Joshua Wells graces TSG again.
Following the USA vs. Brazil 4-1 drubbing in Landover, Maryland, Jurgen Klinsmann vented his spleen. He was forthright, honest about his feelings, and blunt about his disappointment.
As you watched the press conference, you knew that you were getting exactly what was inside of Jurgen’s head…well not exactly, because I’m sure it would have come out much smoother in German than English. So, you were getting a pretty close approximation of what was going on in Jurgen’s head.
He had some of his facts wrong. The penalty on Onyewu, while harsh, is probably going to be given 60-70% of the time. It looked to me like Pato was onside for the fourth goal, but I don’t think Jurgen had seen any replays, so we can forgive him that. Aside from the factual missteps, I absolutely loved what Jurgen had to say. He was…defiant.
* * *
As an American, a fan of the United States National Teams, and a fan of soccer in general, I’ve spent the majority of my fandom hunkered down, happy for the little crumbs of indulgence tossed my way by the U.S. sports media.
In the early days of my fandom, before the internet was really in full bloom, I searched the dark hallways of the world wide web for drops of soccer knowledge from across the pond. I dug deep to find message boards and fanzines where I could humbly seek the wisdom of English or European fans of my favorite teams. I would roll with the jabs about my nation’s lack of soccer prowess and make a few self-deprecating stabs of my own. When podcasts started to proliferate, I downloaded them all, lusting after those delightful accents that provided enlightenment about a beautiful game that my neanderthal American mind could just barely comprehend. I studied the Guardian and Telegraph sport sections like archeologists studied the Rosetta Stone (the real Rosetta Stone, not the computer software for those of you who skipped humanities).
At a certain point, things changed.
Suddenly, I came to the realization that because I’m an American, and we’re awesome at getting what we want, I had access to and watched more soccer than anybody who wrote or talked about the sport for a living across the pond. Not only that, but I saw all kinds of soccer. EPL, MLS, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, K-League, A-League, SPL, Primera Division, and on and on…I saw it all. I learned to read a match like a book. I could critique lineups, formations, and substitutions with the best of them, and rarely did I hear points made by the experts that I hadn’t already thought of myself.
Around the same time, I saw my native soccer culture begin to change as well. The pastor at my church was asking me about the Champions League Final. My dad was watching big matches and asking me about them. My brothers became fans and started playing. I joined the Oklahoma City Chapter of American Outlaws (amazing right? AO has not one, but two chapters in Oklahoma).
My kids were playing in 6 and 7 year old leagues, and they were good, and not only were they good, but there
were are tons of really good players. Not the stereotypical rich white kid good either…there was flair, diversity, streetball craft, and excitement. I went to watch some local high school matches in the inner city, and far from being the lump it forward browbeating I expected, the matches were fluid, sharp, racially diverse, and even beautiful.
Sell out crowds were piling into stadiums in Portland, Seattle, Kansas City, and Salt Lake as MLS finally figured out that the sport would rise and fall with the dedicated soccer fan, and not the mini-van driving soccer moms (not including my wife Jill, who happens to be both and is also the best player I know. I considered genetics when I married, and I’m not ashamed to admit it).
American soccer criticism and writing was as good as, if not better, than much of what was being done overseas, especially in the blogosphere. Last, but not least, the United States finally hired the big time manager that it had lusted after ever since he retired his Bayern Munchen polo shirt for good.
* * *
Klinsmann was brought in to change a culture, not just manage the national team.
For too long, the USMNT had mirrored its fans. Recognizing that it wasn’t as talented as most (even some of the CONCACAF minnows it qualified against), the USMNT was happy to grind the opposition down with grit, fitness, and sweat equity. Getting out of the group every four years was the goal, and on those rare occasions we were on the same pitch as the world’s behemoths, we were just happy to be there. Klinsmann’s directive was to change all of that. That’s why we’re playing friendlies against Brazil, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, and France. That’s why Klinsmann has shook up our youth system and been willing to pull young talent from wherever he can find it. That’s why he makes our guys compete for their jersey numbers, and that’s why he was so pissed off after the Brazil match. At least in Jurgen’s mind, not every player in the USMNT player pool has bought in.
