain in the locker room can’t help chemistry 16 weeks before the Three Lions take the world’s grandest stage. There always seems to be an impediment to English greatness, despite the fact that England always seems to send its “greatest team ever” to each Cup Finals. Can a team that won’t eat together and certainly shouldn’t be drinking at a pub with their significant others on their arms together weather the personal dramas and function as a well-oiled machine this summer? Certainly a fortunate draw suggests they can, at least until the knockout stages. Even so, the Yanks have to relish the opportunity to test that theory from the start in Rustenburg @ 2:30 US Eastern Time on June 12.
At the very least, the Terry Tiger-gate is a reminder that the Americans are in nowhere near the disarray they found themselves in 1998, where they cut captain John Harkes moments before they departed for France. They promptly lost 2-0 to Germany, fell behind 2-0 to Iran before Brian McBride found the net in the game’s final moments, and capped off a winless World Cup with a 1-0 defeat to Yugoslavia. For years, there was speculation that John Harkes had been cut because he was dipping his pen in Eric Wynalda’s ink. Grant Wahl’s expose on the Harkes scandal is an excellent read and Sampson’s comments before it confirmed the scandal, and for me, it indicates that Capello’s men are at the very least in a precarious position that will require great fortitude to have no net effect on their performance this summer. Of course, Sampson still decided to play the absurd 3-6-1 formation, still decided to change his starting lineup drastically from the one that qualified, and still decided to isolate the team in the hills of France. Point being, there is plenty more to the failure of 1998 than the Harkes-Wynalda scandal that ultimately kept the American captain off the team. Sampson ultimately made the decision to remove Harkes altogether as well, instead of doing what Capello has done with Terry, and this decision in hindsight was a dreadful choice, but what-if’s are the opiate of the complacent, a penicillin for those too frightened to help themselves and move forward, so let’s keep the painful memories of France in the past and continue to focus on the challenges of the future. I’m sure that’s what the English will do.
There is good news within the American camp as well, even in the attack. After 153 days of inconsistency and frustration, Jozy Altidore found the back of the net this weekend in Hull City’s shocking 2-1 defeat of Blankcheckster City:
While the strike was excellent, it is Altidore’s excellent form, not the Blankcheckster City goal that is the best news for the American attack. Only a month ago there were loud questions being asked about Altidore’s future playing time at Hull, especially after the club brought in a perceived playing time rival in Amr Zaki. Zaki has made three appearances, but it is Altidore’s play that has sparked Hull City to a pair of surprising results—first a 1-1 breathtaking draw with Chelsea, and then the aforementioned three points against Blankcheckster. Arguably, Altidore’s performance against Chelsea surpassed this weekend’s goal-scoring effort, as he earned free kicks and consistently made his presence felt by the Blues defense in receiving a player rating of 7, which was the second highest total awarded for that match on either side. Altidore’s improved play is certainly a positive for an American attack that is starving for a viable, in-form threat outside of Landon Donovan as we move towards June.
The play of Donovan itself has been well-documented and brilliant. First, I was right. The Lando haters are quieter than a Good Friday Eucharist now and Lando is without question a key reason that Everton have turned their season around. Donovan has at times dazzled at Goodison thus far. His performance this weekend at Anfield wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t particularly bad either. He had a nice moment in the first half where he truly embarrassed Javier Mascherano and earned Everton a dangerous spot kick, but he also seemed reluctant, like many of his teammates, to decisively move a bit towards the middle of the field and take the initiative and attack at the undermanned Reds. A cynic will tell you that’s a bad sign because this type of game is exactly the type of game Donovan will be demanded to assert himself in this summer, and that’s half-true. At the same time, it is Everton-Liverpool, a physically demanding backyard fight with a brother type affair and in the end Donovan will be better for having experienced it now, this close to June. Certainly an in-form Altidore and a best-in-his-career form of Landon Donovan are concrete reasons for optimism in the States, as is the promising play of Demarcus Beasley at Rangers, who may very well be playing his way back into the fold. Throw in the promising news surrounding the recovery of Charlie Davies, and there is a foundation for hope.
Of course, the list still reads like a child’s Christmas list contingent on Mom or Dad Breadwinner getting a large bonus….
If Davies gets well, Beasley plays his way back into the fold, Dempsey and Maurice Edu can get fit and game ready, my Yanks may enter a World Cup with a very viable offensive team that is the most dangerous it has ever been in the counterattack. If you have time, I want Jermaine Jones, a confident Sacha Kljestan, a Red Ryder BB Gun and Junior to stop talking back to me.
Of course, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. But I can still hope it’s almost “Morning in America.”
Neil W. Blackmon is a senior staff writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.