June 26, 2014

The US Men's team lost to Germany today, but thanks to Portugal's win over Ghana the Americans advance anyway. 10 stray thoughts, in no particular order.

1: The pervasive emotion is relief, not elation. Thanks to its last-minute collapse against the Portuguese this was tense until the final whistle for the US. Still, backing in is better than not getting in at all.

2: The US needs to calm down when it gets the ball. Possession has always been a problem for the American side - and I do mean always - and today was no different. Germany was going to dominate possession, but there's too much rush, too much panic about the US when it does get its feet on the ball. That, as they say, is not sustainable. It's awfully hard to score when you're spending 80% of the match defending in your own back third, and its hard to win if you don't score. Versus the Belgians, who boast as much pure talent as any side in the tournament, it will be important for the US to exhibit a bit more composure on the ball.

3: Which brings us to Michael Bradley. He still hasn't had the kind of game a lot of us envisioned as Brazil approached, but you can't fault his effort today. He flew around the pitch, defending enthusiastically, and if he can exert a measure of control in the attack the US will have a much better chance against the Belgians.

4: Jermaine Jones continues to be the best American on the pitch. He's been everything US supporters were counting on and a good bit more. Tough as nails, tireless, no-nonsense, and very athletic - in more ways than any of us expected he has become the personality of the team.

5: I was one of the people who couldn't believe DeAndre Yedlin made the team. And even though he was in the 23-man roster, it seemed a longshot that he'd get on the pitch. Unless, of course, the US was out of contention by the final game and Jurgen Klinsmann had decided to give the rookie a run-out in a meaningless exhibition. He's now come on twice as a sub and both times the team's energy level perked up palpably. In fact, the team's best scoring chance of the day arose out of that late energy. Looking ahead, Belgium isn't especially strong at fullback, and we might see DY again should we be in need of late inspiration down the right side.

6: On a non-US note, jebus, is Thomas Müller hell on wheels or what? I was screaming about how badly I wanted my favorite club side, Chelsea, to buy him after the last Cup. Well, I wanted them to buy most of that German team, honestly. But Müller for sure. What does he have now, nine goals in nine World Cup matches? Yeah, I can find room for that on my team.

7: I loved all that silly chatter about whether Klinsy and his buddy Joachim Löw might conspire to rig a mutually beneficial outcome. I didn't see a whole lot of complacency out there. Did you?

8: The Landon Donovan question - settled? When Klinsmann left Donovan off the final roster millions of people seemed ready to riot. And also, to cast a shovelful of dirt on any chance the US had of escaping the group of death. Donovan was a legend! He had a history coming through in the clutch! Why do we need so many defenders, like Yedlin and John Brooks, instead of a proven offensive weapon?! Look, I thought LD should have been on the roster instead of Yedlin, so I'm not getting my hate on here when I say that maybe, just maybe, the guy who won a World Cup as a player and took Germany to the semis as a manager had a sense for the kinds of pieces he needed for this task. Maybe Donovan wasn't as fast or fit as the other players. I don't know, and we'll never know - Donovan may have scored five or six goals by now and he may have been fated to hit the winner in a dramatic final upset. All we know for sure is that a lot of people - a lot of people - gave the US no chance to make it out of group play. Anything the team accomplishes from here on out is gravy, so if you're thinking Klinsmann'd decision was vindicated, it's hard to argue with you.

9: I just saw a milk carton with Mix Diskerud's picture on it.

10: Up next: Belgium. On paper, the Belgians may be the best team in the Cup, or at least they're right up there with Germany. Their key issues are a) as noted above, fullback isn't their strength, b) they lack experience at this level, and there's no substitute for having been there and done that, c) they're saddled with heavy expectations, and as such are bearing a lot pressure, and d) a point of anticipated strength - striker Romelu Lukaku - has been mostly AWOL. On paper they should smite the Americans thoroughly, but as they say, the games aren't played on paper. If the US can possess the ball with more composure, especially in the attacking end, and if it can use its speed to find space down the flanks, it has a chance to spring the upset. Of course, one of the Belgians' greatest advantages is the amount of attention that Eden Hazard, UEFA Young Player of the Year, demands from opposing defenses. His presence on the left wing will keep the US midfielders more than honest and make it more difficult to launch the counterattack.

And a bonus observation. The GOP's leading troll diva, Ann Coulter, had this to say about futbol:

"I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer," she wrote. "One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time."

Not true, Ann. Both of my great-grandfathers were born in the US. And Aron Johansson's family came over on the Mayflower.

So, in conclusion, bring on Belgium, and remember - all you have to do is #BOlieve.

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