As I compare the two teams that played on Wednesday night, the USMNT had no reason to be in awe of Brazil. Sure there were big names out there. Hulk is a beast. Neymar is titillating.
Marcello, when he’s not too busy being a prick, is a brick wall on the left and explosive going forward.
However, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, and Tim Howard could all walk into just about any national team in the world right now. Has there ever been a time when you could say that about so many USMNT players? Sure, Brazil is more talented, but Klinsmann knows that as of right now, there’s no reason the USMNT should feel inferior or be intimidated to step on the field with anybody in the world. Now he’s pleading with his players to buy into that and be bosses because of it. As American soccer fans, it’s time we bought in as well.
* * *
It was an understated simmering anger at first. The final whistle hadn’t even blown yet before the condescending tweets began and the scribes began penning their articles aimed at soccer novices. “Italy didn’t bring a full squad. It was just a friendly. It doesn’t mean anything.”
The USMNT had done something nobody expected them to do, beating Italy 1-0 in Genoa. I didn’t mind so much because those statements were true, but part of me was already saying, “They think we’re idiots who are incapable of enjoying a historic win without giving it proper perspective. They think they need to set these dumb Americans straight.”
The following week it seemed that every time the USA’s win over Italy was brought up, more time was spent convincing dumb Americans that it didn’t matter than actually breaking down how we played.
Three months later we played Scotland.
Frankly, it was one of the most exciting performances I’ve ever seen from a USMNT. The fact that Scotland wasn’t very good didn’t matter to me. I had not seen a USMNT play anything like the high pressure, fluid, creative soccer that they played against Scotland, and I’ve watched them play, and even lose to much worse opposition than Scotland. Once again, the narrative was, “We the soccer media need to enlighten dumb American fans. Scotland is bad. It’s just a friendly. It doesn’t matter. Now I bet these ignorant soccer fans believe they’re going to walk over Brazil.”
Four days later we played Brazil.
The scoreline was harsh, but we were well beaten. However, the second half was a blast. Going forward we were a menace, creating chance after chance and forcing Brazil’s first time goalkeeper into a brilliant performance. Our chances weren’t just from long balls or set pieces either, but came at the end of quick passing and creative play. Despite the scoreline, I was glad to see us play our style and punch back. I was disappointed, but optimistic. Predictably, the narrative of this match became, “That was a wakeup call for America. They were getting a bit high on the hog after that Scotland match. This will take them down a peg. These dumb American soccer fans were handed a good old fashioned reality check.”
My blood was finally brought to a boil with a tweet from an English soccer commentator (whom I actually like so I won’t give his name) which said, “Many will disagree, but until US fans and media find 4-1 homes losses unacceptable, US will not become an elite team.”
Once again, dumb Americans don’t know how to be true soccer fans. Sigh.
* * *
My response…“blow me.”
Let me take that back, what I meant to say was, “BLOW ME.”
England’s national team is a joke and has been for most of my life. Their FA is clueless, and the top English league isn’t even English anymore. Americans, Russians, and Saudis own the best clubs in England and their teams are filled with players from…well, not England. Their fans and media have so little perspective that every match the national team plays could be cause to fire their manager. The English media is a joke and spends more time covering the shopping endeavors of WAGS or showing photos of some dumb blondes’ tits than providing any real soccer insight.
I need advice from the English, or any European for that matter, on how to be a soccer fan about as much as I need a second urethra. We’re doing just fine, and we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg. The potential for soccer talent, wealth, fandom, and success in this country is literally unmeasurable.
Sure we have a long ways to go, but even in our infancy, we’re finishing ahead of England in our World Cup qualifying group. Go cheer for your dying regimes and corrupt FAs in your crumbling stadia. I’m an American soccer fan, and if I need you to provide perspective on my team’s wins and losses, I’ll beat it out of you. Until then, keep your Euro-soccer snobbery to yourself. The dumb American fans you think you’re talking down to don’t exist.
Buy-in time is nigh.
There is no longer any reason for American soccer fans to be ashamed in front of anybody. We have our own culture, our own experts, and we support our teams in our way and do it well. Not only that, but we’re getting better and growing from strength to strength. I’m buying into Jurgen’s defiance. If he’s going to undertake a culture change, I’m willing to come along for the ride.